Tuesday, 31 March 2009

ROBIN HOOD 3.1 - "Total Eclipse"


Spoilers. Following the shocking death of Marian in season 2's finale, Robin (Jonas Armstrong) has returned to England with hatred in his veins and a blind determination to kill her murderer, Guy of Gisbourne (Richard Armitage)...

Robin Hood shows signs of quality from time to time, but it's a show with a style and attitude that tries too hard to appeal to contemporary audiences, by downplaying supposedly archaic elements of the English legend without understanding you can "modernize" an old story without anachronistic terminology and suchlike. This new season is still suffering from old problems that have dogged the series from the start, but will hopefully continue improving the formula. After all, season 2 was much better than the first.

"Total Eclipse" certainly gets off to a spirited start, with Robin shunning his gang (reduced in numbers following the departure of Will and Djaq) and challenging Guy with a nicely-achieved CGI arrow through his bedroom window, embedding itself above his bed's headboard. The resulting duel ends with Guy on the edge of a cliff (are there cliffs in Nottinghamshire?), before managing to get the upper hand over Robin, and throw his nemesis over the edge to an apparent watery end.

The Sheriff (Keith Allen) is overjoyed when Guy reveals he's managed to kill Hood, but a visiting messenger of Prince John's isn't convinced until he sees a body. Elsewhere, a mysterious newcomer to England's shores has been watching recent events and finds Robin unconscious in the river, taking him to a cave to tend to his injuries. This is Friar Brother Tuck (David Harewood), a religious man who has been touched by tales of the outlaw Robin Hood and takes it upon himself to restore Robin's lost faith in his cause.

Essentially, the episode involves Tuck deceiving everyone in various ways to manipulate Robin into taking action and remembering the ideals he holds dear. Tuck forms a bond with the grief-stricken Guy, delivers Robin's duped gang to their enemy, and thus inspires Robin to mount a one-man rescue mission, timed to coincide with a solar eclipse that will make the perfect backdrop for the Sheriff's latest defeat, and elevate the Hood legend to mythic status.

A few things about "Total Eclipse" worked very well: David Harewood made a good impression as Tuck (he has twice the charisma than Robin's whole gang put together already), I liked the idea of Robin suffering a crisis of faith after Marian's death (sadly shortlived), and Armitage just about manages to shine despite his silly new costume and longer hairstyle that makes him look like a 16-year-old Goth.

Throughout the episode, there was less intrusive music than usual, too -- and that helped give the show a sense of reality. Robin Hood's bombastic soundtrack usually just draws attention to itself (not helped by the fact they seem to reuse the same half-dozen tracks), so it was nice that a few scenes passed by without being audibly strangled.

Yet, inevitably, a lot of things still irritated me: there's always been a sense of repetition that the show stuggles to escape, with the Sheriff once again capturing Robin's men and deciding to orchestrate a public execution instead of just killing them. I suppose we should be grateful he decided to skewer them with a giant crossbow instead of build some gallows for the umpteenth time, though. And the gang still mutter their concerns about breaking into Nottingham Castle as if it's an impregnable stronghold, despite regularly proving otherwise with a rescue mission every other week. I suppose such flaws are inherent in translating the myth as a weekly television series (and they have to make use of the excellent sets), but it's still frustrating that episodes follow a template of someone being captured half-way through the story, only to be rescued in the last five minutes from under the Sheriff's nose.

Overall, "Total Eclipse" was worth watching for David Harewood, whose continued role in the gang will hopefully be just as charming, but little else really fired the imagination. Robin Hood's the kind of show you can pick fault with throughout, really. Ignoring the TV/film cliché of a solar eclipse happening in seconds rather than hours (also see Heroes earlier this year), Robin Hood's the kind of show that immediately follows that celestial event with a hero shot of Robin on the castle ramparts with the chalky circle of the moon to his right, on the opposite side of the sky to the sun. D'oh!


28 March 2009
BBC1, 6.50pm


Writer: Michael Chaplin
Director: Douglas Mackinnon

Cast: Jonas Armstrong (Robin Hood), Keith Allen (The Sheriff), Richard Armitage (Guy of Gisbourne), David Harewood (Brother Tuck), Sam Troughton (Much), Gordon Kennedy (Little John), Joe Armstrong (Alan)

LOST 5.10 – "He's Our You"

Spoilers. Structurally the first traditional episode of Lost's fifth season, "He's Our You" focuses on Sayid (Naveen Andrews) -- now a prisoner of the DHARMA Institute in 1977 after being mistaken for a hostile, with flashbacks to various points in his off-island life over the past three years...

Sayid has always been a character with a troubled history; a man with love in his heart, who can't escape his past as a gifted torturer and natural born killer. A twist teaser shows us a young Sayid (Anthony Keyvan) unflinchingly kill a chicken to help his squeamish brother impress their domineering father, and is duly given the praise. An act of violence, done for love...

Flashbacks show Sayid in his recent role as Ben's (Michael Emerson) hired gun, killing the last of his targets in Moscow, a Russian called Andropov. In a later flashback, Sayid is enjoying his newfound freedom by helping the charity Build The World in Santa Domingo in the Dominican Republic, when Ben arrives to tell him of Locke's death (attributing it to a retaliatory murder by Widmore's men), and how Hurley (Jorge Garcia) is being watched by an operative outside his Mental Health Institute. Despite the threat to his friend, Sayid refuses to return to Ben's service for one last job.

The third flashback whisks us to the marina scene from "This Place Is Death", with Sun (Yunjin Kim) threatening Ben's life. Sayid is present, but walks away to drink $120 per glass whiskey at a local bar. It's here he meets the beautiful Ilana (Zuleikha Robinson) who flirts with him and takes him back to her room, where she reveals she's actually been hired by Peter Avellino's family (a rich businessman Sayid killed on a golf course in season 4) and is under orders to take him to Guam -- hence why Sayid found himself on Ajira Airways Flight 316 with the rest of the Oceanic Six.

The on-island scenes show that Sayid is resigned to his fate at the hands of his DHARMA captors, even if that means he'll be killed. Sawyer (Josh Holloway) is doing his best to keep his friend safe, but Sayid's reluctance to play along with any of his schemes isn't helping, and he's under pressure to agree with Horace (Doug Hutchison) and Radzinsky's (Eric Lange) tougher plans for their captured enemy. This includes taking Sayid to see a DHARMA's resident interrogator, a mysterious man called Oldham (William Sanderson) who lives alone in a teepee. Oldham forces Sayid to take a truth serum, but upon hearing his crazy story of being a time-traveller from the future, everyone mistakenly believes he's been given too much of the drug and is just talking gibberish.

Sayid's fate would appear to be sealed as his execution is planned; a decision to seems to welcome as a way to atone for his sins, when he refuses to escape when Sawyer offers him the chance to stage a breakout. Young Ben (Sterling Beaumon) has meanwhile told Sayid about his deal with Richard Alpert to become a "hostile" and frees Sayid when everyone's distracted by a flaming DHARMA van sent into the Barracks. During their escape, Sayid and Ben are discovered by Jin (Daniel Dae Kim), who Sayid incapacitates before deciding to shoot Young Ben in the chest, before fleeing into the jungle.

It's this last shock that's the abiding memory of "He's Our You", as Sayid essentially tests Daniel Faraday's theory that you can't change the past. If that were true, it would be impossible for Sayid to kill Ben as a 12-year-old boy because we know he exists as an adult. Of course, maybe Daniel was wrong, meaning Sayid has essentially created a parallel universe where Ben no longer exists. Or possibly the adult Ben will disappear from existence in 2008, meaning Lost will suddenly have a fresh timeline that Ben was never a part of -- which is extremely unlikely.

Personally, I expect Young Ben to somehow survive the gunshot, particularly given the fact the island has a regenerative influence and has previously healed Locke numerous times from similar life-threatening injuries (and apparently resurrected him from death, let's not forget.) But has adult Ben known Sayid will one day travel back in time to '77 and shoot his younger self all along? Or will this memory be suddenly burned into his adult brain, a la Desmond's experience when Daniel spoke to him in the past earlier this season?

"He's Our You" wasn't especially thrilling on the whole, although I do find it clever that the show has effectively created three-years of recent history to explore in old-style flashbacks again. We still don't know much about Ilana, but the opacity cleared slightly regarding how Sayid came to be on Flight 316, and it's fun to ponder why the family of one of his victims would want him to return to the island. It's also a little confusing that Ben and Sayid have spent three years assassinating Widmore's cronies around the word (ostensibly to keep the Oceanic Six safe), when we know that Widmore wants the Oceanic Six to go back to the island -- just like Ben does! I'm sure that discrepancy will be cleared up some day, as you can never trust Ben or Widmore's motives, and there will probably be a hidden level of deceit going on.

