Friday, 29 February 2008

Box Office Charts: w/e 29 February 2008

In the US: Vantage Point, concerning the attempted assassination of the President, told from five different perspectives, takes the US #1 spot... the "Oscar-effect" manages to nudge There Will Be Blood back into the chart, at #10 again... but there's dismal news for Be Kind Rewind, which debuts at an extremely disappointing #9.

In the UK: Be Kind Rewind does much better over here, straight in at #2... Odeon's controversial decision not to show Rambo in its cinemas possibly had a hand in its #3 placing... and Oscar-winner There Will Be Blood ("Best Actor" for Daniel Day-Lewis) helps P.T Anderson's film debut at #7.

US TOP 10

(-) 1. Vantage Point $22.9m
(2) 2. The Spiderwick Chronicles $13.1m
(1) 3. Jumper $12.7m
(3) 4. Step Up To The Streets $9.61m
(4) 5. Fool's Gold $6.55m
(5) 6. Definitely, Maybe $5.22m
(6) 7. Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins $4.16m
(7) 8. Juno $4.15m
(-) 9. Be Kind Rewind $4.05m
(R) 10. There Will Be Blood $2.69m

UK TOP 10

(1) 1. Jumper £1.5m
(-) 2. Be Kind Rewind £1.3m
(-) 3. Rambo £1.2m
(3) 4. Juno £1.07m
(2) 5. National Treasure: Book Of Secrets £931k
(4) 6. The Water Horse £646k
(7) 7. There Will Be Blood £506k
(6) 8. The Bucket List £398k
(5) 9. Cloverfield £358k
(R) 10. Alvin & The Chipmunks £354k

UK RELEASES THIS WEEK

THE BANK JOB
A car dealer takes the lead on a foolproof bank robbery, not realizing some of their loot contains dirty secrets that would cause the Royal Family embarrassment. Crime thriller, based on a true story, starring Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows, Stephen Campbell Moore & Daniel Mays.

IMAGINATION
Twin girls with a rare form of Asperger's Syndrome overcome their physical limitations to perhaps learn the secrets of heaven and nature. Fantasy drama starring Ed K. Gildersleeve, Nikki Haddad, Jessi Haddad, Courtney Sanford & Travis Poelle.

MARGOT AT THE WEDDING
A mother attends her sister's wedding with her son, with the two siblings exposing family secrets. Comedy drama starring Zane Pais, Susan Blackwell, Nichole Kidman, Jack Black, Jennifer Jason Leigh & Flora Cross.

SEMI-PRO
The owner/coach/player of a basketball team in the 70s tries to make his NBA dreams come true. Comedy starring Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, Andre Benjamin, Will Arnett & Andy Richter.

UNTRACEABLE
An FBI Agent tries to capture a serial-killer who posts videos of his victims' deaths live on the internet. Crime thriller starring Diane Lane, Billy Burke, Colin Hanks, Joseph Cross & Mary Beth Hurt.

KEY: "-" = NEW ENTRY / "R" = TOP 10 RE-ENTRY / "( )" = CHART POSITION LAST WEEK

New Line Cinema: The Curtain Closes

LA Times:

Roll the credits on New Line Cinema, the 40-year-old studio behind such iconic movie franchises as "The Lord of the Rings," "Austin Powers" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street."

The company will lay off hundreds of employees between its Los Angeles and New York facilities and be merged into its corporate sibling, Warner Bros.

Top Rated


Of course, ratings don't have any bearing on the quality of a TV series, but I always find them interesting. They're the only way to see what people watch every week, and it's eye-opening to realize Primeval got more viewers than Lost, Torchwood and Prison Break combined!

Of the shows I review (currently/recently airing in the UK), here are the latest ratings -- in descending order:

#1. ASHES TO ASHES: the new Life On Mars spin-off pulls in about 7 million viewers every Thursday, making it the 9th most popular show on BBC1. The week-behind repeat that follows on BBC Four gets 515,000 viewers – making it that channel's top show. Incidentally, the Life On Mars repeats on Bravo are that channel's most popular show -- getting 147,00 viewers every Tuesday.

#2. PRIMEVAL: the monster-based action series is the 14th most popular series on ITV1, getting about 6.44m viewers on Saturdays.

#3. TORCHWOOD: the second season for this Doctor Who spin-off is BBC2's highest-rated series -- with 3.79 million viewers every Wednesday. The recently-started premieres on BBC Three immediately afterwards get about 849,000 viewers.

#4. LOST: the new fourth season of the island mystery-adventure series, airing 3 days behind the US, is Sky One's biggest show -- pulling in about 1.4 million every Sunday.

#5. TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES: this new sci-fi series (being shown 6 weeks behind its US transmission) gave Virgin1 its biggest hit of the year so far -- with 642,000 viewers tuning in for the premiere.

#6. PRISON BREAK: the third year of the US prison-set thriller, airing a few weeks behind its US transmission, was Sky One's 9th most popular show -- snaring about 445,000 every Monday.

#7. RAINES: this cancelled US police procedural, about a detective who solves crimes with the help of imaginary victims, gets about 374,000 for ITV3 every Monday, making it their 6th most popular show.

ASHES TO ASHES 1.4 – "The Missing Link"

Writer: Mark Greig
Director: Catherine Morshead

Cast: Philip Glenister (DCI Gene Hunt), Keeley Hawes (DI Alex Drake), Dean Andrews (DS Ray Carling), Marshall Lancaster (DC Chris Skelton), Montserrat Lombard (WPC Sharon "Shaz" Granger), Joseph Long (Luigi), Geff Francis (Viv James), Andrew Clover (The Clown), Amelia Bullmore (Caroline Price), Stephen Campbell Moore (Evan White) & Grace Vance (Molly Drake)

A man who worked at a government weapons facility is murdered, leading CID to investigate a feminist socialist group…

"So what are you: C or a D cup?"
-- DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister)

I've abandoned hope of ever caring about DI Alex Drake's (Keeley Hawes) plight -- because she's not stuck in the past, just her own imagination – so I'm only really watching for some retro-cop drama now. The Missing Link benefits from an interesting storyline and for tightening the "murder mystery" of Alex's parents, but it's still difficult to care about this make-believe world...

This week's investigation concerns Mark Kennedy, a government worker who is found murdered at the dockyards. Gene (Philip Glenister) and Alex soon discover Martin was smuggling nuclear secrets out of the Edgehampton weapons facility where he worked, to the Revolutionary Workers Front; primarily a feminist socialist group who are against weapons stockpiling.

Alex is also intrigued to find her mother Caroline Price (Amelia Bullmore) is involved as the plot thickens, as she was blackmailed with photos of her sleeping with family-friend Evan White (Stephen Campbell Moore) while her husband Tim was away working. Of course, this revelation enrages Alex – who never knew her mother had a fling with her own daughter's godfather. She should remind herself that none of this is real, eh?

The storyline nicely develops to involve MI5, who Gene and Alex suspect killed Martin when he was exposed as an in-house leak. It was interesting to see CID come up against a government-backed threat, as a MI5 agent effortlessly poses as a "DC Baker" and steals all the evidence they have. Gene and Alex decide to get inside Edgehampton (using a fake ID), to find evidence of neutron bomb testing (project "Artemus") using a map encoded by Martin and hidden inside his diary.

Once inside (I can't believe a fake ID with Gene's face glued on actually worked!), Alex and Gene locate a vault storing filing cabinets of secret documents and find "Artemus", but accidentally lock themselves inside the airless room. The sexual tension begins to rise when it gets so hot that Alex is forced to take off here top (revealing a bright red bra), but any amorous advance by Gene is shot down when Ray (Dean Andrews), Chris (Marshall Lancaster) and Shaz (Montserrat Lombard) arrive to free them as part of a back-up plan.

It's eventually revealed that Martin was actually killed by his feminist contact Sara Templeton after he tried to rape her, putting a government-sanctioned hit out of the equation. Alex also begins to suspect her mother's dealings with dangerous people and government secrets might be the reason she was killed in a car bomb attack. Caroline is stunned by Alex's compassion when she's handed the original negatives of her affair with Evan – not realizing it's because Alex is actually protecting her own family in doing so.

I actually quite enjoyed this storyline. It had a few layers to it, made sense throughout, and even managed to grip me on a few occasions -- particularly when MI5 got involved, and the stakes were raised as a consequence. But it was a shame the story got cold feet towards the end, and decided to make Mark Kennedy's murder an act of retribution by a rape victim.

