Saturday, 28 February 2009

LIFE ON MARS (US) 1.11 - "Home Is Where You Hang Your Holster"


"It don't matter what you do, it don't matter what happens. You'll always be
No-Nuts Norris. The one that don't belong. The novelty. The party favour."
-- Ray (Michael Imperioli)

Spoilers. I still don't feel like there's a unifying idea tying LOM:US together, but this episode presented itself as a significant piece of the jigsaw puzzle. So, will it tally with previous "clues" from earlier stories (the "hobo angel" that spoke to Sam in church, Project Aries from a few weeks ago), or is this just a way to keep leading its audience around by the nose?

"Home Is Where You Hang Your Holster" is steeped in Wizard Of Oz references, primarily a gross overuse of the song "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" (a better arrangement of which beautifully haunted the UK original's finale.) The teaser is one of LOM:US's most compelling, though -- as Sam (Jason O'Mara) and Gene (Harvey Keitel) arrest a politician called Bobby Prince (Armand Schultz) after catching him with a prostitute. Prince then confides to Sam that he's from the year 2009, and has a handful of pop-culture knowledge to prove his story (the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Red Sox winning the World Series twice, the first black US President.) Unfortunately, as Sam convinced he's met a fellow time-traveller who may be able to help him, Bobby is shot dead by an unseen gunman inside the police department -- his dying words to Sam being that he'd found a way home, hence his murder.

Gene orders a lockdown of the whole building so they can find the shooter, trapping a ragtag assortment of Cluedo-esque prime suspects inside: a Chinese delivery man (Eric Chan), a pimp (Hector Lincoln), a bride (Annie Meisels), a groom (René Ifrah), Bobby's prostitute Misty (Quisha Saunders), etc. Gene's daughter Maria (Maggie Siff) also finds herself locked in, which makes Sam uncomfortable because he suspects Gene has discovered Maggie was his filing room conquest.

It's a slight plot, but allows for more characterization and fun mytharc stuff than usual. In a strong subplot, Ray (Michael Imperioli) and Annie (Gretchen Mol) investigate Prince's activities in the wider world, and it gives writer Meredith Averill plenty of opportunities to hammer the point that Ray (often written as a likeable grouch) is a truly misogynist caveman. We meet his under-the-thumb wife Denise (Laura Benanti) -- whose passion for sewing her husband can't understand, and who daren't cut her long hair short because of his reaction -- but the truly startling moments arrive at the end, when Annie proves her worth as a detective, and even saves Ray's life, but finds that her actions only infuriate Ray even more, leading to a very uncomfortable private confrontation. Imperioli and Mol are a great deal more interesting than O'Mara and Keitel at times, so putting them together really sparkled.

Disparaging to the leads as that was, the Gene/Sam scenes actually seemed to click here much nicer, with their mutual mixed feelings approaching the highs of the Glenister/Simm chemistry in the BBC series, briefly. The last scene, with Sam asking to be sent back to Hyde, was particularly amusing and closer to how the Keitel/O'Mara partnership should work. It was also nice to get the feeling that Gene wasn't too upset about discovering Sam's had sex with his daughter (he's clearly decent husband material), but more concerned about his estrangement from his daughter in general. This episode ends Maria's storyline, which is probably a wise move, but I still feel there was more to achieve, as the Sam/Gene/Maria dance lent LOM:US a dynamic that was actually entertaining to watch unspool.

What stopped "Home Is Where You Hang Your Holster" securing a higher rating was the disappointing way everything played out, considering the inciting start. The prospect of getting big answers with the arrival of another time-traveller (who has a similar chalkboard of theories in his apartment) only led to more of LOM's surreal tropes (people talking candidly only to Sam's ears, buzzing TV sets, ringing phones) and the episode's one significant reveal (an English gent with a White Rabbit walking cane, called "The Wizard" in the credits) felt a bit too on-the-nose.


18 February 2009
ABC, 10/9c

Writer: Meredith Averill
Director: David M. Barrett

Cast: Jason O'Mara (Sam), Harvey Keitel (Gene), Michael Imperioli (Ray), Jonathan Murphy (Chris), Gretchen Mol (Annie), Gretchen Mol (Annie), John Cenatiempo (Sizable Ted), Maggie Siff (Maria Belanger), René Ifrah (The Groom), Eric Chan (Chinese Delivery Man), Hector Lincoln (The Pimp), Jason Kravits (Jerry), Laura Esterman (Sue Moyer), Malachy McCourt (The Wizard), Sharon Puterman (Clerk), Dominick Mancino (Detective #1), Annie Meisels (The Bride), Quisha Saunders (Misty/Elena Kastin), Laura Benanti (Denise Carling), Corey Stoll (Detective Russell Ventura) & Armand Schultz (Councilman Bobby Prince)

Short Film Saturday rests

I'm going to "rest" Short Film Saturday for awhile; partly because I don't have the time to search for shorts that interest me enough to share with everyone, partly because my hope that readers would submit their own finds didn't happen, and partly because I'm unsure how popular that feature was (due to a lack of comments.)

Over the two-month run we had funny sci-fi The Black Hole, an early Christopher Nolan oddity called Doodlebug, bizarre animation Rabbit, Oscar nominees Oktapodi and Presto, low-budget romance Butterface, cynical Valentine's special How To Tell When A Relatonship Is Over, and the amusing Goodbye To The Normals.

If you liked Short Film Saturday, and want to see it return some day, let me know below. Otherwise it may move from "rested" to "retired". Or perhaps become an irregular Saturday treat, instead of a weekly one.

Friday, 27 February 2009

HOTLIGHT: Odette Yustman


23-year-old ODETTE YUSTMAN has come to prominence in the past year; first as one of the unknowns in J.J Abrams' Cloverfield (she played damsel-in-distress Beth), and now as the lead in David Goyer's horror yarn The Unborn (where her shapely bum was the main selling point of its one-sheet poster.) Amusingly, Odette was also one of the kids in Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy Kindergarten Cop. A beautiful mix of Cuban, Italian and French lineage, I don't think we'll see Odette giving an Oscar acceptance speech anytime soon, but expect lots of roles that exploit her beauty.

Box Office Charts: w/e 27 February 2009


In the US: With alarming regularity, there's always a truly heinous comedy abortion that creeps into the US box-office by stealth, and they sometimes even take #1 with a whopping $41m -- hello, MADEA GOES TO JAIL... and hello, FIRED UP!, in at #9... elsewhere, nice to see good word-of-mouth pushing Coraline up the chart, and Oscar success pushes Slumdog Millionaire up four places to #5...

US TOP 10

(-) 1. Madea Goes To Jail $41m
(4) 2. Coraline $11.4m
(3) 3. Taken $11.3m
(2) 4. He's Just Not That Into You $8.56m
(9) 5. Slumdog Millionaire $8.38m
(1) 6. Friday The 13th $7.94m
(6) 7. Paul Blart: Mall Cop $6.82m
(5) 8. Confessions Of A Shopaholic $6.74m
(-) 9. Fired Up! $5.48m
(8) 10. The International $4.46m

In the UK: Isla Fisher's more famous in the UK than in the US, which probably accounts for CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC doing better with British audiences, in at #2... superhero thriller PUSH had mixed reviews, but it seems everyone's waiting for Watchmen, as Paul McGuigan's movie debuts at a dismal #7... GRAN TORINO was only on limited releases last week, so didn't break into the Top 10...

UK TOP 10

(1) 1. Bolt £3m
(-) 2. Confessions Of A Shopaholic £2.8m
(2) 3. Slumdog Millionaire £1.5m
(5) 4. Hotel For Dogs £1.1m
(4) 5. The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button £1.01m
(3) 6. He's Just Not That Into You £974k
(-) 7. Push £625k
(8) 8. The Pink Panther 2 £595k
(7) 9. Notorious £482k
(9) 10. Vicky Crisina Barcelona £333k


UK RELEASES THIS WEEK


Franklyn

Fantasy drama. The story of four lost souls in a futuristic London, where there is no separation between the Church and the State.
Director: Gerald McMorrow Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Eva Green, Sam Riley, Jay Fuller, Bernard Hill & Art Malik
Tomatometer: 57% (Fresh; based on 27 reviews)



The International

Thriller. An Interpol agent has to expose a bank's role in international arms dealing.
Director: Tom Tykwer Starring: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ulrich Thomsen, Patrick Baladi & Jay Villiers.
US Box Office: $18 million
Tomatometer: 58% (Fresh; based on 169 reviews) "The International boasts some electric action sequences and picturesque locales, but is undone by its preposterous plot."