A subplot for Kate (Evangeline Lilly) and Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell) was rather perfunctory, but at least it dealt with the uncomfortable atmosphere now that Juliet and Sawyer are an item, so both women appear to have reached an understanding. It was also interesting to see that Sawyer's cover as LaFleur isn't as high-ranking as it perhaps seemed, but I am a little disappointed that DHARMA feel like quiet a small outfit. And we still haven't seen any indication of what they actually do day-to-day on the island. They were somehow more intriguing as a group when we just had their rundown buildings to explore and scratchy old video-tapes to watch, so I hope the show starts to give us some insight into what DHARMA are actually all about.


Questions!
  • What kind of authority does Ilana have to take Sayid on a flight in handcuffs?

  • What danger did Widmore's associates pose to the Oceanic Six, considering the fact we know Widmore wanted Locke to get them safely back to the island?

  • Who torched the bus? Ben? Richard Alpert? Someone else?

  • Will Young Ben die? If so, will the older Ben be erased from existence, or will a parallel universe be created?


29 March 2009
Sky1, 9pm


Writers: Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Director: Greg Yaitanes

Cast: Reiko Aylesworth (Amy), Sayed Bedreya (Sayid's Father), Sterling Beaumon (Young Ben), Patrick Fischler (Phil), Jon Gries (Roger Linus), Doug Hutchison (Horace), Eric Lange (Radzinsky), Zuleikha Robinson (Ilana), William Sanderson (Oldham), Dmitri Boudrine (Ivan), Michael Hardy (Floyd), Anthony Keyvan (Young Sayid), Xavier Raabe-Manupule (Omer) & Joe Toro (Bartender)

Prison Break: The Final 6 Episodes


Remember Prison Break? I'd almost forgotten we hadn't reached the end of season 4 when the mid-season hiatus struck and Fox cancelled it due to poor ratings. But don't worry, unlike a lot of US dramas, it's being allowed to wrap-up its storyline with six new episodes starting in the US on 17 April and 20 April in the UK.

Apparently Michael and Linc will find themselves framed for a crime they didn't commit, a few old faces will return (including someone from Fox River), evil Gretchen won't die from that gunshot, and there will be a two-hour finale.

So, are you looking forward to it? Or did you ditch this show years ago? You have to at least respect how it stretched its thin premise over four seasons, with each one tweaking the concept to keep the ball rolling.

Monday, 30 March 2009

DOLLHOUSE 1.7 - "Echoes"

Spoilers. After the thrilling and mythology-expanding "Man On The Street" last week, it's back down to earth with a bump in "Echoes". The frustrating thing about this episode is that half the story involves a fairly interesting back-story for Echo/Caroline (Eliza Dushku) that also delivers some answers about the Dollhouse itself -- but it's all undone by rather embarrassing comedy antics and slips in the plausibility department.

While on assignment as another promiscuous bimbo for a rich kid, Echo notices a news report on TV about a situation at Rossum University that triggers latent memories of her pre-doll existence as undergraduate Caroline. The university itself is the source of a leaked experimental drug designed to manipulate memory, which leads to the infected having their inhibitions reduced and impulses heightened. The Dollhouse (which we learn funds the Rossum Corporation, who run the campus) imprint all their actives to help contain the outbreak and find a second missing vial of the drug, as they're immune to its effects.

Echo is compelled to leave her assignment and go to the university (still wearing her sexy knee-socks, natch) and is rather inexplicably allowed to indulge this distraction by handler Boyd (Harry Lennix). Really, it's another of example of how elements of Dollhouse's concept can get in the way of a good story, so Boyd is strangely easygoing about Echo's self-diversion and even finds it highly amusing when his belated attempt to take her in for "treatment" is ignored!

There's a lot that sits wrong in "Echoes", basically. It's messy. The Dollhouse's full complement of actives do nothing beyond act like plain-speaking agents and organize screenings of students who may be infected, with little sign they're trying to find the missing vial. Back at the Dollhouse itself, Topher (Fran Kranz) and DeWitt (Olivia Williams) both start suffering from the effects of the drug (I'm still not sure how it transferred there), which results in them acting juvenile. Clearly it's supposed to be amusing to see these characters acting so strangely (particularly the ordinarily austere DeWitt), but it's instead rather embarrassing for the actors and tonally awkward for the show after last week's more pleasurable sincerity. Having built up DeWitt and her assistant Mr. Dominic (Reed Diamond) as slimy villains, having an episode that reduces them to giggling kids just felt like a huge backwards step.

Anyway, Echo's imprint is once again glitching (already a cliché of this show), allowing her to retrace her steps to the university's secret laboratory, which she half-remembers breaking into with animal activist friends when she was enrolled at the university as Caroline.

At the Dollhouse, Topher realizes that the drug does effect the actives after all -- just in a different way to regular people, by stirring their memories. His revelation comes when Mellie (Miracle Laurie), the neighbour of Agent Ballard who's unaware she's a brainwashed spy, undergoes a check-up and starts to remember her actions when she was activated by DeWitt last week. Out in the field, Sierra similarly starts to remember her sexual exploitation at the hands of her dead former-handler, to no real effect.

Overall, "Echoes" wasn't totally retarded and it was actually nice to get some information about Echo's life before she joined the Dollhouse. My own theory that the dolls sign a contract to undergo the mind-wipe procedure in return for financial security or deletion of a criminal record also appears true, with Rossum University essentially a recruiting ground for troubled students that fit their psychological template.

But I do wonder why nobody's realized so a few students go missing for five year periods, if this has been going on for awhile now. Possibly the Dollhouse construct a plausible reason for candidate's sustained absences? But if so, how does Agent Ballard know Caroline has been taken by the Dollhouse and not just gone on a backpacking holiday, say? Did her family get him involved? Are they happy about the fact Ballard is chasing an urban myth to find their daughter? Then again, does Caroline even have a family who care?

Right now I'm interested to see if questions like these are answered. There are only six episodes left this season, and "Man In The Street" was strong enough to keep me watching until the end. But "Echoes" is further evidence that the concept starts to crack when it's put under too much strain, and the obvious way to spin a Dollhouse yarn (let an active malfunction during assignment) is already gnawing at the credibility of the Dollhouse as a professional business. Wouldn't they have terminated Echo's contract by now, after so many problems and mishaps?


27 March 2009
Fox, 9/8c


Writers: Sarah Fain & Elizabeth Craft
Director: James A. Contner

Cast: Dichen Lachman (Sierra), Olivia Williams (DeWitt), Enver Gjokaj (Victor), Tahmoh Penikett (Ballard), Eliza Dushku (Echo), Harry J. Lennix (Boyd), Fran Kranz (Topher), Miracle Laurie (Mellie), Reed Diamond (Laurence Dominic), Mehcad Brooks (Sam), Leslie Andrews (Female Student), Josh Fadem (Owen Johnson), Nick W. George (Trevor), Cantrell Harris (Guard), Michael Ng (Team Member), Ted Porter (NSA Active), Rome Shadanloo (Ingrid), Brett Claywell (Matt), Philip Casnoff (Clive Ambrose), Octavia Spencer (Professor Janack), Josh Cooke (Leo Carpenter) & Drew Wicks (Man)

HEROES 3.20 - "Cold Snap"

Spoilers. Writer-producer Bryan Fuller returns to Heroes with "Cold Snap", having left after season 1 to create the now defunct Pushing Daisies. As a creative lynchpin of the series' "glory days" (whose departure coincided with Heroes' drop in quality), expectations are high that his return will trigger a renaissance...

To be fair, this fourth Volume hasn't been too bad in comparison to the two that preceded it, but Fuller's first script since his venerated "Company Man" is noticeably slicker and more emotionally satisfying than most. He treats the characters like real people, and that's just what Heroes needs if it's to win back lost audiences. If it isn't already too late.

Angela & Mr. Bennet: Danko (Zeljko Ivanek) is now in charge at Building 26, having exposed Nathan as a hypocritical "super" and turned him into a fugitive. Mr. Bennet's (Jack Coleman) cover is still intact, but things are getting dicey with Nathan out of the picture, and Angela (Cristine Rose) is now being hunted by Danko's armed teams, although her power of short-term clairvoyance is allowing her to evade capture for now.

Unarguably two of the better actors on Heroes, "Cold Snap" gives Coleman and Rose better material than usual. The latter is particularly well-served, and Danko's armed teams actually feel like a well-trained threat for the first time since Volume IV started. It was also fun to see Pushing Daisies co-star Swoosie Kurtz in a small role as Angela's old friend Millie.