Caroline Price is still a horrid character, but at least there's a clearer sense of why she's a regular fixture on the show: as we're starting to realize why someone might want her dead. So, can Alex prevent her own mother's death? I really hope not, as Caroline's utterly dislikeable, and her murder doesn't seem to have scarred modern-day Alex that much – being an intelligent, successful, single mother living in 2008. And how can saving a make-believe person's life in a 1981 fantasy-world possible affect the trajectory of a bullet inches away from impacting Alex's head, anyway?

And isn't it alarming that I can go so long without even mentioning Gene Hunt in a review? I don't know, I just think the magic has gone with that character now. Glenister gets the odd good line and still has on-screen presence, but I'm getting fed up with his permanent sneer and the way he just grumbles or barks his dialogue.

Overall, The Missing Link was definitely a big improvement in terms of plotting and narrative, and I'm glad Keeley Hawes ditched Alex's capriciousness this week, but every episode of Ashes To Ashes is crippled by the show's concept: that nothing you see is "real" and, therefore, none of it really matters. I wish I could trick myself into believing Alex really is back in 1981, but I can't.

All I thought when Alex realized her mother had an affair was: well, she probably didn't. You're just imagining she did, based on hazy memories from when you were a little girl. Oh, and did anyone else giggle when Alex called her daughter "Mol", bearing in mind what's planted on the left cheek of the actress playing Molly? Heh.


28 February 2008
BBC1, 9.00 pm

Thursday, 28 February 2008

EASTENDERS: Feeling uncomfortable yet?


What a horrendous episode of EastEnders tonight! I'm not one of those snotty people who condemn soaps (as I was brought up on a diet of 'Enders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale), and still dip into them sometimes, but EastEnders is the one I keep a closer eye on -- and it's been atrocious recently. Hasn't it?

Tonight's episode was just hideously clunky in every respect. Ian Beale being targeted by sexy, young femme fatale Claire (typecast Hollyoaks actress Gemma Bissix)? It was extremely uncomfortable to watch, and not even in a funny way. Of course, Bissix is absolutely gorgeous (her breasts deserve their own National TV Award!), but she's incredibly stunted as an actress -- inflicted with a curious way to speak all her dialogue veryveryquickly... then... sort of pause, for effect... beforegoingveryveryquick again. Oh, in-between the odd pout, fluttering eyelashes and a leaden come-on. "Are you stiff?" She's a trained masseuse, see.

Needless to say, the sexual chemistry between Bissix and Adam Woodyatt is non-existent, and no amount of cleavage shots could gloss over seeing Ian's scrawny lily-white body sprawled over a two-person sofa, dirty soles of his feet exposed to Claire -- who returned from upstairs, showing more cleavage than a Dolly Parton lookalikes convention! Yeucch.

Elsewhere, we have to suffer one of those cringe-making comedy subplots, with cab driver Charlie being immediately ostracized by Yolande because he "touched her bottom". Clearly a sex-pest, Charlie spent the evening propping up the bar with sour-faced mother-in-law Big Moe, soaking up snide remarks from Yolande, husband Patrick and Terrahawk-faced barmaid Shirley. But it was okay in the end, because Charlie was actually just unsticking a humbug from Yolande's rear-end. The writer obviously watched this Simpsons episode recently.

And, if you weren't already chewing a pillow at the tackiness of everything going on, we were also "treated" (inflicted) with the Branning family's karaoke. The two kids just about managed to murder Britney Spears' "Toxic" believably, but watching soon-to-be-divorced Max and Tanya wail their way through "Where The Wild Roses Grow" was simply awful. Okay, it was at least meant to be uncomfortable to watch, but this entire episode was fuelled by skin-crawling irritations like that...

Oh, and has there every been a character more irksome than Stacy's dotty mum Jean? That woman's whiny voice and mannerisms make my teeth itch; forever bumbling around and giggling inanely. Give it a rest. Yes, I know her character's battling mental illness, but that rarely gets mentioned. I think the writers just want her to be considered amusingly scatterbrained now, but her every appearance makes my eyes roll.

Or did everyone else enjoy this on a so-bad-it-was-good level?

RICHARD & JUDY: Teatime twaddle?


What's happened to Richard & Judy's early-evening magazine show? It's now bursting with items like the "Funny Five" (mildly-amusing videos from YouTube) that take up a good 10-minutes of airtime, and a tendency to shoehorn in "classic clips" from sitcoms to help illustrate topical problems. Are they being backhanded a few quid by the BBC for this sly promotion? I mean, really: do we need a clip of Fawlty Towers to set the scene for a discussion on hotels?

The latest development in this recent "dumbing down" is a new strand presented by comedian Rufus Hound -- which basically involves looking at clips of brainless American trash from digital channels; like Dog: The Bounty Hunter, Cheaters and The Dog Whisperer. They may poke fun at each show, but that doesn't change the fact it's lazy television that provides advertising on mainstream TV for the likes of Virgin1, Bravo, Sky One, et al.

Clearly, the production team are having problems filling the gap left by their axed quiz You Say We Pay -- meaning R&J now begins and ends with a celebrity interview (rudely interrupted by a commercial break!), and a big chunk in the middle is allocated to stuff like these internet fripperies (where the clips shown are appropriate for 5pm telly; thus resembling a mini-You've Been Framed episode and not the stuff YouTubers actually watch.)

I really don't like this recent trend of TV trying to ape the internet, either. BBC Three are basing their entire identity on telly-'net synergy now -- but it's not working. Watching animals have sex on Lily Allen's chat-show is its weekly nadir, and does anybody even watch Upstaged? But I digress...

In the few gaps where Richard and Judy aren't being lazy and actually present fresh items, it's usually in the form of their popular "Book Club" (oh, the tedium of listening to people discuss a book you haven't read...), or a couple of Mordor rejects teaching henpecked husbands how to cook a chicken in "The Hairy Bikers' Guide To The Perfect Roast" -- now that's a YouTube clip, guys!

All the show's interesting talking points are taking a back seat these days. Maybe it's just me, but I wish Richard and Judy would just get back to basics. I used to love their show just a year ago, but alternating a time-slot with Paul O'Grady seems to have rotted their minds -- resulting in trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Pity.

With rumours suggesting R&J might get a reprieve from its August end-date, as Channel 4 bosses are now keen to re-sign the couple for more shows, I really hope they take stock of things and reinvigorate this depressingly shallow tea-time twaddle.

Ratatouille (2007)

Directors: Brad Bird & Jan Pinkava
Writers: Brad Bird (story by Jan Pinkava, Brad Bird & Jim Capobianco, with material by Emily Cook & Kathy Greenberg)

Voices: Patton Oswalt (Rémy), Ian Holm (Skinner), Lou Romano (Alfredo Linguini), Peter O'Toole (Anton Ego), Brad Garrett (Auguste Gusteau), Janeane Garofalo (Colette Tatou), Brian Dennehy (Django), Peter Sohn (Emile), Will Arnett (Horst), James Remar (Larousse), John Ratzenberger (Mustafa), Tedd Newton (Talon Labarthe), Brad Bird (Ambrister), Thomas Keller (Dining Patron) & Jamie Oliver (Health Inspector)

A rat with a love of food finds himself in Paris, and gets to live out his fantasy of cooking in a top restaurant, with the help of a kitchen dogsbody...

Following the blip of Cars (visually stunning, but without a decent story), Pixar hits back with a finely-observed and delicately told story about a rat who dreams of becoming a chef. Its premise is certainly "high-concept" – but quite tame in comparison to living toys, a family of superheroes, and a world of talking cars – and Ratatouille doesn't push the boundaries of animation as much. Or maybe we're just getting too blasé about these CGI marvels?

Rémy (Patton Oswalt) is a country rat living with his hundred-strong nest of siblings, most prominently his obese brother Emile (Peter Sohn) and old-fashioned dad Django (Brian Dennehy). While his rodent relations are content to skulk around country farmhouses, stealing leftover food, Rémy dreams of being a top chef like his human hero Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett).

After Rémy is separated from his family after their presence is rumbled by an old lady, he's flushed into the sewers, fortuitously finding himself directly beneath Gusteau's famous restaurant in Paris! Unfortunately, Gusteau has died and the restaurant is struggling to maintain its reputation without him, but Rémy soon forms a unique cooking "double-act" with inept kitchen worker Linguini (Lou Romano) to help Gusteau's regain its former glory...

