Friday, 30 November 2007

Box Office Charts: w/e 30 November 2007

In the US, fairy tale adventure Enchanted casts a spell on audiences to take the #1 spot... seasonal family drama This Christmas evokes the holiday spirit to sit at #2... meaning Beowulf is knocked from the top spot to #3... video game adaptation Hitman disappoints at #4... August Rush limps in to open at #7... American Gangster has a massive slip, down 5 places to #8... Stephen King adaptation The Mist has a nightmare opening at #9, despite strong reviews... and the critically-mauled Mr Magorium slips 5 places to #10 after only 2 weeks of release!


1. Enchanted $34.4m
2. This Christmas $18m
3. Beowulf $16.5m
4. Hitman $13.2m
5. Bee Movie $11.8m
6. Fred Claus $10.6m
7. August Rush $9.42m
8. American Gangster $9.01m
9. The Mist $8.93m
10. Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium $7.94

In the UK, American Gangster and Beowulf stay firm at #1 and #2... Stardust darts ahead of Ratatouille to nab #3... Good Luck Chuck proves to have surprising staying power, at #5... Wes Anderson's latest, The Darjeeling Limited, has a disappointing opening at #6... likewise August Rush... badly-reviewed horror Shrooms is a surprise new entry at #8... and 30 Days Of Night loses its bite, slipping 3 places to #10...


1. American Gangster £1.8m
2. Beowulf £1.4m
3. Stardust £733k
4. Ratatouille £663k
5. Good Luck Chuck £511k
6. The Darjeeling Limited £435k
7. August Rush £359k
8. Shrooms £313k
9. Elizabeth: The Golden Age £218.4k
10. 30 Days Of Night £218.2k


An outlaw joins his childhood hero's notorious gang, but grows to resent his leader. Western drama starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck

Santa's bitter older brother comes to stay at the North Pole. Christmas comedy starring Vince Vaughn and Paul Giamatti.

A mysterious secret agent becomes embroiled in a political conspiracy and pursued across Europe by Interpol and the Russian military. Action-thriller based on the video-game, starring Timothy Olyphant and Dougray Scott.

A trouble actor, a television producer, and a video-game designer find their lives are intertwined in mysterious and unsettling ways. Mystery thriller starring Ryan Reynolds, written and directed by John August.

Film Hybrids

Simplicity itself. Just merge movie titles to create some interesting new film ideas...

Groundhog Day Of The Dead
A weatherman becomes trapped in a town overrun by zombies, forced to relive the terror day after day. I'd pay to see this!

Big Big Trouble In Little Chinatown
A young boy wishes himself into adult form, then becomes embroiled with supernatural Chinese gangsters...

The Godfather Of The Bride
A beautiful girl introduces her fiancé to his new father-in-law, a morose Mafia kingpin...

The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King Kong
As the One Ring reaches Mount Doom, Sauron unleashes a giant gorilla to stop the Fellowship in their tracks...

American Beauty And The Beast
A man-beast going through a mid-life crisis tries to woo a beautiful teenaged girl...

Singin' In The Rainman
Light-hearted musical with a cast who suffer from autism...

The Great Escape From New York
The inmates of a futuristic New York prison attempt to dig an escape tunnel under the Hudson River. I can see this staring Christopher Lambert.

The Sixth Sense & Sensibility
Jane Austen romance with a young girl who can see dashing (but dead) male suitors...

Live And Let Die Hard
James Bond is trapped inside a skyscraper on Christmas Eve with a gang of terrorists... hmm, gang on -- this would be good!

Any more?

I'm An Apathetic Viewer... Get Me Out Of Here!

Right now, somewhere in Australia, in a remote rainforest not too far from a five-star luxury hotel, a D-list celebrity is about to earn the dubious honour of becoming King/Queen Of The Jungle...

Will it be panto heavyweight (in more ways than one) Christopher Biggins, dimwit former boy-bander J, or acidic middle-aged supermodel Janice Dickinson?

And does anyone really care anymore?

I have no beef with I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here -- as it's actually one of the better reality TV shows – because it doesn't outstay its welcome, the bushtucker trials are inventive, hosts Ant & Dec are funny, and there will always be classic moments (usually involving someone eating a kangaroo's anus or sharing a coffin with rats.)

But... I couldn't summon up the will to watch more than a few episodes this year. The show had its weakest line-up of "stars" ever. And even if that doesn't automatically cripple the show (because it's personalities that count), I couldn't muster the enthusiasm.

In the early days there was at least interest in seeing how people like spoon-bender Uri Gellar, big-boobed Jordan and crackpot Johnny Rotten adapted to the environment. But this year? Only prissy lunatic Janice Dickinson struck me as a worthwhile person to see grow/struggle/breakdown amidst snakes and spiders.

And can I just point out a big flaw in the format, too? Why do they allow the same celebs to do bushtucker trials every day in that first week? Once they've done one, that should be it!

It irritates me because the voting public predictably want the most annoying person to be "punished" every day, so we had to put up with Janice refusing to do anything for days on end. Oh, how entertaining... watching a spoiled Yank shrug and not bother taking part in a trial that probably took a team of people weeks to design, build and make safe.

The main "story" this time was the Marc Bannerman/Cerys Matthews "relationship". Ex-EastEnder Bannerman had a long-term girlfriend (actress Sarah Matravers) waiting at home, but he still decided to snuggle up to ex-Catatonia singer Cerys in camp...

I saw Matravers on This Morning shortly after, shrugging it off as just her boyfriend's touchy-feely personality, and the fact he adores sweet-natured people. She looked totally unbothered by it all...

What a difference a few days make! Marc and Cerys kissed, Matravers jetted into Australia incensed, Marc and Cerys got closer on national TV, Matravers flew back to the UK outraged, Marc was evicted and claimed he was "in love with two people", Cerys was later evicted and... oh you get the picture. Major ruckus, basically.

Marc, Cerys (and maybe even Matravers) will be milking this love triangle for a good few months, I feel. If we let them. For the love of God, don't buy the inevitable "reveal all" issue of Heat, people!

So there you have it. Why bother watching? The newspapers feed you all the information you need, YouTube have the clip of "Biggins and a rat" for immediate satisfaction... and does it even matter who wins?

What's the prize, exactly? Becoming the face of a supermarket chain (Kerry Katona)? An immediate return to obscurity (Tony Blackburn/Carol Thatcher)? Narrating a DVD of sporting goofs (Phil Tuffnell)? Presenting a remake of The Price Is Right (Joe Pasquale)? Co-hosting next year's sister show with your girlfriend (Matt Willis)? Bigger billing on panto posters for 2008?

Well, I think we know which one ol' Biggins is aiming for, anyway. Give him an early Christmas present by making him Queen Of The Jungle...

THE MIGHTY BOOSH 3.3 – "The Power Of The Crimp"

Writers: Julian Barratt & Noel Fielding
Director: Paul King

Cast: Julian Barratt (Howard Moon), Noel Fielding (Vince Noir/The Moon), Rich Fulcher (Bob Fossil), Lance Dior (Tom Meeton), Harold Boom (Simon Farmaby), Michael Fielding (Naboo), Dave Brown (Bollo) & Gary Numan (Himself)

Howard and Vince are distressed to find a pair of men shamelessly copying their fashion styles, musical tastes and personalities...

After the expensive imaginings of last week, The Mighty Boosh comes down with a bump with their version of a "bottle show", restricting itself to the main standing sets and using a more simplistic idea.

Vince (Noel Fielding) is uncharacteristically depressed by the emergence of a copycat, Lance Dior (Tom Meeton), who's ripping off his fashion style and idiosyncrasies. Howard (Julian Barratt) isn't too bothered by Vince's predicament, until Lance introduces him to his friend Harold Boom (Simon Farnaby), his own doppelganger...

