Saturday, 31 January 2009

PLUS ONE 1.4 – "Competition Winner"

The concept could easily run out of steam any second, but for now Plus One's doing a good job keeping itself alive. This week, Rob (Daniel Mays) decides to try and woo a beautiful celebrity date for his ex's wedding and, with the help of brother Rich (Nigel Harman), lowers himself to using a schoolboy as a fake, disabled "competition winner" to get closer to George Clooney's own ex, model Lisa Snowdon.

"Competition Winner" was fairly redundant in the wider picture – as it didn't really develop any of the regular characters, unlike previous episodes. This was a particular shame, as it seemed like it was going to focus on Rich, but his role in the story was rather perfunctory. Still, despite being mid-series filler at heart, "Competition Winner" managed to produce a few comedy highlights: the gloriously foulmouthed schoolboy was good value, an incident involving a nut allergy was a Farrelly Brothers-style moment of chaos, and guest-star Lisa Snowdon didn't embarrass herself in the acting stakes. Well, she certainly did better than stiff Jamelia last week, anyway, and her entrance in a sexy blue dress certainly delivered.

Again, Plus One overcame its problems because of the engaging performances, the occasional gem of dialogue ("... you have a face like a balloon full of shit"), and its signature playfulness with narrative and format (the fantasy sequences, Rob breaking the fourth wall, reality television parodies, the fact every episode's essentially a flashback from the opening scene of Rob's inevitably misfortune.) Throw in some bad-taste humour – like Rob's photographer friend Paul (Steve John Shepherd) rather creepily taking photo's of Rebecca's (Ingrid Oliver) boobs as she breast-feeds her baby – and it's a fizzy half-hour of immature japery that works very well.

And through it all, we've somehow become caught up in Rob's plan to upstage his ex at her wedding, despite the fact she hasn't really done anything terribly wrong. As far as we know, anyway. Indeed, the fact she's invited Rob to her nuptials could even be seen as an olive branch, with unintended insensitivity? A moment when Lisa Snowdon agrees to become Rob's "plus one" earned an unexpected catharsis when it occurred, too... before, tragically, Rob's underhand ways to reach that point caught up with him.


29 January 2009
Channel 4, 11.05pm

Writers: Tim Allsop & Stewart Williams
Director: Sarah O'Gorman

Cast: Daniel Mays (Rob Black), Duncan James (Himself), Miranda Raison (Linsey), Ingrid Oliver (Rebecca Black), Nigel Harman (Rich Black), Steve John Shepherd (Paul), Ruth Bradley (Laura) & Lisa Snowdon (Herself)

PUSHING DAISIES 2.1 – "Bzzzzzzz!"

"Hey! You don't just get to put them pictures in my
head. That's an assault on my imagination."
-- Emerson Cod (Chi McBride)

The vibrant colours of this second season are tainted by knowledge Pushing Daisies has been cancelled in the US, so enjoy Bryan Fuller's "modern fairytale" while you can. This premiere, "Bzzzzzzz!", one again reestablishes the premise of the show – which is understandable, but something Pushing Daisies seems to do practically every episode, which is becoming a chore for regular viewers...

Essentially; piemaker Ned (Lee Pace) can bring the dead back to life for one-minute – any longer, and something else has to die to maintain cosmic order. He's already brought childhood sweetheart Chuck (Anna Friel) back from the dead, and is subsequently cursed to never touch her again – as second contact brings about permanent death. Chuck now works at Ned's restaurant, The Pie Hole, and they use his unique talents to help solve murder cases with cynical P.I Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), all while keeping his gift a secret from aerated waitress Olive (Kristin Chenoweth) and Chuck's grieving aunts, Lily (Swoosie Kurtz) and Vivian (Ellen Greene.) Got that? Good.

"Bzzzzzzz!" is another rather formulaic case for the trio; a man called Dusty Fitz (Peter Cambor) wants them to investigate his wife's death, whom he suspects was having an affair. His late spouse, Kentucky Fitz (Autumn Reeser), worked as a Bee Girl for Betty's Bees (a company specializing in honey-based products) and was stung to death – and, after bringing her temporarily back to life, Kentucky puts them on the trail of a murderer at Betty's Bees.

Elsewhere, Olive is growing exasperated by her lot in life – besotted with Ned, who only has eyes for Chuck – so she tenders her resignation and becomes a nun at a mountaintop convent (note how Daisies' vibrant aesthetic shuns black habits for cyan-coloured ones, too). Olive, having learned that Chuck's aunt Lily is actually Chuck's mother in season 1's finale, is astonished to discover from her Mother Superior (Diana Scarwid) that Lily actually came to the very same nunnery to secretly give birth to Chuck... and that's not even the full extent of Lily's deception all these years...

Like most episodes of Pushing Daisies, this is a veritable treat for the eyes – the production design is excellent, and the bee theme of "Bzzzzzzz!" gave us the expected visuals (golden-yellow hues, black stripes, hexagonal architecture). The details are always beautifully-handled (Betty's Bees HQ resembles a hive, its window panes are hexagons, etc.) and there's barely a minute that passes by without some on-screen confection.

That said, it can all become slightly wearing without a strong plot to hang it on, and I found "Bzzzzzzz!" to be rather tedious until it all began to tie-up in the last twenty minutes. There are never many suspects to point the finger at – CEO Woolsey Nicholls (Third Rock From The Sun's French Sterwart) and Betty Bee herself (Missi Pyle) are your options – and it sometimes feels like the same basic plots are simply being rewritten in different settings, given slight twists.

Still, there remains a certain charm to even the most humdrum of episodes, and "Bzzzzzzz!" was no different. The spectre of a bee-covered murderer was good fun, guest-star Pyle is perfect for Pushing Daisies (in fact, she's so good that it's disappointing they're not using her for a semi-recurring role), and the various distractions were entertaining: like Chuck moving out of The Pie Hole to assert her independence, Ned bringing dead bees back to life by having them poured over his naked body, and an icky dead body with bulbous bee-stings all over its flesh.

It's just that, sometimes, Pushing Daisies seems to be trying too hard, and there isn't much chance to really savour its unique style and kooky characters. It's the TV equivalent of a bag of pic n' mix sweets – you should really eat one at a time and relish the individual tastes, but someone's shovelling the whole lot down your throat, so you feel sick and sugar-high afterwards. Plus, these sweets have a very familiar tang, and Pushing Daisies doesn't give you anything savoury to refresh your pallet.

Overall, I'm sure there won't be many complaints from diehard Daisies fans, but the recipe just seemed a bit stale here. There was far too much recapping, the plot wasn't strong enough to overcome the retina-burning visuals, the Ned/Chuck romance often wanders into saccharine niceness that can be overbearing (something Emerson's cynicism didn't help to blunt this week), and I'm not particularly interested in seeing Olive's convent misadventures, either.

More "zzzzzzz" than "bzzzzzzz."


30 January 2009
ITV1, 10pm

Writer: Bryan Fuller
Director: Adam Kane

Cast: Lee Pace (Ned), Anna Friel (Chuck), Chi McBride (Emerson), Jim Dale (Narrator), Field Cate (Young Ned), Ellen Greene (Vivian), Swoosie Kurtz (Lily), Kristin Chenoweth (Olive), Sammi Hanratty (Young Chuck), Sy Richardson (Coroner), Missi Pyle (Betty Bee), French Stewart (Woolsey Nicholls), Peter Cambor (Dusty Fitz), Autumn Reeser (Kentucky Fitz), Diana Scarwid (Mother Superior) & Robin Gwynne (Customer)

"Oktapodi" & "Presto" [Short Film Saturday]

After last week's bizarre cartoon "Rabbit", we're sticking with animated animals for a special double-bill. First up, the 2007 French short "Oktapodi"; a Graduate Student Project from Gobelins L'Ecole de L'Image. This 2-minute animation is about a pair of besotted octopuses that become separated, but the one left behind goes to extraordinary lengths to be reunited with its mate. Comical, vibrant fun in the Pixar mould. You may also be interested to know that "Oktapodi" is one of this year's Academy Award nominees, in the short film category. As is our next short film...


Does it seem a little unfair to have this Pixar short competing with the likes of "Oktapodi" at the Academy Awards? Perhaps so. Regardless, Doug Sweetland's excellent short "Presto" (shown before WALL·E last summer) is absolutely wonderful: a snooty magician grapples with his disobedient rabbit and a magical hat on-stage. Can Pixar spearhead a return of Looney Tunes-style cartoon shorts like this? Pleeeease.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Anna Torv: Smiling?



Dr. Walter Bishop should definitely be investigating this; Fringe actress Anna Torv... turning the frown upside-down. Yes, smiling! It must all be part of The Pattern. Did The Observer take the photo, perhaps? Oh, okay, here's another one for any Anna fans...