New In Town

Rom-com. An executive woman has to adjust to life in a snowy Minnesota town.
Director: Jonas Elmer Starring: Renee Zellweger, Harry Connick Jr, Siobhan Fallon, J.K Simmons, Mike O'Brien & Frances Conroy.
US Box Office: $15 million
Tomatometer: 18% (Rotten; based on 126 reviews) "Cliched and short on charm, New In Town is a pat genre exercise that fails to bring the necessary heat to its Minnesota setting."



The Unborn

Horror. A young woman has to fight a spirit that might be her own unborn brother.
Director: David S. Goyer Starring: Odette Yustman, Gary Oldman, Meagan Good, Idris Elba, Jane Alexander, James Remar, C.S Lee & Carla Gugino.
US Box Office: $42 million
Tomatometer: 13% (Rotten; based on 88 reviews) "David Goyer's Unborn is a tame genre effort with cheap thrills and scares that border on silliness."

State of reviews, films, Followers and Lenny Henry

As you may have noticed, I've opted to drop Free Agents from weekly review (although I'll still be watching it), mainly because I don't feel there's much to say about it week-to-week -- it's filthy-minded, well-acted, nicely directed, rarely laugh-out-loud funny, and will probably remain so for its run.

Life On Mars is on "the bubble" for me (near-inevitable cancellation, an' all), so I'm a week behind the US at the moment. Funny thing is, whenever I get close to calling it a day with this show, they deliver an episode that intrigues me into giving it one more week...

A 48-hour delay sneaking into Mad Men reviews just recently (more so I can give it the attention it deserves), but I don’t have a problem taking 96 hours to get round to Flight Of The Conchords reviews.

Will try to keep up with Damages, as this week's BBC1 episode is the last pre-written review I have. I kinda wish I'd just waited for the DVD box-set again, though.

New shows that will be reviewed: possibly Moving Wallpaper (as I like the zombie idea and comedies are relatively easy to review), season 2 of Breaking Bad (returns to US screens on 8 March) and Primeval (which should be stomping across ITV's Saturday nights soon, I reckon.) Sorry, but I won't be reviewing Law & Order: UK (episode 1 didn't grab my interest, not a fan of cop shows generally.)

Also, trying to do more movie reviews, but my schedule's a bit tight with TV shows right now. I was lucky to have found time to watch and review Eden Lake and The Strangers recently -- a double dose of "ordeal horror". Still got WALL-E, Hellboy II and Pineapple Express on the back-burner. Any preferences for which to do next? The Escapist, RocknRolla and The House Bunny are also in my Lovefilm queue. For anyone who cares, I'm up to Star Trek VI with my plan to review all the Star Trek films, pre-JJ Abrams reboot in the summer -- although Trek IV & V are little more than drafts, if I'm honest.

Blogger have a new Followers feature; well, they've teamed up with Google to "improve" the service. Personally, I think the new widget looks terrible, but the idea behind it is good (you can now follow blogs, even if you're not a Blogger user.)So, if you have an account covered by the Following software, why not register DMD as one of your favourite blogs?

Finally, I was THIS close to getting an interview with Lenny Henry for non-blog purposes, so that was a shame to see fall through. Now having to compile something on the Blue Man Group -- any fans out there?

P.S. Still waiting on Virgin1 to show Chuck season 2, aren't we. Still. After six MONTHS!! Tum-te-tum....trying not to blow a gasket...

The Strangers (2008)

Inspired by an incident in writer-director Brian Bertino's childhood (where a stranger to the Bertino residence asked for someone who didn't live there, and the next morning the family discovered empty neighbouring houses had been burgled), The Strangers is a well-constructed, effective, tense and chilling series of escalating creeps... for the first hour. Despite clocking in shy of 90-minutes, The Strangers has drained its own horror by the final act and starts running on fumes.

Inspired by real events (said Bertino incident and the book Helter Skelter, about the Manson family murders in 1969), The Strangers finds couple Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) leaving a friend's wedding reception (during which James' own proposal of marriage was refused), to spend the night in a remote, wooded vacation home owned by his parents. An already tense atmosphere between the lovers is augmented by the arrival of a disquieting teenager (Gemma Ward) on their doorstep, enquiring after someone they've never heard of, then turns genuinely frightening when Kristen starts seeing masked strangers lurking around outside: a man in a sackcloth hood (Kip Weeks), a woman in a "Pin-Up Girl" mask (Laura Margolis) and the aforementioned teen (well, we assume) in a "Dollface" disguise.

To its credit, The Strangers doesn't try to explain its boogiemen or deflate the tension with identity reveals and motivations (only offering "because you were home" as the trio's raison d'etre when questioned.) Instead, the movie plays out like a dreamy home invasion, as Kristen and James try to fend off the interlopers, who inevitably ensure they're isolated and unable to run away or raise the alarm -- then spend most of their time eerily stepping out of shadows and generally presenting themselves as ethereal beings.

As Bertino's first movie, The Strangers is best treated as a calling card for a young man handed $9 million to direct his own script, that proves he can direct and build credible tension. There are some nice sequences and scares to be found here, particularly a moment when the needle on a record begins to skip in the midst of unfolding terror, but The Strangers is hobbled by problems on the page. Simply put, it's just isn't very interesting in terms of plot or characters, and there are few surprises in the narrative to rival the handful of chilly shocks Bertino doles out (the best ruined by the excellent trailer, incidentally.) Bertino tries to enliven the narrative by opening with the ending and telling the movie as a flashback, but it's just a token effort to make A to B plotting feel more creative than it really is.

Actors Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman do their best with thin ciphers -- particularly Tyler, who unsurprisingly makes for a good, resourceful victim with a good set of lungs (in both senses of the word) -- but both are overshadowed by the sooty ambience. The final moments are suitable nihilistic and don't betray the journey to that point, but I could understand audiences finding it slightly too grim and forgettable.

Overall, The Strangers is too lacking in plot and characterization to leave an indelible mark, but there's no denying that newcomer Brian Bertino understands how to create tension, the virtue of a scene with no musical score, and how to craft a spine-tingling visual. I'd love to see him get an opportunity to direct someone else's script, as it’s clear he didn’t really know how to progress his idea beyond its peripheral menace. The Strangers is a nice, moody short film by a talented beginner -- stretched to feature-length, where the lack of story and characterization slowly suffocates it.


Rogue Pictures
Budget: $9 million
85 minutes (theatrical) / 87 minutes (unrated)

www.thestrangers.net

Writer & Director: Brian Bertino

Cast: Liv Tyler (Kristen McKay), Scott Speedman (James Hoyt), Gemma Ward (Dollface), Kip Weeks (The Man In The Mask), Laura Margolis (Pin-Up Girl), Glenn Howerton (Mike), Alex Fisher (Christian Boy #1) & Peter Clayton-Luce (Christian Boy #2)

Thursday, 26 February 2009

TV News: time's up for 24's producer & Glenister smites Demons

Jon Cassar, veteran producer of 24, has decided to quit the hit show, saying: "although it's sad for me to leave after six years, it's also very exciting to be back in the marketplace working with different people and facing different challenges." Cassar already has a new project lined up for CBS called Washington Field.

Philip Glenister has quit Demons, meaning the low-rated ITV series is now even less likely to return. An insider has said: "ITV spent millions on Demons, but things have not worked out. Philip made it clear he would not come back. He's busy filming with a second series of Ashes To Ashes and has other shows in the pipeline." Demons started with an impressive 6 million viewers, but that dropped to 3.4 million over its six episodes.

FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS 2.6 - "Love Is The Weapon Of Choice"

Spoilers. It had to happen; after a sterling episode last week, FoTC hits a pothole in the road with "Love Is The Weapon Of Choice" . Although I laughed at many of the jokes and found the ending quite strong, the idea just felt squandered.

There's another romantic entanglement for Jemaine (Jemaine Clement) and Bret (Bret McKenzie) this week, when both friends fall in love with a woman called Barbara (or "Brahbrah" as Bret believes), after meeting her in a park. Barbara (Kristen Wiig) is trying to find her missing epileptic dog, Charlie, and her distress inspires the Conchords to write a song to raise awareness of canine epilepsy for a charity benefit.

The episode is essentially a competition between Jemaine and Bret, who are both smitten with the same girl, and try to woo Barbara with time-share restaurant dates and by undermining each other in fronf of her. Barbara sends out conflicting signals, which only confuses matters -- leading Bret to wear Jemaine's glasses (believing Barbara thinks it makes men look intelligent), and for Jemaine to glue a Bret-like beard to his face. All a bit silly, like a bad '80s sitcom.

While irritating to see FoTC trotting out another twist on an attractive lady coming between Jemaine and Bret's friendship, the episode actually floundered for a variety of other reasons. Kristen Wiig (a Saturday Night Live player I'm not too familiar with) was pretty decent as Barbara, but her character was all over the place -- generally not mad enough to justify her patience with Jemaine and Bret's creepy antics, yet occasionally given scenes intended to make her seem even creepier (stealing a dog and pretending it's her own, taking bizarre polaroids of her pet.) Her lazy eye wasn’t the only lazy thing about her character, as Barbara's uneven tone just spoiled a few scenes.