This is perhaps the first Pixar film that aims slightly higher than the typical under-10 crowd. It's still entertaining for all age groups, but there's less emphasis on pure technical spectacle. Of course, Pixar's success has always boiled down to the care and attention they lavish on the script, before they power up their computers – so this is perhaps nothing new.

Ratatouille, being primarily kitchen-based, can't rely on extravagant sequences to pull it through any dry-spells – although the opening escape of hundreds of rats from a gas-mask wearing granny is quite exciting, and there's a nice chase through Parisian streets half-way through. But, other than that, it's the most down-to-earth, straight-forward Pixar movie yet.

But that's not a criticism. It just once again proves animation can trigger emotional response in audiences without relying on action/musical sequences that would cost a regular movie hundreds of million to reproduce in live-action.

The history of Ratatouille's production is possibly more heated than a week on Gusteau's hotplate. Originally being written and directed by Pixar alumni Jan Pinkava (who made their award-winning short Geri's Game), Pixar began to lose faith in Pinkava's ability to oversee the story in '05 – so they recruited Brad Bird (The Incredibles) to takeover and whip everything into shape.

Pinkava's virtual sets, character designs and basic storyline remained, although Bird made the rats less anthropomorphic, killed Gusteau (who now only appears as an imaginary Jiminy Cricket-style helper), and boosted the roles of villainous chef Skinner (Ian Holm) and sweet cook Colette (Janeane Garofalo). Pinkava retains a co-director credit for his 4 years of work – but only for the end credits.

You can't tell Ratatouille had such a problematic birth, as it's a very polished and efficient piece of storytelling. It probably won't be most children's favourite Pixar offering, as the characters are less iconic, there are fewer laughs, and the story is less epic and imaginative than their previous work. But it's still very enjoyable and should definitely hold the attention of adults -- who will be surprised by how well a conceptually-thin idea develops into tense and amusing territory.

The voice talent are all excellent, with Ratatouille continuing Brad Bird's penchant for using vocally-unrecognisable celebs in his films. Ian Holm and Janeane Garofalo both hide behind French accents, with only Peter O'Toole's marvellously plumy English brogue pricking an ear of recognition as vulture-like food critic Anton Ego. The two leads (Oswalt's spirited Rémy and Romano's amiable Linguini) might not be household names, but they're perfect for their roles. Likewise the rest of the cast.

I also have great affection for Michael Giachino's score, with the composer of Lost and The Incredibles really stepping up with some impressive, evocative, French-themed music. The highlight for me is the eminently hummable "La Festin", which has been floating around my head for days now.

Overall, only the stoniest of hearts could actively hate this film. Its characters may not be as memorable as those in Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., or Finding Nemo, but it more than makes up for it with a passionately told story that entertains every step of the way, and that's quite some feat for an idea that (at first glance) appears too thin to stretch beyond 30 minutes. Above all, Brad Bird is staking a claim as the best director of animation for over a decade, with Ratatouille following the emotionally-vibrant Iron Giant and the barnstorming Incredibles.


Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios
Budget: $150 million
106 minutes


PICTURE: 2.35:1 | SOUND: SDDS / DTS-ES / Dolby Digital EX
www.ratatouillemovie.net

TORCHWOOD 2.8 – "A Day In The Death"

Writer: Joseph Lidster
Director: Andy Goddard

Cast: John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Burn Gorman (Owen Harper), Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto), Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Naoko Mori (Doctor Toshiko Sato), Freema Agyeman (Martha Jones), Richard Briers (Henry Parker) & Christine Bottomley (Maggie Hopley)

Owen struggles to adapt to life as a walking dead man, sharing his experiences with a suicidal girl...

"Tosh, I'm scared. I'm scared that if I close my eyes,
I'll get trapped in the darkness."
-- Owen Harper (Burn Gorman)

The situation with Owen (Burn Gorman) continues for another week, with the undead team member taking centre stage in a character-based, existential musing on life and death. It's also the final part of a disappointing triptych of episodes for Doctor Who guest star Freema Agyeman...

After a flurry of flashbacks/flashforwards offering glimpses of Owen's life/death, we actually start A Day In The Death in media res -- with Owen sat atop a high-rise building with a suicidal young woman called Maggie (Christine Bottomley). Needless to say, Owen has a unique perspective on the supposed futility of existence, and attempts to persuade her to "choose life" by revealing his undead state and revealing his unique afterlife...

Flashbacks reveal Owen was relieved of duty by Jack (John Barrowman), who demands he undergo tests to determine whether he's fit for duty. Martha outlines Owen's pro's and con's: he can't age, he has to exercise to prevent rigamortis, has no sense of touch, and his body can't heal wounds – meaning a hand he accidentally slashes with a scalpel will need re-stitching every few weeks. Forever.

The episode's MacGuffin involves unexplained energy spikes the team have been picking up, leading to a rather weak investigation into Henry Parker – a man who hasn't been seen since 1986. This board room sequence was actually more interesting for the rather strained Tintin jibes (assumedly because Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat has been tapped to pen the Spielberg-produced Tintin movie.)

Anyway, Owen's sent home indefinitely – where he watches television and empties his flat of all the food he can't physically eat any more – in bizarre sequences where Gorman's blank, emotionless, depressed stare becomes one of Torchwood's most unsettling images of recent memory. Tosh (Naoko Mori) comes round to puncture the heavy atmosphere, but Owen is quick to burst her chipper attitude – claiming she's half-pleased he's been debilitated in this way, as it gives her an easier way to construct a relationship with him. Gorman's the most intense actor on the show, and his "broken" speech to Tosh certainly ranks as some of his finest work.

Indeed, Joseph Lidster's script has quite a few character exchanges and monologues that click, but it's a shame everything else is so empty and hollow. Owen tries to kill himself by jumping off a pier to drown, but after 36 minutes (being secretly watched by Jack), he resurfaces in frustration that he's still "alive".

The mysterious energy spikes are traced to a house with tight security that poses problems for the team, particularly because of its array of heat sensors. Gwen (Eve Myles) has been leading the discussion, with Jack taking a backseat for once, and it's inevitably decided that Owen is the perfect candidate for a field operation (as he doesn't emit any body heat), so he's sent in to avoid the security patrols and find the source of the energy.

After some Mission Impossible-style shenanigans with security patrols and home security measures, Owen finally gains access to a bedroom where an old man, Henry Parker (Richard Briers), is lying in a four-poster bed, surrounded by alien artefacts. He looks intrigued to find a Torchwood operative in his home, claiming he's being kept alive by an alien device called "The Pulse" (that resembles a glowing cycling helmet). After another of the many discussions about life, death and existence, Owen performs a scan of "The Pulse" and finds it's not directly keeping Parker alive. It's merely a placebo. Or hope, as Parker says.

To prevent "The Pulse" reaching dangerous levels of energy, perhaps resulting in a catastrophic explosion, Parker agrees to accept his fate by relinquishing it – immediately prompting a heart-attack that Owen is powerless to help with, as he has no breath for CPR, and Parker finally accepts death.

Disaster averted, the team say goodbye to Martha at the dock, although by this stage I was wondering why Torchwood has bothered to keep her around for 2 episodes after Reset. Her involvement has been severely limited (turned into an 80-year-old for no particular reason last week, asked to perform a few medical tests this week), with her "trilogy" of appearances only serving to weaken Martha's character, in my mind...

Back to the rooftop with Maggie (who Owen learned decided to take her own life after her husband was killed), he shows "The Pulse" to her inside his rucksack– revealing it's actually a response to the famous NASA probe that carried information and greetings from mankind. Maggie, sufficiently awed by Owen's story, bewitched by "The Pulse" itself, and probably just grateful she's not in Owen's position, seems likely to embrace the life she has now -- as "The Pulse" glows stronger, sprouting tentacles of energy out across the night...

What a morose, sloppy and confused episode. Joseph Lidster certainly has an ear for dialogue – with some neat monologues, descriptive angst, and a few amusing jokes -- while Gorman does an impressive job making Owen believably depressed and tortured. Richard Briers also did a wonderful job with a shallow, one-note character, restricted to bed and introduced very late. But everything else flapped around – lurching from tedious to mystifying, with scenes stapled to a plot that didn't develop satisfyingly.

A Day In The Death was a simple Owen-centric story that didn't make much sense, particularly because the Parker subplot was so badly integrated into the main story, and I'm still confused about what "The Pulse" actually was (beyond a dumb metaphor for "life" itself).