Ah. The smirk's back

Box Office Charts: w/e 30 January 2009

In the US: UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS fares better than expected given its pedigree (with Kate Beckinsale "replacement" Rhona Mitra now in the frame to takeover from Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider 3 off the back of it), but it can't dislodge Paul Blart: Mall Cop from the top, going in at #2... British fantasy INKHEART flounders, premiering at #7 with a poor $7m... and it's worth mentioning that Slumdog Millionaire climbs significantly up the chart to #5 and Benjamin Button re-enters the Top 10, off the back of their Academy Awards nominations...

US TOP 10

(1) 1. Paul Blart: Mall Cop $21.6m
(-) 2. Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans $20.8m
(2) 3. Gran Torino $16.2m
(5) 4. Hotel For Dogs $12.9m
(10) 5. Slumdog Millionaire $10.7m
(3) 6. My Bloody Valentine $10m
(-) 7. Inkheart $7.6m
(6) 8. Bride Wars $6.87m
(R) 9. The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button $6.09m
(4) 10. Notorious $5.78m


In the UK: The pulling power of Tom Cruise takes a slight knock, with VALKYRIE unable to topple Slumdog Millionaire from the top, going in at #2 with $1m less... UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS underperforms in the UK, flopping in mid-chart with under $1m... and there's disappointment for awards-laden biopic FROST/NIXON at #9...

UK TOP 10

(1) 1. Slumdog Millionaire £2.8m
(-) 2. Valkyrie £1.8m
(4) 3. My Bloody Valentine £1.1m
(2) 4. Seven Pounds £1.08m
(-) 5. Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans £990k
(3) 6. Role Models £951k
(5) 7. Bride Wars £950k
(6) 8. Beverly Hills Chihuahua £918k
(-) 9. Frost/Nixon £591k
(10) 10. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa £408k


UK RELEASES THIS WEEK

The Brøken

Horror thriller. A woman finds herself being tormented by her own reflection.
Director: Sean Ellis Starring: Lena Headey, Richard Jenkins, Asier Newman & Michelle Duncan
Tomatometer: 33% (Rotten; based on 21 reviews)

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist

Rom-com. A high-school student becomes a college-bound girl's boyfriend for five minutes.
Director: Peter Sollett Starring: Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, Aaron Yoo, Rafi Gavron & Ari Graynor
US Box Office: $31 million
Tomatometer: 71% (Fresh; based on 154 reviews) "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist combines a pair of charming leads, the classic New York backdrop, and a sweet soundtrack."

Revolutionary Road

Romantic drama. A suburban couple in the '50s struggle with their personal problems while trying to raise two children.
Director: Sam Mendes Starring: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Shannon, Ryan Simpkins, Ty Simpkins, Kathy Bates & Sam Rosen
Tomatometer: 71% (Fresh; based on 170 reviews) "Brilliantly acted and emotionally powerful, Revolutionary Road is a handsome adaptation of Richard Yates' celebrated novel."

Pacing, polls and misc

I think I'll start doing regular pieces that talk directly to you, the faithful readership, every week or so. It'll be a handy way for me to ask questions, get some feedback, and let everyone knows what's going on around here. You can also treat it as an open thread to ask me things, as sometimes people revert to making OT comments elsewhere:

PACING. I have a constant argument with myself regarding the "pacing" of reviews. If I review shows at the US-pace, I risk alienating my fellow British readers. But, if I review things at the UK-pace, I tend to get fewer comments because the type of people who frequent blogs have downloaded and discussed those episodes to death. You see my conundrum? Also, while it can be easier to review shows at the US pace and stockpile them until they air in the UK (a la Chuck, Damages), the blog can appear quieter than usual. And I like to keep the place fairly lively and updated all the time, see.

In related news: on Monday, Heroes returns for Volume IV in the US, but there's no sign of it on the BBC schedules for the next few weeks. So, a straight question: would you prefer I review it at the US-pace, or wait for the BBC to air it?

POLLS. I'm going to bring the polls feature back with semi-permanence (i.e., there won't be one if I can't think of a good topic or question). I've just signed up with Polldaddy.com, so the functionality and aesthetic of the polls will be beter than the built-in Blogger one (which is a bit naff, really.)

MISC. Owing to the dizzying amount of shows that have returned from hiatus recently, a number of my "slow-time" projects are being slowed-up, rather ironically -- primarily, my season 1 review of The Wire (85% done) and my hope of resuming reviews of The Prisoner.

Oh, not that anyone but me will be that interested, but DMD recently got into the Top 100 of Blogtoplist.com -- which is an incredible feat, considering there are 5,000 blogs in the mix. I'm now somewhere around 170, which is still very good, of course.

A few minor changes to the blog this week, like the arrival of a favicon. So now DMD gets its own blue icon if you bookmark or visit the site in a recent browser (Firefox 2, IE7). I'm still having problems getting the favicon to appear on peoples' Blogger-made blogrolls, though. I think it's because my icon is a .PNG file and not a .ICO file (which Blogger looks for). I can't make a .ICO version, because it's a file type not supported by Picasa (the site that stores all Blogger-made images.) That's quite a lapse by Blogger/Picasa there; perhaps even worth an e-mail to some techie types.

Thanks to everyone who's recently linked to DMD, too. I do notice new hits coming in from blogs and websites -- so, if you're recently added DMD to your Blogroll, or linked to a review/feature... thanks very much! In particular; Crimespree Cinema's readership can't get enough of the Sexiest Women On TV In 2008 list, the randy so-and-so's.

The X Files: I Want To Believe (2008)

Unnecessary and undercooked; the second movie spawned from The X Files arrives six years after Chris Carter's '90s TV phenomenon finished -- but, perhaps more notably, over a decade since the masses deserted it. It's been a long time since the heyday of Mulder & Scully™, when the iconic FBI Agents could inspire pop-songs, boost magazine sales, and were the topic of playground conversation...

I Want To Believe is a probable bid by co-writer/director Carter to revive his career, which soured after a string of post-Files flops. At face-value, things appear promising: a standalone story means accessibility for anyone who got lost with the series' tangled conspiracy "mytharc"; its pop-culture impact was deep enough so you don't have to re-explain the concept to a new generation; and original stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson both agreed to reprise their signature roles.

Disappointingly for a lapsed X-Phile like myself (I bailed when Duchovny handed in his badge), this "comeback" big-screen adventure is a flaccid, tardy bore -- pockmarked with highpoints that fail to redeem it. Maybe they were wrong to ignore little green men, after all...?

Dana Scully (Anderson) has left the FBI and is working as a staff physician at a Catholic hospital, currently treating a boy with Sandhoff disease (a terminal brain condition), while Fox Mulder (Duchovny) has become a bearded recluse -- confined to a remote house he's covered in paranormal news clippings. Both become involved in a semi-spooky case, when Agent Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) contacts Scully with news the Bureau are willing to end their manhunt for Mulder if they lend their expertise to her case. Said case is the disappearance of several women, including a Federal agent, whom a defrocked paedophile priest called Father Joe (Billy Connolly) claims he has a psychic connection to.

The film's sole cinematic punch arrives early (a line of pick-jabbing agents trudging across a frozen ice plateau, guided by psychic sniffer dog Father Joe, as black choppers circle overhead -- see the trailer), and from there it's an extended episode of barely tolerable narrative and few thrills. 1998's Fight The Future was criticized for various reasons, but at least it had a sweep that took advantage of a 35mm canvass (with twice the budget, admittedly), and the good sense to arrive when the show was relevant.

I Want To Believe is a run of the mill feature-length episode, starring a well-preserved Anderson and a mildly-crinkled Duchovny -- its humble scope compounded on the small-screen. Carter's storyline becomes increasingly convoluted and ends disappointingly, particularly irritating given the fact it teases audiences with the far more exciting possibility of a werewolf movie. But no; it's just Frankenstein retold, with a sprinkling of Millennium's pilot.

They're not good enough to salvage the film, but Duchovny and Anderson put in decent performances that just about make it bearable. Anderson is given the widest emotional range to play, and does an admirable job, even though her hospital-set subplot feels like it belongs in a different movie. It was also good to see the Mulder & Scully coupling had progressed beyond the television's will-they/won't-they tease, with the film painting them as lovers cursed by impinging darkness. Purists may balk that their relationship has progressed to a quasi-marriage, but wouldn't it be ridiculous if they weren't sharing a bed after a 16-year partnership?

The supporting cast are less successful, although Connolly makes the best of a thankless role as the pederast priest who believes he's still on good terms with God. It's an uncomfortable role, but Connelly has the raspy-voiced, mad-haired, wounded indignity and quiet introspection down pat. Amanda Peet is little more than a pretty bauble, rapper Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner scowls as skeptical Agent Drummy (one letter too many...), and Mitch Pileggi briefly reprises his TV role as Assistant Director Walter Skinner to lend a perfunctory hand at the end.