Tracy & Micah: Bennet tells Danko that he has evidence the enigmatic "Rebel" is trying to free Tracy (Ali Larter) from her cell, and they should allow her to escape so he can engineer a trap. Accordingly, Rebel targets Building 26 and manages to release Tracy by shutting off the power and opening exits, and she escapes with Matt (Greg Grunberg), Mohinder (Sendhil Ramamurthy) and the injured Daphne (Brea Grant).

Later, having parted company from her fellow escapees, Tracy is recaptured by Bennet who gives her a chance of freedom if she'll help him catch Rebel. Tracy is therefore used as bait to draw Rebel out into the open, but she gets a surprise when Rebel's identity is revealed to be Micah (Noah Gray-Cabey), her dead twin sister's son.

The reveal that Micah is the mysterious Rebel has to rank as one of the least surprising surprises in years, given the fact his ability to control machines was Rebel's m.o. Regardless, this subplot was quite good, particularly when duplicitous Tracy realizes she can't go through with handing Micah over to Bennet in return for her freedom, so together they engineer the titular "cold snap" by instantly-freezing a multi-storey car park full of Danko's goons using its sprinkler system.

Quite unexpectedly, this act doubles as a suicide, with Tracy herself turned into an sub-zero statue, unable to defend herself when Danko arrives and shatters her with a single gunshot. So, does that signal the end of Ali Larter's role on this show, as rumoured for many months? Possibly. But there's still another cloned twin called Barbara the actress could very easily become if her post-Heroes career hits the skids, or she has a few months to spare.

Hiro & Ando: Acting on the advice of Rebel, the bumbling friends find themselves babysitting Matt Parkman, who turns out to be the "real" Parkman's son; a baby with the power to fix or activate things by touch. "Toddler Touch & Go", as Hiro puts it. What could have dissolved into a cutesy, distracting mess actually becomes quite entertaining in Fuller's hands, as Matt's ex-wife Janis (Lisa Lackey) returns to the show, and they have to protect Baby Parkman from another of Danko's squads. Along the way, the baby restores Hiro's ability to stop time, enabling him to halt the squad's attack on Janis' home and cart the time-frozen Ando to safety in a wheelbarrow.

Matt & Daphne: Matt takes Daphne to hospital to treat her gunshot wound, using his mind-skills to convince the doctors to help, not ask too many questions, and amusingly believe Daphne needs preferential treatment because she's popstar Gwen Stefani. This subplot was also the scene of a rather neat twist, as Daphne makes a full recovery and leaves for France, only to be followed by Matt -- who has very strangely gained the ability to fly, so suggests they go for a Superman Returns style spin around the Eiffel Tower.

The script even has Daphne finally mention how bizarre Matt's infatuation with her is (indeed, it's been one of season 3's least convincing character developments, despite both actors giving it their best.) Then, just as the schmaltziness and French perfume ad overtones were becoming unbearable, the script pulls the rug by having Daphne figure out everything's been a hallucination fed into her dying mind. Flipping back to the real hospital, Matt holds Daphne's hand as she dies.

Overall, "Cold Snap" is certainly the best episode of Volume IV so far, and perhaps of season 2 and 3 in their entirety. Fuller's skill lies in engineering fantastic sequences with a sense of momentum and imagination, while never forgetting that the characters need to be relatable and treated like three-dimensional people, not as plot-devices or mechanisms for cool CGI. Sure, there's plenty of eye-candy sprinkled on this episode (and some geeky references to Star Trek), but it never overwhelms things, or feels like the sole reason to even consider watching. The bullet-time sequence of Tracy turning Danko's soldiers into icicles was technically excellent, but it's the simple and touching death of Daphne that lingers in the memory.


23 March 2009
NBC, 9/8c

Writer: Bryan Fuller
Director: Greg Yaitanes

Cast: Masi Oka (Hiro), James Kyson Lee (Ando), Milo Ventimiglia (Peter), Jack Coleman (Mr. Bennet), Greg Grunberg (Matt), Ali Larter (Tracy), Sendhil Ramamurthy (Mohinder), Cristine Rose (Angela), Zeljko Ivanek (Danko), David H. Lawrence XVII (Eric), Brea Grant (Daphne), Elizabeth Lackey (Janice Parkman), Cory Tucker (First Agent), Meeghan Holaway (Saleswoman), Steve Seagren (Doorman), Jason E. Kelley (Agent), Michael Carven (Handsome Older Gentleman), Noah Gray-Cabey (Micah), Cazimar Miloston (Limo Driver), William Duffy (ER Doctor), Japheth Gordon (Agent #3), Quin Baron (Baby Matt Parkman), Robert Mammana (Agent #2), Swoosie Kurtz (Millie) & Reed Baron (Baby Matt Parkman)

TV Picks: 30 March - 5 April 2009


Pick Of The Week: "The Wire" -- BBC2, weekdays, 11.20PM

MONDAY 30th
  • The Sex Education Show (Channel 4, 9pm) Anna Richardson presents this four-part sex documentary over four consecutive nights.
  • Argumental (Dave, 9.40pm) Return of the panel show based around comical arguing.
  • Spiral (BBC4, 10pm) Repeat of the French crime thriller.
  • The Wire (BBC2, 11.20pm) Season 1 of the critically-acclaimed crime drama, showing every weekday from the beginning.
TUESDAY 31st
  • All The Small Things (BBC1, 9pm) Drama about the members of a choir in a nothern English town. Stars Sarah Lancashire, Richard Fleeshman, Bryan Dick, Sarah Alexander, Annette Badland & Clive Rowe.
WEDNESDAY 1st
  • Queens Of British Pop (BBC1, 10.45pm) Two-part celebration of British female singers, such as Annie Lennox, Sandie Shaw, Suzi Quatro, Lulu, Leona lewis, etc.
THURSDAY 2nd
  • My Family (BBC1, 8.30pm) Return of the popular family sitcom. Stars Robert Lindsay & Zoe Wanamaker.
FRIDAY 3rd
  • Nothing good.
SATURDAY 4th
  • Five Minutes Of Heaven (BBC2, 9.40pm) Drama about Northern Ireland's troubled past, starring Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt, set in 1975.
SUNDAY 5th
  • Countryfile (BBC1, 7pm) Return of the rural magazine show (now in primetime), with John Craven, Matt Baker & Julia Bradbury.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS 2.10 – "Evicted"


Spoilers. I've definitely enjoyed the second season of FoTC more than the first (or softened to its charms), as most episodes kept a head above the waterline of average, with a few stinkers and an equal number of gems. "Evicted" wasn't particularly memorable, but it did contain some fun moments and worked as a farewell for these characters, as this is (allegedly) the last ever episode...

Jemaine (Jemaine Clement) and Bret (Bret McKenzie) are evicted from their apartment after failing to pay their rent – or, rather, they paid it in New Zealand dollars. News of their destitution hasMurray (Rhys Darby) dusting off a script he's written for an emergency musical based on Bret and Jemaine's lives, following them from humble Kiwi shepherds to Broadway stars. More practically, Mel (Kristen Schaal) gives Bret and Jemaine a place to stay at her house with beleagured boyfriend Doug (David Costabile), overly-enjoying being so close to the men she worships.

"Evicted" was at its best whenever Mel was around in this episode, as her obsession with the Conchords darkens even further: she imposes house rules on them (don't leave the house), tucks Bret into bed so tightly he can't move, turns up the heating so Jemaine may have to show some flesh, and locks their bedroom door at night. Doug himself, revealed to be a gifted harp player, finally begins to fray at the seams (in his own quiet way), resulting in an amusing "divorce" with Bret and Jemaine essentially playing the roles of their children.

The idea of the Conchords acting on-stage in an embellished musical based on their "rags-to-rags" lives was also a fine one, but beyond a few fun moments in the resulting homespun stage production, it was something of a disappointment considering the potential for meta-comedy. Snapshots of the play looked very funny (I particularly like the multiple dancing Murrays), but the episode didn't really do this idea full justice.

The music this week was okay – most notably a Stomp-style sequence of Bret and Jemaine making music around their apartment after waking up in the morning. Shades of Morecambe & Wise's morning dance to "The Stripper", too. It made a change to see the pair having fun together in a musical interlude that wasn't a fantasy sequence. And, having later drawn attention to their illegal immigrant status in their poorly-received play (attended by Murray's Embassy chums), the Conchords are flown back to New Zealand to become simple shepherds again. In the final moment, Bret and Jemaine once again make music on objects in their field – neatly showing us how they probably got interested in music to begin with.