With their unique identities threatened by The Flighty Zeus, The Mighty Boosh decide to prove who are the real trend-setters by competing musically with Lance and Harold at The Velvet Onion club, run by Bob Fossil (Rich Fulcher).

The comic idea of doppelgangers isn’t anything new, but it plays well into the show's oddball style. Meeton and Farnaby do a great job as the Boosh doubles, becoming quite irritating and creepy in their never-explained desire to be just like Vince and Howard.

It's also nice to see Howard and Vince united in a goal for once -- with the threat of a common enemy making them work together. Having them bicker and irritate each other is undoubtedly the comedy spark of the characters, but it's nice to be reminded that they're best friends deep down.

Bob Fossil's return to the show (as manager of The Velvet Onion) is also very welcome, as actor Rich Fulcher's American weirdo is one of the show's best creations. The moment when it's revealed his mom thinks he's a captured POW in Vietnam, and has to fake a phone call to her, is clear evidence of this.

However, The Power Of The Crimp lacks imagination and storytelling strength. The idea is simple and isn't taken anywhere new, leaving the episode quite empty and tedious. Only a smattering of bizarre visuals (voodoo tennis player, World War II transsexual, Bollywood lollipop man) and amusing gags (Howard's boring pencil case anecdote), help prop up the weak story.

But diversions such as the animated "Peacock & The Magpie" fable and musical interlude "It's What's Inside That Counts" badly misfire.

The episode culminates in a "crimp-off" at the Onion club, with the rival bands both crimping for superiority. For the uninitiated, "crimping" is the name now given to that weird singing/talking musical style often used by Howard and Vince on the show.

Overall, this episode is obviously one of the weaker Boosh outings, crippled by a humdrum story and not featuring enough memorable moments for it to stick in the memory. It's still entertaining and contains some funny stuff here-and-there, but it's too restrained and uninspired by Boosh standards.

Mind you, the closing Moon gag was funny, and any episode with a neat cameo from 80s popstar Gary Numan deserves some respect...

29 November 2007
BBC Three, 10.30 pm

Thursday, 29 November 2007

FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS 1.8 – "Girlfriends"

Writer: Eric Kaplan
Director: James Bobin

Cast: Bret McKenzie (Bret), Jemaine Clement (Jemaine), Arj Barker (Dave), Rhys Darby (Murray), Kristen Schaal (Mel), Eugene Mirman (Eugene), Eliza Coupe (Lisa), June Raphael (Felicia), Florence Annequin (Lisa's Friend) & Adrian Martinez (AJ Jones)

Bret and Jemaine meet two women in a croissant shop and go on a double-date, while Murray makes an album deal...

"Bands shouldn't have girlfriends. You lose your female fan base. What about Wham? You never saw Wham with girlfriends. That's how they kept the women wanting them. No girlfriends."
-- Murray (Rhys Darby)

Haven't we exhausted the whole girlfriend thing on this show? Every other week one, or both, of the Conchords has an awkward relationship with a girl. It's yet more evidence that the storytelling possibilities of the show aren't being explored very well – which is bad news considering this is only the eighth episode.

Hey ho. Girlfriends finds Bret and Jemaine loitering outside a croissant shop, unable to gather the confidence to go inside and buy something. This socially inept nature of the characters is very inconsistent, isn't it? Anyway, once inside, they both somehow manage to secure a double-date with two sexy women who work there: Lisa (Eliza Coupe) and Felicia (June Raphael).

The series of dates are disastrously one-sided, with Bret finding Lisa is besotted with him, whereas Jemaine struggles to even talk to the disappointed Felicia...

Girlfriends is quite interesting on one level, as we see the Conchords' views on sex is incredibly naïve and childlike. Bret is aloof when it comes to Lisa's obvious attempts to bed him, while Jemaine is desperate for such sexual attention, but doesn't have the quiet charisma that Bret appears to wield.

Mind you, both Bret and Jemaine consider sex to be the pinnacle of a relationship that takes years to build-up. As Bret says, a girl would only even go "upstairs" with him after 3 years, and he feels harassed by Lisa's overt attempts to shag him.

Unusually, Murray (Rhys Darby) stars in his own subplot that is one of his weakest. Convinced dodgy-dealer A.J Jones (Adrian Martinez) is the brother of world-famous record producer Quincy Jones, Murray makes a deal to get some albums produced. A day spent trying to flog them on the streets is a total disaster, and he later discovers most of the boxes contain sawdust.

I guess Murray has no concept of how much big boxes of CDs would weight? The funniest part of his storyline was seeing his still-antiquated computer equipment – didn't the tech support girl fix that last week?

Anyway, initially I was pleased the show was finally addressing the promotion of the band, as I thought this would be a stronger aspect of the series. But, it doesn't really go anywhere, and I'm still not sure if the Conchords are genuinely bad, or if the musical interludes we see throughout the show exemplifies their talent.

The music this week was okay, but nothing special. A shared dream sequence ("Foux Da Fa Fa") was visually fun, styled on a 60s Scopitone music video, but "A Kiss Is Not A Contract" was a more standard ballad.

Overall, Girlfriends wasn't very memorable, and it's ridiculous how often the show returns to the same themes/ideas. The series focuses on the Bret/Jemaine/Murray trio (so can't branch out into a supporting cast for its stories), but the majority of their plots only revolve around band break-ups and girlfriends...

And I'm officially bored by it now.

13 November 2007
BBC Four, 9.30 pm

Wednesday, 28 November 2007


It's the first "proper" look at Heath Ledger as The Joker in next summer's The Dark Knight. I have total faith this movie's going to be excellent -- because it's the same team as Batman Begins -- so we're in safe hands.

And yes, while I was amongst those who went "what the f*@$!" when Ledger was announced as playing the Clown Prince Of Crime, I think he'll do a great job. I like the punkish look they've gone for with The Joker -- although Empire's non-threatening open-legged sit-down pose isn't too scary... is it?

LIVE AT THE APOLLO 3.2 – Jo Brand & Michael McIntyre

Okay, I see. Instead of directly replacing Jack Dee with someone, they're just going to have guest hosts bookend each episode. This time it's Jo Brand on compere duty...

Jo Brand

Back in the 90s, Jo Brand's routine consisted of variations on ugliness and gluttony. That material made the former-psychiatric nurse a popular stand-up for awhile -- but there are only so many fat jokes, aren't there? More recently, Brand has kept her profile alive by appearing on comedy panel shows and reality TV (Trinny & Susannah and Fame Academy for Comic Relief).

But now she's back and, while her new routine touched on fresh areas, it was essentially more of the same. Jokes about obesity, vaginal surgery, exercise regimes, eating biscuits, and the NHS -- most of which you could see coming a mile off, or conformed to basic joke-telling templates.

I have no axe to grind with the self-deprecating Brand herself, but I never liked her during her 90s hey-day, and I still can't warm to her now. Her material just doesn’t speak to me (maybe because men aren't really her target audience), and her dreary voice sends me to sleep after 10 minutes. There were one or two good jokes, but I was very disappointed...

Michael McIntyre

McIntyre was the prestigious Perrier Comedy Award's "Best Newcomer" back in 2003, although his TV work has only stretched to panel shows (Have I Got News For You?, Mock The Week) and occasional guest appearances on talk shows. I was aware of him as a comedian, but had never seen his stand-up work -- so colour me impressed...

He has huge charisma on-stage and you could feel the vibe leap up several notches after monotonous Jo Brand left the stage. McIntyre prowled the Apollo, acting out comic scenarios with gusto (a man stuck in automatic doors on a train, self-propelled walking, etc.) Above all, he just had some funny ideas, and could expand simple gags into hilarity (Scottish money, body malfunctions, phonetic alphabet.)

McIntyre also manages to giggle at his own gags without it looking rehearsed or self-congratulatory. He just looked to be having real fun soaking up the audience's laughter. There were a few lulls (baby talk, skipping), and the opening London-centic stuff might not strike a chord with most people, but it was always amusing and often inspired (weather records, the clocks going back, a walking bus).