Perhaps general audiences have simply moved on from Mulder & Scully, having parted on bad terms thanks to production team refusing to call it a day when their creative juices began to congeal. It's also true that the world's a politically different place these days -- the '90s government of the X Files' universe was a cloak-and-dagger echo of '70s paranoia fused with UFOlogy, but under George W. Bush the agenda was brought down-to-earth, with real-world terrorists replacing off-world aliens as the collective's boogeyman-of-choice. Dubya's portrait is even seen hanging in the FBI Building, just across from J. Edgar Hoover's, and earns a bizarre sting of Mark Snow's whistling theme, too.

Overall, this stands zero chance of making new fans, and didn't inspire a thirst to re-watch classic episodes from the original show, either. A monster-of-the-week style adventure should have been great fun, but Carter forgot to bring a monster, and the plot gets lost in a blizzard thicker than any snowstorms on-screen. Credit to Duchovny and Anderson for giving committed performances, and the storyline would have made a tolerable two-part episode back in the day... but, as the revival of a TV classic for a move into occasional film adventures, it's a stone-cold dud.

I wanted to believe; I really did.


20th Century Fox
Budget: $30 million
104 minutes
http://www.xfiles.com/

Director: Chris Carter
Writers: Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz

Cast: David Duchovny (Fox Mulder), Gillian Anderson (Dana Scully), Amanda Peet (Agent Dakota Whitney), Billy Connelly (Father Joseph Crissman), Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner (Agent Mosley Drummy), Mitch Pileggi (A.D Walter Skinner), Callum Keith Rennie (Janke Dacyshyn), Adam Godley (Father Ybarra), Xantha Radley (Monica Bannan), Christopher "Fagin" Woodcock (Franz Tomczeszyn) & Nicki Aycox (Cheryl Cunningham)

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Comic Relief '09: Do Something Funny For Money

Comic Relief 2009 (or Red Nose Day, if you prefer) is scheduled to touchdown on 13 March. As usual, there will be a mix of games, comedy sketches, fundraising events and television specials to help raise cash for disadvantaged people in Africa and the UK. Confirmed treats for RND09 are:
  • David Tennant (yay!) co-hosting the first live hour with Davina McCall (ugh!)
  • "Let's Dance For Comic Relief" with T4's Steve Jones and Claudia Winkleman.
  • Celebrities climbing Mount Kilimanjaro; namely, Gary Barlow, Fearne Cotton, Denise Van Outen, Alesha Dixon, Cheryl Cole, Kimberly Walsh, Ben Shephard, Chris Moyles and Ronan Keating.
  • Top Of The Tops with Fearne Cotton.
  • A Two Pints Of Lager & A Packet Of Crisps special. Oh, joy.
  • The Saturdays will release the official RND charity single (a cover of Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough")
  • Gavin & Stacey special.
  • "Comic Relief Does The Apprentice"; where celebs like Carol Vorderman, Jack Dee, Gerald Ratner, Patsy Palmer, Michelle Mone, Ruby Wax, Fiona Phillips, Jonathan Ross, Alan Carr and Gok Wan attempt to make a television advert for Sir Alan Sugar.
I may even "live blog" RND09 this year and set-up some kind of fundraising thing myself. I decided that just seconds ago, so any suggestions or brainwaves about what I can do... just let me know!

FRINGE 1.12 - "The No-Brainer"

"But you tell me, does this look like a flu you've heard of?
Where people's brains come out of their ears?"
-- Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv)

Spoilers. A faltering step, really, but with enough good second tier moments to pull it through some sticky patches. The premise is very good, but the handling of the investigation left a lot to be desired, eventually sputtering to a finale crammed with Fringe clichés. In another excellent cold open, a teenage boy called Gregory Wiles (Jake O'Connor) clicks a "What's That Noise?" pop-up message on his computer, which immediately streams a Ring-like multimedia file -- triggering a Videodrome-style hand to emerge from the monitor and liquefy his brain...

The Fringe Division investigate, as more dead victims are discovered around town with their brains melted out their facial orifices. Olivia (Anna Torv) searches for a connection between the fatalities, realizing that each victim's computer hard-drive was found irrevocably damaged. Peter (Joshua Jackson) uses his underground contacts to extract information from one of the drives, leading them to discover an advanced software program was downloaded by each victim shortly before their death... and Walter (John Noble) believes the program is effectively short-circuiting the brain's electrical pathways.

It's a fine idea for a malicious sci-fi threat, but considering the possibilities in creating a genuinely unsettling riff on computer viruses, the story is let down by a tepid investigation that solves its mystery too easily -- and, to be frank, discovering the virus is the masterwork of a fat middle-aged man (Chris Bauer) with a grudge against the victims was disappointing, easily predicted, and prematurely revealed. That it leads to another climax where lone Olivia wanders around a dim lair with her gun raised, completed a sense of dull repetition. After a dozen episodes, Fringe has amassed a lot of clichés (common to the genre, but also specific to itself), and this episode doesn't escape them.

Where "The No-Brainer" shined was in its subplots and smaller details; Peter is contacted by the mother of the girl who died in the lab accident Walter was sectioned for, and wonders if his dad can deal with that ghost from the past; the humanizing effect of giving Olivia a sister and niece to retreat to after work (who are targeted by the week's villain, natch); the obstructions that Sanford Harris (Michael Gaston) puts in Olivia's way during the case (and the resulting clash between Harris and Lance Reddick's Broyles); and better handling of grossly-underused lab assistant Astrid (Jasika Nicole).

Overall; not the greatest episode, and something of a comedown after the recent highs, but "The No-Brainer" fed a few strands of gold into the loom. A failure to capitalize on a nifty premise was its primary failing, but this was otherwise a half-decent, entertaining instalment. I'm glad they're not leaning as heavily on John Noble's sublimely offbeat performance recently, too. Oh, and does anyone else think Olivia's sister Rachel (Ari Graynor) is going to make a move on Peter, perhaps creating a love-triangle? Is that a good move?


27 January 2009
Fox, 9pm


Writers: David H. Goodman & Brad Caleb Kane
Director: John Polson

Cast: Anna Torv (Olivia), Joshua Jackson (Peter), Lance Reddick (Broyles), Kirk Acevedo (Charlie), Jasika Nicole (Astrid), John Noble (Walter), Chris Bauer (Brian Dempsey), Michael Gaston (Sanford Harris), Ari Graynor (Rachel Dunbar), Mary Beth Peil (Jessica Warren), Noah Fleiss (Luke Dempsey), Gbenga Akinagbe (Akim), Susan Knight (Cynthia Wiles), Lilly Pilyblad (Ella), Mark Lotito (Paul Wiles), Randy Kovitz (Mark), Kelly Kirklyn (Miriam), Mark Elliot Wilson (Salesman) & Jake O'Connor (Gregory Wiles)

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Watchmen: Final Poster


A film I'm desperate to see this year is undoubtedly Watchmen, and now that the Warner/Fox nonsense has been settled out of court, it's back on course for its 6 March release. And here's the final one-sheet poster. It's not particularly brilliant, but I'm sure it's enough to get non-Watchmen fans interested: comic book-y, urban backdrop, dark neon colours, mysterious people, Batman-style character with folded arms, sexy babe showing some thigh, weird naked blue guy, Robert Downey Jr lookalike brandishing a gun, etc.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA 4.12 - "A Disquiet Follows My Soul"

Spoilers. I'm all for character-building, but Battlestar Galactica has a very annoying tendency to follow epic, game-changing episodes with mundane, tedious episodes of introspection. Ordinarily, I'd be happy to take whatever mytharc nuggets we gleam from episodes like this, and take note of the political maneuvering and character moments for later pay-off, but considering there are so few episodes left... "A Disquiet Follows My Soul" just felt stale, irritating and a waste.

Showrunner Ronald D. Moore makes his directorial debut here, and will hopefully stick to tapping on a keyboard from now on; this wasn't badly directed per se, but a few scenes drew attention to themselves, some moments were badly composed, and one particular shot lingered on a baby-scan for so long I thought my television had frozen. Intentional, or not, it's never a good sign when you start noticing "the strings".

The raw shocks of last week gives way to pragmatism, as Adama (Edward James Olmos) suggests outfitting the colonial fleet with Cylon-made FTL, drives to help them find an alternative homeworld faster. This encourages the rebel Cylons (using the Final Four as mouthpieces, it seems) to propose a deal that will see Cylons given citizenship, and thus military protection, in exchange for their tech. It's a proposal that V.P Zarek (Richard Hatch) doesn't agree with, as he fights against Lee (Jamie Bamber) in the Quorum over even allowing Cylons access to colonial ships without consent.