Overall, "Evicted" ended the season (and perhaps the show) on a decent note: Mel rekindled her love for Dave after his harp-playing was given a showbiz context during the musical, and the Kiwi threesome returned to their motherland after trying, but failing, to make it big in the Big Apple. I'm sure a third season would be possible, but there was something fitting about the circular nature of this finale. Season 2 was undoubtedly a stretch for Clement and McKenzie in terms of producing memorable music, so I'd hate to see a third season grind to a halt in the comedy stakes, too. A famous rule of showbiz is to "leave the audience wanting more", so maybe the Flight Of The Conchords should take heed, before they outstay their welcome?


22 March 2009
HBO, 10pm

Writers: Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie & James Bobin
Director: Taika Waititi

Cast: Jemaine Clement (Jemaine), Rhys Darby (Murray), Bret McKenzie (Bret), Arj Barker (Dave), Kristen Schaal (Mel), Frank Wood (Greg), David Costabile (Doug), Eugene Mirman (Eugene), Jonno Roberts (Malcolm - Stage Murray), Richard DeDomenico (Old Man On Stage), Anthony Fazio (Stage Eugene), Nancy Opel (Bret's Stage Aunt), Stella Pulo (Woman On Stage), Jack O'Connell (Bret's Stage Uncle) & Adrian Martinez (Hotel Desk Clerk)

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA 4.21 – "Daybreak: Part 2"


Major spoilers. Bringing a complex television show like Battlestar Galactica to a fitting close is a colossal task, particularly considering how many questions were still unexplained as this feature-length finale began. No matter what you do, you won't please everyone. Ronald D. Moore's "Daybreak: Part 2" will certainly split opinion, but I found it to be exciting and enlightening, with a touching climax that provided a happy ending tinged with sorrow. Days later, it's still lingering in my memory, as I'm sure the show will for many years to come...

The dilapidated Galactica has been manned by volunteers willing to help Adama (Edward James Olmos) retrieve hybrid Hera (Iliana Gomez-Martinez) from the Cylon Colony, perched in the gravity well of a singularity wreathed with asteroids. The first half of the finale is effectively a non-stop action spectacle, as Galactica jumps into close proximity with the Colony, launches all its remaining Raptors, and withstands a barrage of enemy gunfire as Anders (Michael Trucco) remotely connects to the Cylon Hybrids to disrupt their defensive capabilities. Galactica then rams the Colony head-on, busting through its walls, allowing armed teams (including rebel Cylon centurions) to pour into the stronghold to rescue Hera from Cavil's (Dean Stockwell) experimentations.

To say the visual effects are amazing would be a gross understatement. Considering this is a humble cable series, the visuals are movie-quality at times and Daybreak's budget has clearly been doubled to allow for some fresh imagery and a greater level of complexity and detail in the CGI. I dare say the yearlong post-production time has also allowed for more technical nuances. The animated Cylon centurions have never looked better, while the lattice of missiles and smoke trails that spit around the battling spaceships were strikingly beautiful. The camerawork was also beautifully handled; claustrophobic, new angles on old sets, with plenty of attractive compositions.

At the risk of just regurgitating what happened in laborious detail, let's just take a look at how the big questions were answered, and what happened to the main characters...

The Opera House: A staple of BSG from season 1, these were explained as visions the "angels" (Head Six and Head Baltar) had given to certain people, in any effort to guide their actions throughout the course of their lives. Once Hera was handed back to her mother Sharon (Grace Park) by a remorseful Boomer during the Colony's attack, the little girl later fled from some gunfire, to be found wandering the besieged corridors by Caprica Six (Tricia Helfer) and Baltar (James Callis). Roslin and Sharon were also present, trying desperately to find the missing Hera. The "concert hall" Caprica and Baltar were compelled to take Hera to turned out to be the CIC, as we came to realize these Opera House visions were just topographic representations of Galactica's structure, leading them to the safest place to take Hera. A copout? Perhaps. It certainly was a mild let-down because it was utterly unguessable.

Callie's Murder: I'd almost forgotten about Tory (Rekha Sharma) killing Tyrol's (Aaron Douglas) wife Callie earlier this season, once she found out about the Final Five and threatened to expose them. Soon after Cavil manages to take Hera hostage in the CIC, the Final Five agree to give the Cylons resurrection technology in return for Hera – as she's otherwise the key to both race's survival. Cavil agrees to the truce, ending the hostilities, but when the Final Five link together in Anders' tank to transfer their combined knowledge of Resurrection technology to the Cylons, their sharing of consciousness means Tory is exposed as Callie's killer. Shocked and outraged, the Chief breaks their mental link and strangles Tory to death. It's an act the Cylons take as a trick, triggering the suicide of Cavil in the resulting melee, and the resumption of all-out warfare.

"All Along The Watchtower": Facing insurmountable odds against the Cylon Colony after the aborted truce, Adama tells Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) to jump Galactica out of range, and she decides to use the musical notes as co-ordinates (having previously given each note an identifying number.) And, wouldn't you know it, those jump co-ordinates take the ship to... well, Earth. Our Earth.

New Earth: The entire fleet converge on the blue planet, Galactica suffering a "broken back" after its final, fateful jump. The fleet land on the planet and discover it to be a green and hospitable environment populated by tribal humans in Africa, circa 150,000 B.C. Yes, it turns out that the nuked Earth from mid-season wasn't our Earth – it was the name of a similar planet the Thirteenth Tribe populated. This new planet is later christened Earth as a tribute to their utopian dream, and the fleet decide to settle there with the indigenous people (who are genetically close enough to breed with, according to Doc Cottle.) Effectively then, BSG has given us the Earth-based climax most people assumed would happen, having successfully bluffed us into believing the discovery of Earth has already been made (which, technically, it had.) It was a ploy helped by widespread belief the Brooklyn Bridge was visible amongst the ruins of that nuked planet, too.

The Fleet's Finale: The fleet decide to abandon their technology (to wipe the slate clean), so the brain-dead Anders is connected to the Cylon data-stream and left to pilot all their ships into the Sun, after a somber farewell from Starbuck. The 39,406 survivors of the fleet are then spread around the planet in small grops, while the rebel Cylon centurions are given their freedom and leave in their baseship to find their own destiny.

Roslin's Cancer: In the most poignant moment of the finale for me, Roslin finally succumbed to her cancer while flying over the Earth in a Raptor piloted by her lover Adama, taking in all the beauty and marveling at "so much life". When Adama notices she's passed away, he puts his ring on her finger, takes her body to a picturesque part of the countryside and buries her on the crest of a hill. This moment really choked me, as Roslin's death has been such a long time coming, and so brilliantly played by McDonnell and Olmos. Those actors really have done a superb job making their relationship believable and heartfelt, so the inevitably bittersweet ending really packed a punch.

Who Or What Is Starbuck? Well, after Lee (Jamie Bamber) bids farewell to his departing father in a green field, he reveals to Starbuck that he has ambitions to explore this new planet, whereas Starbuck just has a sense that that her work here is done. As Lee turns back to her, he finds she's vanished into thin air – assumedly meaning she was an instrument of God herself. This was the one aspect of the finale I can understand people having issues with. It's a bit trite to answer the questions surrounding Starbuck by playing the "God card" – so, her childhood visions of a maelstrom were given to her by these "angels" (ensuring she enter that maelstrom to crash-land and die on the surface of the Thirteenth Tribe's Earth), her factory-new Viper was likely constructed by the angels, etc.

It's not particularly clear why these angels would want to use Starbuck to guide the fleet to the "wrong" Earth initially, although you could argue mankind needed this low to achieve their highs and, after all, "God works in mysterious ways." For me, I think there's been enough of a spiritual flavour to BSG throughout its lifespan, so explaining some of the more confusing questions with notions of a divine entity guiding "prophets" and intervening in lives is something I feel happy to accept. A scientific answer for BSG's visions and hallucinations would have been cleverer, but a spiritual one was more emotional.

Settling In: Caprica Six and Baltar leave to be together, now that Caprica Six has fallen in love with Baltar again, and he can put his farming background to good use. Tigh (Michael Hogan) and Ellen (Kate Vernon) can finally be together, with no distractions getting in the way (or much booze available, let's be honest), Tyrol decides to lead a solitary existence somewhere far away, while Helo (Tahmoh Penikett), Sharon leave to raise hera.

Flashforward: The most beguiling aspect of the finale was definitely the excellent denouement, which leaped forward in time by 150,000 years to modern-day New York City. Here, we see a man (played by Ronald D. Moore himself) reading a magazine about the recently-discovered "missing link" -- the skeletal body of a little girl found in Tanzania. Head Six and Head Baltar are reading over his shoulder, making it clear that this Mitochondrial Eve was crossbreed Hera – meaning everyone on Earth are descended from extra-terrestrial humans, their artificial creations and crossbreed progeny.