For me, he proved himself a great live performer with enviable command of the room, whose comedy should appeal to anyone who likes to see their behaviour and innermost thoughts reflected on-stage. "Woo-hoo!", as McIntyre might put it...

27 November 2007
BBC1, 10.30 pm

HEROES 2.10 – "Truth & Consequences"

Writer: Jesse Alexander
Director: Adam Kane

Cast: Dania Ramirez (Maya), Zachary Quinto (Sylar), Milo Ventimiglia (Peter), Noah Gray-Cabey (Micah), Ali Larter (Niki), Kristen Bell (Elle), Dana Davis (Monica), Masi Oka (Hiro), Hayden Panettiere (Claire), Sendhil Ramamurthy (Mohinder), James Kyson Lee (Ando), Jack Coleman (Mr Bennet), David Anders (Adam), Adair Tishler (Molly), Nicholas D'Agosto (West), Shalim Ortiz (Alejandro), Ashley Crow (Sandra Bennet), Randall Bentley (Lyle Bennet), Stephen Tobolowsky (Bob), Joanna Cassidy (Victoria Pratt), Carlon Jeffrey (Damon Dawson) & Nichelle Nichols (Nana Dawson)

Sylar tries to divide Maya and Alejandro, Monica embarks on a mission, Adam and Peter go in search of the virus, Hiro and Ando research Kensei, and Claire grieves for her dads death...

Micah: You're Saint Joan!
Monica: You really have to stop reading those comic books. Stay here, I'll be right back...

Truth & Consequences has enough pace to make it an entertaining watch, but it's another instance of Heroes dropping the ball this season; primarily because of an abundance of stupid characters, making stupid decisions.

Chief amongst them has to be Peter (Milo Ventimiglia), who has regained his memory and decided to work alongside Adam Monroe (David Anders), the British immortal who apparently wants to "save the world" by stopping a doomsday virus Peter knows will kill 93% of the world's population. But, more importantly, his Irish girlfriend.

I can believe Peter would follow Adam, but once the pair track down Victoria Pratt (Joanna Cassidy) -- a founding member of The Company who discovered the Shanti Virus in 1977 -- things get difficult to swallow. Victoria argues that Adam is a dangerous villain – incarcerated for 30 years because he tried to steal the virus from their lab.

After Victoria is captured and tied to a chair, Adam clearly unties her just so she'll threaten Peter with a shotgun and give him a reason to kill her and drop another of his "death cards" on her corpse. But Peter is unquestioning in his blind trust of a man he's known for mere days.

I guess by making Peter an amnesiac, and now a simpleton, the writers hope to counter the problem of his character being too powerful. I bet the writers wish they'd limited Peter to only being able to consume one power at a time, or factor in some kind of time-limit...

Mind you, it was fun to discover that people with regenerative powers (Adam/Claire/Peter) can be definitively killed by decapitation – although nobody mentions that "there can be only one". Hehe. I think we know how Adam's is going to bite the dust, though. Where's Hiro's sword when you need it?

Maya (Dania Ramirez) is major competition for Peter in the blithering idiot stakes, easily persuaded by Sylar (Zachary Quinto) into believing her brother Alejandro (Shalim Ortiz) secret hates her.

In a rather odd development, Maya learns to control her death-dealing power -- which nullifying the whole ying/yang twin conceit. Then, despite Alejandro discovering Sylar/Gabriel is a murderer (by trawling English-language websites in his motel room – huh?), Maya is quickly convinced by Sylar's sob story and falls for his snakelike charms – despite his tendency to speak in a creepy voice around her...

Maybe as a reaction to fan uproar surrounding the dullness of the Herrera twins, Sylar kills Alejandro after the furious Mexican confronts him about brainwashing his sister. While it's nice to see Sylar inject more nastiness into the show, and I'm no fan of the Herrera siblings, this kind of slapdash cut-your-losses solution was irritating to me...

A very similar problem arose in Lost's third season (with scorn poured on similarly-ethnic Paulo and Nikki), but the Lost writers crafted a very entertaining way to axe the characters whilst bringing clarity to their perceived inaction on the show. In effect, they went out on a high and even made some fans regret their vitriol. But that writing quality barely surfaces on Heroes...

And finally, Mohinder (Sendhil Ramamurthy) also makes a strong bid to be crowned the stupidest character -- and he's always been a contender! Here, the brilliant scientist with zero common sense has been totally swayed by Bob (Stephen Tobolowsky) and is snug under the Company wing. In a reprise of last week's climax, it's revealed that Mohinder was responsible for resurrecting Mr Bennet (Jack Coleman) using some of his daughter's blood.

Quite why the Company want Bennet alive isn't explained, but Bob's arrival at the Bennet residence, to give them fake ashes of their dead patriarch, hints at some greater need to separate Bennet from his family forever.

Unfortunately, the ensuing moments of Claire (Hayden Panettiere) grieving for her loss is undermined by audience knowledge that her dad's safe and well. While it made a great climax to see Bennet "reborn" last week, that cool moment kills all emotion from this episode's Claire subplot.

The only thing of interest was Claire's threat to Elle (Kristen Bell; funny too!) that she may expose her abilities to the public and thus be protected from Company machinations. It's the first mention of superhero exposure to the masses in Heroes (that I can remember), and it's the one predictable development I've been hoping for since season 1. I just think Heroes would benefit from a X-Men style "them and us" element for the characters to deal with. The show can’t keep its characters secretive and split apart for another season, surely...

The weakest subplot (surprise, surprise) involves Niki (Ali Larter) and Micah (Noah Gray-Cabey). After a successful relocation of Micah into a family dynamic at the Dawson abode in New Orleans, feckless mother Niki returns and jinxes everything. The big, new, exciting subplot created for Micah, Niki and Monica (Dana Davis) involves... wait for it... the retrieval of Micah's school bag!

Oh yes, it transpires that Micah's bag has been stolen by a local gang of hoodlums, and contains his dad's bravery medal (and maybe some sandwiches and a few text-books). Micah suggests they get it back from using their superpowers, but spoilsport Niki isn't very keen...

However, Monica – the only person in the world who doesn't know anything about comic-book superheroes – decides to become a real-life Saint Joan (star of Micah's "9th Wonder" comic) and retrieve the schoolbag using her "muscle mimicking" ability...

Unfortunately, after skilfully infiltrating the gang's house, she's effortlessly captured and bundled into the back of a van. Way to go, Monica! I guess all those hours spent watching Kung Fu movies and wrestling matches were wasted because of a... lack of nerve? Anyway, I'm guessing Niki will be called upon to channel alter-ego Jessica, so she can mount a rescue...

Finally, Hiro (Masi Oka) and Ando (James Kyson Lee) research Takezo Kensei -- who killed Hiro's father. They discover his modern name is Adam Monroe and he knew Kaito Nakamura and a woman called Victoria Pratt back in 1977...

Hiro time-jumps back to the 70s, so he can eavesdrop inside Primatech's New York office... where the eternally-youthful Adam is arrested by a younger Kaito for trying to steal "Strain 138" of the Shanti Virus – a mutation that a younger version of Victoria Pratt confirms could wipe out the world's population if it was released.

It was good to see Hiro use his time-traveling in a believable way again, even if it was a writer's crutch -- although why Ando is being left on the sidelines is anyone's guess! Hiro/Ando were a memorable double-act last year, but poor James Kyson Lee has been utterly wasted in season 2!

Truth & Consequences ends with Peter and Adam arriving at Primatech in Odessa, where Strain 138 is apparently being kept nowadays. Hiro is right on their tail, appearing behind Peter and freezing time – although Peter is immune to this because he wields the same power. Then, despite Hiro telling Peter that Adam killed his father, and Peter having more reason to trust Hiro than Adam... the two friends face-off: sword versus electricity...