The signature songs were rather forgettable, although RnB ditty "I'm In Love With A Sexy Lady" had some funny lines, but the titular "Love Is A Weapon Of Choice" -- a Meatloaf-esque bit of camp with big moustaches, candles and ninjas, that evolved into a dandyish duel -- was visually amusing, but lyrically unsure and vocally messy.

It was also a shame that the episode's big joke (a charity gig by the Conchords for epileptic dogs, faturing strobe lighting -- oh dear) was ruined by poor directing, as the strobing effect wasn't very noticeable, and it wasn't clear that there was a room full of dogs being affected. The intention of the gag was obvious and predictable enough to make its point, but the next scene was still had to make explicit what had happened through dialogue.

On the plus side, I really enjoyed the last scene's conclusion -- with Murray (Rhys Darby) again playing dad to the Conchords, making it clear to Barbara that Jemaine and Bret's incompetence was becase they both fancy her. The reveal that Barbara thought the Conchords were gay felt disappointingly cliché, but quickly rescued itself when Barbara opted to date Bret over Jemaine "if he's straight" -- leaving Jemaine unpredictably rejected as Bret got the girl. And, yes, learning that Barbara's name really is pronounced and spelt "Brahbrah" made me giggle for most of the end credits. An episode of good moments, desperately in need of better songs and extra polishing.


22 February 2009
HBO, 10pm

Writer: Paul Simms
Director: James Bobin

Cast: Jemaine Clement (Jemaine), Bret (Bret McKenzie), Rhys Darby (Murray) & Barbara (Kristen Wiig)

MAD MEN 2.3 - "The Benefactor"

Spoilers. It's not that "The Benefactor" is bad, merely that both of its main storylines felt more pedestrian than usual, although I appreciated a subplot that focused on Harry (Rich Sommer) and there's always a bedrock of greatness and small gems that raise it a notch...

The main story gets underway when comedian Jimmy Barrett (Patrick Fischler), filming a TV commercial for one of Sterling Cooper's clients, Utz Potato Chips, insults the portly wife of the company's owner when they arrive on-set. Don (Jon Hamm) tries to limit the damage by approaching Jimmy's wife Bobbie (Melinda McGraw) about arranging an expensive dinner, where Jimmy can apologize for his behaviour. For the first time this season (having been led to believe Don's been faithfuil to his wife for over a year), it doesn't take much for him to give in to Bobbie's advances in a car being pelted by symbolic hailstones... arriving home to his family, and immediately scrubbing the scent of another woman from his fingers and mouth in the kitchen sink.

Betty (January Jones) remains faithful to her husband, although she suspects Don's adulterous ways, and coolly blocks a clear advance from Arthur (the man she rides horses with at the stables) -- a man who can see through her ice queen visage at the terrible sadness beneath. Betty can only deflect his insight with a killer explanation for her glassy expressions ("it's just my people are Nordic"), before walking away from the situation and shakily lighting a cigarette. Clearly she wants to have an affair to punish her wayward husband, but doesn’t really have the brazen attitude to go through with it.

Later, Betty is present at the dinner arranged by Don and Bobbi for Jimmy to apologize for his hurtful remarks to SC's clients, Hunt Schilling (Steve Stapenhorst) and his wife Edith (Jan Hoag). Jimmy's apology doesn't seem likely to materialize, as the comedian appears more interested in flirting with "Miss America" Betty -- meaning Don pushes the matter with Bobbie in a restroom. After realizing Bobbie plans to extort $25,000 from Sterling Cooper for the apology, Don shows a darker side than usual: threatening to destroy her husband's career, while reaching up Bobbie's skirt. Jimmy's apology is given shortly after, rescuing the Utz Potato Chips account, and Don notices Betty crying as they drive home together -- apparently because she's "so happy", but possibly because it's such a rarity for her to feel so included in Don's working life.

There's a very enjoyable subplot for Harry, who is accidentally handed Ken's (Aaron Staton) pay-cheque and decides to sneak a look inside -- discovering his colleague makes £300 a week, compared to his £200. Unable to re-seal the ripped envelope, he seeks help from Salvatore (Bryan Batt), who tells him to throw the slip away and pretend it got lost in the mail. Still, feeling cheated that bachelor Ken makes more money than he does with a family to feed, Harry is particularly keen to prove his worth to the company -- and tries to help sell advertising space to Belle Jolie lipsticks during the commercial break of a particularly harrowing episode of TV show The Defenders (entitled "The Benefactor", with a storyline concerning abortion.)

Belle Jolie don't agree to associate their product with the subject-matter (despite assurances young women will be drawn to the controversial plot), but Harry's efforts are still noted. Indeed, Harry later approaches Roger (John Slattery) about possibly heading up a new TV department of Sterling Cooper, and is half-surprised to see his idea taken seriously. Now confident, he even negotiates a pay increase to $225 -- although Roger tellingly claims nobody in the company earns anywhere near Harry's opening request for $310.

Overall, I wasn't particularly gripped by any of the stories this week. But, as usual, the cumulative punch of so many excellent moments helped smooth any reservations. This episode saw Don revert to his unfaithful ways (and fire secretary Lois for, basically, failing to keep his extra-curricular activities secret!), Betty's defences will surely crack sooner or later if Arthur persists, and it was great to see Harry given more screentime -- with Pete notably absent and Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) reduced to one scene. The history lessons Mad Men provides are also great fun, as The Defenders was a genuine TV show from 1962 that really did lose sponsorts when it aired an episode about abortion.


24 February 2009
BBC Four, 10pm


Writers: Rick Cleveland & Matthew Weiner
Director: Lesli Linka Glatter

Cast: Bryan Batt (Salvatore), Michael J. X. Gladis (Paul), Aaron Staton (Ken), Rich Sommer (Harry), Jon Hamm (Don), John Slattery (Roger), January Jones (Betty), Christina Hendricks (Joan), Elisabeth Moss (Peggy), Gabriel Mann (Arthur), Missy Yager (Sarah Beth), Mark Moses (Duck), Joel Murray (Freddy Rumsen), Crista Flanagan (Lois Sadler), Kiernan Shipka (Sally Draper), Denise Crosby (Gertie), Laura Regan (Jennifer Crane), Cameron Goodman (Tara), Melinda McGraw (Bobbie Barrett), Patrick Fischler (Jimmy Barrett), Jan Hoag (Edith Schilling), Paul Keeley (Elliot Lawrence), Steve Stapenhorst (Hunt Schilling) & Nat Faxon (Flatty)

Being Human: Back For Seconds

Great news! BBC Three have commissioned a second season for Toby Whithouse's Being Human, extended from six episodes to eight. The series -- about a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost sharing a house together in Bristol -- has been a ratings winner for the channel since it began. The first season concludes this Sunday.

BBC Three Controller, Danny Cohen:

"I'm thrilled that we are recommissioning Being Human. It's hugely popular with young viewers and [has] earned great critical acclaim at the same time. It's also a very improtant staging-post in the successful development of home-grown young drama on BBC Three."
Executive producer, Rob Pursey:

"We already have some very exciting, very dark new stories up our sleeves."

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA 4.16 - "Deadlock"

"Galactica is slipping away from you, drop by drop. You are pouring
Cylon blood into her veins. I see the Cylon pylons -- we all see them!
We all see the Cylon workforce. Where are they going, into the far
recesses of the ship? When are you inviting the Centurions over, to
join in all the fun we're having over here? Of course when you do
that, that very moment, this becomes a blended ship, only
half-human. And right now, I am here to tell you, your people,
your people are not ready for that."
-- Baltar (James Callis)

Spoilers. After last week's confluence of answers concerning the Final Five, "Deadlock" is a more measured affair, focusing on the return of Ellen Tigh (Kate Vernon) to Galactica, having escaped Cavil's ship with Boomer (Grace Park). Melodramatic at times because of its soap-y storyline, but generally an enriching hour.

The arrival of Ellen back to Galactica was momentous -- as Ellen has been presumed dead for 18 months, she's part of the Final Five (with restored memory), and her escort Boomer has a criminal past that's gone unpunished (an assassination attempt on Adama in season 1's finale.) Tigh's certainly thrilled to see his wife's alive, although there's scant apology for poisoning her on New Caprica! Her return soon causes him emotional headaches, too -- as a clear love-triangle forms, seeing as Tigh has got Caprica Six (Tricia Helfer) pregnant.