Lidster laudably tried to reach for something emotive, human, complex and poignant -- but it just wasn't compelling, well-structured, or very insightful. It basically played like a series of moments with Owen bouncing around between a young girl who wants to die (Maggie), a middle-aged man who can't die (Jack) and an old man who refuses to die (Parker). There was definitely an intriguing and intelligent storyline to be weaved between that threesome, given Owen's unique perspective on death, but this sadly wasn't it.

Torchwood has begun to slump with the last 3 episodes, after a solid run of episodes that opened the season, but I'm hoping it can get back on-track for the final 4. The decision to incorporate Martha onto the team for awhile has proven to be utterly pointless after her arrival, while having two back-to-back episodes focus on Owen's "death" has been a drag.

Plus, with no sign of a backtrack on Owen's condition here, I'm worried we've lost the fun-loving, cynical, sarcastic, extroverted Owen entirely – and are left with an empty-shell version. This refit might suit Gorman's pallid features, but it sucks all the pleasure out of his personality -- and hands Torchwood another paranormal presence, like Jack, to drain away tension from situations "normal people" can't deal with.


27 February 2008
BBC Three, 9.50 pm

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

BBC America snap up Primeval

ITV1 action-adventure sci-fi series Primeval has been bought by BBC America, which will air the first two seasons (a total of 13 episodes) in August.

BBCA President Gareth Ancier commented on the latest purchase for the channel, which also airs Robin Hood and Torchwood in the States, saying:

"Primeval is a perfect addition to our successful Saturday night menu of sci-fi and adventure. We think our audience will be excited by the addition of this prehistoric thriller -- one of the latest big hits from the U.K."

Earthquake 2008: A Tale Of Survival

Last night, at approximately 12:50 am, I was caught in the middle of an incident my fellow survivors are already calling "The Quake Of '08". Others are calling it "The '08 Quake". Dissidents!

Yes, as you may have heard, and experienced (if you live between the Scottish borders and the Isle Of Wight, anyway), an earthquake hit England and Wales in the early hours of this morning.

That sucker was 5.3 on the Richter Scale. I think that's out of 6, right? Wardrobes banged, a door creaked, someone told me a frightened dog defecated under a kitchen table. For 10 whole seconds our lives literally shook, hanging in the balance. Unless, y'know, you slept through it... and missed the latest cruel blow Mother Nature dealt our Isles since... erm, last summer's floods.

What do you mean 5.3 is nothing? The Richter Scale's out of 10, you say? There are over 800 size-5's every year? Really? Pah! What do you know!

Okay, if you live around in L.A or San Francisco, you probably know a lot. A 5.3 quake is probably a regular thing every morning for you guys. Or the average ground tremor of a McDonald's luncher waddling down the street. Incidentally, this is why everyone drives in L.A – the place would tear itself apart at the fault-lines if people actually walked to get their midday Happy Meals.

But I'm British, god damn it! We get excited about the natural world. I've known discussions about the weather last 70 minutes. At a funeral! We make a conscious effort to forget when and why the clocks go back or forward ever year – just so we can have a 5-minute chat about it with every other person in October and March.

This was the biggest quake in 25 years for us Britons! And, what's more, the epicentre was only a few miles away from where I live -- at Market Raisen, Lincolnshire. That's right, for today, I live on the outskirts of an "earthquake's epicentre". "Ground zero", we're calling it. The place where most chimney pots fell, and there are more broken mugs per square mile than anywhere else in Europe. Today, anyway.

Just look what The Quake did to my house:

That teaspoon was definitely resting on the saucer's edge when I went to bed...

All I can say is: thank God that mug wasn't full...

Yes, the horror. And the "1" button doesn't work properly anymore, either.

Grrrr. I have my insurance company on speed-dial, don't worry. I can rebuild. Put things in perspective. Nobody I know was hurt, that's the main thing. It's all going to be okay. Just remember that.

Head up. Chin up. Stiff upper-lips.

Our grandparents went through the Blitz...

We can cope with this. Just stay strong.

TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES 1.7 – "The Demon Hand"

Writer: Toni Graphia
Director: Charles Beeson

Cast: Lena Headey (Sarah Connor), Summer Glau (Cameron Phillips), Thomas Dekker (John Connor), Richard T. Jones (Agent James Ellison), Brian Austin Green (Derek Reese), Omid Abtahi (Sumner), Ron Butler (Social Worker), Mark Kubr (Russian Thug), Bruce Davison (Dr. Silberman), Mark Bloom (FBI Evidence Clerk), Keith Pillow (Mr. Bianchi), Luis Chávez (Morris), Mark Ivanir (Dimitri), Matthew Angel (Damien Axelrod), Traber Burns (Chief of Staff), Angela Gots (Maria) & Alex Veadov (Russian Man)

While trying to find and destroy the hand lost by the T-888, Sarah breaks into Agent Ellison's apartment and discovers files about her time in a mental hospital...

"And somewhere in the city, a naked cop bleeds in an alley."
-- Sarah Connor (Lena Headey)

It stumbled post-Pilot for a few episodes, but Sarah Connor Chronicles is really beginning to find its feet now. After last week's invigorating look at the post-apocalyptic future, The Demon Hand pays further respect to James Cameron's movies (too much?), but earns plaudit by developing its human side...

The series is doing a good job keeping an overarching narrative going -- with ostensibly standalone ideas like chess-playing program "The Turk" feeding directly into recent episodes, and last week's use of flashforwards to a possible future helping connect other strands of its TV mythology.

I'm still concerned that the best episodes (save the Pilot) have Sarah (Lena Headey) and John (Thomas Dekker) generally confined to their house -- leaving the action to Cameron (Summer Glau) and Derek Reese (Brian Austin Green) – but hopefully things will begin to turn around soon...

This episode opens with Cameron disguised as the T-1000 motorbike cop from T2 (do cyborgs have a penchant for leather and mirrored-glasses?), causing a city-wise blackout across L.A so she can sneak into the FBIs archive and steal the missing T-888s hand.

Unfortunately, FBI Agent Ellison (Richard T. Jones) is actually keeping the cybernetic hand in his fridge at home, beginning to suspect there could be some truth in Sarah's wild stories about killer robots from the future. After reviewing footage of Sarah ranting during her time at the Pescadero asylum (with Headey basically re-enacting Linda Hamilton's scenes from T2), Ellison decides to investigate her claims deeper. The only person who can help him is Sarah's psychiatrist, Dr Silberman (X-Men's Bruce Davison, replacing Earl Boen from the Terminator films), who has since retired to live alone in the mountains...

Frustrated by the missing hand (which could disrupt the timeline and usher in Judgment Day earlier), Sarah calls the FBI pretending to be an evidence clerk, but finds they have no knowledge of the "prosthetic hand" she's looking for. She does overhear Agent Ellison's name and later breaks into the Agent's home, looking for the hand herself, but instead finding files about her stint at Pescadero.

Derek has now recovered from his wounds and taken to cleaning Sarah's arsenal of weapons, clearly battle-hardened and distrustful of everything and everyone – particularly Cameron. Derek advises Sarah to let Cameron go out and search for Dmitri Shipkov (Mark Ivanir), the co-creator of "The Turk", as that computer program still needs to be found and destroyed.

Cameron's investigation requires her to enrol in a ballet class being taught by Dmiti's sister Maria (Angela Gots), who she impresses with her exact imitation of professional dancing, albeit with a mechanical stiffness in her upper-body. After class, a Russian gangster arrives to demand money from Maria, with Cameron able to eavesdrop on their foreign conversation...

Dr Silberman is indeed discovered living in the mountains as a hermit – a radical departure from the stuffy prick his character was in the Terminator films. Silberman has since become a firm believer in Sarah's crackpot story, and agrees to meet with Ellison for tea. Sadly, Silberman proved to be mentally-unstable himself, drugging Ellison's tea and knocking him unconscious, suspecting him of being a cyborg!

Once Ellison proves his humanity (by showing pain from a stab to the thigh), Silberman explains how he changed his mind, after witnessing two Terminators fighting over Sarah and John (see: the events of T2).

At the ballet studio, Cameron protects Maria from the Russian gangster again, making it clear she can help pay their debts if she can meet with Dmitri. At Dmiti's rundown hotel room, Cameron hands over a diamond as payment, with Dmitri revealing he sold "The Turk" to a buyer who offered him cash. He writes the buyer's name on a piece of paper for Cameron, who leaves... passing two armed men o their way to kill Dmitri and Maria for non-payment – not even flinching when gunshots and screams are heard.