Overall, I quite enjoyed this episode, but mainly because the sense of pace has returned. When Heroes is moving fast, you tend to overlook some of the problems and stupid decisions being made. But that's unfortunately not the case here...

Instead, Peter, Maya and Mohinder are being unconvincingly led around by villains, and the audience has so much knowledge that most subplots just involve the characters playing catch-up.

It's a flawed episode, but not without some appeal.

26 November 2007
NBC, 9/8c pm

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

DOCTOR WHO: A Rose Between Two Thorns?

She was last seen sobbing on a beach in a parallel universe, but it looks like Rose Tyler is heading back to the TARDIS for the fourth season of Doctor Who.

Well, Billie Piper could do with the media exposure again, after choosing to just expose herself on ITV2's Secret Diary Of A Call Girl and make prostitution look glamorous. All she succeeded in doing this year was provide kinky footage for horny internet downloaders...

All this means David Tennant will be sharing his TARDIS with three companions at some stage next year: Rose, Martha (Torchwood-transferred Freema Agyeman) and new recruit Donna (Runaway Bride's Catherine Tate).

It's going to get cramped in the TARDIS! Well, it won't, actually – but you know what I mean. So, is this a good idea, or will the return of Rose only highlight the problems they've had replacing her?

I personally think Martha Jones is the best companion of the three, and that the treatment of Freema Agyeman has been pretty bad (intentionally, or not.) She was seemingly kicked onto Torchwood on a whim, just so Russell T. Davies can scratch his Catherine Tate itch again, and will now be flung back into the midst of her predecessor and replacement!

Sparks will fly! So it'll be good TV, regardless.

I hope Freema out-acts them all and reclaims her position as the main companion for season 5. We don't want her getting a phone call from ITV2 about a little project they have in mind, do we? Don't answer that if you're one of those horny downloaders...

Kids TV Needs YOU!

Home-grown British children's television is on the wane. You'd be forgiven for thinking everything was quite rosy --- as you channel-hop around CBBC, CITV, CBeebies, Nickelodeon, Boomerang, etc, etc – but it's true. Most of what you're seeing is repeats or foreign imports.

The BBC have slashed their children's TV budget by 10%, ITV and Channel 4 have stopped funding kid's TV altogether, and Five have decided to stop making shows for the over-5s...

And, when eternally-youthful former Playschool presenter Floella Benjamin gets involved, you know every Child Of The 80s is sitting up and taking notice – me included.

Benjamin has joined Pact, a trade association representing independent production companies, and has formally issued a "SOS" about the drop in UK kid's TV, saying:

"British kids’ TV has always been an inherent part of our culture. For generations the programmes aimed at kids have been celebrated not only for their strong content and challenging views but the endless choice."

"Kids’ TV has for many provided a rites of passage. However, the continued reduction in funding that has taken place in the last few years has resulted in a fall in the number of new programmes made. Without immediate action this spells the end of British kids’ TV as we know it, leaving future generations nothing other than a series of re-runs and imports."

I mean, while there are some great foreign children's shows out there, do we really want kids growing up on a diet of Pokemôn instead of Postman Pat? Spongebob Squarepants over Sooty?

I have fond memories of watching CBBCs Broom Cupboard era (3:30 – 5:35pm, just before Neighbours) throughout the 80s and 90s. And while late-afternoon CBBC is still around, it's regularly beaten in the ratings by tea-time chat shows like Paul O'Grady.

While we're at it, whatever happened to Saturday morning kid's telly? They were a staple of TV for generations of kids and hung-over adults. So many memories: Noel Edmonds' garish jumpers on Swap Shop, Chris Tarrant sloshing buckets of water around on TISWAS, goofy Mike Reid on Saturday Superstore, Gordon the Gopher being attacked by a puppy on Going Live!, Andi Peters crying on Live & Kicking, and Ant & Dec creating a minor renaissance with SM:TV. Bring them back!

I can't believe things are so bad they're pulling out the Benjamin big gun. Have the TV bosses gone mad? The Teletubbies were a massive worldwide money-spinner for the Beeb! Kids animation has always been easier to sell abroad, too -- because other territories can re-dub episodes where required. Neil Morrissey's Bob The Builder is voiced by Whose Line Is It Anyway?'s Greg Proops in the US, incidentally!

The recent success of Shaun The Sheep is further testament that kids (and adults) are still entertained by 100% British programming.

The whizz-bang of foreign imports have their place (many of my childhood favourites were American), but kids need to see some reflection of their own culture on TV. Not to mention memories of classic British voices like Bernard Cribbins (Jackanory), Ray Brooks (Mr Benn), Brian Cant (Camberwick Green), David Jason (The Wind In The Willows), Oliver Postgate (Ivor The Engine) and Ringo Starr (Thomas The Tank Engine)

So, come on – sign this petition and let's try and get some new initiatives going! If you type "Children's TV" into Google, it's the British classics that dominate everything -- so we can't let this institution dwindle and die. We're world leaders at entertaining kids when we put our minds to it!

Let the executives knows the Great British Public are eagerly awaiting the next Dangermouse, Grange Hill, or fantasies like the spooky Century Falls or the ambitious Chronicles Of Narnia...

DEXTER 2.9 – "Resistance Is Futile"

Writer: Melissa Rosenberg
Director: Marcos Siega

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), C.S Lee (Masuka), Preston Bailey (Cody) & Christina Robinson (Astor)

Doakes goes missing, Debra and Lundy's relationship gets physical, and Dexter begins to fear imminent capture...

"... can't live with her, can't kill her..."
-- Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall)

Dexter's world is really closing in on him now! He's unaware that Sgt Doakes (Erik King) has discovered his blood samples, but Lundy's investigation seems to be reaching a conclusion (with someone in the police department a prime suspect), and there are undercover agents tailing him in a car...

Resistance Is Futile opens with a darkly humorous dream sequence for Dexter (Michael C. Hall). While normal people might have an anxiety dream about going to work naked, Dexter dreams about going to work dragging a naked dead body behind him...

Dex awakens outside Rita's house, having fallen asleep as a human guard dog, protecting his ex-girlfriend from her intruder – crazy Lila (Jaime Murray). Rita (Julie Benz) is grateful and a little touched by Dex's protection of her family, and there are hints that the pair may get back together throughout this episode.

But what about Doakes and his discovery of Dexter's blood slide trophies, I hear you cry? Well, as expected, Doakes doesn't take the logical step of replacing the slides and calling for back-up. No, he instead flies off to Haiti to request the use of a "discrete lab" from a Special Ops colleague – so he can test the blood himself. None of this makes much sense, but it was the only course of action to take from a dramatic standpoint...

Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) and Lundy's relationship gets physical, in a fun bedroom scene, with the two actors somehow making a convincing couple. I always expected the Lundy/Debra pairing would have a bigger part to play in the season, but this was perhaps a hangover from how Debra's season 1 boyfriend played into the main plot more dramatically. At the moment, Lundy/Debra seem to be a genuine side dish to the main course... but will that change?

Later, in well-crafted scenes of misdirection, Dex realizes his slides are missing and thinks the game is up. Seconds later, he's led by imposing agents, who take him to meet with Lundy (Keith Carradine)... who has his blood trophy box in an evidence bag, waiting for him...

Believing he's seconds away from arrest and a death sentence, Dex is relieved to hear that the FBI have got the wrong end of the stick. Hapless Doakes (who came under suspicion because of his violence directed at Dex), had his car searched at an airport and they found the incriminating blood samples. Mind you, it begs the question why Doakes would be so stupid as to leave those slides in Miami, as he jets off to Haiti!

Doakes is now the investigation's prime suspect, but Dex has been gifted the chance to use his own trophies to frame him as the Bay Harbor Butcher. After Lundy implausibly makes Dex the First Forensic Tech, he sets about trying to make the evidence stack up against Doakes, who he knows is aware of his dark secret...