It's news that shocks Ellen, who clearly views her husband's relationship with "a Six" as tantamount to incest. A hypocritical view, actually, given the fact we know Ellen has slept with her "son" Cavil -- although both Ellen and Saul were unaware of their Cylon status when they bedded their own creations, so we should perhaps cut them some slack. Still, it’s a pity the characters didn't debate the issue in any way. It felt deserving of a juicy conversation.

Ellen's return also means the rest of the Final Five face a tough decision, as Ellen implores them to leave the human fleet and return to their Cylon family -- presumably to end Cavil's reign and restore the kind of harmony they had intended. A majority vote will decide either way. Rather strangely, Tyrol (Aaron Douglas) votes to leave, despite his emotional ties to the fleet (even accepting the loss of his wife and child recently), as does Tory (Rekha Sharma), but Tigh wants to stay, and everyone feels comatose Anders (Michael Trucco) would want to remain with the fleet, too. So, Elen has the casting vote, but decides to think about it more carefully before making her choice...

More pressing matters arrive when Caprica Six's pregnancy is threatened, shortly after a heated confrontation with "other woman" Ellen in Caprica's Six's quarters, landing her in hospital to be cared for by Doc Cottle (Donnelly Rhodes) and his medical team. Ellen is guilt-ridden over the turn of events, believing she's to blame for Caprica Six's hospitalization by causing her emotional stress. The heart of the episode is undoubtedly found in these excellent scenes, with Ellen helping her husband get in touch with his feelings and showing the caring, nurturing side we glimpsed last week. It was also something of a shock when the pure-blood Cylon baby actually died -- mainly because the unborn child was so important to Cylon-kind, but also because it's the second "special baby" to be wiped from BSG's mythology in recent weeks. Now, only crossbreed Hera remains.

I have to say, I was disappointed the Cylon-Cylon child appears to have been a narrative dead-end after all the season 4 build-up. There's a part of me that thinks BSG is having to ditch a few ideas and storylines, which it almost certainly wouldn't do if a fifth season was in the pipeline. Still, it did mean we had some fantastic moments of acting from Michael Hogan throughout, especially when he went to see his old friend Adama (Edward James Olmos) after losing the baby he named Liam. Touching stuff.

An enjoyable subplot saw the overdue return of Baltar (James Callis) in the show, after a scattering of small scenes since BSG returned for its last hurrah. Here, Baltar returns to his harem of followers, only to find a pragmatic woman called Paulla (Lara Gilchrist) has usurped his leadership in his absence. Paulla has hoarded food for their group given the scarcity of provisions in the fleet, which Baltar doesn't agree with after he witnesses civilians starving to death. So, Baltar decides to stamp his authority by handing out food -- but his open generosity is immediately taken advantage of by the gun-toting Sons Of Aries, who steal all their supplies. Looking rather foolish, Baltar instead uses the situation to successfully request Adama and Roslin (Mary McDonnell) arm his group with superior firepower, so they can continue their charitable work without being threatened.

Overall, "Deadlock" was entertaining and well-acted by the cast, but I was personally disappointed to see Caprica's Six child die -- as it felt like the writers were just snipping a troublesome plot-strand. But, given the rather strange circumstances of Liam's death, is it evidence of the "one true God" aborting the unfortunate misstep? The show is clearly saying that Cylon-Human cooperation is the future for both species -- symbolized by the Cylon goop being used to strengthen Galactica's ageing bulkheads.

Liam's death also coincided with Tigh's love for Caprica Six being weakened thanks to the return of soul mate Ellen, so do Cylon foetuses require a strong emotional bond of love to see them through to birth? Or was that that just coincidence? And why was Ellen unable to give Tigh a child -- given the fact we know the Thirteenth Tribe procreated? Can machines be infertile like humans? And, while we're asking questions, how the hell did Boomer find the fleet? Does this mean Cavil can find Galactica if he really wanted to? Or should we suspend our disbelief where that's concerned?


24 February 2009
Sky1, 9pm


Writer: Jane Espenson
Director: Bob Young

Cast: Grace Park (Boomer), Tricia Helfer (Caprica Six/Number Six), James Callis (Baltar), Jamie Bamber (Lee), Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck), Mary McDonnell (Roslin), Edward James Olmos (Adama), Brad Dryborough (Lt. Hoshi), Kate Vernon (Ellen), Donnelly Rhodes (Doc Cottle), Aaron Douglas (Tyrol), Michael Trucco (Anders), Keegan Connor Tracy (Jeanne), Lara Gilchrist (Paulla Schaffer), Rekha Sharma (Tory), Michael Hogan (Tigh), Bodie Olmos (Hot Dog), Tammy Gillis (Marine #2), Merwin Mondesir (Marine #1), G. Patrick Currie (Enzo) & Rebecca Davis (Naia)

HEROES 3.17 - "Cold Wars"

"You know me. I've always been comfortable with morally gray."
-- Mr. Bennet (Jack Coleman)

Spoilers. Throwing off the shackles of the interminable Hiro/Ando and overplayed Sylar, "Cold Wars" focused exclusively on the volume's main storyline, with fugitives Peter (Milo Ventimiglia), Matt (Greg Grunberg) and Mohinder (Sendhil Ramamurthy) drugging Mr. Bennet (Jack Coleman) in a bar, then dragging him back to a motel for interrogation. The episode reminded me of season 1's exalted "Company Man" (that also featured Bennet being interrogated by mind-reader Matt, allowing for gap-filling flashbacks), and while it's certainly nowhere near as polished as that gem, "Cold Wars" is still a decent try...

Heroes often likes to jump around chronologically to tease out its story, or make retroactive changes, so "Cold Wars" tries to make the birth of Nathan's (Adrian Pasdar) government-sanctioned plan feel less unlikely than it does -- mainly by introducing the notion that Nathan doesn't just want to lock up superheroes and throw away the key, but hopes to take away their powers and release them in due course. To help, he recruits Bennet -- recently retired from the defunct Company, pensioned off by Angela (Cristine Rose), bored at home doing crosswords -- then undoes thirty years of secrecy by telling authorities about the existence of superheroes.

The Hunter/Danko (Zeljko Ivanek) is introduced to Bennet, immediately considering him a weak operative because of his split loyalties to work and family, with Nathan acting a mediator as Building 26 is set-up. Bennet initially thinks Nathan's operation is The Company version 2, but the loss of their "one of us, one of them" policy (where a regular agent is partnered by a super-agent) clearly says otherwise, with Danko preferring to overwhelm the "targets" with sheer numbers, brute force and the element of surprise.

All of this information is imparted in monochrome flashbacks, triggered by Matt feeling his way inside Bennet's mind inside their motel room -- where he occasionally pulls some information that could help their fight, and sends Peter to investigate. In particular, Matt discovers the location of a secret storage room Bennet has been using for decades, containing equipment they can use. Unfortunately, after Peter arrives to stock up on weapons, he's unaware the room contains a security camera beaming a live-feed to Building 26. With Bennet AWOL and Peter spotted rooting through his storage room, Danko sends a team to catch Peter, suspecting they've kidnapped Bennet -- with Nathan again stressing the need to incapacitate their target, not shoot-to-kill as Danko would prefer.

Anyway, it's not long before Danko's team locate Bennet and send an armed team to their motel to retrieve their agent, tazering Mohinder as he tries to slow them down, to give Matt enough time to corroborate Bennet's story that his beloved Daphne (Brea Grant) is alive -- having survived multiple gunshots a few episodes back, to be taken to Building 26 and pumped full of sedatives. Matt is then captured when Danko's team storm the motel, but quickly rescued by flyboy Peter as he's taken outside and whisked to high altitude.

Later, we see that recent events have helped smooth the prickly relationship between Danko and Bennet, with the latter admitting his loyalties have been divided recently, but promising he's totally focused on their objective now, and will help Danko deal with the more liberal views of Nathan. But, as we suspected, it appears that Bennet is still working for Angela -- who he reports to on a nearby park bench after Danko leaves. The Company may have folded, but Angela and Bennet are still working together to keep a close eye on Nathan's operation, with Bennet as her inside man.

A number of things worked well in "Cold Wars": the decision to focus on one storyline, instead of jumping to extraneous or boring subplots kept the whole episode more focused than usual; the flashbacks were handled nicely; and the pace felt smoother. The downside was the fact that, really, we didn't learn much we didn't already suspect (particularly regarding how Nathan set the ball rolling with his plan), and the surprise that another "dead" character is still alive is beyond cliché for this show.

It was also terribly worrying that the episode's coda (Matt painting Washington D.C engulfed in flames, and himself wearing explosives) is a scenario we've seen before -- yes, it's similar to the "exploding man" threat to New York in season 1. Why does Heroes find it so impossible to think up fresh material? Don't they hear the audience feedback that criticizes how often they repackage old ideas? And does this mean Volume III's foreshadowed doomsday (the planet splitting like a melon) has been forgotten about, or replaced by something more localized? Is D.C's destruction tied into that global catastrophe, or with the Tokyo blast Hiro witnessed back in episode 1?