A deranged Dr. Silberman decides to kill Agent Ellison by setting fire to his own house and leaving Ellison inside, tied to a chair, to die. He plans to destroy the T-888 hand he finds inside Ellison's car, but is stopped by the arrival of Sarah – who punches Silberman to the ground, steals the hand, and saves Ellison from certain death.

The episode ends with Cameron giving Sarah the name of The Turk's buyer, Ellison attending a Bible-reading group (perturbed by the confirmation of an impending apocalypse), and distrustful Derek spying on Cameron in her room – seeing her passing the time by ballet dancing -- for pleasure? As Sarah's spookily predicts in voice-over: "machines cannot appreciate beauty. They cannot create art. If they ever learn these things, they won't have to destroy us. They'll be us."

The Demon Hand (named after "Demon With A Glass Hand", a Harlan Ellison-scripted Twilight Zone episode that inspired The Terminator, according to the outcome of a court case), is another surprisingly enjoyable and dramatically-solid episode. More impressively, it's almost entirely devoid of action spectacle, with the characters and ideas given all the attention.

Of course, it helps that the series has enough back-story to build some layers on now – although this continual quest to destroy "The Turk" is becoming slightly strained. And, while it's good fun to see events from Terminator 2 referenced, and a minor character from the films return, this is the second episode in a row that's been overt with deference to the films it owes its existence to.

Thankfully, there's enough going on with the characters to take your mind of the overflow of cute references – with Derek being a particularly intriguing new element for Chronicles. He's a member of Sarah and John's family who doesn't know his own bloodline, has been scarred by years of war, and is consequently doubting of cyborg Cameron – unable to anthropomorphize a machine. If you thought Sarah was sometimes too frosty with Cameron, she's veritably chummy compared to Derek!

I also appreciated a better storyline for Ellison, as Richard T. Jones strikes me as a capable actor the series should make better use of. Maybe now he's on the same wavelength as Sarah, his role will become less antagonistic?

Bruce Davison gives his second nutty performance in as many weeks, fresh from a similarly kooky role on Knight Rider. He does well with the material, but his character is clichéd and a big departure from the films. Oh, and as Silberman had a small role in Terminator 3, are we to assume that Chronicles will one day jump back in time to before his character went crazy? Gah! My head hurts!

It's becoming predictable to shower Summer Glau with praise every week, as she's been given a crowd-pleasing role that plays to her strengths as Cameron. This episode even conspires to include an unnecessary ballet-dancing subplot, purely to utilize Glau's real-life proficiency in that art-form.

Regardless, it's true that Glau does full justice to the poise and wide-eyed stares expected of her, and her shtick is yet to become boring. In fact, this episode contains the strongest hint yet that she's becoming more "human", so I hope we're in for some existential debate about what that means. Or are we fed up with existential debates about humans-versus-machines, thanks to 3 years of Battlestar Galactica?

Overall, The Demon Hand is another strong instalment for Chronicles -- as we race to the end of this short season, with the two-episode finale served up next week. And, despite some wobbles around episodes 3-5, the show is showing promise lately – although the jury's still out on the success of Headey and Dekker as our guides through this world...


25 February 2008
FOX, 9/8c pm

MOONLIGHT 1.2 – "Out Of The Past"

Writer: David Greenwalt
Director: Fred Toye

Cast: Alex O'Loughlin (Mick St. John), Jason Dohring (Josef Konstantin), Sophia Myles (Beth Turner), Jordan Belfi (Josh Lindsey), Tami Roman (Maureen 'Mo' Williams), Brian J. White (Lt. Carl Davis), Kevin Weisman (Steve Balfour), Lawrence A. Mandler (Young Detective Bobby Desmond), Jose Acevedo (Joseph's Assistant), Kevin T. McCarthy (Reporter #2), Hal Williams (Detective Bobby Desmond), Josh Wingate (Lee Jay Spaulding, 20s), David Fabrizio (Lee Jay Spaulding), Cosimo Canale (Ricardo), Catherine Kresge (Reporter #1), Jon Jon Briones (Party Goer), Brian Oerly (Cam), Rachel Kimsey (Eileen Hannigan) & Lisa Sheridan (Julia Stephens)

Mick faces an unpleasant part of his past when a convicted murderer, who knows he's a vampire, is released from prison...

Mick: Lee Jay knows what I am.
Josef: Wow, you really did mess up.

It's only the second episode, but Moonlight is moving with quiet confidence, likely because writer David Greenwalt is on familiar ground -- having worked on Angel, another vampire detective drama. Out Of The Past is let down by a disappointing hero/villain dynamic, but it's nevertheless solid improvement over the premiere...

The crux of the problem for vampire gumshoe Mick (Alex O'Loughlin) this week involves Lee Jay Spaulding (David Fabrizio), a bald-headed murderer jailed in 1983, but who has since rehabilitated himself and is being released as a minor "celebrity" thanks to a best-selling book ("Wronged Man"), written by enamoured reporter Julia Stephens (Lisa Sheridan).

Mick is worried about Spaulding's release, as he's the only man who knows Mick's a vampire – after Mick attacked him in an alleyway for killing a client (and making it look like suicide), but was forced to retreat when the cops showed up.

Out Of The Past hits the ground running, and the idea of a criminal pretending to be a reformed man, whilst actually plotting to slay a vampire when he gets out, is fun to watch unfold. Spaulding's plan cleverly involves framing Mick for various acts of violence against him, although I found it irritating Mick was so easily tricked! He has preternatural speed and enhanced physical abilities, yet came across as quite a walkover, which deflated some of the scenes.

This episode also finds Beth (Sophia Myles) dreaming about sexy saviour Mick, although her boyfriend Josh (Jordan Belfi) seems to be the dependable, understanding type – which should make the undercurrent of a "MickBeth" love tryst juicer to see unfold.

Beth is particularly puzzled about why Mick is appearing in her childhood memories now –unaware her saviour was actually there, saving her as a child from vampiress Caraline, and has been keeping a watchful eye on her ever since.

However, Beth grows suspicious of Mick's identity when she notices a photo of him in her friend Julia's book about the 1983 Spaulding case. It appears that vampires can be photographed using modern techniques, you see. Approaching Mick about it later, he claims the identical photo is of his father, which alleviates her suspicions.

Mick is worried about the safety of Spaulding's besotted fan/author Julia, who could become the killer's next victim, so goes to see his detective friend Bobby Desmond (Hal Williams) who also investigated the 1983 case. Bobby is now an elderly blind man, consequently unaware his colleague from 25 years ago hasn't aged a day. This scene between Williams and O'Loughlin is one of the episode's strongest; the actors have a touching rapport, and the way Mick has remained youthful and strong, in contrast to his physically frail friend is amusing and slightly sad.

Josef (Jason Dohring), Mick's vampire playboy friend, is also concerned about events – frustrated that Mick didn't just eliminate Spaulding back in '83. Indeed, flashbacks reveal Mick was closer in personality to Josef back in those days, seen in a clichéd 80s party with Duran Duran's "Hungry For The Wolf" playing and suckling form beautiful women's necks. But Mick was also very naïve 25 years ago, threatening Spaulding with a beating for his crimes, thinking that would be enough to stop the killer.

The episode builds to a neat climax with Spaulding breaking into Mick's apartment (he affords that luxury on a P.Is income?) and takes his martyrdom to the next phase: shooting himself in the arm, before calling the police and implicating Mick with the deed. Mick is forced to run away with incriminating evidence he's a vampire (blood bags mainly; no mention of that "freezer room" glimpsed in episode 1).

With Mick forced into hiding, he persuades Beth he's being framed by Spaulding, and she opts to believe him – despite having learned he lied about having a father, after discussing the matter with his blind friend Bobby. Regardless, she helps him upload a video dismissal of Spaulding's claims he shot him on the BuzzWire website.

Fresh out of hospital with his arm in a sling, Spaulding's dark side is finally revealed to naïve Julia when he takes her hostage at a nearby warehouse – calling Mick to insist he give himself up and go to jail, or Julia will be killed. Beth's boyfriend Josh (a lawyer for the District Attorney, helpfully) helps Mick by issuing a fake release to the police, saying he's been delivered to the authorities...