Elsewhere, Tyrol (Aaron Douglas) becomes concerned about his son's health and learns from Doc Cottle (Donnelly Rhodes) that his late-wife Cally had an affair before their marriage, and he isn't the father of their child. It's a retroactive change forced on the writers to annul Tyrol's baby as a Cylon-Human hybrid, basically -- meaning Hera is still the only genuine crossbreed in existence. The reveal that meathead Hotdog (Bodie Olmos) is the father will hopefully avoid a "two men and a baby"-style storyline to develop.

But we do have the first full-Cylon baby in the offing, with pregnant Caprica Six (Tricia Helfer) has an ultrasound scan of her baby, fathered by Tigh (Michael Hogan). Mind you, I'm not convinced the Final Five are technically "Cylons". Artificial beings, yes; but how can they be Cylons if they existed on Earth two millennia ago and Cylons were created by Capricans 50 years ago? Still, I guess this is the BSG equivalent of a PC mating with a Mac.

Roslin (Mary McDonnell) has lost her faith, refuses to take her cancer medication, and uses the resulting boost of energy to jog around the ship and exercise in her quarters. I'm always in two-minds about McDonnell's performances, and sometimes Olmos'. Both are very good actors and their conversations and brittle relationship can be gripping in the right context, but sometimes they're just annoyingly dreary. A faithless Roslin and a demoralized Adam are quite exasperating to watch, so you spend a large chunk of this episode hoping they'll snap out of their funk.

The seeds of mutiny are sewn by Zarek in this episode, as he helps the fleet's fuel ship jump away from the fleet to make an anti-Cylon protest. Adama manages to trick Zarek into giving him the coordinates of the ship's whereabouts, by threatening to expose him as a dirty politician, but things are only just getting started. In a mild surprise, Gaeta (Alessandro Juliani), fresh from tearing chunks into Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff), offers to become Zarek's right-hand man in a planned rebellion -- clearly harboring a bitter hatred of Cylon-kind, tipped over the edge by the recent loss of his lower-leg (which, perhaps symbolically, has been replaced by a mechanical limb.)

The threat of sedition is welcome and, while I've never cared for any of BSG's "supporting characters" (Gaeta, Dee, Seelix, Hotdog, et al), I must admit that giving Gaeta this role is quite befitting. He's always looked slimy and sneaky to me, so it's long overdue him being given a villainous role. His public argument with Starbuck crackled with energy, with the actors somehow overcoming mostly terrible dialogue ("rimshot"? "half-kicks"? Gah.)

Overall, "A Disquiet Follows My Soul" is one of those episodes where interesting stuff happens, but it's not put across in a very entertaining way. You could probably read a comprehensive synopsis and save yourself the languorous gaps between important details here -- like Baltar (James Callis) suddenly rallying against the God he recently became a "prophet" for. I also got the sense this episode would be improved if you'd seen the "Face Of The Enemy" webisodes (but I have a bête-noir when it comes to online extra's, and broadcast episodes should always work without them.)


27 January 2009
Sky1, 9pm


Writer & Director: Ronald D. Moore

Cast: Edward James Olmos (Adama), Mary McDonnell (Roslin), Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck), Jamie Bamber (Lee), James Callis (Gaius), Tricia Helfer (Caprica Six), Grace Park (Athena), Donnelly Rhodes (Doc Cottle), Richard Hatch (Tom Zarek), Aaron Douglas (Tyrol), Tahmoh Penikett (Helo), Bodie Olmos (Hot Dog), Alessandro Juliani (Gaeta), Michael Hogan (Tigh) & Kerry Norton (Layne Ishay)

Mad Men returns to BBC Four

BBC Four will start showing season 2 of Mad Men on 10 February -- so circle that on your calendar! The critically-acclaimed AMC drama, about New York ad executives in the 1960s, has won numerous awards since it began in 2007, and creator Matthew Weiner recently signed a lucrative contract to stay on for a third and fourth season.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Channel 4 buy True Blood & Generation Kill

Channel 4 have bought the UK terrestrial rights to HBO's True Blood (the vampire drama that earned Anna Paquin a Golden Globe for Best Actress) and Generation Kill (the Iraq war drama from the creators of The Wire.) Both are expected to be broadcast later this later, after premiering on the digital channel FX.

Is everyone alive?

I only ask because there's been a strange lack of comments around here lately, despite a lot of new reviews going online (Conchords, Fringe, BSG, Lost, 24, Plus One, etc.) Everyone okay? January blues, is it? My stats are fairly stable, and I've actually increased "Followers" this week, so I know you're out there... lurking... Or, have I said something wrong? 3-stars too low for Being Human, was it?

Anyway, random irritation of the week: Sky have turned The Lost Initiative podcast into a vodcast. So you can't download it via iTunes now. I think the intention is to increase traffic to the Sky1 website, which is fine. Only... vodcasts aren't as good as podcasts, are they. Having a visual element means there's now a lot of clips from Lost, and everyone looks a bit too self-conscious. The first vodcast (covering the two-hour Lost premiere) was only 15 minutes long, too -- so it's shorter than the podcasts generally were? As much as I appreciate Sky throwing cash at TLI (check out their DHARMA-esque set), I kinda want the podcast back. Or an audio-only version at least.

Feel free to comment :)

FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS 2.2 - "The New Cup"

After last week's tedious start, things perk up significantly with "A New Cup"; funnier jokes, better songs, a nicely skewed storyline to follow. Is it just a coincidence that it's not written by the Conchords...?

Here, Bret (Bret McKenzie) buys a new cup so he doesn't have to timeshare the one they own, but the meager expenditure ($2.79) results in unpaid bills and their electricity being cut off. Gigs aren't going too well, either, what with the Conchords often forgetting their instruments and having to play air-guitar, resulting in terrible reviews in the NZ consulate newsletter -- written by their own manager, Murray (Rhys Darby)!

Money gets so tight (despite selling "Super Straws" on the street, or giving Mel non-contact massages) that Jemaine (Jemaine Clement) decides to become a gigolo, having decided it's a viable career after mis-remembering Pretty Woman. Meanwhile, Murray puts financial hope in replying to a Nigerian phising scam, and actually finds his dumb naïvety rewarded.

"A New Cup" was broadly similar to "Bret Gives Up The Dream" last year; another example of how Flight Of The Conchords finds it difficult to think up totally fresh scenarios. But, this was different enough to become a worthwhile echo -- particularly because the songs were much livelier and funnier. "Sugarlumps" was especially good (a kind of faux-macho version of Fergie's infernally-catchy "My Humps"), and the "Roxanne"-like "You Don’t Have To Be A Prostitute Jemaine" was decent, too.

Indeed, maybe this episode should act as a wake-up call? It seems to me that if the Conchords focus on the funny songs, and leave the comedy writing to someone else (Duncan Sarkies*, here), then it's a mutually-beneficial arrangement. The story moved smoother, the situation was more involving than usual, there were plenty of good jokes (Murray's wall-timeline, the Nigerian man's presence) and none of the musical interludes disappointed.

Overall, FoTC remains inconsistent and curiously inert at times, but episodes like this are like a brief oasis. I just wish I had faith this quality will be sustained, or even improved upon. So, drink up, because I wouldn't be surprised if the desert mirages of greatness return next week.


25 January 2009
HBO, 10pm


Writer: Duncan Sarkies
Director: James Bobin

Cast: Jemaine Clement (Jemaine), Bret (Bret McKenzie), Kristen Schaal (Mel), Arj Barker (Dave) & Eugene Mirman (Eugene)

* Sarkies also wrote "New Fans", a highlight of season 1 for me.

Red Dwarf: Back To Earth

So, the Easter specials commissioned by Dave will see the Red Dwarf story effectively conclude, with the crew returning to Earth. Red Dwarf: Return To Earth is a two-part special that will reunite the whole cast (yes, even Chloe Annett), and it will be followed by Red Dwarf: Unplugged (a "no holds barred" episode with no sets, effects or autocue!), and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Back To Earth.

Well, it sounds like co-creator Doug Naylor is using this opportunity to wrap up the story, after unwisely ending series VIII on a cliffhanger. And that's good news. The inevitable low-budget should also work in its favour, as the sitcom got far too obsessed with CGI after series VI. I'm still recovering from the travesty of those "remastered" episodes, where they turned the eponymous ship into a digital dildo.

Hopefully Back To Earth will be a funny, fitting end... and not the cheapo anniversary special it could easily be. Or probably will be?

24, 7.5 - "12:00PM - 1:00PM"

Spoilers. Just as we're up-and-running, 24 touches the brakes slightly. There are enough moments of tension (with clever touches) to keep you watching this hour, but a few waves of tedium seep into the narrative...