Overall, "Cold Wars" didn't reveal enough to have any lasting impact -- things generally reverted to the status quo by the end (except for Mohinder's capture), and there are more signs Heroes is set to repeat itself. What rescued it was the absence of any irritating subplots, better material for Coleman and Ivanek to chew on, and the fact that (while nothing amazing happened) these days you're just glad nothing awful happened.


23 February 2009
NBC, 9/8c


Writers: Christopher Zatta, Joe Pokaski & Aron Eli Coleite
Director: Seith Mann

Cast: Jack Coleman (Mr. Bennet), Cristine Rose (Angela), Milo Ventimiglia (Peter), Adrian Pasdar (Nathan), Sendhil Ramamurthy (Mohinder), Greg Grunberg (Matt), Adrian Pasdar (Nathan), Ashley Crow (Sandra), Brea Grant (Daphne), Jonny Siew (Analyst), Japheth Gordon (Agent #1), Bernadette L. Speakes (Waitress), Zeljko Ivanek (Danko) & Nayo K. Wallace (Med Tech)

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

We're Watching The Watchmen


Watchmen had its World Premiere in London on Monday night, so we're finally getting some reviews from official screenings, and the word is very positive. In a nutshell: it's faithful to the graphic novel, the alterations aren't that distracting (am I alone in thinking the book's squid was always silly, anyway?), but there's some concern that general audiences expecting a Spider-Man or a Dark Knight-style experience will be disappointed. A few choice quotes from some online reviews:

"... gripping onto sex, violence and angst, it’s hard to imagine anyone watching the Watchmen as faithfully as Zack Snyder’s heartfelt, stylised adap. Uncompromising, uncommercial and unique." -- Jonathan Crocker, TOTAL FILM.

"...a smart, stylish, decent adaptation, if low on accessibility for the non-convert" -- Ian Nathan, EMPIRE MAGAZINE.

"... it's the Watchmen movie you always wanted to see but never expected to get." -- Patrick Kolan, IGN MOVIES AUSTRALIA.

"... a huge budgeted superhero movie that delivers intellectually? That takes serious, ballsy chances with the form? Why, that sounds like a piece of art. A glorious, epic, exciting, mind blowing piece of art." -- Devin Faraci, CHUD.COM."

"... a mesmerising and brutalising experience, and will be, for some at least, more than worth the wait" -- Kevin Mahe, The Times.

"... it's searing, spectacular and simply unmissable." -- Steve Anglesea, Daily Mirror.

Watchmen opens in the US and UK on 6 March.

24, 7.9 - "4:00PM - 5:00PM"


"She had no idea that her husband was a killer, a traitor to his
country, yet she looked at me as though I was the monster."
-- Renee (Annie Wersching)

Spoilers. This was an episode that introduced a lot of new elements to Day 7, so ultimately it felt more in service of future episodes than anything else. A problem for 24 right now is that, having destroyed the CIP firewall doohickey and rescued the First Gentleman (Colm Feore) from death, we're just waiting for Dubaku (Hakeem Kae-Kazim) to unleash a contingency plan... and it doesn't seem very forthcoming. Our antagonist is more interested in saving his own skin and fleeing the country, the coward.

After the events of last week, Henry Taylor is in a critical condition with a chest full of lead, and facing five hours of surgery -- so we won't see him until episode 14, most likely. You have to feel sorry for actor Colm Feore, don't you; he's spent the majority of Day 7 incapacitated (paralyzed on a sofa, tied to a chair, and now hospitalized!) President Taylor (Cherry Jones) is anxious to be at her husband's side, so reinstates Bill (James Morrison) to become her trusted chauffeur and bodyguard as she leaves for the hospital. We're also introduced to Taylor's estranged daughter, confident contractor Olivia (Sprague Grayden), who's apprised of her father's condition by retired Agent Aaron Pierce (Glenn Morshower) -- still the only character who's appeared in every season of 24 not named Kiefer Sutherland. And you just have to love the unflappable, fiercely loyal ginger nut. A real cult character.

Elsewhere, Jack and Renee (Annie Wersching) are on the trail of Dubaku, who is trying to leave the country with the help of someone in the US government (as Dubaku has leverage in the form of a file that implicates various US officials in the day's attacks.) Dubaku also appears to have genuine feelings for his oblivious American girlfriend Marika (Enuka Okuma), so pretends he's only leaving the country for Belize because US immigration are on his back, and asks her to come with him.

Fortunately, Jack and Renee get to Marika and her sister Rosa (Andi Chapman) while Dubaku is making arrangement elsewhere, and prove Dubaku's real identity and terrorist background. A distraught Marika agrees to help Jack capture her boyfriend, by going along with their dangerous plan to go along with Dubaku's plan and track her whereabouts using her cell phone.

The tracking is done under Larry's (Jeffrey Nordling) supervision at the FBI by someone not involved in the government conspiracy – computer geek Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub), who's dropped off at the FBI Field Office by husband Morris (Carlo Rota), travelling with her toddler son Prescott. Chloe makes the necessary preparations to track Marika in a private office with Larry, but her arrival gains the attention of Janis (Janeane Garofalo) -- who begins to suspect Larry's keeping them all in the dark about something important, so asks for Sean's (Rhys Coiro) help in hacking into Chloe's terminal via the server room, to see what's going on.

Janis' snooping is nicely handled here, as we're not sure if she's taking an interest in Chloe for benign or malevolent reasons, and ultimately it works as a clever distraction for the genuine FBI mole – revealed to be Sean! Yes, it was a double-bluff of making Sean the most obvious suspect as the mole early on, then introducing a few more candidates, before finally reverting to the original choice. Here, with Jack and Renee tailing Marika (who's being driven to the airport by one of Dubaku's men), Sean manages to put out a federal warrant for Jack and Renee's vehicle to be stopped. The tailing of Marika hits a snag when Jack's road-blocked and forced to stop and step out of the car to be searched, leaving Larry and Chloe in the lurch -- knowing that Marika is now on her own in the lion's den...

Overall, this wasn't an especially thrilling episode (a few tedious subplots are beginning to creep in), but it smoothly cut some new facets into the storyline and built up to a great climax. Interestingly, this was the first episode filmed after the WGA writer's strike that halted production on season 7 back in autumn '07 (hence the first mention of events specific to the 24: Redemption prequel filmed much later in mid-'08), and I didn't notice anyone suddenly aging or sporting a slightly different hairstyle, did you? Well done, continuity team!


23 February 2009
Sky1, 9pm

Writer: David Fury
Director: Milan Cheylov

Cast: Kiefer Sutherland (Jack), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe), Cherry Jones (President Taylor), James Morrison (Bill), Annie Wersching (Renee), Colm Feore (Henry), Bob Gunton (Ethan), Jeffrey Nordling (Larry), Rhys Coiro (Sean), Janeane Garofalo (Janis), Andi Chapman (Rosa), Eyal Podell (Ryan Burnett), Ned Schmidtke (Dr. Lee Schulman), David Fury (Arthur Carr), Jade Carter (EMT #1), Heidi Wallace (Nurse Mitchell), Detra Payne (Nurse #1), Marci Michelle (FBI Agent), Zachary Stockdale (EMT #2), Matt Nolan (Police Officer #1), Jeronimo Spinx (Dubaku's Driver), Cap Gordon (Prescott O'Brian), Enuka Okuma (Marika), Hakeem Kae-Kazim (Dubaku), Glenn Morshower (Agent Aaron Pierce), Carlo Rota (Morris O'Brian), Ever Carradine (Erika) & Sprague Grayden (Olivia Taylor)

BEING HUMAN 1.5

Spoilers. Quite a muddled episode, but there was enough to enjoy -- even when the whole thing floundered in its attempt to morph into a thrilling actioner. Being Human doesn't have the temperament to be convincing in that respect, and a few of the dramatic moments towards the end fizzled out under the strain.

It didn't help that episode 5 focused on the uneven vampire plot-strand that's been woven throughout the series, with Mitchell (Aidan Turner) having decided to rejoin Herrick (James Watkins) and his fellow vamps -- having become sorely disappointed by humanity recently (see: last week's paedophile witch-hunt misunderstanding.) The tipping point for Mitchell's change of heart wasn't really strong enough for me to buy into the idea of him turning his back on mankind, though -- and, to be honest, I don't feel that Being Human has done enough to draw a big distinction between "humans" and "monsters". George (Russell Tovey) and Annie (Lenora Crichlow) are particularly close to being regular people -- George only turns lupine once a month, and Annie is more corporeal than supernatural (touchable, audible, newly visible.)