But there's still one loose end to tie-up, in the grizzly shape of Santos Jiminez's decomposing body, which Dex was forced to uncharacteristically abandon in the Everglades. After being placed under 24-hour protection by the FBI (who believe Doakes may try to kill Dex), he manages to sneak out to his boat and heads off to dispose of Jiminez's body...

After so much time spent stalling and teasing fans over Doakes' next move, it seems that Resistance Is Futile isn't going provide any big rewards this week... but then, the thrilling climax arrives. Doakes catches Dexter in the act of loading up his boat with bagged body parts, having attached a GPS tracker to his boat...

Dexter's held at gunpoint (literally caught red-handed), but after being forced to handcuff himself, Dex manages to rush Doakes on the boat jetty and they fall into the water. The two enemies grapple for awhile, with Dex shot in the leg, before Doakes is choked-out and locked up in a cabin...

So what will happen next? If Dex values his freedom (and we're reminded that rule number 1 of the Code Of Harry is "don’t get caught"), he'll kill Doakes, convincingly frame him as the Butcher, and allow everyone to think Doakes escaped once he suspected Lundy was onto him..

But that's too rational for this show. And how will Dex explain his gunshot wound to everyone, as he was supposedly at home under armed-guard all night? I'm sure there are a few more twists in the tale, as there are still 3 more episodes left in this impressive sophomore season.

Will Lila figure more strongly into the plot, or has her story been told? She resurfaces here, just to antagonize Dex with some vague threats about exposing some of his secrets to his friends, unless he comes back to her.

As much as I've enjoyed the character of Lila this season, she was just distracting and aggravating here -- probably because her story seemed to reach a natural conclusion last week. There's no way Dex will resume his relationship with her -- so is she just a spare wheel spinning on the sidelines, or do the writers have something up their sleeves?

Overall, Resistance Is Futile was another good episode of Dexter, but tainted by having characters make stupid decisions just to wrangle the story into the right direction. The idea to make Doakes into a scapegoat for Dex's crimes was also predicted a long time ago, so there were no earthquakes when that particular development was revealed...

But, despite plenty of niggling flaws, this episode took a few inventive steps and had some tense and uncertain moments for Dexter to deal with. As usual, while you're left with suspicions, it's almost impossible to guess how season 2 will end -- or how the supporting stories might slot into place.

It's exciting, tense and compelling in short bursts – but ultimately a slight disappointment because of the irrational decision-making from Doakes, a distracting reprise for Lila, and a somewhat unnecessary flashback where Harry Morgan (James Remar) makes a young Dexter watch a criminal die on the electric chair.

I have faith Dexter will reach a brilliant conclusion this year, but Resistance Is Futile was guilty of implausibly bending its characters into situations, with the writers' hand more noticeable than usual.

25 November 2007
Showtime, 9.30pm

PRISON BREAK 3.8 – "Bang And Burn"

Writers: Christian Trokey & Nick Santora
Director: Bobby Roth

Cast: Wentworth Miller (Michael Scofield), Danay Garcia (Sofia Lugo), Robert Wisdom (Lechero), Robert Knepper (Theodore "T-Bag" Bagwell), Dominic Purcell (Lincoln Burrows), Wade Williams (Brad Bellick), William Fichtner (Alexander Mahone), Chris Vance (James Whistler), Jodi Lyn O'Keefe (Gretchen/Susan B. Anthony), Amaury Nolasco (Fernando Sucre), Kim Coates (Richard Sullens), Barbara Eve Harris (Lang), Laurence Mason (Sammy), Carlo Alban (McGrady), Leon Russom (Pad Man) & Castulo Guerra (General Zavala)

Michael begins to plan a different escape with Lechero's help, Susan is forced into her own Plan B, and Sofia discovers Whistler has been leading a double-life...

"I don't pay you to be my adviser. You're my operative. You have your instructions, now get it done. Because if you don't, I'll make what happened to you in Mosul feel like a massage."
-- Pad Man (Leon Russom)

Bang And Burn is quite an unusual episode. It presents audiences with fresh impetus and direction, but because it's the premature mid-season finale (due to the WGA strike), you can't help feel it might have been wiser to put the show on hiatus last week – when Phase 1 of season 3 came to a close. Instead, we get an exciting glimpse at Phase 2, albeit tinged with disappointment...

It's only disappointing because it’s now clear Prison Break's third season is sticking to season 1's template, and by the end of episode 8 not much has actually changed – with all the characters right back where they started.

Susan B. Anthony (Jodi Lynn O'Keefe) meets with the mysterious General (Leon Russom), the apparent head of The Company who's familiar to fans as the usually-mute Pad Man from season 2. His arrival in season 3 has been overdue, as he was instrumental in sending Michael (Wentworth Miller) to Sona to begin with...

The General threatens Susan (real name Gretchen) with violence if she fails to take the "bang and burn" option to free Whistler, which sends her into a blur of activity inside her own personal "War Room", which is designed to return The Company to their former all-powerful glory of season 1. It fails, mainly because the level of activity and surplus of agents are crammed into what appears to be Susan's back room!

Whistler (Chris Vance) is quickly becoming a more scurrilous character than believed, as he's told by Susan to be ready for their "bang and burn" tactic at 5pm, and to kill Michael ahead of time. The fact he understands Company terminology seems to suggest he's a former/current operative himself... as does the fact he had clues about how to manipulate Mahone in his Bird Book.

Girlfriend Sofia (Danay Garcia) also unearths some evidence of his boyfriend's secret life, as he was renting a nearby house under the name Gary Miller. However, she's warned off continuing her sleuthing by Susan, who arrives to dispose of Gary/Whistler's personal effects. Curious.

Lechero (Robert Wisdom) is now an active part of Michael's escape team, and reveals an abandoned tunnel beneath Sona, only accessible through the back of his personal quarters. The old tunnel has been caved in, although Michael thinks they could dig up through the ceiling – which should bring them out mid-way across No Man's Land...

The most redundant subplot is shouldered by Mahone (William Fichtner), who is inches away from a cushy four-year sentence in a US jail, if he testifies against The Company in court. Unfortunately, he confesses to former colleague Lang (Barbara Eve Harris) that he's been dependent on drugs for years now, and was forced to take hard narcotics in Sona, which has rendered him a shivering, nervous, sweating wreck...

As such, Mahone's rambling testimony in court falls on deaf ears and the unluckiest lawman in history is prepared to be sent back to Sona!

Lincoln (Dominic Purcell) and Sucre (Amaury Nolasco) don't get much to do, beyond sow the seed of a future plan by renting a house in a forest and recording gunshots sounds in a tape-recorder. Lincoln apparently saw three body-bags in Susan's van last week, so has no doubt that The Company had intended to kill him, his brother and his son had Whistler been sprung from jail.

Of course, Lincoln has never been the sharpest tool in the box, so the foreshadowing of his probable trap doesn't fill you with confidence. Mind you, after some Company goons are unleashed on him, with one taking Sofia hostage, he finally shows a more ruthless side by risking Sofia's life and taking the goon out with a well-aimed head shot.

In the thrilling climax, Michael realizes The Company have decided to wash their hands of him, and launch a surprise helicopter attack on Sona to rescue Whistler themselves. Whistler gets onto Sona's roof and makes a desperate leap onto a dangled rope ladder, although Michael manages to jump onto Whistler's legs to keep him imprisoned and his services required.

After one of the show's most elaborate action sequences full of stunts and explosions, the helicopters abort their mission (just watch Susan's face curdle) and Sona is locked-down and filled with angry guards. For once, logical prevails, and a Sona official realizes that two escape attempts in as many days, in the week jail-breaker Michael Scofield arrived in Sona, points the finger squarely at him... so he's marched out of Sona!