This gives Mick and Beth time to find Julia (whose car was fortunately tagged with a GPS beacon by Mick earlier), and they arrive at the warehouse. Ordering Beth to stay in the car, Mick heads inside alone, taking out some of Spaulding's goons easily -- thanks to his supernatural speed and dexterity. Unfortunately, Spaulding is armed with a shotgun loaded with silver buckshot, and blasts Mick to the ground, taunting him with certain death at the hands of a flamethrower.

Luckily for Mick, Beth didn't choose to stay behind in the car (she's an investigative reporter, after all), and has sneaked inside the warehouse, shooting Spaulding in the neck before he can torch the man who saved her life.

Soon after, the injured Mick scrambles back to the sanctuary of his plush apartment, drinking from blood bags to restore his health. Clearly in a mess because of the poisoning silver (pale, sweating, pupils dilated, fangs half-exposed), he's shocked when Beth arrives to help – puzzled about why he vanished from the crime scene. Despite his best efforts to make Beth go away, she won't be persuaded, finally seeing his vampire visage for herself...

Out Of The Past certainly kept me engaged throughout, and it was definitely a marked improvement on the rudimentary Pilot. O'Loughlin and Myles don't have much chemistry together yet, but Dohring is quite a fun injection into proceedings as a vampire veteran with loose morals. The supporting cast were also good, particularly Lisa Sheridan as Julia, Hal Williams as Bobby and David Fabrizio as Spaulding – although the latter should have been more intimidating and vicious, instead of continually playing the martyr card.

The production itself is quite glossy where it counts, although it has that soft-focus/low-budget vibe about it at times – particularly in an unconvincing greenscreen for a moving car at the end, and the slightly-stilted nature of Mick's acrobatics.

Overall, David Greenwalt's script is quite layered and intriguing, if never quite eliciting the tension it was aiming for. Mick was on the back-heel too much throughout, while the specifics regarding Spaulding's 1983 murders, his prison rehabilitation, and subsequent adoration by the likes of Julia weren't convincingly explained. I'm also irritated by the way a voice-over is used to fill in gaps of information, or provide an "inner-voice" for Mick – as they're mostly unnecessary.

But yes, Out Of The Past kept me entertained, I'm growing to like O'Loughlin as the lead now, and I'm pleasantly relieved Moonlight isn't going to spend ages stuck in a Clark Kent/Lois Lane-style quandary over identity.


26 February 2008
LivingTV, 10.00 pm

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

MUST-WATCH: Mad Men

Golden Globe winning US drama from Sopranos writer-producer Matthew Weiner, focusing on Don Draper (Jon Hamm), a high-flying exec in the competitive, glamorous world of 1960s advertising.

The series, which aired on cable channel AMC last year in the States, received very positive response -- with many critics hailing it as a stylish, compelling and nostalgic adult drama. A second season has been ordered.

The 13-episode first season starts on BBC Four this Sunday 2 March @ 10pm.

Official Sites

AMC Site (spoilers) | BBC Four

US Reviews

Entertainment Weekly | San Francisco Chronicle | USA Today | New York Post | TV Guide

Ch-ch-changes...

As you may have noticed, there have been a few changes to DMD regarding user-functionality:

Peek-a-boo Posts
Long posts displayed on the main page are now summarized. To read the full contents of a shortened post, just click the "Read more..." link to make the whole post appear. To go back to the shortened view, just click "Summary only..."

This change means shorter front pages to navigate (less scrolling – yippee!), everything loads faster, and it's just quite nifty -- no?

Label Search
When you click a Label (from the list on the right), the "results page" no longer displays full posts of everything with that Label . Instead, it now displays a list of links to every full post with that selected label.

This change makes it easier to find specific posts, is faster to load, and quicker to browse.

Problems?
Unfortunately, early posts on DMD weren't given "Titles", so some of the "label links" are blank. I might go back and give old posts Titles to solve this problem -- but that's a massive undertaking, so please have patience! Anyway, all the popular stuff has Titles, and everything from the past year or so is definitely okay. I don't think it's too much of a problem, is it?

I know these changes work fine in FireFox 2 and Internet Explorer 6, both running Windows XP -- but let me know if you use a different browser/OS and encounter problems. More changes might be forthcoming, all designed to make using DMD faster, easier and more "fun" to visit. If you have any suggestions for improvements, feel free to let me know in a coment below.

But I am restricted by the limitations of Blogger and my own "blog-hacking" abilities!

PRISON BREAK 3.13 – "The Art Of The Deal"

Writers: Matt Olmstead & Seth Hoffman
Director: Nelson McCormick

Cast: Wentworth Miller (Michael Scofield), William Fichtner (Alexander Mahone), Wade Williams (Brad Bellick), Dominic Purcell (Lincoln Burrows), Robert Knepper (Theodore "T-Bag" Bagwell), Chris Vance (James Whistler), Robert Wisdom (Lechero), Jodi Lyn O'Keefe (Susan B. Anthony), Danay Garcia (Sofia Lugo), Amaury Nolasco (Fernando Sucre), Carlo Alban (McGrady), Marshall Allman (LJ Burrows), Joseph Melendez (Rafael), Crystal Mantecon (Sister Mary Francis), Julio Cedillo (General Mestas), Gustavo Mellado (Alfonso Gallego), Rene Rivera (Police Officer at Checkpoint), Michael Fraguada (Cantinero), Carlos Sanchez (Guard #1), Armando L. Leduc (Menjavar), John Elliott (ND Agent #2/ Sniper), Christian Bowman (ND Agent), Lidia Porto (Mrs. Gallego), Maria Robles (Panamanian Woman), Marco Antonio Rodriguez (Policeman #1), Glenn Bradley (Policeman #2), Sam Medina (Knuckle Up Dude) & Gocha Chertkoev (Russian Dude)

Michael and Lincoln have no choice but to hand Whistler over in exchange for LJ and Sofia, Sucre faces harsh treatment, and Sona dissolves into anarchy...

Michael: When the exchange is over and LJ is safe,
you and I are gonna spend some quality time.
Susan: When the exchange is over, you better run for your life.

A casualty of the recent writers' strike, Prison Break's third season comes to a premature (but commendably unhurried) end with episode 13, as The Art Of The Deal masterminds another renewal of the series...

Having escaped from Sona, Lincoln (Dominic Purcell) and Michael (Wentworth Miller) arrived at a factory to exchange Whistler (Chris Vance) for LJ (Marshall Allman) and Sofia (Danay Garcia) -- only to watch helplessly as Whistler made a break for it, stealing a conveniently parked truck and heading for freedom.

Consequently, this last-minute disruption to Linc's plot to thwart Company bitch Susan (Jodi Lynn O'Keefe) is dealt a major blow, but fortunately Linc and Michael manage to give chase in their own car, pursuing Whistler through Panama streets – eventually culminating in a foot-chase, ending with Whistler's recapture.

Forced to think on their feet, with Susan having arrived at the factory expecting to make the exchange, it's up to Michael to concoct a scheme to ensure they get their loved ones back safely, without opening themselves up to assassination.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Prison Break is the amusingly inexhaustible plans Michael can improvise. To think it took him months to pre-plan his escape from Fox River in season 1, whereas these days he's breaking out of foreign prisons in under a fortnight!

Michael arranges to meet Susan at a public marketplace to make the exchange, and the moment they meet outside prison walls is particularly tense – as Susan killed Michael's girlfriend Sara, isn't used to taking orders from "the brothers", and yet is quietly amazed Michael became the first person to breakout of Sona. She even suggests he take a job with the Company...

Susan has a sniper trained on Linc during their chit-chat, but Michael proves he's one step ahead by having Linc make a move once it's confirmed LJ and Sofia are alive – telling Susan that the real exchange will happen later, before making a veiled threat they have unfinished business regarding Sara's death...

Meanwhile, Sucre (Amaury Nolasco) has been uncovered as an escaped felon in league with the escapees, and is being beaten by Sona guards who demand to know where Michael is. Sucre has no information to give them, but nobody believes him -- later forcing him out into No Man's Land to dig his own grave, unless he starts being more cooperative.

Inside Sona, T-Bag (Robert Knepper) has returned to find the prison in chaos after the jailbreak, with a wounded Lechero (Robert Wisdom) being kicked to death on the yard floor. T-Bag goes to his aide and, with help from Bellick (Wade Williams), manages to get Lechero back to his trashed quarters. With Sona in the grip of anarchy, Lechero retrieves a hidden gun to protect himself, but doesn't look likely to last much longer without medical attention.