A recurring theme of Day 7 is a willingness to debate the ethics of torture, with characters arguing the pro's and con's. The issue of torture to extract intel from suspects is the stick being used to beat Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) in the Senate, but also the only way straight-laced Agent Walker (Annie Wersching) could loosen a hospitalized terrorist's tongue.

24 used to be full of people turning blind eyes to violent interrogations for "the greater good" -- but, as a reaction to media criticism, the writers have decided to proffer a debate on this hot potato. All while continuing to demonstrate how necessary torture is in 24's universe... or, more accurately, how helpful torture is for a TV series that needs five inciting "act-outs" per episode.

Agent Moss' (Jeffrey Nordling) is being harassed by an inopportune government investigation into claims Renee tortured a suspect by cutting off his ventilator's air supply. Moss commendably(?) blocks their attempt to interview Janis (Janeane Garofalo), who was present with Renee at the hospital and complicit in the deed by providing a diversion. Elsewhere, field agent Renee continues her slow transmute into "Jane Bauer", as she goes rogue to capture Jack (whom she doesn't know is working undercover) and stop him from helping terrorists kidnap Sangalese President Matobo (Isaach De Bankole).

Currently, Matobo and his wife Alama (Tonya Pinkins) are trapped in their panic room -- shielded from Emerson (Peter Wingfield), Jack and Tony (Carlos Bernard) outside, but unable to raise the alarm. With the FBI alerted through other means, Jack only has fifteen minutes to flush the Matobo's out -- by contaminating their air supply with ammonium dysterate. The wider plan being to get an audience with terrorist mastermind Colonel Dubaku (Hakeem Kae-Kazim), who's working for the warlord trying to takeover Matobo's country, General Juma.

Henry Taylor's (Colm Feore) storyline develops significantly, but not unexpectedly. The First Gentleman's bodyguard Agent Gedge (Warren Kole) shows his true colours, by spiking Henry's drink with a paralyzing drug and admitting he killed the Taylor's meddling son, Roger -- who had uncovered evidence of a government conspiracy into providing Juma with US weapons. While the scene was gripping and well-acted, the reveal wasn't unexpected, and begets a fresh storyline that arouses little interest -- another grim-faced agent targeting Roger's grieving fiancé Samantha (Carly Pope) at an outdoor café.

In the FBI, background blonde Erika (Ever Carradine) takes on greater significance, as we learn she's having an office romance with Sean (Rhys Coiro), whose wife's plane has now landed safely thanks to his manipulation of landing protocol. It's also alluded that Moss fancies Renee; the cad. As time ticks on, the Field Office is becoming CTU in all but name, really -- and does Erika's promotion to a speaking part make her the prime suspect as the FBI's mole now?

As for President Taylor (Cherry Jones); well, she's still stuck delivering matronly speeches to her Chief Of Staff (Bob Gunton), and it's growing old very fast. I had high hopes for this new Commander-In-Chief, but she's severely lacking in much charisma. David Palmer and Charles Logan were both excellent opposites, and it's not clear what Taylor really brings to the role, beyond a change of gender. And the ghost of the excellent Mike Novak (so good, they brought him back over successive administration as CoS) looms large over the dull, grandfatherly Ethan. Right now, the White House is looking noticeably pale.

The climax engineers one of those shocks we've mostly become immune to after 148 hours. Jack's ordered by Emerson to kill Renee shortly after she's taken hostage and proves useless -- something he achieves by shooting her in the neck from a clever angle, resulting in a flesh wound. As she's rolled into a ditch, covered in a plastic sheet, with shovels of soil dumped over her, Renee's inexplicably given the "silent clock" outro that usually signifies the death or a major character -- which Renee isn't, so it cheapens that tradition. And would they be stupid enough to kill their best new character in hour 5?

Overall, the smoking-out of the Matobo's was fun, the paralyzed First Gentlemen likewise, and the final stinger ensures you'll be tuning in next week... but everything else was a bit undercooked, and the new elements didn't really fire the imagination. A fifth hour adjustment, really.


26 January 2009
Sky1, 9pm

Writers
: Howard Gordon & Evan Katz
Director: Jon Cassar

Cast: Kiefer Sutherland (Jack), Carlos Bernard (Tony), Cherry Jones (President Taylor), Annie Wersching (Renee), Colm Feore (Henry), Bob Gunton (Ethan), Jeffrey Nordling (Moss), Rhys Coiro (Sean), Janeane Garofalo (Janis), Peter Onorati (Agent Remick), Marina Black (Christina Hillinger), Peter Wingfield (Emerson), Tonya Pinkins (Alama Matobo), Warren Kole (Agent Brian Gedge), Hakeem Kae-Kazim (Dubaku), Carly Pope (Samantha), Isaach De Bankole (President Ule Matobo), Mark Derwin (Joe Stevens), Ever Carradine (Erika), Steve Cell (Litvack), Dominic Hoffman (Raymond Howell), Mark Kiely (Edward Vossley), Adetokumboh M'Cormack (Zeze Eto'o) & Mark Aiken (Nichols)

Monday, 26 January 2009

BEING HUMAN 1.1

"They're amongst us"; so goes the slogan for Toby Whithouse's six-part comedy-horror Being Human -- which began life as a well-received pilot last year, and has now been recast and retro-fitted for mass consumption. The premise is pulp nonsense -- a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost share a house in Bristol; a three-way support group as the "flotsam and jetsam of death."

Mitchell (Aidan Turner) is a handsome vampire with designer stubble, trying to keep a lid on his thirst for neck-biting; George (Russell Tovey) is a nebbish hospital orderly with a case of lycanthropy; and Annie (Lenora Crichlow) is the spook haunting the house they rent from her grieving fiancé. Part house-share sitcom, part horror drama, Being Human is surprisingly unflinching when it comes to gruesome moments (like a wonderful werewolf transformation; slightly undermined by the resulting dog-head puppet), but the comedy is allowed to sputter at times, and the hour-long format results in a flabby mid-section.

For fans of the '08 pilot, this do-over manages to establish the high-concept premise without laboriously raking over old ground. The teaser swiftly (re)introduced the characters, embellished with fresh information and background -- Mitchell was bitten by vampire soldiers he came across during WWII; George survived being attacked by a werewolf, but his friend died (a change to his back-story); and the circumstances of Annie's death remain intentionally vague, but we witness her drifting invisibly around her own wake, screaming to be heard by her heartbroken relatives.

The three leads are generally very good, particularly Tovey (the only holdover of the pilot), who imbues nerdy George with bouncy energy and facial tic's. Turner and Crichlow are fine, but lack the air of alienation their predecessors (Guy Flanagan and Andrea Riseborough) brought to the same characters. In particular, Turner is too chiseled and buff to be a plausible "outsider" or "loner", when compared to Flanagan's anemic goth. Fortunately, both give endearing performances, particularly Crichlow (whose Annie has a more bearable accent than Riseborough's), and the trio already have a relaxed, sympathetic chemistry together.

The plot doesn't grip until the second half, once the exposition has been dealt with, and the vampire subculture is the inevitable mechanism: cold-turkey Mitchell tempted to bite a besotted nurse; their first date complicated by the arrival of tempestuous Lauren (Annabel Scholey), a "dead" hospital worker Mitchell turned into a vampire, upset by his dismissal of her. Head vampire Hereck also returns from the pilot, now in the proletariat guise of Jason Watkins -- eschewing Adrian Lester's wine-drinking cliché. In a rethink, Hereck's now an unassuming policeman with Malcolm McClaren-like intonations, but still threatening vampire insurrection and hoping to draw Mitchell back into the fold.

The vampire stuff wobbles around genre clichés, and Being Human will definitely face problems once the attention-grabbing premise loses its luster. Still, this was a confident start to what is still, undoubtedly, BBC Three's best creative decision in years. For a comedy-drama, there was a curious lack of laughs, though -- and the few jokes were often broad and silly (George's farcical attempt to find a safe place to "wolf-out" in a local wood), and some of the internal logic needs straightening out or explained (if the pizza delivery boy can see ghost Annie, why can't her fiancé?) I'm also not convinced Being Human benefits from hour-long episodes; it would make a snappier half-hour fix, unless future episodes do a better job of filling the time.

Overall, I wasn't wowed by this re-start, but it certainly earned my attention. I just hope subsequent episodes put meat on the bones, and remember to dish out some caustic laughs. Here, small character moments left the best impression: a decision to let a mortally-wounded woman die rather than be turned into a vampire; or Mitchell and Annie huddled together on their front doorstep, as George transforms into a ferocious beast indoors -- keeping the secret... sharing the burden... steadfast friends, perched on the fringe of a normal, human life.