I actually really enjoyed Bang And Burn, despite its bizarre leaps into fresh territory. But it's an episode that clearly signals the end of Act I and the beginning of Act II, which is just what season 3 needed about now. Unfortunately, while there are many distractions (particularly that blood-pumping helicopter finale), it's still irritating that Bang And Burn essentially presses the reset button.

This happened in season 1, and is perhaps a necessary move to spread a prison escape storyline over 20-odd episodes, but whereas season 1's characters had progressed by the mid-way point, season 3's have remained quite fixed. Indeed, Mahone is headed back to square one, Bellick (Wade Williams) has been forgotten about, T-Bag (Robert Knepper) is still skirting on the edge of plots, Linc and Michael are back where they started, and Sucre is only there to make up numbers. Only Lechero and Whistler have really been developed to any degree.

But, episode 8 definitely makes you interested to see where season 3 goes from here – which is remarkable for a prison-based series I didn’t think would last even 1 season, let alone 3!

And so ends the first-half of Prison Break – which is set to return in January. Let's hope the US writers' dispute is sorted out by then, so the pace isn't further destroyed by another forced hiatus.

26 November 2007
Sky One, 10.00 pm

Monday, 26 November 2007

WGA: WGGB Solidarity - 28 Nov

The Writers Guild Of Great Britain are going to demonstrate in London on 28 November, to show their support for the US strike by the Writers Guild Of America -- which is still ongoing, in case you were wondering, with the dispute back at the negotiating table today. Anyway, more information about the WGGB demo here.

Also of interest, Susan Sarandon and Chazz Palminteri bringing the WGA strike to peoples' attention by miming a scene -- as part of a Speechless campaign.


Writer & Director: Taika Waititi

Cast: Jemaine Clement (Jemaine), Bret McKenzie (Bret), Arj Barker (Dave), Rhys Darby (Murray), Frank Wood (Greg), Aziz Ansari (Sinjay), Kevin Allison (Customer), Joan Hess (Jessica), Jon Budinoff (Boy On The Bus) & Sylvia Kauders (Lady On The Bus)

Bret and Jemaine face racial hostility from a Indian fruit seller, and Murray falls in love with a tech support woman...

"Hey, what are you guys doing? You, uh, you bungee-jumping up there?"
-- Sinjay (Aziz Ansari)

Is it coincidence that the funniest episode of the series is written and directed by someone else, namely Taika Waititi? As the Conchords themselves appear desperately short of ideas and resort to variations on the same plot and jokes, Waititi's script (while hardly a revelation) is a damn sight more compelling and contains some memorable moments.

The thrust of the episode concerns racial prejudice, in the unlikely form of Indian fruit seller Sinjay (Aziz Ansari), who detests New Zealanders and refuses to serve Bret and Jemaine. The idea doesn't really stretch beyond this one joke, but it's humorously told and performed by everyone.

I particularly enjoyed how Bret and Jemaine are so sheltered from life they're unable to grasp the concept of "flipping the bird" and need a training montage from best friend Dave (Arj Barker). The eventual pay-off to the plot is a bit trite (again using the way New Zealanders are mistaken for other nationalities), but it was a fun journey while it lasts.

There's some great stuff for Murray (Rhys Darby) in this episode, as he's quite clearly the funniest character, despite being an unashamed David Brent knockoff. Here, Murray (who we learn is married, but separated) lusts after a gorgeous blonde tech support worker called Jessica (Joan Hess), prompting a desire to pen a love song for her...

As usual, the musical interludes are hit-and-miss, particularly a children's animation called "Albi The Racist Dragon", delivered to the Conchords from Bret's mum back in the homeland. It's a note-perfect parody of 70s-era stop-animation, but it's not particularly funny and is crow-barred into the script.

A song called "Mutha Huckas" contains some amusing lyrics, but it's Murray's climactic love song ("Leggy Blonde") that is undoubtedly the musical highlight of the series (so far.) It's just great to see Murray make his singing debut on the show, while the lyrical jokes work because they pay-off material from earlier in the episode, and the "music video" itself is well accomplished. The idea to animate everyone onto photocopier paper being ejected into a tray was particularly brilliant.

So yes, in a mixed bag series that has never really achieved its potential. Drive By ranks as one of the better episodes. The jokes are improved, Murray is given more to do, the songs don’t distract too much, and the plots (which not very textured) at least tread new ground...

6 November 2007
BBC Four, 9.30pm


I was very unimpressed this week. I quite like Djalili as a performer and his stand-up interludes were again the main reason to watch, but the majority of this episode consisted of extremely weak (no, embarrassingly bad) sketches...

Episode 2 began on a duff note and went down from there, opening on a sketch with Djalili playing a cockney Arab flying around on a carpet he's thinking of buying from a shop. See? Arabs. Magic carpets. Hilarious, no?

But the main culprit was a prolonged and extremely unfunny parody of Jane Austen called "Pride & Racial Prejudice", where Djalili played Persian ambassador Mr Farcy. It seemed to be just another excuse for Djalili to dance around while the Victorian stiffs looked bemused, before he parodied Colin Firth by emerging from a pond covered in frog spawn. Has a sketch ever failed so dismally?

You see, while Djalili's stand-up comedy is considered brave and compelling (albeit purely because he tackles racial issues and touches on hot post-911 topics), he's obviously a terrible sketch writer. If, indeed, he's the one responsible for penning these comedy tumbleweeds. I hear that one of the series' writers worked on The Two Ronnies, which is a good pedigree to have, but unfortunately said writer doesn't seem to have watched a sketch show since 1990...

I mean, honestly: annoying Ray Stubbs at a kid's football match, being a bad extra in a scene from Casualty, a Roman Emperor realizing that the colloseum react to the position of his thumb during gladiator bouts... all were mind-numbingly unfunny and tedious.

I think Djalili's a funny guy; despite his reliance on belly-dancing, faux Iranian accent, miming a rope-pull, and laughing maniacally. These tics are excusable in a stand-up routine (where they're flourishes to the verbal gags), and Djalili has some good material -- but why can't he spot a bad sketch when he reads one? The efforts here aren't even brave failures! They're just inane, old-fashioned and totally at odds with his comparatively hilarious stage routines.

Would The Omid Djalili Show be any better if he wasn't on BBC1? I can imagine far more interesting and controversial material being created if this were a Channel 4 series. But, while there are flashes of brilliance when Djalili just does his stand-up set to the audience, all the supporting sketches lack substance, laughs, and sap whatever pace Djalili manages to build...

24 November 2007
BBC1, 9.40 pm

Harry Potter & The Order Of The Phoenix (2007)

Director: David Yates
Writer: Michael Goldenberg (based on the novel by J.K Rowling)

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort), Michael Gambon (Dumbledore), Gary Oldman (Sirius Black), Imelda Staunton (Dolores Umbridge), Alan Rickman (Snape), Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), Katie Leung (Cho Chang), Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), Maggie Smith (McGonogall), Emma Thompson (Trelawney), David Thewlis (Lupin), Brendan Gleeson (Mad Eye Moody), George Harris (Shacklebolt), Natalia Tena (Tonks), Julie Walters (Molly Weasley), Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley), Robert Hardy (Fudge), Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange), Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), James Phelps (Fred Weasley), Oliver Phelps (George Weasley), Harry Melling (Dudley Dursley), Richard Griffiths (Vernon Dursley), Fiona Shaw (Petunia Dursley) & Timothy Bateson (Kreacher, voice)

Harry Potter finds himself shunned by his Hogwarts classmates, who don't believe Lord Voldemort has returned. Then, the Ministry Of Magic replace Dumbledore with authoritarian Dolores Umbridge...

By now, you're either invested in the Harry Potter phenomenon, or you're not. I myself haven't read a single one of the bestselling books, although I've enjoyed the film adaptations. Philosopher's Stone (2001) was old-school competence, Chamber Of Secrets (2002) was enjoyable, Prisoner Of Azkaban (2004) was wonderful, and Goblet Of Fire (2005) was great fun.