The exchange point is re-arranged for Susan, who arrives with her Company men at a public museum – irritated to find it has a front door metal detector, forcing her to go inside unarmed and position her team at the exterior exits.

Inside, Michael, Linc and Whistler congregate in a quiet room of antiquities, as Susan arrives with LJ and Sofia. The exchange is made smoothly, and Sofia implores her boyfriend to give Susan the coordinates to end this nightmare – perturbed when Susan laughs in her face, before revealing the "coordinates" were just a ruse. Sofia, unsettled by Whistler's deception all this time, decides she can't trust him, and instead sides with Linc's group...

Michael is once again ahead of Susan's plan to kill them when they step outside, so intentionally smashes an exhibit -- setting off the building's security alarm. As part of the mass crowd leaving the museum, Whistler is frisked by a security guard – prompting one of Susan's men to shoot at the guard. In the ensuing panic and commotion, more shots are fired and Sofia is hit by a stray bullet. Linc rushes to her aide with LJ, as Michael gets a gun from his car and aims it at Susan – hesitating and then distracted by a museum security guard who takes pot-shots at her himself. Susan manages to escape with Whistler, as LJ persuades his dad to leave Sofia before official arrives and start asking questions...

The episode's weakest moments come courtesy of McGrady (Carlo Alban), the basketball-loving Sona escapee, who's almost apprehended at a security checkpoint whilst stowing way in his father's truck. McGrady's storyline eventually leads to a happy ending for the Latino boy, but I doubt anyone has built up any interest or investment in McGrady's happiness. He was always just an underwritten distraction.

Inside Sona, T-Bag tells Lechero of his plan to get them out: by bribing a sympathetic guard he spoke to outside with $50,000. A dying Lechero is forced to agree to the last-chance escape plan, and his contact Sister Francis (Crystal Mantecon) smuggles in the cash– reminding T-Bag of her affection for him, since he protected her in a previous episode.

But let's not forget about Mahone (William Fichtner), who we find propping up a bar and ordering club soda, apparently waiting for someone, as he's "between jobs". That someone turns out to be Whistler, who offers Mahone a place on their team. Mahone accepts – but not before predicting Susan's the "weak link" in the chain and Michael won't rest until they're all dead.

Sucre is facing certain-death in No Man's Land, forced to lie inside the grave he's dug, muttering prayers as he's slowly buried alive. However, General Mestas (Julio Cedillo) puts an end to the horror, confident Sucre really doesn't have any information to give. At that moment, Michael calls Sucre's cell-phone, and the guard tells Sucre to get Michael's position during their conversation. Ever loyal, Sucre instead alleviates Michael's concerns for him, before crushing the phone underfoot...

At hospital, LJ informs Linc and Michael that Sofia is going to recover, and he passes on a message from her to look inside Whistler's metal briefcase she found at her home. LJ also gives Michael a gift from Sara before she was killed: the origami rose he made for her back in Fox River.

Later, Linc and Michael search Sofia's house and find Whistler's briefcase, opening it to find documents pertaining to a "James Leif". Linc isn't that keen to get involved, just relieved to have his brother and son back safe after everything. But it seems Michael can't let things rest...

Things aren't going well for Lechero, as T-Bag reveals the $50,000 he managed to secure for their bribe won't be used for that purpose –quickly smothering Lechero with a pillow. Later, in the middle of Sona's yard, T-Bag announces the death of Lechero and the end of his dictatorship, rousing the crowd with a speech about "convict equality", before gaining their trust by returning the cash Lechero extorted from them...

The Art Of The Deal ends on a mesmerising note, set to the strains of Rebekah Del Rio singing "Llorando" ("Crying"), in a montage that's quite effective, despite wobbling towards pretension: Mahone leaves with Whistler in a car, T-Bag is being heralded by his fellow inmates, Sucre is thrown inside Sona by guards, and Michael is seen driving along a Panama highway alone (with a gun and the origami rose by his side) seeking revenge for Sara's death...

It all makes for a very enjoyable and essential episode for fans, even if a few of the twists and revelations don't make sense – yet, anyway. Are we to believe Whistler's coordinates (and presumably the bird book itself) really were a ruse all this time? If so, why bother having T-Bag find the missing bird book last week? I think the writers just failed to come up with a plausible revelation for that item.

It seems Whistler is a high-ranking Company man at this stage – but one who can persuade Mahone to join his clique! Did they agree this inside Sona? Why wouldn't Mahone just go back to his family, instead of team-up with the Company again?

More believable is Linc's decision to put LJ's safety before his brother's simple-minded revenge, although obviously he'll change his mind in a future episode! Now that the series has shifted its chairs around, it looks like we'll be dealing with a string-pulling T-Bag in Sona, with Bellick as his right-hand man, lording it over Sucre. Clearly, Linc and Michael will have to rescue their friend from Sona soon – but are we really going to have to watch another prison break? We've already seen 3 play out in a mere 13 episodes! Oh well, I guess that's the title of the show...

So yes, more questions to rattle around your brain until the story resumes, but I can't deny I'm still under the show's spell: it's the most gleefully ridiculous, yet consistently compelling TV show of the past few years. I could scrutinize and critique it to pieces, but as an action-adventure thriller, it does its job effectively enough -- and season 3 has been consistently stronger than season 2, if never as tightly plotted as season 1.


25 February 2008
Sky One, 10.00 pm

RAINES 1.5 – "The Fifth Step"

Writer: Taylor Elmore
Director: Paul Michael Glaser

Cast: Jeff Goldblum (Detective Michael Raines), Nicole Sullivan (Carolyn Crumley), Matt Craven (Captain Daniel Lewis), Malik Yoba (Charlie Lincoln), Linda Park (Sally Lance), Dov Davidoff (Remi Boyer), Felice Heather Monteith (Theresa), Blake Gibbons (Marcus), Melinda Page Hamilton (Conny Webb), Mark Harelik (Lionel Webb), Luba Mason (Svetlana Uzdanov), Markus Foster (Conor), Michael Maize (Dexter/Skeezy Guy), Patrick Hume (J. P. LeVay) & Teddy Sears (Mitchell Parks)

The wife of one of Raines' friends is found dead with Aryan Nation insignia cut into her body – and Raines discovers disturbing lies, cover-ups, and misguided good intentions...

Connie: This is a much better look for me, don't you think?
Raines: Any image of you with a head is a good
one as far as I'm concerned.

Raines hits its stride with its fifth episode, giving us a compelling mystery that lacks a lightness of touch, but at least manages to provide a stronger sense of resolution...

In contrast to its preceding episode, The Fifth Step is a more serious affair, particularly for Raines (Jeff Goldblum), who finds himself leading the investigation into the death of a friend's wife, Conny Webb (Melinda Page Hamilton). Her husband, court judge Lionel Webb (Mark Harelik) has known Raines for years, and his wife's death was particularly gruesome: decapitated by a gunshot and with Aryan Nation insignia carved into her flesh...

It's a nice idea to make Raines' case more personal – although the show has yet to pair Raines with an imaginary victim he knew well personally (Charlie doesn't count). There are some moments of ghoulish fun, as Conny starts the show wandering around her house headless, before Raines corrects her after seeing a photograph.

Conny's a beautiful woman in a flowing white dress, and Raines immediately takes a shine to his "fantasy lady", making him very determined to bring her killer to justice. The episode once again spends its opening chunk investigating a dead-end, as the quite hardcore notion of a white-supremacist-themed episode doesn't quite come to fruition.

However, Taylor Elmore's script does takes some corkscrew twists into less inflammatory territory – eventually having Raines deduce that Conny and husband Lionel dabbled with a sexy escort girl called Svetlana (Luba Mason) -- prompting some girl-on-girl fantasy imaginings by the smitten detective. In fact, the episode does a great job at keeping you interested in the actual investigation, rather than being pulled along by Goldblum's quirky performance and the "imaginary victims" gimmick.

It was also good to see the supporting cast have a marginally bigger role to play – even if it consisted of a rather half-hearted subplot for Sally (Linda Park) over the psychological ramifications of shooting a man dead, and irritant Boyer (Dov Davidoff) still doing his utmost to provide unfunny "comic relief". It's a shame the show is having problems with its cast, as I get the sense there's missed opportunities with actors like winsome Park and character actor Matt Craven.