The "angels" then remark on the future of this new Earth, speculating that similar disaster awaits as humans are once again creating robots in their own image – although hope is offered be Head Six's insistence that if you "let a complex system repeat itself long enough; eventually something surprising might occur," leading to a fun montage of Japanese robots set to Bob Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" (the same music that guided the Colonials to Earth millennia ago.) All this has happened before, and all this will happen again?

Was it the perfect conclusion? Not quite, but it was close enough and got the emotional impact across. We can argue and nitpick the intricacies for years, but it felt like a strong finish. However, the flashbacks to a pre-Fall Caprica felt even more redundant than last week, and I was disappointed there was no twist involving Zak Adama (Tobias Mehler) to make us rethink Lee and Starbuck's relationship all these years. I was waiting for something to happen of great consequence there, but it just never came (no pun intended.) Elsewhere, Tigh gurgles and yells "yeeeah!" in a strip club as Ellen dotes on him, a drunken Adama vomits in a street then walks out of a job interview, Roslin has sex with a toyboy former-student and enters politics, and we see Baltar inadvertently agree to help Caprica Six destroy their planet.

Hera's ultimate role in the mythology came together well enough, despite remaining a walking plot-device. In the end, she wasn't quite as vital to mankind's future once they found a planet of humans to procreate with. And I guess her birth is still down to genetic fluke, as other Cylon-Human couplings still can't produce children – so I guess there were never any baby Baltar's running around with Caprica Six playing mommy. As mentioned, I know some people will be unhappy about the ambiguity surrounding Starbuck in the end, but I didn't mind turning the script turning her into a kind of seraphim to annul some tricky questions.

It was just a shame recent fan speculation about Starbuck's father (many predicting he must be Daniel, the favoured Cylon that jealous Cavil "killed") was proven to be an unfortunate case of the audience extrapolating answers where none existed. So no, Starbuck wasn't the first example of a crossbred human-Cylon, and the fact her dad composed "All Along The Watchtower" just made him the proto-Bob Dylan of the Twelve Colonies. I have no idea how you explain that the song's notes are also the coordinates of a habitable planet using Colonial jump-technology... beyond another leap of faith that God was pulling strings even back then, in preparation for Starbuck's great destiny. Indeed, belief in a divine being orchestrating events became the de facto answer for anything left unexplained by the end – which you'll either embrace, grudgingly accept, find annoying, or hate, depending on your attitude to BSG's spiritual side.

Ultimately, the few complains I have about "Daybreak: Part 2" are swept aside by the moments that totally worked, or those that hit emotional peaks. It was a great decision to give the audience pure sci-fi spectacle for the first half, then spend longer giving these characters a meaningful send-off in the meditative second half. There were a few times when I thought the story was about to slide into baloney, conflict with established facts, and even throw time-travel into the equation at the eleventh hour to patch some flaws, but things actually made broad sense by the end. I also found that quite a few nitpicks were dispelled with some after-show debate and web-browsing.

Incidnetally, I feel sorry for poor D'Anna, who decided to stay on the wasteland of proto-Earth, and doesn't know that her comrades found a better, utopian Earth. Maybe those rebel centurions jumped back and offered her a chance to reunite with everyone else? If not, that's quite an amusingly bleak end for her character!

"Daybreak: Part 2" was something of a rare occasion in the annals of sci-fi television, in that a serialzed story actually reached a predetermined conclusion without fudging the story too badly. I never expected a watertight answer to everything, particularly when BSG's writers openly say they only really started thinking about the end-game a few years ago, and delivered the Final Five curveball merely to punch-up a limp third season finale. Maybe BSG could have been even better if there had been a masterplan to begin with, or maybe a lot of its genius resulted from the writers semi-improvising – we'll never know. But I do know this: Battlestar Galactica was a brave, intelligent, thrilling and profound sci-fi allegory of our times... and its finale left me both elated and sombre, quietly grieving that (beyond the upcoming, unnecessary-feeling prequel "The Plan") the journey has some to an end for these wonderful characters.

So say we all?

24 March 2009
Sky1, 9pm

Writer: Ronald D. Moore
Director: Michael Rymer

Cast: Edward James Olmos (Adama), Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck), Mary McDonnell (Roslin), James Callis (Baltar/Head Baltar), Jamie Bamber (Lee), Grace Park (Sharon/Boomer), Tricia Helfer (Caprica Six/Head Six), Mark A. Sheppard (Romo Lampkin), Kerry Norton (Layne Ishay), Tobias Mehler (Zak Adama), Lara Gilchrist (Paulla Schaffer), Brad Dryborough (Lt. Hoshi), Leela Savasta (Tracey Anne), Michael Hogan (Tigh), Callum Keith Rennie (Leoben Conoy), Bodie Olmos (Hot Dog), Kate Vernon (Ellen), Donnelly Rhodes (Doc Cottle), Aaron Douglas (Tyrol), Michael Trucco (Anders), Matthew Bennett (Aaron Doral), Rekha Sharma (Tory), Dean Stockwell (Cavil), Tiffany Lyndall-Knight (Cylon Hybrid), Colin Lawrence (Skulls), Leah Cairns (Racetrack), Colin Corrigan (Marine Allan Nowart), Iliana Gomez-Martinez (Hera), Simone Bailly (Shona), Darcy Laurie (Dealino), Rick Worthy (Simon), Tahmoh Penikett (Helo), Dan Payne (Sean), Richard Jollymore (Marine #1), Kevin McNulty (Frank Porthos), Holly Eglinton (Stripper), Ronald D. Moore (Man Reading Magazine) & Anthony St. John (Marine #2)

Saturday, 28 March 2009

I'm Back (well, sort of...)

Well, I'm physically back tomorrow, if truth be told. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the bread-crumbed reviews I scattered on the blog while I was away this week. As usual, I appear to have had more hits being away than I ever have being around. I should disappear more often! I assume that's because people check for updates more regularly when there aren't many?

Anyway... right now I'm fine-tuning a 2000+ word review of Battlestar Galactica's series finale, I'm two-thirds through writing my Watchmen review, and need to catch-up with last week's Flight Of The Conchords, Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Heroes. And then there's Damages and Lost to watch tomorrow. Oh yes, not to mention Robin Hood and Primeval start tonight, so I'll have to get round to reviewing those, too! So yes, it will be a very busy week of blogging to catch-up with things I missed -- perhaps meaning a few "double-bill" reviews. Or slight delays. I'm sure you understand!

Friday, 27 March 2009

Box Office Charts: w/e 27 March 2009


In the US: Despite poor reviews, Nicolas Cage's sci-fi precognition thriller KNOWING lands #1... Paul Rudd comedy I LOVE YOU, MAN grabs #2... and Clive Owen/Julia Roberts thriller DUPLICITY hooks #3...

US TOP 10

(-) 1. Knowing $24.6m
(-) 2. I Love You, Man $17.8m
(-) 3. Duplicity $14m
(1) 4. Race To Witch Mountain $12.8m
(2) 5. Watchmen $6.8m
(3) 6. The Last House On The Left $5.78m
(4) 7. Taken $4.06m
(6) 8. Slumdog Millionaire $2.68m
(5) 9. Madea Goes To Jail $2.57m
(9) 10. Coraline $2.13m


In the UK: Marley & Me is still top dog at #1... PAUL BLART: MALL COP does surprisingly well to collar #1, considering star Kevin James is practically unknown on these shores... corporate espionage thriller DUPLICITY fails to break the £1m barrier at #3... and there's bad news for Horne & Corden, as their comedy-horror only lures £648k from British cinemagoers' pockets, to debut at #4...

UK TOP 10

(1) 1. Marley & Me £2.1m
(-) 2. Paul Blart: Mall Cop £1.2m
(-) 3. Duplicity £796k
(-) 4. Lesbian Vampire Killers £648k
(2) 5. Watchmen £594k
(3) 6. Gran Torino £484k
(4) 7. Slumdog Millionaire £416k
(5) 8. The Young Victoria £387k
(6) 9. Bolt £201k
(10) 10. Bronson £161k

UK RELEASES THIS WEEK


Knowing

Sci-fi mystery. A teacher opens a time capsule dug up at his son's school and discovers it contains accurate predictions of natural disasters...
Director: Alex Proyas Starring: Nicolas Cage, Rise Byrne, Chandler Canterbury & Lara Robinson
Tomatometer: 29% (Rotten; based on 123 reviews) "Knowing has some interesting ideas and a couple good scenes, but it's weighted down by its absurd plot and over-seriousness."


Traitor

Crime thriller. A straight-arrow FBI agent leads an investigation into a dangerous international conspiracy...
Director: Jeffrey Nachmanoff Starring: Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Neal McDonough, Said Taghmaoui & Alyy Khan
Tomatometer: 58% (Fresh; based on 149 reviews) "Despite another reliable performance from Don Cheadle, Traitor suffers from too many cliches and an unfocused narrative."