Harry Potter & The Order Of The Phoenix is the fifth film, and the book it's based on is generally considered the weakest in the Potter series. At a staggering 766 pages (870 for the US edition), it's also the longest book written by J.K Rowling. Consequently, the film adaptation cuts out massive chunks to reduce the plot into a workable screenplay, written by Michael Goldenberg -- who replaces Steve Kloves.

British director David Yates, best known for TV mini-series State Of Play (2003), is the unlikely choice behind the camera -- clearly chosen to put the emphasis on characterization and shepherd the plot. Consequently, Order Of The Phoenix is the least effects-driven Potter movie to date, with the exciting set-pieces ruthlessly cut short.

We find Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) facing teenage angst away from school, bullied by his foster brother Dudley (Harry Melling), who is later attacked by a phantom-like Dementor -- likely sent by evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). Unfortunately, despite Voldemort's resurrection at the climax of Goblet Of Fire, most people don't believe Harry's story about the Dark Lord's return...

After Harry's trial in the Ministry Of Magic (because he used magic in the "Muggles' world" to stop the Dementor attack), it becomes clear that the Ministry themselves are turning a blind eye to the likelihood that Voldemort is back from the dead...

Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) is one of the few adults who believes Harry -- but he's later replaced by neat, orderly, pink-obsessed Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), who neuters the teaching methods at Hogwarts and inspires Harry to create an underground "Dumbledore's Army" to prepare his fellow classmates for the looming war against Voldemort...

The problems with Order Of The Phoenix are legion. I know the story has been condensed from a sprawling literary prose, losing the film a lot of the books' texture and nuance, but you have to review the final product -- and I was sorely disappointed by Phoenix...

There are plenty of incidents in the film, but little sense of drive and purpose. After four movies, we're now fully accustomed to the Potter universe, so director David Yates can't rely on the premise, scenery, sets or special-effects to distract from any shortcomings. So it's the problems that really stick out.

Sadly, Daniel Radcliffe isn't the massive improvement here as I'd been led to believe, and most of the main characters barely get a look in. In particular, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are pushed into the background, which is very odd because the previous films always focused on this trio of friends.

Of course, a theme throughout the film is the alienation of Harry, so having Harry practically go it alone was likely intentional, but it's still irritating because Radcliffe lacks the acting chops to carry the film's weight on his shoulders. Mind you, the theme about children realizing their parents might not be the heroic figures they consider them to be, works quite well. I particularly liked the revelation Harry's father used to bully Snape (Alan Rickman) when they were at school together...

But it's left to the guest stars to keep you invested, for the most part. Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) is wonderful as Umbridge, trotting around Hogwarts in her Jackie Kennedy-style pink suit, like a malevolent Mary Poppins. She buoys an otherwise deflated Act II, until Phoenix manages to build an entertaining finale that's only let-down by a curiously unemotional death scene and a Dumbledore versus Voldemort battle that's great fun -- but over before it really gets going!

There are some pointless diversions with Centaurs in a forest, Hagrid's dopey half-brother (a bad CGI effect), Harry's first kiss with Chang (which is pretty much Katie Leung's only scene!), Helena Bonham-Carter is brilliant as cackling Bellatrix Lestrange (well, for her entire 5 minutes of screen-time!), and the tag-line promise that "the rebellion begins" rings very hollow...

After four movies, Phoenix just goes through the motions and lays the groundwork for the final two stories. It's now easy to second-guess Potter's plotting and Phoenix loses the sense of wonderment and magic that was inherent in the previous films.

Simply put: Phoenix isn't much fun, it's 30-minutes too long, it lacks the expected thrills, the returning actors are mostly wasted, Radcliffe struggles to hold everything together, and the film ends in a manner that inspires a shrug, not desperation to see The Half-Blood Prince.

On the positive side; Evanna Lynch is note-perfect as dreamy oddball Luna Lovegood, Imelda Staunton steals every scene she's in, and the visuals for the finale's wizarding duel are excellent. But everything else is either limp, confused, unfocused, distracting, or just plain dull...

I didn't hate The Order Of The Phoenix (because I'm invested in the Potter storyline after 6 years spent watching these films), but this was a big misstep for me. After The Goblet Of Fire's finale heralded a major shift in the dramatic, emotional stakes, Phoenix fails to capitalize and becomes a pale shadow of what should have been...

Much like the book, apparently...

Warner Brothers
Budget: £75 million
138 minutes

Sunday, 25 November 2007


Wasn't it great to see Lilia Kopylova back on the show, upstaging the Sugababes in all her booty-shaking, hip-twisting glory? Why did she have to get booted out, God -- why??!!

It was week 8 of Strictly Come Dancing and surely it's a foregone conclusion that Alesha has won, now that Kelly (her closest competition) has been battle-damaged by some scathing Judge comments?

As usual, my marks for beauty and sexiness (none of that technique and skill malarkey) are:

Camilla Dallerup
Another one of those long pink dresses that hide everything, although Camilla always looks pretty regardless.

Nicole Cutler
A silver dress and tiny skirt that showed off plenty of leg, with nice long hair and a fun, energetic vibe the the dance. Great stuff!

Leticia Dean
No, not for me. A chocolate brown dress? Something about Leticia just annoys me now, sorry.

Kelly Brook
Just what is it with cyan blue on this show? Kelly was her usual sex-bomb self in a frilly short skirt, slender legs and a hip, cool vibe to her performance of "Stayin' Alive". Sexy.

Ola Jordan
So disappointing! Why did she dress up like a shrink-wrapped granny? Her fabulous body was totally hidden -- so thank heavens for the semi-transparent top. But she's still the most inconsistent dancer at exuding sex-appeal.

Flavia Cacace
Sexy in lime green because of those brilliant tanned legs, sexy open-back and a fast and fun style to her performance. Excellent!

Alesha Dixon
Absolutely perfect! A white/silver dress that showed off every inch of those luscious pins, dancing sexily to Beyonce's "Crazy In Love", like a Amazonian goddess with mane-like hair that got every man's blood pumping. Superb!

And we bid farewell to Nicole Cutler (and some ex-footballer called John Barnes), who were in the bottom 2 for yet another week and were unfortunately up against Kelly Brook. As surprisingly great as Nicole's been, I'd rather watch Kelly steam up the dance floor, so it's a good call by the Judges...

And what's that done to my leader-board? Well...

1. Kelly Brook -- 51
2. Alesha Dixon -- 48
3. Ola Jordan -- 45
4. Flavia Cacace -- 41
5. Camilla Dallerup -- 40
6. Nicole Cutler -- 39
7. Leticia Dean -- 31

CALIFORNICATION 1.6 – "Absinthe Makes The Heart Grow Fonder"

Writers: Tom Kapinos & Eric Weinberg
Director: Ken Whittingham

Cast: David Duchovny (Hank Moody), Natascha McElhone (Karen Van Der Beek), Madeleine Martin (Rebecca), Madeline Zima (Mia), Evan Handler (Charlie), Damian Young (William "Bill" Cross), Pamela Adlon (Marcy), Lance Barber (Mia's Teacher), Rachel Miner (Dani), Michelle Lombardo (Venice Beach Girl), Daisy Gardner (Crusty Cashier), Dana Michael Woods (Emcee), Robert Gilling (Band Member #1), Jory Glick (Band Member #2), Shira Kreitenberg (Band Member #3) & Myles Trifon (Band Member #4)

Hank is robbed by a one-night stand, goes to see his daughter perform in a Battle Of The Bands concert, before having to come to Mia's aide...

Karen: What would you do if our little spawn actually became, like, a rock star?
Hank: I would be really proud of her.
Karen: You would?
Hank: And I would be there to help pump her stomach when she OD'd.