The Fifth Step isn't a revelation for the series, but there's a more compelling plot to draw you along, and the eventual resolution about who killed Conny, and why, is unpredictable and desperately tragic. There's a slightly awkward final race to stop a contract killer who's yet to complete his job, but that's a relatively small complaint for an episode that weaves a strong murder mystery together. I've yet to be blown away by an episode of Raines -- and it's yet to decide if it's a kooky detective drama, or a melancholy crime drama -- but recent episodes have been told well, regardless.


25 February 2008
ITV3, 9.00 pm

Monday, 25 February 2008

Rambo Vs. ODEON!

An ODEON spokesman:

"Owing to commercial reasons, ODEON has made the decision not to screen the film Rambo across its cinemas in the UK."

Insiders suggest it's down to a company belief Rambo won't perform well at the UK box-office (which is just silly, considering it's one of the weekend's biggest releases), while others think it could have something to with a dispute between ODEON and distributor Sony over the film's rental rate to the cinema-chain.

Whatever the reason, this extraordinarily rare move by a multiplex is likely to dent Rambo's profits this week. It was expected to take £3.5 million nationwide after heavy promotion by director/star Sylvester Stallone, but will likely have to settle for £3 million.

More details at Variety.

RAINES 1.4 – "Stone Dead"

Writer: Bruce Rasmussen
Director: Felix Enriquez Alcala

Cast: Jeff Goldblum (Detective Michael Raines), Nicole Sullivan (Carolyn Crumley), Matt Craven (Captain Daniel Lewis), Malik Yoba (Charlie Lincoln), Madeleine Stowe (Dr. Kohl), Linda Park (Sally Lance), Dov Davidoff (Remi Boyer), Matt Malloy (Stan Rastow), Gina Ravera (Lisa Lincoln), Scott Halberstadt (Roger), Jeanette Brox (Jolie), Pat Crawford Brown (Margo), Owen Beckman (Jimmy Davis), Jermaine "Scooter" Smith (Jack Lincoln), Stephen Tobolowsky (Wally Anderson), Greg Cipes (Hunter), John Dennis (Glenn "Surfer" Bassett), Derek Carter (Jake), Sven Holmberg (Sergei), Romeo Brown (Trey) & Stephen Fuil (Desi)

A young drug dealer, with aspirations to become a comic book illustrator and change his life, is found dead. Meanwhile, Raines is concerned about Charlie's son and agrees to let Samantha try and help him...

"I came out here thinking I was gonna be the next Raymond Chandler.
I figured, you live here, you write like him. 'Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.'"
-- Michael Raines (Jeff Goldblum)

This was the first episode since the intriguing Pilot that I can honestly say I enjoyed watching all the way through, even if the eventual resolution was a bit silly. I think the reason it was an easier watch boils down to genial moments of comedy in the script by Bruce Rasmussen – who once won a Golden Globe for his work on early-90s sitcom Roseanne.

Stone Dead finds Raines (Jeff Goldblum) trying to solve the murder of a 20-year-old comic-book illustrator called Jimmy (Owen Beckman) who was also a drug dealer, after his body is discovered with two stab wounds.

There's an engaging melancholy about the show, as Raines' chatting away to his "imaginary Jimmy" serves to remind you how the boy is ultimately lost and deserving of justice. It's a nice change from other shows, where psychic mediums actually converse with ghosts – as that offers immediate assurance of an afterlife to the viewer. But in Raines, the dead are dead, and we feel empathy exclusively through Raines overactive imagination, and desire to bring those responsible to justice...

Rasmussen gives star Jeff Goldblum more opportunities to be funny here, which is definitely the way to go. Earlier episodes hinted at Raines' humour and off-kilter attitude, but Stone Dead is the first episode that really makes him an enjoyably "kooky detective". A scene where he makes tough-looking black gang members crack a smile by wiggling his ears, is the best example of this. Goldblum is an odd, but engaging screen presence, and this episode full exploits his personality.

Given Jimmy's hobby, the episode also explores the subculture of geeks (comic-book stores and prissy collectors) and chilled-out stoners (a group of pot-head teens and a weed-smoking granny). Raines is amusingly befuddled by this geeky world, although his relaxed attitude to drugs is fun to play with – as one youth hilariously bails through a window seconds after Raines arrives on their doorstep and shows his police badge.

The supporting cast are still not being used, which is a shame when you Matt Craven makes his small appearances as Captain Lewis count for so much, and Madeleine Stowe is really quite splendid as the kindly psychiatrist Dr Kohl.

A subplot about Raines' involvement in his dead partner Charlie's home-life is also very welcome, as it's revealed he's taken it upon himself to help Charlie's family cope with their grief. He picks up Charlie's son Jack (Jermaine Scooter Smith) from school most days, and tries to be a "surrogate father" as best he can at their home, with the blessing of Charlie's widow Lisa (Gina Ravera).

There are some problems with Stone Dead towards the end, though. The killer's identity isn't as easy to guess (thankfully), but it was quite a stretch the way Raines solved the case using Jimmy's artwork (which spilled out his unconscious feelings an gave clues to what happened to cause his death). I didn't think the circumstances surrounding Jimmy's death rang very true, and the episode ended on a few yucky notes at the comic-book store – displaying Jimmy's artwork in testament to the loss of his talent. It was all a bit too wholesome and neatly tied together for my taste, particularly with Jimmy's gawky girlfriend being drawn as a beautiful archangel.

There were also a few times when Rasmussen's background in comedy became a bit too overt for a crime drama – with the arrival of a blind sniffer dog, in a scene played entirely for laughs, being the worst offender. And I could have done without the cliché of a middle-aged police sketch artist still living at home with his (unseen) battleaxe mother! But, for the most part, the comedy/drama balance was maintained very well, with this episode evoking a similar vibe to Monk at times – complete with that show's tendency to end with faintly-silly resolutions!

It was an enjoyable story, with a strong subplot with Jack to boost its focus on the amusing (if never riveting, or ultimately rewarding) investigation. I certainly found it entertaining to watch, and Goldblum was on top form throughout.


18 February 2008
ITV3, 9.00 pm

80th ACADEMY AWARDS: WINNERS


No, I didn't watch the Oscars live on TV this year (prior commitments), but I will try and watch the ceremony today – perhaps via YouTube, or something! But the winners are all over the news, so here's who won what – and my brief thoughts:

Best Film: No Country For Old Men
Best Director: Joel & Ethan Coen (No Country For Old Men)

Great choices and worthy winners, and at least we didn't up with the frustrating way Best Film and Director are usually for different projects. That always seems a bit odd.

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood)
Best Supporting Actor: Javier Barden (No Country For Old Men)

I don't think anybody can complain too much about these choices, particularly the magnificent Day-Lewis.

Best Actress: Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose)
Best Supporting Actress: Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton)

I haven't seen either performance, and Marion Cotillard was unknown to me before her BAFTA win. I hear good things about her performance in that film, and Swinton was the best of a fairly poor bunch.

Best Animated Film: Ratatouille
Best Art Direction: Sweeney Todd
Best Cinematography: Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Ratatouille was inevitable, but I'm glad Todd got recognized for some wonderful work, while I was surprised to see Elizabeth won Best Cinematography – as it didn't get much pre-Oscar buzz.

Best Documentary: Taxi To The Dark Side
Best Documentary Short: Freeheld

I have nothing to add, sorry.

Best Editing: The Bourne Ultimatum
Best Foreign Film: The Counterfeiters

I haven't seen The Counterfeiters, but Bourne was clearly a masterwork of editing.

Best Make-Up: La Vie en Rose
Best Visual Effects: The Golden Compass

There must be some amazing make-up work in La Vie en Rose – but did you really expect Norbit to win?! I'm very disappointed Golden Compass for Best Visual Effects, as I don't think it achieved anything very special – as Pirates 3 was a far more invigorating experience visually.

Best Original Score: Atonement
Best Original Song: "Falling Slowy" from Once

I've just seen Atonement and the score is very good, yes – but I wouldn't say Oscar-winning stuff. I haven't seen Once.

Best Animated Short: Peter & The Wolf
Best Live-Action Short: La Mozart des Pickpockets

No idea.

Best Sound Editing: The Bourne Ultimatum
Best Sound Mixing: The Bourne Ultimatum

It looks like Bourne really scooped the technical stuff this year, and I can't deny it was impressive in these categories.

Best Adapted Screenplay: No Country For Old Men (Joel & Ethan Coen)
Best Original Screenplay: Juno (Diablo Cody)

Yeah, no issues here – particularly for Juno, although it's not quite the flawless script some think. It's just a very fresh and involving read.


FULL LIST WITH NOMINEES