25 January 2009
BBC Three, 9pm

Writer: Toby Whithouse
Director: Toby Haynes

Cast: Russell Tovey (George), Aidan Turner (Mitchell), Lenora Crichlow (Annie), Jason Watkins (Herrick) & Annabel Scholey (Lauren)

LOST 5.1 & 5.2 – "Because You Left" & "The Lie"

Spoilers. Prior to season 3's climax, Lost's creators warned audiences there would be a last-minute "snake in the mailbox" surprise (which turned out to be the reveal that the episode's flashbacks were actually flash-forwards.) In season 5's two-hour premiere, that damn snake's really starting to bite...

The events of season 4's finale were momentous: the off-shore freighter was destroyed (killing Jin), a group of characters managed to leave the island by helicopter (some becoming the "Oceanic Six" and creating a cover-story after they were rescued by Penny's boat), and Ben (Michael Emerson) risked unspecified disaster by making the island "disappear" to protect it from outside forces. In "Because You Left", the ramifications of Ben's desperate effort to save the island becomes clearer, in a story that splits the narrative into off-island/on-island strands, and shuffles everything out of chronological order.

Ben is now operating in the outside world, having persuaded Jack (Matthew Fox) that the only way for the Oceanic Six to lead normal lives is to return to the island they spent months trying to escape! That's not going to be easy, given everyone's circumstances: Kate (Evangeline Lilly) is back on the run with toddler Aaron, now that mysterious men are on her doorstep insisting she prove her maternity with a blood sample; Sayid (Naveen Andrews) has busted Hurley (Jorge Garcia) out of his asylum to go on the run from assassins, having spent the past year as Ben's own globe-trotting hitman; and Sun (Yunjin Kim) is joining forces with Charles Widmore (Alan Dale) to kill his adversary Ben.

On the island, Sawyer (Josh Holloway) is grieving the death of his friends, convinced their helicopter didn't make it to safety. Even worse, everyone left behind after the island "moved" are astonished to find their camp has vanished, along with the freighter on the ocean horizon. Physicist Daniel Faraday (Jeremy Davies) is the only one who can half-explain what's happened – either they, or the island, are jumping erratically through time like a needle skipping on a record. Intermittent white-outs herald random temporal jumps to various points in the island's timeline, exemplified by Locke (Terry O'Quinn) witnessing the crash of the Nigerian light-aircraft carrying those Virgin Mary statuettes full of heroine pouches.

Interestingly, Daniel insists to Sawyer that they physically won't be able to change the past – but, after finding themselves at a point in history when The Hatch existed, Daniel secretly makes contact with past-Desmond inside (wearing a hazmat suit, still pressing a button every 108 minutes), and instructs him to find his mother in Oxford after the helicopter rescue...

It appears that Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) is genetically-unique when it comes to time-travel (as evidenced in previous time-bending episodes), and here he wakes up in the present-day aboard Penny's boat – having experienced his conversation with Desmond as a kind of "dream memory". Is it recollection inserted by Daniel's change of established history, or is Desmond in some way linked to the island a la his temporal mind-trips in "The Constant"? Either way -- up anchor, set a course for England...

Cleverly, the writers used two down-to-earth characters to act as buoys for anyone overwhelmed by the sci-fi indulgences. We've come a long way from the simple survivalist drama of that first season, so it was great to see Sawyer vocalize his disbelief at the latest island craziness, and the Hurley-centric "The Lie" kept things light-hearted.

By now, Lost has amassed a sizeable hardcore audience willing to continue down the rabbit hole, but there are still a group of viewers who don't ordinarily watch science-fiction and are admirably trying to keep up. Season 5's premiere is undoubtedly a fork in the road moment; where Lost's fantastical trappings are no longer irregular diversions with a dose of ambiguity -- they're now the fuel powering us to the end of this six-year journey.


It remains to be seen if the writers can keep everything afloat for the final 34 episodes (particularly now all the best characters aren't even on the island), but that should mean underused newcomers like Charlotte (Rebecca Mader) and Miles (Ken Leung) will flourish without any competition for on-island stories. Already, Charlotte and Daniel's relationship is being handled with renewed confidence, and Charlotte's nose-bleeds and memory loss indicate she's susceptible to the island's time-jumps (perhaps because she was born on the island?) All of that should be interesting to see play out, and Miles' psychic abilities will hopefully be utilized better, too.

Throughout it all, there were a few excitements to cause fan-gasms: from the opening teaser focusing on DHARMA's instructional video-star Dr. Marvin Candle (Francois Chau), as he learned of the Orchid's subterranean donkey wheel (with Daniel also present!), to the return of the late Anna-Lucia (Michelle Rodriguez) as Hurley's personal Jiminy Cricket. And it wouldn't be Lost without stirring a spoonful of new questions into the mix; from the presence of British soldiers on the island in one unspecified era (Widmore's team, pre-DHARMA?), to unseen assailants attacking the camp and killing copious "redshirts" like whinging Neil Frogurt (Sean Whalen) with flaming arrows (the indigenous islanders who built that four-toed statue, perhaps?)

And, in the final sting of "The Lie", it's revealed that a vital contact who will help Ben get the Oceanic Six back to the island is none other than Ms. Hawking (Fionnula Flanagan), the white-haired Englishwoman first seen in "Flashes Before Your Eyes", who seems to be able to predict the coordinates of a way back to the island using an Apple III computer and a Foucalt pendulum chalking intersecting lines on a floor map.

Fact is, if you're watching Lost's fifth season premiere, you're something of a fan. Even if you don't make an effort to plug gaps in your knowledge by trawling internet fansites and forums for clues, theories and background detail. Perhaps that's why this two-hour premiere got record low ratings in the US, as it's become totally inaccessible to casual viewers. But, with a guaranteed finishing line in sight for the Lost faithful come summer 2010, who really cares?

To be honest, I'm still unconvinced Lost can maintain the same level of intrigue with its off-island activities, but having the island-based characters flitting around in time (as the audience have been for the past four years) will be an interesting and effective way to shine light on the mysteries. Will we see the Black Rock ship before it was shipwrecked, for example? If there's one thing I've learned as an avid viewer since 2004, it's to trust the writers and their ability to keep this phenomenal juggling act in play.

Overall, this double-bill star introduced viewers to the new narratives very well, and gave us a sense of where all this might lead. It wasn't as impressive as the fourth season's start, but it was considerably more exciting than the third, and I'm sure this penultimate year will deliver the usual shocks, surprises, twists, pseudo-intellectual fun, and thrilling spectacle.


Unanswered Questions

  • Who built the donkey wheel DHARMA discovered underground, that appears to be a mechanism to displace the island in time? Was it the indigenous people of the island? Does that include Alpert?

  • Was Daniel a member of DHARMA when the Orchid was being built, or will he travel back in time to that point in a future episode?

  • Why does Locke have to die to get the Oceanic Six back to the island, according to Richard Alpert? And why did he give Locke his compass? Is this in some way linked to the time when Alpert asked Locke as a boy to choose an object that belonged to him – considering one of the items was that compass?

  • Who is Daniel's mother Desmond will have to find in Oxford? Is it Ms. Hawking, Ben's accomplice? But how can that be, if Ben finds her in America?

  • How does Ms. Hawking know when the Oceanic Six have the return to the island? And how exactly do they do this?

  • Who is trying to capture Sayid and Hurley? Widmore's men? Some other group who know the Oceanic Six are lying about their experiences? Likewise, who are the suits on Kate's doorstep asking questions about Aaron?

  • Why are the people living in the barracks dressed in civilian clothes, rather than DHARMA uniforms?

  • Who is Jill from the Butcher Shop? And who are Gabriel and Jeffrey, who Ben asked after?

  • Who are the British soldiers who attacked Sawyer and Juliet? Were we witnessing a period in island history unknown to us? Were they perhaps Charles Widmore's men, from pre-DHARMA days, when the island was possibly under his control?

  • Who are the unseen assailants who attacked the beach camp with flaming arrows? Indiginous islanders, who built that four-toed statue seen in the season 2 finale?

  • Ben is a little bit vague about Locke's death. So, it seems strange to say this, but is Locke really dead? Can he be brought back to life somehow? Or is his ambiguity another red herring just to keep us guessing?

  • Why is Charlotte getting headaches, nosebleeds and having problems remembering her mother's maiden name? Is it because she was born on the island and somehow susceptible to changes in the timeline?