Two Lovers

Romantic drama. A bachelor is torn between a family friend his parents want him to marry and his beautiful, volatile neighbour...
Director: James Gray Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw, Moni Moshonov & Isabelle Rossellini
Tomatometer: 84% (Fresh; based on 115 reviews) "Two Lovers is a complex, intriguing, richly-acted romantic drama"

HOTLIGHT: Rose Byrne


I wish that robe would fall to the floor, too. Best known as plucky attorney Ellen Parsons in FX's legal drama Damages (a role she won a Golden Globe for), Australian actress ROSE BYRNE also has a blossoming movie career. She was Natalie Portman's lookalike in Star Wars Episode II, then had a small role in Troy, before co-starring in Sunshine and 28 Weeks Later. Rose can currently be seen in the sci-fi thriller Knowing, alongside Nicolas Cage. Blessed with a delicate beauty, rose-bud lips and big oval eyes, all shot through with a quiet, pervasive intelligence, the only real worry is how painfully thin she can often look on-screen. You half expect a bulemia storyline to rear its head on Damages, were her character not too busy double-crossing and collaborating with Feds.

Date of Birth: 24 July 1979
Place of Birth: Sydney, Australia
Fansite: rosebyrne.org

TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES 2.17 - "Ourselves Alone"

"I'm not here to stop the war, sweetie. I'm here to win it."
-- Jesse (Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen)

Spoilers. Having served up three of its worst episodes in a three-part stench, "Ourselves Alone" is mild improvement -- if only because it gives Summer Glau more to do, and actually developed a major storyline.

Cameron (Glau) is suffering from involuntary motor reflexes that cause her to crush a pigeon she was intending to free after it became trapped indoors (also a subtle echo of that "upturned turtle" story from awhile back, confirming that Cameron has a sense of empathy not part of her programming.) Sadly, that interesting development isn't utmost on the writers' minds, as Cameron's physical dysfunction is instead seen as a possible warning sign that the cyborg protector could malfunction and turn against its masters.

Meanwhile, John (Thomas Dekker) and Sarah (Lena Headey) are concerned that Cameron will kill Riley (Leven Rambin) if she starts perceiving her as a threat to their cover. They know that Riley tried to commit suicide for some unknown reason, and now suspect it had something to do with her discovering their real identities. Riley doesn't help matters when she spies Cameron self-repairing her lower-arm (using spare parts collected from defeated Terminators, in violation of Sarah's orders), and thus arouses Cameron's suspicions further.

Sarah visits Riley's foster parents and is surprised to hear about Riley's history of freaking out about an apocryphal future, lending credence to her theory that Riley knows more than she's letting on. Of course, we the audience know that Riley's a street kid from a future dystopia, brought back in time by resistance soldier Jesse (Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen) to stop John falling in love with his cyborg protector and put the future of mankind at risk as a result. Sarah later meets with Riley's guidance counselor looking for more answers about Riley's state of mind, who turns out to be Jesse in disguise, manipulating the situation.

It's taken so long to get any progress with the Riley/Jesse storyline that "Ourselves Alone" just felt like too little, too late. There are some interesting moments contained therein (John helping fix Cameron by slicing open her wrist, echoing his girlfriend's means of suicide), and I like the ambiguity that surrounds Cameron these days. Ever since the car explosion that damaged the Terminator's circuits in the premiere, we're less certain about Cameron's motivations and fidelity. Summer Glau is at her best when making us uncomfortable with her china doll pout and twitchiness, and there's plenty of creeping threat throughout this episode. Really, it's all about whether or not Cameron would kill Riley to maintain their cover and reassert herself on John's life, knowing how much that tactically-sound idea would hurt John emotionally.

Of course, the big news in this episode is the reveal that Jesse's plan was for Cameron to eventually kill Riley, as that would be a tragedy large enough to turn John against Cameron forever. When Riley realizes this callous plan, an extended cat-fight ensues back at Jesse's apartment, culminating with Jesse shooting Riley dead. Rambin was particularly good in her dramatic scenes this week, helped by the simple fact that Jesse is one of the most unpleasant, manipulative and irritating characters on TV right now. Extremely unlikeable, but intentionally so.

Finally, Cameron gives John a detonator encased inside a fob watch, linked to an explosive charge she's implanted in her head. The idea being that if she ever poses a threat to their safety, he now has the ability to terminate her at the push of a button. Cameron's interest in Riley's suicide is perhaps explainable as a recent interest in "self-termination", too, which was a nice bit of shadowing.

Overall, "Ourselves Alone" wasn't especially fantastic, but it was a damned sight better than the previous three episodes and it was nice to see some definite movement with the Jesse/Riley storyline, which also gave Rambin and Dekker better opportunities to stretch themselves. The main problem is that the sense of momentum season 2 once had has long since vanished, and this episode arrives about seven episodes too late. I'm no longer particularly interested in any of the storylines (beyond Catherine's project with A.I John Henry), and T:tSCC still needs to find a sense of narrative drive and direction.


26 March 2009
Virgin1, 10pm

Writers: Toni Graphia & Daniel T. Thomsen
Director: Jeff Woolnaugh

Cast: Lena Headey (Sarah), Thomas Dekker (John), Summer Glau (Cameron), Brian Austin Green (Derek), Leven Rambin (Riley), Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen (Jesse), Mackenzie Smith (Savannah Weaver), Alex Carter (Ko Samuels), Gregg Perrie (Aaron), Leslie Thurston (Nurse), Tina Casciani (Working Girl) & Alison Martin (Molly Malloy)

Thursday, 26 March 2009

THE APPRENTICE 5 – Week One


Spoilers. Sir Alan's back, desperate for another apprentice. 16 candidates have arrived to jump through hoops for a few months, in the slim hope of securing a job that pays £100,000 per year and blossom under Sir Alan's tutelage. Cynically, I still think they get elbowed into a top-floor office for a year, before being allowed to quietly leave Sir Alan's business empire. Surprisingly, one of the candidates has already "bottled it" the night before the first boardroom meeting, so we're down to 15 people already...

As usual for The Apprentice, there are too many personalities at this early stage to get a good handle on everyone, or to remember names. Only the brashest, funniest people shine through. The task was boringly simple for Week 1: the team's were split into girls ("Ignite") and boys ("Empire"), each given a £200 budget, and asked to set-up a cleaning service of any description. The team that made the most money, wins.

Howard Ebison, a 24-year-old Retail Business Manager, was the project manager for the boys, who split their team into two distinct groups – one cleaning a taxi hire firm's fleet of cars, while the others shined shoes at St. Pancras railway station (for £4 a pop!) It took the car-cleaners seven hours to clean one car to the desired standard of their customer, although they eventually whizzed through half the fleet once the shoe-team rejoined them.

Mona Lewis, a 28-year-old Senior Financial Manager (and onetime Tanzanian beauty queen), was PM for the girls. They all focused exclusively on cleaning cars; earning £120 for doing three large Hummers (after working out how to use a pressure washer), before being sacked by a classic car retailer for only cleaning four out of fourteen cars to the required high-standard. As Sir Alan's eyes-and-ears Margaret summed up: "never before in the history of car washing have so few cars been washed by so many people in such a long time." In a late attempt to claw back some cash, they moved onto curbside car cleaning for passing trade, which worked much better.

In the boardroom afterwards, Sir Alan was told that Empire had made a profit of £239 -- more than the girls, but only because Ignite had eaten into their start-up budget and wasted cash on materials, leaving them with a profit of £160.55. The guys swaggered back to their luxury penthouse, for an evening of cocktails, leaving Mona to bring Debra and a grumpy-looking Anita back into the boardroom to explain themselves. The latter was eventually fired because she failed to notice the overspend on materials (i.e., she was handed the calculator, so blame her) and didn't show any business acumen. To be honest, she looked so miserable throughout that it probably came as a relief to be sent home in a taxi.

Overall, this was a decent start to the new series. Sir Alan's script contained more jokes than usual in his opening boardroom monologue ("I know the words to 'Candle In The Wind'; doesn't make me Elton John"), and it's as well-constructed as ever. The task was perhaps too simple, leaving a huge amount of time focused on the boardroom shenanigans, and The Apprentice always takes a few weeks to settle in. Right now, there's no way 15 strangers can all make an impression, although it feels like there's a good mix there. Noorul (an aristocratic teacher) already appears to be this year's Raef. But who else thinks the New Yorker lady should just pack her bags now?


25 March 2009
BBC1, 9pm

Girls Aloud: "Untouchable"


Oh, look! It's Girls Aloud's 21st single, "Untouchable". Their 6-minute album track has been condensed into 4-minutes of sci-fi sexiness here, with the girls floating around Earth in space-orbs, dressed in see-through PVC and tight leathers. If you can put up with the hyper-editing, there's leggy Nadine and curvy Kimberly looking hot throughout, which is the main thing. I wish they'd get back to filming video's where they're together dancing together in a group, though.