It's the half-way mark of Californication's first season, and the show has done an incredible job of crafting a memorable new TV character in the shape of Hank Moody (David Duchovny), and it's one of the easiest shows to watch in a marketplace stuffed with complex mythologies, labyrinthine plotting and huge ensembles. But, I've yet to see an episode be anything more than an enjoyable diversion.

Absinthe Makes The Heart Grow Fonder is another series of events for Hank, who we find swigging from a bottle whilst doing some late-night shopping in his shades. As luck would have it, a Venice Beach Girl (Michelle Lombardo) is sniffing around him, and becomes a damsel-in-distress for Hank to bed when he pays for her purchases. Unfortunately, the Girl turns out to be an opportunist thief who steals Hank's guitar and vintage LPs while he sleeps, although Hank seems robust to whatever life throws at him. Hey, the sex was probably worth the vinyl...

From there, Hank is again granted plenty of opportunities to make a play for his ex-wife Karen (Natascha McElhone), who might be weeks away from marrying someone else, but seems to be always willing to spending more time with Hank than fiance Bill...

The proud parents attend their daughter Becca's "Battle Of The Bands" concert at school, where she surprisingly rocks the place, but Hank is called away by Mia (Madeline Zima) -- the underage daughter of his ex-wife's fiance, who he's secretly slept with...

Mia's a sexy little control freak, who enjoys winding Hank up, and here concocts a story that she's about to be forced into a threesome against her will -- when in fact she's perfectly safe in the home of her junkie school teacher (Lance Barber).

Elsewhere, Hank's agent Charlie (Evan Handler) is still unable to stop getting his sexual kicks from playing "master" to his secretary's "slave", relishing making Dani (Rachel Miner) crawl around the floor on a whim. His wife, Marcy (Pamela Adlon), is still unsuspecting of her husband's antics, and his attempt to get her similarly interested in bondage and spanking fails miserably...

As always, it's all naughty fun and the writing is deft and witty, with the show held together by Duchovny's revelatory performance and fine support from the rest of the cast. The problem is, after 6 episodes, Californication hasn't really done much. I can predict where everything is headed, and while the episodes themselves are amusing and entertaining, the overall direction is a little plodding and not exactly compelling.

The show seems unable to provide the same level of writing quality that's been bestowed on Hank Moody's character. He's a great creation, but I wish he was being given something exciting and multi-faceted to do -- instead of variations on shagging every attractive woman who throws him a glance, flirting with his ex, tensing up around Mia and spitting venom at Bill.

There are another 6 episodes left to go, so I hope Californication will get out of its holding pattern and begin to fly into new directions, before the narrative's repetition becomes something even Duchovny's charisma can't counter.

15 November 2007
Five, 10.00 pm

ROBIN HOOD 2.8 - "Get Carter"

Writer: Richard Standeven
Director: Roger Goldby

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) & Joseph Kennedy (Carter)

The Sheriff recruits a deadly assassin to kill Robin, and Marian becomes a loose canon in Robin's gang...

The most memorable thing about Get Carter is a sudden wave of thinly veiled double entendres from the Sheriff (Keith Allen) -- beginning with a fnar-fnar "why don't you ever kiss my ring?" comment to Guy (Richard Armitage), who he later teases with the threat of kisses, before Nottingham's vilest is kicked in the balls by Robin (Jonas Armstrong). A gay-bashing subtext on a family show? Surely not!

But away from the episode's weird dalliance with homosexuality in the Middle Ages (in pure dirty panto-style, obviously), episode 8 finds the Sheriff recruiting Carter (Joseph Kennedy), a handsome blonde assassin fresh from the Crusades, to kill Robin Hood and retrieve the stolen Great Pact Of Nottingham...

Meanwhile, Robin is having problems trying to merge Marian (ravishing Lucy Griffiths) into his team, as her single-minded fighting style doesn't click with their team-work ethic. Indeed, she proves herself quite a liability when she drags the outnumbered and unprepared gang into a fight in Clun Village Fortunately, Carter promptly arrives to upstage everyone with his superior fighting skills, saves their skins, endears himself to Robin, and tricks his way back to the outlaws' camp...

Much (Sam Troughton) has his suspicions about this curiously-familiar stranger, and he's later proved right when Carter effortlessly captures the gang and reveals himself as the vengeful brother of Thomas -- a heroic soldier who died in the Crusades, supposedly because of Robin's actions...

Elsewhere, Guy orders Allan (Joe Armstrong) to find the runaway Marian, forcing Allan to pretend she's joined a convent and forge a letter to Guy from the Mother Superior.

Get Carter is quite possibly the best episode of the season, mainly because its plot is less convoluted than usual, and it builds on the season's past events very well -- continuing the Sheriff's Great Pact subplot and involving a belated return to the series' Crusades back-story...

In Carter, the script creates a character who should have become Allan's replacement, manages to make limp Robin feel like a formidable opponent for once, and contains a handful of emotional scenes that are surprisingly effective: Little John consoling a grieving Marian, Robin persuading Carter he's not to blame for his brother's death, and Much bemoaning his low-standing in the gang hierarchy...

The action sequences are better staged than usual, with even occasional Asterix-style comedic clangs slotting in well to the choreography. The overall production is clearly more expansive and immersive this year, too -- and there are some wonderful castle sequences running along the battlements.

As always, there are some irritations: like Carter's incessant sword-swinging and further reliance on Djak's magical Turkish medicine to get the storyline out of a dead-end, but nothing too distracting. In streamlining the script to simple A and B plots, beefing up the character moments, and ensuring the episode continues some ongoing subplots, Get Carter becomes nothing less than enjoyable and occasionally rather thrilling.

The turnaround in quality is actually quite startling when you compare season 2 to the dawdling, repetitive, slog of season 1. The unfortunate casting decisions in key roles, anachronisms, and a general family-too-friendly atmosphere, will always be its undoing -- but, given its ingredients, Robin Hood is finally cooking up a Saturday evening treat!

23 November 2007
BBC1, 7.15 pm

Saturday, 24 November 2007

LIVE AT THE APOLLO 3.1: Jimmy Carr & Alan Carr

So begins a new run of the stand-up comedy series, showcasing two comedians at Hammersmith's Apollo Theatre. Host Jack Dee is absent this time, with Jimmy Carr taking over as compere -- and stealing Dee's mobile phone gimmick, where members of the audience are encouraged to text in question which he humorously answers at the end...

Jimmy Carr

Carr may still be overexposed on television, but his omnipresence on panel shows (hosting 8 Out Of 10 Cats, guesting on QI, etc.) hasn't encouraged a backlash against him. Why? Well, he's a consummate stand-up performer -- blessed with enviable comic timing, exact patter, and the ability to hone gags to precision. His set here was a mix of old material available on his best-selling Live DVDs, but there was an equal amount of fresh stuff.

What I like about Carr is that you get your money's worth. His gags are usually one-liners, so even a 20-minute set is packed will more laughs than most comedians manage in an hour. Any duds are quickly forgotten about, and Carr's delight in shocking audiences with near-the-knuckle material about sick children and sex means there's a pleasant mix of gasp and giggle to his comedy.

Alan Carr

Most people only know Alan Carr from his co-presenting of The Friday Night Project, but he's actually an accomplished stand-up comic. With his podgy body, thick black glasses, receding hairline, Snagglepuss teeth, tombstone teeth, and Zippy-style voice -- Carr was perhaps destined to become a funnyman -- and he uses his unique look to his advantage.

As a gay man, his humour mines predictable territory of sexual double entendres, bitchy comments, and acidic ripostes. He's not afraid to be self-deprecating either, which makes him endearing, and he engages well with the audience. His style is very conversational and warm-hearted behind withering glares over his glasses, and his material had a surprisingly hight hit-rate. It also helped that his stand-up persona is quite new to television audiences, so while I'm sure his jokes were plundered from many live gigs, the majority of them were new to my ears...

Next Time: Jo Brand and Michael McIntyre.

19 November 2007
BBC1, 10.35 pm