25 January 2009
Sky1, 9pm

Writers: Damon Lindelof & Carlton Cuse (5.1) / Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz (5.2)
Director: Stephen Williams (5.1) / Jack Bender (5.2)

Cast: Josh Holloway (Sawyer), Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond), Jeremy Davies (Daniel), Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliet), Michael Emerson (Ben), Evangeline Lilly (Kate), Jorge Garcia (Hugo), Matthew Fox (Jack), Naveen Andrews (Sayid), Yunjin Kim (Sun), Sonya Walger (Penny), Francois Chau (Dr. Marvin Candle), Alan Dale (Charles Widmore), Rebecca Mader (Charlotte), William Blanchette (Aaron), William Mapother (Ethan Rom), Nestor Carbonell (Richard Alpert), Sam Anderson (Bernard), Zuleikha Robinson (Ilana), Said Taghmaoui (Caesar), L. Scott Caldwell (Rose Nadler), Sean Whalen (Neil Frogurt), Tom Irwin (Dan Norton), Michael Dempsey (Foreman), Jeff Fahey (Frank), Michelle Rodriguez (Anna-Lucia), Cheech Marin (David Reyes), Tom Connolly (Jones), Mary Mara (Jill), Dana Sorman (Darlene), Jeremiah James (Police Officer), Stephanie Conching (Nurse), Matthew Alan (Cunningham), Todd Bryant (Mattingly), Lilian Hurst (Carmen Reyes) & Michael Dempsey (Foreman)

TV Picks: 26 January - 1 February 2009

Pick Of The Week: "Pushing Daisies" -- ITV1, Fri, 10pm

My selection of the week's best, new television shows airing in the UK, are as follows:

MONDAY 26th
  • Chickens, Hugh And Tesco Too (Channel 4, 9pm) Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall tries to change supermarket policiy regarding animal welfare
  • 90210 (E4, 9pm) The '90s US teen drama about rich kids in L.A is revived. Stars original actors Shannen Doherty and Jennie Garth.
  • What Darwin Didn't Know (BBC4, 9pm) Documentary challenging Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory.
TUESDAY 27th
  • Shameless (Channel 4, 10pm) Series 6 of the drama about working class characters in a rundown council estate. The next episode follows at 11pm on E4.
WEDNESDAY 28th
  • The World's Cleverest Child And Me (Channel 4, 10pm) Comedian Mark Dolan meets the world's most intelligent infant.
THURSDAY 29th
  • Jamie Saves Our Bacon (Channel 4, 9pm) The crusading chef campaigns for Britain's pig farmers.
  • American Dad (FX, 9pm) Season 4 of the satirical US animation.
FRIDAY 30th
  • Gordon's Great British Nightmare (Channel 4, 9pm) The volatile chef campaigns to get the public eating out in local restaurants.
  • Pushing Daisies (ITV1, 10pm) Season 2 of the US fantasy about a piemaker who solves crimes by reanimating the dead.
  • The Site (BBC3, 11pm) Sitcom pilot set in a caravan park. Stars Paul Kaye, Chris Hannon, Annette Badland & Danny Kirrane.
SATURDAY 31st
  • The Feelgood Factor (ITV1, 5.50pm) Eamonn Holmes and Myleene Klass encourage viewers to get fit, with guests Alesha Dixon and the cast of Chicago.
  • Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? (ITV1, 8.50pm) Celebrity special with Meerya Syar, Josie Lawrence, Andrew Lancel and Gary Lucy in the hot-seat.
  • The Old Guys (BBC1, 9.30pm) Sitcom about two elderly delinquents. Stars Roger Lloyd Pack, Clive Swift, Katherine Parkinson & Jane Asher. Writen by Sam Bain & Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show).
SUNDAY 1st
  • Shipwrecked 2009: Battle Of The Island (Channel 4, 12.30pm) Return of the desert-island reality show.
  • Charles Darwin & The Tree Of Life (BBC1, 9pm) Sir David Attenborough presents this look at Charles Darwin.
  • Ross Kemp: Return To Afghanistan (Sky1, 10pm) The actor returns to the war-zone for a five-part documentary follow-up to the BAFTA-winning original.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

TV Week 32: Battlestar Galactica & Friday Night With Jonathan Ross

My thirty-second TV Week at Newslite.tv takes a look at the beginning of Battlestar Galactica's end, and the comeback of Friday Night With Jonathan Ross.

Poll Result: Doctor Who's New Companion

After a week of voting, 60 readers decided they want to see Carey Mulligan reprise her role as Sally Sparrow from "Blink" in Doctor Who's fifth season, having received 36% of the vote.

Narrowly beaten into second place was Michelle Ryan with 35%, just 1 vote behind! It was level-pegging by mid-week, Carey pulled ahead on Friday (possibly because Michelle was confirmed as appearing in the Easter special?), but Michelle fought back on the final day to nearly sneak a victory.

Joint-third with 10% of the vote were Katherine Parkinson and Daniela Denby-Ashe. Jaime Winstone and Joanna Page were notable stragglers from the start, but Joanne just edged out Jaime to finish with 3 votes to her 2.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to vote. I'm surprised nobody suggested other possible candidates, though. How about Lost In Austen's Jemima Rooper, or Hotel Babylon's Emma Pierson, hmm? A weekly poll is intended to become a semi-regular feature of DMD, so suggestions for future topics are welcome in the comments below.

DEMONS 1.4 – "Suckers"

Spoilers. Demons is still insanely easy to pick fault with and become irritated by, but "Suckers" was a modest improvement over the previous three episodes. A lot of this was down to one simple fact: Zoë Tapper's performance and character is a cut-above everyone else's, and this episode focused on her to a beneficial degree.

Here, a vampire called Quincey (Ciaran McMenamin) is on the prowl with his undead girlfriend Anika (Katrine de Candole), having been recently revived to the strains of AC/DC by a Johnny Rotten-like goon called Zippy (Peter G. Reed). Of course, Mina has a history with Quincey that Galvin (Philip Glenister) is being vague about to help sustain the plot, but our expectations about Mina's past are eventually proven true– she's half "half-life" (quarter-life?), owing to the fact she was bitten by Dracula over 150 years ago, but chooses to keep her vampiric nature in check by filtering her blood. Begging the question: would gung-ho Galvin allow other half-lives a similar chance to lead a normal, human life? Or would he just "smite" them with all the moral fibre of a bug exterminator?

The storyline is rather thin again, not helped by the fact Quincey is a terribly bland, pretty-boy villain who gets no credibly scary moments. A tendency to walk super-fast with a CGI blur and tongue his fangs is about his limit. Lucy Watkins' script doesn't even give him a devious scheme that needs thwarting; all Quincey does is pretend to be a doctor (injoke?) and extract blood from an elderly donor, through traditional intravenous means. Where are the fangs and the neck-biting? For all his talk of slaying countless humans over the decades, this episode paints him as all-talk, no-walk. He even goes bowling with his henchmen in one ridiculous scene; punctuated by an idiotic moment that explains why his sidekick's called Zippy (his head can be detached by neck-zipper and bowled down the alley for a strike, of course.)

Ruby (Holliday Grainger) is still an irritating hanger-on, with a perplexing hatred of Mina that exists solely to create tension and the threat of a cat-fight between "the girls". It makes her appear incredibly immature and rather insecure, actually; but at least that's something of a personality to build on. Her co-stars are still very anaemic in that respect-- Galvin is nothing but a skewed accent and dour expressions, while our hero Luke (Christian Cooke) resembles a gun-toting mannequin.

This episode is rescued from total tedium by a third act twist that worked well (probably because Demons is so inept you're not expecting anything creative to happen.) It turns out that Quincey is actually Mina's son, whom she turned into a vampire using some of her blood when he was terminally ill in hospital during WWII. The reveal worked well in making us reassess their relationship, and brief moment towards the end (with Mina drinking her own unfiltered blood to regain her vampire powers so she can rescue Ruby and Galvin from Quincey), was also a rare action sequence that worked. Interesting to note that when Mina embraces her half-life nature she regains her sight, too. The burden of blindness lends a nice "curse" aspect to her human existence.

Overall, I'm going to be fair and admit that "Suckers" held my attention, and the last fifteen minutes were particularly solid. It's still not great, and often quite embarrassing and silly (only vampires can kill vampires, so humans have to first restore them to life by shooting them with their own DNA?!), but "Suckers" was a relatively decent episode because Mina's a moderately engaging character, and the episode wasn't without some merit. It's just a shame Quincey was so insipid and unthreatening as this week's villain (something of a recurring problem for the show), and the supposed leads of Galvin and Luke are so tiresome to watch.


24 January 2009
ITV1, 7.45pm


Writer: Lucy Watkins
Director: Tom Harper

Cast: Philip Glenister (Galvin), Zoë Tapper (Mina), Christian Cooke (Luke), Holliday Grainger (Ruby), Ciaran McMenamin (Quincey), Katrine de Candole (Anika), Peter G. Reed (Zippy), Eileen Essell (Ethel) & Liz Cass (Gail)

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Celebrity Big Brother 2009: Ulrika-ka-ka-ka!

What a bizarre decision. Ulrika Jonsson, easily the most miserable celebrity in the Big Brother house, who allegedly negotiated a stellar £170,000 fee to appear, somehow wins the whole thing? To be honest, it was a pretty thin choice on the last day, but surely Terry Christian should have won? Y'know, the guy who actually subverted our expectations that he's an irritating loudmouth, for the most part? I know some people thought Vern Troyer should win, but that was more down to some kind of "sizeist guilt". He actually did very little (no pun intended) in the house, although his drunken scooter moment was one of very few highlights this year.