Writer/creator Toby Whithouse made a wise decision to ensure antagonist vampire Herrick wasn't much of a stereotype (certainly not as clichéd as the original pilot's wine-quaffing Adrian Lester), so having a diminutive fruity-voiced villain has been quite intriguing. Unfortunately, this episode demanded we see Herrick's true colours as a terrifying fanged monster, and Watkins just didn't have it in him. Cue a few silly camera-zooms as Watkins gurns in constipation with a mouth full of rubber teeth. For a show that does an impressive job copying An American Werewolf In London's transformation sequence on a low budget, it's disappointing that more care and attention couldn't have been placed on making Herrick's clique of neck-biters genuinely threatening and scary. I'd have loved to see some 30 Days Of Night-style creatures rattle the audience.

Still, it was good fun meeting Mitchell's ex-girlfriend Josie (Hellraiser's Clare Higgins), a woman he dated in the '60s who's now middle-aged with terminal lung cancer. The moral question of the episode concerns sparing humans untimely death, in return for a cursed immortal life. Slowly, with the help of Josie, Mitchell comes to realize that Herrick's masterplan (to turn everyone into vampires; ending hunger, illness and death) goes against the very thing that makes us human: the certainty of death. Josie's tempted by Mitchell's offer to turn her into a vampire to save her life, but ultimately refuses. Meanwhile, Mitchell gets confirmation that Herrick's plan isn't so benign after all -- when he discovers a basement in the funeral parlour containing anemic imprisoned people the vampires are feeding on. Indeed, come Herrick's revolution, a small portion of the world's population will be kept human to nourish their vampire overlords.

A subplot for Annie once again wobbles from dramatic and stirring to irritating and weak; as she prepares to make her presence known to ex-fiancé Owen (Gregg Chillin) and spook him into confessing to her murder. However, Annie's haunting doesn't prove very effective (Owen actually scoffs at the fact death was no barrier for his dead fiancée's sulkiness)... so Annie instead turns her attention on Owen's new girlfriend, Janey (Sama Goldie).

Again, there wasn't much for George to do, which is always a shame, as even the brief scenes we're given between George and girlfriend Nina (Sinead Keenan) are more interesting and appealing than everything else put together. Towards the end, George and Annie join forces to rescue Mitchell from the vampire's lair -- a sequence that starts off being quite amusing because of their ineptitude, but increasingly disappoints as it chugs along. Lauren (Annabel Scholey) got a few redemptive moments -- helping them escape by staking an assailant, then begging Mitchell to kill her in an alleyway as they race home -- but it all felt very forced and unearned.

In the final scene, Owen confronts his three tenants at their home, where they reveal their true nature in a triangle of solidarity. Owen finally feels threatened, but is tipped over the edge into abject fear by a "secret" whispered in his ear by Annie (which we never hear, so can only speculate on), and immediately heads to the local police station to confess to her murder (where his babble about a vampire, ghost and werewolf may even get him committed!)

The expulsion of Owen from Annie's life has the desired effect of opening a door to the afterlife for Annie to walk through, but before she can leave... the moment is interrupted by a knocking at the front door, which Mitchell answers -- only to receive a stake in the chest from Herrick on his doorstep (a badly-handled moment that came off as silly when it should have been shocking.) So, will Annie stay behind to help her injured friend, or take her chance to terminate her ghostly existence? No prizes.

Overall, this wasn't disastrous, but raking over a threadbare vampire masterplan didn't unearth anything new for audiences, Herrick wasn't frightening in fang-bearing mode (as expected, but I had hope for a surprise), Lauren's demise just felt rushed and anticlimactic, the action beats were laboured, and Mitchell was still too damn likeable even after returning to the vampire fold. That man has no edge. The few bright spots (any George scene, the hissable Owen's comeuppance) weren't enough to tip the scales in the episode's favour. Here's hoping the Being Human gets its groove back for the finale next Sunday...


22 February 2009
BBC Three, 9pm


Writer: Toby Whithouse
Director: Colin Teague

Cast: Lenora Crichlow (Annie), Aidan Turner (Mitchell), Russell Tovey (George), Annabel Scholey (Lauren), Jason Watkins (Herrick), Sinead Keenan (Nina), Dylan Brown (Seth), Sama Goldie (Janey), Gregg Chillin (Owen) & Clare Higgins (Josie)

LAW & ORDER: UK, 1.1 - "Care"

I'm not a big fan of police procedurals -- unless they offer something a little different to the formula, or have something extra to entice me into watching (see: Dexter, Life On Mars and The Wire.) Law & Order is a US crime-drama that's been on air since 1990 -- and has so far spawned numerous spin-offs (Special Victims Unit, Criminal Intent, Crime & Punishment, Conviction, Trial By Jury) and a French adaptation (Paris enquêtes criminelles). There are even video-games! Well, now you can add Law & Order: UK to the list...

This will be brief, as I have no intention to keep watching this series. That's not a total slur on its quality, but L&O:UK didn't really elicit a strong enough response in me. Showrunner Chris Chibnall (Torchwood) has adapted some early US scripts and Anglicized them accordingly, but this was an odd choice for an opener -- the anemic story of a dead black baby found in a hospital's grounds. Too much of a downer, not enough pep. Early on, it began irritating me with the overuse of a visual trick: the screen thudding to black and displaying a location/date legend very briefly. Too briefly. Days passed in the investigation according to the sluglines, but it was difficult to keep track of that fact. A simple "two days later" would have been preferable to "14 January", as I had forgotten what the previous time-stamp said.

"More haste, less speed" was a phrase I think the writers need to embrace. This episode certainly had the appearance of efficiency and pace, but it took a full hour to tell a story that could have been told in half the time. It was never truly boring, but it never really got your pulse racing, or made you care about the infanticide at its core.

Our heroes are detectives Ronnie Brooks (Bradley Walsh) and Matt Devlin (Jamie Bamber), and a feature of the series is how their police work marries to the legal side of things -- personified by prosecutors James Steel (Ben Daniels) and Alesha Phillips (Freema Agyeman), who grapple with shady Robert Ridley QC (Patrick Malahide). It's an interesting cast, and the main reason I tuned in for L&O:UK's first episode. Walsh is best-known as a family entertainer and gameshow host who only recently turned his hand to straight acting (in Coronation Street), Bamber is recognizable to sci-fi fans as Lee Adama in Battlestar Galactica (where he plays American so convincingly that it felt odd to hear an English accent coming out of his mouth here), and Agyeman found fame for a relatively soft role as Doctor Who companion Martha Jones.

I actually found the performances quite good, particularly Walsh and Bamber as a duo, although everyone felt at the mercy of the script and didn't get many big opportunities to put across their personalities. There was the mild feeling of everything running along on rails, hitting moments, going through the motions -- with little personality coursing through its veins.

Anyway, I'm going to turn this over to readers with more interest in police procedurals in general, and L&O in particular. So, what's your feeling? Is the British version shaping up to be a worthwhile addition to the L&O canon, or did it leave you decidedly unmoved? This is quite an important show for ITV -- who used to excel at this kind of drama in the '80s and '90s, but have lost their way recently. Is adapting a long-running US phenomenon a good idea for them? Or did it just sit wrong for you? Have you seen the US episode this was based on? Did it compare well, or was it a pale imitation? Is this our payback for ABC's Life On Mars?


23 February 2009
ITV1, 9pm

Writer: Chris Chibnall
Director: Omar Madha

Cast: Bradley Walsh (Ronnie Brooks), Jamie Bamber (Matt Devlin), Harriet Walter (Natalie Chandler), Ben Daniels (James Steel), Freema Agyeman (Alesha Phillips), Bill Paterson (George Castle), Patrick Malahide (Robert Ridley QC), Lorraine Ashbourne (Maureen Walters), Tony Maudsley (Mike Turner), Venetia Campbell (Dionne Farrah), Michelle Asante (Leona Collins), Gillian McCutcheon (Judge Blake), Angela Terence (Serena Jackson), Louise Howells (Anna Shorofsky), Nicholas Blane (Oswald Spear), Babou Ceesay (Daniel Matoukou), Mark Roper (Parker), Amanda St John (Lucas), Andrew Pritchard (James), Alison Lintott (Evans), Geoffrey Burton (White), Louise Ford (Sharon), Angela Sims (Angie), Angelo Andreou (Kostas), Genevieve Allenbury (Mrs Stavrou), Cally Lawrence (Mrs Jackson), John MacKay (Lindford), Sarah Flind (Sarah), Joan Hodges (Mrs Murphy), Jane Jeffrey (Clarke), Barbara Joslyn (Harris), William Brand (Martin Stanton), Michael O'Connor (Albert Norman), Iarla McGowan (Lampton), Rupert Farley (Charlie Dias) & Alexander Perkins (SOCO)

DOLLHOUSE 1.2 - "The Target"


A much stronger episode than the faltering pilot, "The Target" is an exciting and tense hour that also fleshed out the relationship between "active" Echo (Eliza Dushku) and her handler Boyd (Harry J. Lennix), while kick-starting a mystery for the season involving a rogue active called Alpha...