Happy Birthday To Me!


The worst thing about turning 30? All those speed-limit signs that remind me -- everywhere I look! B*stards. Interesting selection of celebs also born today. I like to think I'm a conglomerate of these fellow Arians: Alan Arkin, Leslie Mann, Keira Knightley, James Caan, Leonard Nimoy, Martin Short, Michael Imperioli, Amy Smart, Jennifer Grey and Diana Ross. Second worst thing? The realization that your childhood has definitely passed and you can't extend it any further into adulthood (as you could being a twentysomething in that "teen/adult bumperzone" decade.) So, for a bit of nostalgic amusement, here are some fantastic things I remember from my childhood. Maybe you can relate to them, if you're in your late-20s/early-30s and from the UK...

Theme parks. In particular, Disney World -- which was THE place every kid wanted to go. Even when EuroDisney opened, because that would mean going to France. Only a few people ever seemed to go to Florida, so most of us only saw the likes of Flamingo Land, Alton Towers and Blackpool Pleasure Beach here in Blighty. But even they were huge fun for a kid. Similarly, whenever a circus or fair came to town, that was always incredibly exciting. Not so good for any goldfish you'd win from a coconut shy, though -- lifespan of three days, usually.

Christmas mornings. A very obvious one, but it's a truly magical time for kids. All those expensive presents and you don't have to spend money on anyone else in return! That's the annoying thing about Christmas for adults. Plus, as a kid, it's easier to get things you want: just get your parents to buy as much of the Argos catalogue's toy section as possible.

Egg whisks. Mums don't do as much baking these days, but back when they did... who else would loiter around the kitchen waiting to lick the cake mix off an egg whisk? And, if you're lucky, get handed the cake bowl to finger-lick clean. Bliss. Always far better than what the actual cake tasted like, too! Why don't they just serve cake mix in restaurants?

Mini cereals. A marketing brainwave! Less cereal, for more money! I'm sure these things continue to infuriate thrifty parents everywhere, but kids just like the idea of "mini" things. Remember the craze for Micro Machines? Those tiny cars must have saved the toy manufacturers a fortune on metal, too! I still reckon this is why iPod Nano is such a hit. Kids just like small things to treasure. Monster In My Pocket, anyone?

Treehouses. Did anyone ever have a treehouse? It's quite an American thing, really. If you had one as a British kid -- well, your dad was either a carpenter, or very rich. We'll widen this to mean "dens" in general -- and I'm sure everyone made hideouts in their bedrooms using their blankets, or hung big sheets on the clothes line and made a kind of tent from it.

Gameboy. Computer games are everywhere these day, thanks to the increasing power of mobile phones. But, back in the late-'80s, who else was astonished by the humble Gameboy? A device you could play a multitude of games on, anywhere you wanted! Before that, we just had those Watch & Game devices that played one measly game (like that racing car one with the three lanes to jump between, or Donkey Kong.)

Light guns. In a similar techie vein, how futuristic did light guns seem in the '80s? That NES lightgun was practically fucking Star Wars. The SuperScope for the SNES was less successful (it just looked too dumb), but the re-loadable Time Crisis gun for the PS1 was also tres cool. Of course, these days, the Wii's default controls lend the system to lightgun-style play immediately -- but in the '80s and '90s, there was nothing cooler than having a gun peripheral to play Duck Hunt.

Toys R' Us. It's strange to think, but Toys R' Us only arrived in the UK in the early-'90s, and the idea of a whole store filled with ONLY toys got me very excited around 1990. I remember first going inside one (in Peterborough) and being amazed by the really high shelves full of goodies. Up until then, kids just had the back-end of Woolworths to browse, or small independent toy shops. This was like Santa's grotto!

Porn mags. It’s cosmic law that every wooded area close to a kid's park will, on occasion, materialize ripped up porno mags. This is particularly exciting for kids under the age of 10 -- who are suddenly faced with visual evidence that girls don't have willies. Does this magic trick still happen these days? Or has the internet ruined this great childhood tradition? The porn mag purchasers are either at home on the 'net getting their fix for free... or the kids are! God bless whoever it was who bought a porno, then destroyed it for the bemused pleasure of kids the next day. I never did understand why you'd do that.

Creepy crawlies. You're less squeamish as a kid. I used to find, collect and handle all manner of bugs and animals -- frogs, newts, lizards, slow worms, etc. I'd never go near any of those things nowadays, if I can help it. I was like a young Steve Irwin 20 years ago. You seem to lose your nerve unless you keep it up. Anyone else collect buckets of frog spawn, and stuff like that?

Summer holidays. Remember when six weeks seemed like forever? The summer holidays were absolutely fantastic for kids -- even if you'd never admit you were bored by the third week. As an adult, six weeks pass by in a flash, but time goes slower for kids. Anyone else ever return to school in September and find they'd forgotten how to write?

Ice cream vans. The twinkling tune (usually Greensleeves) ringing out around summer, as kids swarmed the van with £1 coins they'd managed to talk their mum into giving them. Oh yes, happy days. I remember one boy asking the ice cream man for £10 worth of chewing gum, and being given a massive box of them. He had jaw-ache for a month.

Catalogue lingerie. What section of a Littlewoods or Kays catalogue you immediately turn to as a youngster determined how far into puberty you were as a boy. Age 5-11, chances are you'll go straight to the toy section. Age 12-16, you'll probably be perving over the models in the lingerie section. It's when you start going to the gardening section looking for trowels that you need to worry, really.

LaserQuest. Remember when this hit big in the '90s? People running around neon-lit rooms with laser guns, zapping each other. Adults suddenly regressed into kids for the day. Is this still popular? You don't really hear about it going on now. I think paint-balling has taken over.

Last Friday. Specifically, the last day of school before the Christmas or summer holidays. These were always great and worth going in for (although many people didn’t bother -- which sometimes felt like the wise choice at the time.) Here, you could usually wear your normal clothes (if your school had uniforms) and bring in board games to play. Choose wisely, though -- you don't want to be ostracized by your mates for bringing in bland Monopoly (with no enough bank notes) when someone else had snazzy electronic Battleships. Again, does this still happen these days?

Scalextric. Getting a decent race going was always about as likely as spelling Scalextric properly as a kid. The cars would always whizz off the track after 2 laps (at best) for me. But there was something very cool about Scalextric. I think it was the awesome name that implied "scary electric". The springy noise of the trigger mechanism was always oddly enjoyable, too. Did everyone else only ever play on a figure-8 track, though? You never saw anyone who had committed to getting a Wallace & Gromit-style track assembled around their front room.

Ring any bells? Anyone have any other suggestions of things ingrained in your memories of being a kid?

TRAILER PARK: Where The Wild Things Are


I've read Where The Wild Things Are, but have no real recollection of it. The illustrations were always the thing that drew me to that book in my school's library. Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) has directed a movie version of the beloved classic (long delayed, allegedly because the studio were unhappy and considering reshooting the whole thing.) While that doesn't bode well, it's hard not to be drawn into Jonze's vision with this trailer. It's every bit as imaginative and indie-styled as you'd expect from the director of two Charlie Kaufman scripts, while the titular "Wild Things" (a combinaition of suitmation, animatronics and CGI) look particularly impressive.

It makes a change to have fantastical creatures in a movie that occupy genuine space, and don't just exist on a geek's hard-drive somewhere. I'd still like to see more before I get too excited, but this has my interest now. I just hope the book's short narrative can sustain a feature film, or else this could face the same problems encountered by The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

HD Download: 480P (37MB) | 720P (83MB) | 1080P (150MB)
Released: 16 October 2009 (US)

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Doctor Who: Easter Special Photos


Just in case you haven't seen them yet, io9 have lots of great photos from the Doctor Who Easter special "Planet Of The Dead" available here; a double-decker bus in the desert (filmed in Dubai), a Trivotore fly-headed alien, a ragtag group of bus passengers, Lee Evans pulling a face, and the always-scrummy Michelle Ryan in black boots and shades. "Planet Of The Dead", the 200th Doctor Who story, is scheduled to air on 11 April on BBC1/BBC-HD.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

DAMAGES 2.6 - "A Pretty Girl In A Leotard"


Recap: Whilst Ultima National Resources (UNR) continue to bury evidence that links the company to the water pollution of West Virginia, Patty uses a TV interview to accuse UNR's boss Walter Kendrick of the murder of Daniel Purcell’s wife. Claire Maddox uses this to end her affair with Daniel and encourages Kendrick to sue Patty for defamation to stop the growing damage to UNR’s stock price. In a chance meet, Kendrick ignores Frobisher's advice to avoid a confrontation with Patty and orders Claire to sue to the tune of $200m.