I mean, come on, beyond her very funny duet with Vern two weeks ago, can you think of anything Ulrika did to deserve a win? Maybe that's just what happens on Big Brother now: the person who least annoys the audience walks away victorious? It worked for inoffensively boring Rachel Rice on BB9 last summer. It just confuses me that voters think the woman being paid a fortune to sit around and grumble about not seeing her kids deserved to win this!

PLUS ONE 1.3 – "See It In A Boy's Lies"

Oh, this is interesting: "See It In A Boy's Lies" was probably the least funny episode of Plus One so far, but also its most compelling. A combination of winning performances and an unpredictable script glossed over a lack of belly-laughs; as it's just so enjoyable spending time with this bunch...

Rob (Daniel Mays) is still looking for this ideal "plus one" date for his ex's wedding, and sex-mad brother Rich (Nigel Harman) spies a sexy model called Aimee (Camilla Beeput) on one of the album covers Rob "produces" (i.e., he compiled the list of tracks on a spreadsheet.) Rob uses his contacts to arrange a sit in on Aimee's latest photoshoot with his photographer friend Paul (Steve John Shepherd), and manages to secure a date after impressing her with fake tales of celebrity friends and album-producing prowess.

Similarly to previous episodes, the resulting date with Aimee eventually goes disastrously wrong, primarily because his "celebrity friend" Jamelia shows up at the same nightclub he takes Aimee to, forcing him to try and keep his lies covered up. But, this episode was less interested in manipulating events to tie Rob's life up in knots (giving us only one misunderstanding that lands Rob in jail at the very end). Also, celebrity love-rival "Duncan from Blue" (Duncan James) and Rob's ex Linsey (Miranda Raison) barely feature this week, with the story instead focusing on Rob's realization that he fancies Irish work colleague Laura (Ruth Bradley).

There may have been a paucity of big laughs, but there were some very funny physical moments – from a fantasy sequence where Rob and Laura ravish each other on their desks (inspired by Laura fellating a Twix), to Rob's surprisingly excellent body-popping at a nightclub to impress Aimee and Jamelia. I bet Mays gets asked to re-enact that sequence, a la Ricky Gervais' Office dance, wherever he goes now. Also, given Plus One's tendency to indulge in fantasy sequences, I half expected Rob's gyrations to be revealed as a brief moment of hope before an embarrassing reality strikes, but the script neatly subverted our expectations. Indeed, one of the more refreshing things about this series is how Rob isn't being written as the befuddled, socially-inept, nerdy Romeo he could have been.

Great to see some development of Laura from "bland face at the office" to one of the best characters, and surely Rob's best chance for a girlfriend who's not a suspiciously out-of-his-league model/actress/singer. I hope they continue the Rob/Laura relationship, and hopefully Paul's feelings for Rob's sister Rebecca (Ingrid Oliver) will be given time to bloom, too.

Overall, I wouldn't have expected it, but Plus One has become a weekly comedy treat in a mere three weeks. There's a nice balance of comedy, well-drawn characters, a sense of unpredictability, and some excellent performances (Mays, Bradley and Oliver in particular). I'm still not sure if it has much of a lifespan (given the focus on an imminent wedding day), but for however long it lasts, I'm really enjoying Rob's romantic misadventures.


23 January 2009
Channel 4, 9.30pm

Writers: Tim Allsop & Stewart Williams
Director: Sarah O'Gorman

Cast: Daniel Mays (Rob Black), Miranda Raison (Linsey), Duncan James (Himself), Ingrid Oliver (Rebecca Black), Nigel Harman (Rich Black), Steve John Shepherd (Paul), Ruth Bradley (Laura), Camilla Beeput (Aimee) & Jamelia (Herself)

Rabbit [Short Film Saturday]



Our first animation this week, with the BAFTA-nominated "Rabbit", directed by Run Wrake. "A dreamlike but dark story of lost innocence and the random justice of nature, told with curious images from a distant childhood."

It was chosen to be part of the BBC Summer Of British Film (Shorts) Horror Season, and has won numerous awards, such as: a McLaren Award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival (2006), a Tiger Award at the Rotterdam Film Festival, and the Onda Curta Award at the Lisbon Independent Film Festival.

Incredibly bizarre and certainly not for everyone; but a strong, distinctive piece of work nevertheless. What's your reaction?

* Have you seen, or made, a short film you'd like featured on Short Film Saturday?
If so, please e-mail me the details, including an embeddable video-link. *

Friday, 23 January 2009

Box Office Charts: w/e 23 January 2009

In the US: Comedian Kevin James has unexpected pulling power with the American public, making the poorly-reviewed PAUL BLART: MALL COP the country's #1 in its opening week… the 3-D marketing campaign for slasher remake MY BLOODY VALENTINE works quite well, with the flick straight in at #3... musical biopic NOTORIOUS, about the life and death of rapper Notorious B.I.G is something of a disappointment at #4 with $20m... doggie comedy HOTEL FOR DOGS does far better than it should, in at #5... Daniel Craig's presence doesn't get Americans enthused about DEFIANCE, debuting at #8... and Slumdog Millionaire re-enters the chart at #10 because of its Golden Globe wins...

US TOP 10

(-) 1. Paul Blart: Mall Cop $31.8m
(1) 2. Gran Torino $22m
(-) 3. My Bloody Valentine $21.2m
(-) 4. Notorious $20.5m
(-) 5. Hotel For Dogs $17m
(2) 6. Bride Wars $11.7m
(3) 7. The Unborn $9.34m
(-) 8. Defiance $8.91m
(4) 9. Marley & Me $6.14m
(R) 10. Slumdog Millionaire $5.85m

In the UK: It's polar opposite success for Slumdog Millionaire, which inches up the chart from #2 to #1 in Britain… Will Smith's latest "serious" movie SEVEN POUNDS does well to grab #2... 3-D expectations help MY BLOODY VALENTINE to #4... Brits show commendable taste, by refusing to let BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA go any higher than # 6 in its opening week (can you believe that was the US #1 for a few weeks?)... but then we show a disappointing lack of taste, with few people turning out for awards-laden Oscar hopeful THE WRESTLER, which crashes in at #8!

UK TOP 10

(2) 1. Slumdog Millionaire £2.6m
(-) 2. Seven Pounds £1.5m
(1) 3. Role Models £1.4m
(-) 4. My Bloody Valentine £1.33m
(3) 5. Bride Wars £1.31m
(-) 6. Beverly Hills Chihuahua £1.02m
(4) 7. Defiance £805k
(-) 8. The Wrestler £802k
(5) 9. Yes Man £591k
(8) 10. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

UK RELEASES THIS WEEK

Frost/Nixon

Bio-drama. A British talk-show host interviews President Richard Nixon after the events of the Watergate scandal.
Director: Ron Howard Starring: Michael Sheen, Frank Langella, Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon, Matthew Macfadyen & Oliver Platt.
Tomatometer: 90% (Fresh; based on 178 reviews) "Frost/Nixon is weighty and eloquent; a cross between a boxing match and a ballet with Oscar worthy performances."

Milk

Bio-drama. The story of California's first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk.
Director: Gus Van Sant Starring: Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, James Franco, Diego Luna, Alison Pill & Victor Garber.
US Box Office: $20 million.
Tomatometer: 93% (Fresh; based on 188 reviews) "Anchored by Sean Penn's powerhouse performance, Milk is a triumphant account of America's first openly gay man elected to public office."

Rachel Getting Married

Romantic drama. An alcoholic young woman is released from rehab to attend her sister's wedding.
Director: Jonathan Demme Starring: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mather Zickel, Bill Irwin, Anna Deavere Smith & Anisa George.
US Box Office: $10 million.
Tomatometer: 86% (Fresh; based on 155 reviews) "Engrossing tale of family angst, highlighted by Hathaway's powerful performance."

Valkyrie

Historical drama. A plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler is hatched by a group of German soldiers during WWII.
Director: Bryan Singer Starring: Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Thomas Kretschmann, Terence Stamp, Eddie Izzard & Kevin McNally.
US Box Office: $78 million.
Tomatometer: 59% (Fresh; based on 160 reviews) "Given the subject matter, Valkyrie could have been an outstanding historical thriller, but settles for being a mildly entertaining, but disposable yarn."

Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans

Action-horror. The centuries-old feud between aristocratic vampires and their slave werewolves is revealed in this prequel.
Director: Patrick Tatopoulos Starring: Rhona Mitra, Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen, Steven Mackintosh, Kevin Grevioux & David Ashton
Tomatometer: 55% (Fresh; based on 11 reviews)