The crux of this episode circles around Echo's latest mission, imprinted to become the perfect companion for millionaire outdoor-adventurer Richard Connell (Matt Keeslar), who passes the Dollhouse's stringent background checks and takes Echo out to a remote part of the countryside for a day of kayaking, rock-climbing, archery and sex. Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worst when amenable Richard shows a psychopathic side -- turning Echo into his prey, stalking her with his deadly bow as a twisted blood sport. Echo's two-man backup, including Boyd, are also disabled by a man posing as a park ranger in their surveillance van, leaving Echo to fend for herself as the deadly game of cat-and-mouse unfolds.

"The Target" is essentially a slice of high-concept craziness that reminded me of John Woo's Hard Target, with the added perversion of casting Keeslar (last seen as the stiff boy scout Middleman) in an entirely darker role. Dushku may face problems convincing us of certain identities each week (well, we assume), but you can't deny she makes for a plausible outdoors-y type and, thanks to memories of her performance in Wrong Turn, a pragmatic woman being hunted by a psycho. Seeing her slowly transform from hapless victim to avenging angel (a sign Echo can evolve past her clearly-defined imprints?) was great fun to see.

It was also a brilliant decision to link the main story to a subplot showing how Boyd and Echo first met. Boyd is actually a recent recruit to the Dollhouse, arriving three months after his predecessor was murdered by an active called Alpha (who, intriguingly, slaughtered her fellow actives but let Echo survive.) We also see Echo having Boyd imprinted on her like a chick meeting its mother, so she'll always find him a trustworthy presence, so he can better facilitate her extraction from engagements. It's a neat way to make us feel protective of Echo via Boyd, even in her childish tabula rasa default.

Dollhouse actually reminds me of two rather poor sci-fi shows that were quickly cancelled: My Own Worst Enemy (secret agents being manipulated mentally) and the Bionic Woman remake (rogue active Alpha already feels similar to Katee Sackhoff's killer cyborg, no?) You can even see a few elements of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles in its genetic makeup -- Dushku's emotionless default is obviously very "cyborg", but also interesting to note that FBI Agent Ballard's (Tahmoh Penikett) quest to find the mythical dollhouse echoes the role of FBI Agent Ellison in Chronicles' first season -- both chasing shadows their colleagues don't think exist.

Ballard's smattering of scenes cement how his colleagues treat him as a joke because of his belief in the Dollhouse -- and was mainly notable to see Penikett share a scene with his Battlestar Galactica co-star Mark Sheppard at last week's crime scene, where Ballard's theories about dollhouse interference is corroborated by the forensic evidence.

Despite its patchwork similarities to other shows, Dollhouse has a much stronger pedigree of talent and it's easier to feel a strong creative arm guiding you through the experience. For me, "The Target" presented enough good ideas and solid performances to have me overlook the disappointing start last week. I was particularly struck by the final sting -- where a wiped Echo remembers a gesture her ex-client made throughout the episode, proving she's retaining traces of memory. And, interestingly, both episodes included a snippet of a scene where Echo apparently agrees to become an "active" in consultation with Dollhouse mastermind DeWitt (Olivia Williams).

So, an early theory: Echo is the ex-girlfriend of Agent Ballard, who led a boring life, so opted to become an exciting "active" because of the side-benefit of forgetting her former lover? So, Ballard is essentially a spurned boyfriend trying to find his ex and rescue her from her rash decision? Anyone agree?


20 February 2009
Fox, 9/8c

Writer & Director
: Steven S. DeKnight

Cast: Eliza Dushku (Echo), Harry J. Lennix (Boyd Langton), Fran Kranz (Topher Brink), Tahmoh Penikett (Paul Ballard), Matt Keeslar (Richard Connell), Enver Gjokaj (Lubov), Dichen Lachman (Sierra), Olivia Williams (Adelle DeWitt), Amy Acker (Dr. Claire Saunders), Jennifer Segal (Female Active), Erin Cummings (Attendant), Rico E. Anderson (Agent), Omar Adam (Male Active), Tim Conlon (Shaw), Rich McDonald (Park Ranger in Truck), Miracle Laurie (Mellie), Reed Diamond (Laurence Dominic), Alla Greene (Lubov's Girl), Mark A. Sheppard (Tanaka) & Kevin Sizemore (Driver)

Monday, 23 February 2009

LOST 5.6 - "316"

Spoilers. An essential episode, featuring one big event and a few surprising developments, but "316" was also a rare example of an episode that left me seriously concerned for Lost's future...

"316" is all about the Oceanic Six returning to the island, after only six episodes away. Jack (Matthew Fox), Sun (Yunjin Kim) and Ben (Michael Emerson) have arrived to meet with Ms. Hawking (Fionnula Flanagan), the white-haired old lady who holds the key to their safe return. They're joined by Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick), who's only there to pass on Daniel's (Jeremy Davies) message to his mother that the islanders need her help. A message that feels rather redundant now, no? Everyone is taken to the first off-island DHARMA station we've seen on the show, "The Lamp Post" (a neat Narnia reference), where Ms. Hawking has calculated the position of the island, which flight the Oceanic Six must take to hopefully return there -- Ajira Airways Flight 316 from Los Angeles to Guam...

In private, Jack is told by Ms. Hawking that they must duplicate the original Flight 815 crash as closely as possible -- meaning an attempt to get all the Oceanic Six on the same flight (or risk "unpredictable" results) and substitute Locke's dead body for Jack's father, whom Jack was originally transporting for burial three years ago. Jack's even told to ensure Locke carries a personal item that belonging to Christian -- so, after visiting his elderly grandfather Ray (Raymond J. Barry) to say goodbye before leaving, Jack decides to take a pair of his late-father's shoes, and slips them onto Locke's feet (a possible allusion to The Wizard Of Oz's slippers enabling Dorothy to return home?)

Quite bizarrely, Jack finds that the Oceanic Six are mysteriously manipulated to assemble on the same Ajira Airways flight: Kate (Evangeline Lilly) turns up in his apartment that night, teary-eyed but promising to return to the island if he never asks where baby Aaron is; Sun agrees to return because she hopes to be reunited with Jin (but apparently leaves their son behind?); a nervous Hurley (Jorge Garcia) arrives at the airport to buy-up the remaining 78 seats on Flight 316 for unspecified reasons with a guitar case (a proxy for dead Charlie?); Ben arrives late, covered in cuts and bruises, with his arm in a sling; Sayid (Naveen Andrews) is seen boarding the flight in the custody of a Federal Marshall called Ilana (Zuleikha Robinson), in an echo of Kate's circumstances on Flight 815, and even Frank Lapidus (Jeff Fahey) coincidentally turns out to be the plane's pilot, having originally avoided piloting Flight 815.

Ultimately, the Oceanic Six manage to return to the island (although we only see physical evidence for Jack, Hurley and Kate's return -- apparently in the '70s), as the episode ends with Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) arriving in a VW van, wearing a DHARMA overall and brandishing a rifle.

Huge developments, definitely -- so why so why did it all feel rather deflating? I think there are a number of reasons: One, the Oceanic Six have returned to the island far too quickly for my liking. They may have spent three years off-island, but it's only been a measly six episodes for the audience. We spent the whole of season 4 getting excited about their island escape, only for the characters to return after a half-dozen episodes in season 5, for tenuous reasons? Two, the convenient way everyone was placed on the same flight will obviously be explained (in flashbacks, no doubt), but it felt like a silly storytelling cheat. Three, Lost usually keeps its answers vaguely plausible and on the fringe of scientific understanding, but Ms. Hawking regurgitated a stream of dubious piffle that felt like the writers were straining to come with logical "answers". I mean, we've been led to believe the island is jumping around in time, so why would its physical location have changed? And then there's the woolly explanation that "the island" magically teleports the Oceanic Six off their Ajira flight to island-level safety (instead of necessitating another expensive crash-scene, no doubt) and the pseudo-scientific babble inside the Lamp Post about how Ms. Hawking can locate the island... that begs the question: why doesn't Widmore force her to tell him when the next "window" to the island is? He certainly knows where she lives!