Meanwhile, Katie comes across the rogue cop Eliot Tolken who tailed her during the Frobisher lawsuit. Whilst Katie is concerned, Ellen is hoping to use Tolken to tie Frobisher to her fiance's murder, but Tolken knows too much and is killed. Finally, Patty settles the defamation case against Kendrick and tells Ellen that she's found a new plaintiff in the case against UNR. What Patty doesn’t tell Ellen is that the plaintiff is none other than Frobisher...

My thoughts: This wasn't the most revealing episode, but all the twists and double-crosses are becoming overplayed, so it was nice to get some downtime and allow the story to unfold at a more leisurely pace. Here, we can finally savor some character moments.
  • Claire Maddox got some much-needed screen-time1, although she's still little more than a fairly unconvincing femme fatale who believes she's the equal of Patty. A lot of that is down to the writing, so I really hope the claws come out soon.
  • Kendricks is now positioned as the clear villain of the piece, which is good. One thing this season's been missing is a clear antagonist, and was instead content to treat UNR as a faceless corporation. Kendricks has been around for a while, but this was the first time I felt Patty found her nemesis.
  • Frobisher has been brought into the main story very quickly and surprisingly, lined up as Patty's plaintiff against UNR because he's still a shareholder. I'm already imagining this is how Frobisher will regain some of his former wealth if he helps Patty win the case. That would be an interesting turn of events (Patty broke him, and will now rebuild him), and Ellen is oblivious to Frobisher's role in events right now.
  • The season is clearly a direct sequel to season 1 now. I'm not sure this was a wise decision by the producers, given the fact a lot of viewers won't have seen season 1 but were persuaded to give Damages a whirl by those who did. There are now two regular characters brought back from season 1 (Frobisher and Katie Connor) and the flashbacks to season 1 (David's murder, Ellen's attack, bad-cop Messer) are becoming inexorably part of season 2's make-up.
  • There hasn't been much William Hurt in recent weeks, but I hope Daniel won't fade into the background too much. He needs either redemption or punishment for what he's done. Considering he was the backbone of the first four episodes, I doubt his role is over.
  • Love the "you've been served" moments -- first from Claire to Patty, suing her for defamation after she called Kendricks a murderer on national TV, and then by Patty after she settled out of court for $5m, stating they have a plaintiff against UNR. Damages wisely doesn't get bogged down in stuffy courtrooms, but I love the legal processes when they come.
So, yeah. It's coming together, but it's not as intoxicating as last season. Many shows have problems with maintaining a sense of freshness in their sophomore year, but Damages' decision to deal with the "unfinished business" of season 1 (while understandable) is overcomplicating an already thick legal stew.

Incidentally, click here to see a video of William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden and Timothy Olyphant talking about their roles. Or check out an exclusive with Glenn Close and Rose Byrne here for non-iTunes users, or here if you have iTunes.


22 March 2009
BBC1, 10.15pm

Writer: Adam Stein
Director: Greg Yaitanes

Cast: Anastasia Griffith (Katie Connor), Marcia Gay Harden (Claire), William Hurt (Daniel), Ted Danson (Frobisher), Tate Donovan (Tom), Rose Byrne (Ellen), Glenn Close (Patty), David Costabile (Detective Rick Messer), Glenn Kessler (Agent Werner), John Doman (Walter Kendrick), Mario Van Peebles (Agent Harrison), Ethan Herschenfeld (Eliot Tolken), Damian Young (Well Dressed Man), Josh Casaubon (Waiter) & Darrell Hammond (The Deacon)

1. As did Marcia Gay Harden's legs. Does her character strike that same pose after every bedroom conquest, 'cos it sure seems that way.

24, 7.14 - "9:00PM - 10:00PM"


Spoilers. Every week my concerns about Day 7 continue to dissipate. What's nice about this season is how the characters feel like they exist in a slightly more realistic world -- with concessions for entertainment-value, of course. I haven't forgotten the supremely silly, but gripping White House raid. But previously, everyone was part of the fictional CTU (which regularly turned blind eyes to torture and were a law unto themselves), but this season has found Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) and the veteran characters forced to deal with people who don't share their attitude, beliefs, or have much trust in them. 24 had grown quite insular and cozy (with everyone prepared to trust Jack's hunches and steer him in the direction of the day's terrorists), but Day 7 is far rockier terrain.

This fourteenth episode pushes us deeper into the second phase of Day 7, as Jack escapes the hospital after being framed for murder, with Larry (Jeffrey Nordling) determined to recapture him because -- like many people who should know better this season -- he has a tough time trusting Jack and giving him the benefit of the doubt. Renee (Annie Wersching) actually has a nice scene when she reprimands Larry (on behalf of the audience watching at home) for his witch-hunt, because Jack has been proven correct countless times already.

Here, Renee helps Jack ID the operative who framed him, despite the fact she's been suspended from work, and refuses to give Larry details of where Jack is, or what he's up to. A file she sent Jack from her laptop has been encoded, so Larry decides to use the arrested Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) as leverage to force her husband Morris (Carlos Rota) into breaking the encryption. But will Morris do it, knowing that he owes Jack his life, and where his wife's professional loyalties lie?

Regardless, we ourselves know that Jack's attacker was one John Quinn (Sebastian Roch), an employee of Starkwood -- a Blackwater-esque contractor that run private armies around the world for the Pentagon. Interestingly, Jack learns that Senator Mayer (Kurtwood Smith) is opposed to Starkwood and has been trying to shut them down for the past six months, so Jack decides to pay him a visit at his house to try and find a link between Starkwood and General Juma.

Seeing Jack work with a man who believes he's a right-wing menace is one of this episode's stronger aspects, as we begin to get a clearer take on Mayer's belief system. The pair even reach an understanding and call a truce on their disagreement, it seems. Of course, minutes after Jack deduces that Starkwood gave Juma the technology to attack the White House, in exchange for an area of Sangala to test a biological weapon, and Mayer persuades Jack to give himself up, promising he'll pull political strings to get his fugitive status revoked, Quinn makes a surprise appearance at the front door and guns the Senator down in cold blood. I should have seen it coming after six seasons, but this surprise was effectively handled, and I didn't expect them to get rid of Kurtwood Smith so soon -- having assumed Day 7 would be bookended by his character's Senate hearing.

Fleeing the scene of Mayer's killing just as Larry's task-force arrive and incorrectly assume he was responsible, a bleeding Jack is stalked by Quinn around the local neighbourhood. Both men eventually engage in a rather grueling fist-fight inside a construction site, with the victor eventually our hero – who finds a surprisingly helpful text message on Quinn's phone giving him the location of the incoming biological weapons shipment.

This episode was most concerned with giving us the link between Starkwood and Juma, punctuating its fairly average storyline with a well-executed surprise for Senator Mayer and arduous brawl for Jack. It appears that Jonas Hodges isn't a total lunatic (he shows some concern about having to use his weapons on US soil), but ultimately we're into familiar territory now – with Jack and Tony (Carlos Bernard), finally re-entering the story properly, as the duo with the knowledge and skills to stop Hodges plan succeeding, while avoiding capture from their own misguided authorities. A small subplot for Olivia made for a good breather, as anxious Chief of Staff Ethan assumes the President's daughter has leaked details of his negligence to the press to embarrass him, only for her to prove otherwise in the end. Or is that a double-bluff, and Olivia still has his cards marked? She certainly strikes me as a game-playing meddler.

Overall, despite an inkling that 24 is inching into more routine territory (stopping WMD's from detonating on home soil), I'm hoping there are still some twists to come, and the writers won't totally give into formula. 24 is a very difficult show to keep fresh, but Day 7 has done an admirable job so far… be a shame to see it relax into old habits in its second movement.


23 March 2009
Sky1, 9pm

Writers: Evan Katz & Juan Carlos Coto
Director: Brad Turner

Cast: Kiefer Sutherland (Jack), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe), Cherry Jones (President Taylor), Annie Wersching (Renee), Bob Gunton (Ethan), Jeffrey Nordling (Larry Moss), Janeane Garofalo (Janis), Carlos Bernard (Tony), Carlo Rota (Morris), Sprague Grayden (Olivia), Rory Cochrane (Greg Seaton), Tim Guinee (Ken Dellao), Sebastian Roch (Quinn), Lesley Fera (Angela Nelson), Jon Voight (Jonas Hodges), Lucas Ford (FBI Administrative Agent), Marci Michelle (FBI Desk Agent), Kurtwood Smith (Senator Blaine Mayer) & Pablo Espinosa (Mayer's Driver)