Now, it's quite possible that all my concerns will be answered in the coming weeks, and I certainly still have faith that will be the case. But, what's a definite concern is how Lost doesn't appear to have a clear end-game now. The show was originally all about leaving the island (a feat achieved in season 4 for some characters), but now... those originally left behind don't want to leave the island, and the escapees have come back because their off-island lives are blighted as a result. So, what now? Where are we headed? What's the focus and goal to achieve if everyone's determined to stay on the island for the rest of their days? More than anything, I'm just worried that Lost will become rudderless and start to drift without a clear aim for everyone. I'm also slightly disappointed that the fifth season has been so predictable in a few areas (fans correctly guessing Ms. Hawking's identity as Daniel's mother by episode 3, meaning the confirmation here fell flat, for example.)

Overall, I found "316" oddly disappointing in its cloudy pseudo-science (can anyone explain why Locke needs to wear Christian's shoes without resorting to mumbo-jumbo?) and emotionally distant (Jack's role reduced to waiting for a plane as things happened around him -- and nobody cares about his grandad.) We might point to "316" as the start of a downward spiral one dayl, but I really hope it's just a blip that can be fixed retroactively. Still, to end on a few positives: I enjoyed a scene set in a church where Ben basically compared Jack to Thomas the Apostle (someone who denied the resurrection of Christ), which in turn seemed to infer that Locke is a Christ figure about to perform the same miracle? And I'm sure a few other 316 passengers will find themselves on the island for various reasons, as the show likes to inject new blood into proceedings every season.


Questions!

  • Why is Ms. Hawking now running the Lamp Post single-handed?

  • Who is the man that Hawking says conceived of the equations that predict the island's movements?

  • Does Charles Widmore know about the Lamp Post? Why doesn't he use it to get back to the island?

  • What does the island still want with Desmond? Why wasn't he manipulated to board Flight 316 like the others?

  • How does Eloise Hawking know that John Locke hanged himself, and end up with his suicide note?

  • Why is it necessary to recreate the circumstances of Flight 815's crash? And what are the "unpredictable" results of failing to do so?

  • What happens to Kate during the period when she left the rest of the group and reappeared in Jack's bedroom?

  • Where is Aaron, and why does Kate demand that Jack not ask about his whereabouts?

  • Why is Sayid handcuffed and being escorted on the plane?

  • Who is the man in first class of Flight 316 with the Oceanic Six?

  • Who told Hurley which flight to take? Why does Hurley have a guitar case?

  • What happened to Ben when he left the church for him to sustain so many injuries?

  • Where are Ben, Sun, Sayid, Frank, and the rest of Flight 316?



22 February 2009
Sky1, 9pm

Writers: Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof
Director: Stephen Williams

Cast: Jorge Garcia (Hugo), Matthew Fox (Jack), Evangeline Lilly (Kate), Yunjin Kim (Sun), Michael Emerson (Ben), Jeremy Davies (Daniel), Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond), Naveen Andrews (Sayid), Zuleikha Robinson (Ilana), Fionnula Flanagan (Eloise Hawking), Jeff Fahey (Frank), Sai d Taghmaoui (Caesar), Mary Mara (Jill), Raymond J. Barry (Ray), Kavita Patil (Rupa Krishnavani), P.D. Mani (Nabil), Rebecca Hazlewood (Nalini), Patti Hastie (Barfly), Glen Bailey (Magician) & Ned Van Zandt (Mr. Dorsey)

Oscars '09: The Results

Well, I got a few of my predictions wrong yesterday (Mickey Rourke beaten to Best Actor by Sean Penn, Marisa Tomei to Best Supporting Actress by Penelope Cruz), but otherwise I got the big awards spot-on. Boo-yah! How funny to think the night's biggest winner, Slumdog Millionaire, only narrowly got distribution after some festival buzz. If you didn't see the show, or can't be bothered to catch the highlights shows today, the full results are below:

Best Film
Slumdog Millionaire

Director
Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire

Best Actor
Sean Penn - Milk

Best Supporting Actor
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight

Best Actress
Kate Winslet - The Reader

Best Supporting Actress
Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Adapted Screenplay
Simon Beaufoy - Slumdog Millionaire

Original Screenplay
Dustin Lance Black - Milk

Animated Feature
WALL-E

Art Direction
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

Cinematography
Slumdog Millionaire

Costume Design
The Duchess

Documentary Feature
Man On Wire

Documentary Short
Smile Pinki

Editing
Slumdog Millionaire

Best Foreign Language Film
Departures

Makeup
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

Original Score
A.R. Rahman - Slumdog Millionaire

Original Song
'Jai Ho' - Slumdog Millionaire

Sound Editing
The Dark Knight

Sound Mixing
Slumdog Millionaire

Visual Effects
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

Animated Short
La Maison de Petits Cubes

Live Action Short
Spielzeugland (Toyland)

DAMAGES 2.2 – "Burn It, Shred It, I Don't Care"


We're still in the primordial soup of the season, trying to ascertain how various characters connect and get a handle on how the storyline is playing. The writers certainly appear to have cast a wider net than last year -- what with the FBI sting being orchestrated for Patty (Glenn Close), the Daniel Purcell (William Hurt) situation with the evil energy company, and dual lurking subplots off Wes (Timothy Olyphant) and former-billionaire Frobisher...

Patty is distracted from the infant mortality case by the murder of Daniel's wife, so she instead puts Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan) on the case. It's not what the FBI hoped for, but Ellen (Rose Byrne) is content to let the entrapment go ahead with Tom's head on the chopping block. It's another example of how toughened Ellen has become; last year's doe-eyed idealist now willing to sacrifice the career of expectant father Tom, the only man who played straight with her last year. Fortunately, Tom's by-the-book principles hold him in good stead, as he comes close to breaking the law (by giving the Fed's fake plaintiff $60,000 to tide her over until the trial), but steps back from the edge.

Meanwhile, Daniel is grieving the loss of his wife Christine, but refusing to tell detectives that his company may have killed his spouse to scare him into keeping quiet about the toxicity of a chemical compound they're developing. So, he remains the prime suspect. Of course, his decision not to involve the police keeps the storyline ticking over much easier, particularly now Daniel's also less keen to go into details about his findings with Patty. It's played a little stiff, but thankfully a twist-ending has us reassessing Daniel's motivations entirely.

Wes Krulik, Ellen's acquaintance from grief support, is revealed to have an unhealthy interest in the Frobisher case: the inside of his wardrobe is adorned with newspaper clippings, together with an assortment of firearms. A ridiculous hard-rock musical sting at the reveal is eyeball-rolling stuff, but it's fun to speculate on what Wes' motivation is. A would-be assassin with an unhealthy obsession with Frobisher? An illegitimate child with a score to settle? Or has he been mistreated like Ellen, and is using her to get close to Frobisher to mete out the revenge she can't?

Interestingly, it feels like Patty is who we should be championing, as her intentions appear honourable and decent -- drawn into helping an old friend take on a billion dollar energy company with blood on its hands. It's Ellen who's the snake in the grass this time, in many ways -- trying to entrap her boss, no matter what the collateral damage. A role-reversal of season 1 seems a smart move -- if they can pull it off -- but I'm not sure the writers intend to make Patty the undoubted heroine. Close is too enjoyable as a villain to have her play the victim, attacked from all sides by friends and associates with hidden agendas.

Claire Maddox (Marcia Gay Harden) also makes her debut; a devious, snub-nosed lawyer who manages to get the evidence back from Patty by flirting with a judge who harbours a grudge against Patty's company. Interestingly, what seems to be a defeat for Patty is actually a small victory, as she's now able to see who commissioned the report Daniel wants to expose. Or is it? The episode's final sting shows Daniel and Claire together in a car (apparently lovers), and the outro flashback finds Daniel digging and burning something (assumedly beneath that tree he planted to honour his dead wife?)

The "6 months later" timeline is returned to throughout the episode, as is customary. We discover that Ellen and Wes will become lovers (no surprise there), but also that it's Tom who gives Ellen the gun she uses to shoot, and presumably kill, her unseen hotel visitor.


22 February 2009
BBC1, 10pm

Writers
: Daniel Zelman, Todd A. Kessler & Glenn Kessler
Director: Jean de Segonzac

Cast: Glenn Close (Patty), Rose Byrne (Ellen), Tate Donovan (Tom), Marcia Gay Harden (Claire Maddox), Timothy Olyphant (Wes Krulik), William Hurt (Daniel Purcell), Zachary Booth (Michael Hewes), Glenn Kessler (Agent Werner), Mario Van Peebles (Agent Harrison), Brett Cullen (Wayne Suttry), Tibor Feldman (Judge), Timothy Hampton (Deputy Sheriff), Delaney Muro (Erica Percell), Tom Noonan (Detective Victor Hardley), Michael Pemberton (Intimidating Man), John Rothman (Earl Jacoby), Paige Turco (Christine Purcell) & Sharon Washington (Monique Bryant)