Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Hot day = Slow day

Yes, I blame the good weather for the lack of updates today. But, I'll have reviews of Chuck 2.4 and True Blood 2.3 up tomorrow, my Twin Peaks revisit starts on Thursday, I'll probably review The Hangover this Friday, and there will be another jumbo-sized Trailer Park very soon.

So, this is just a temporary drought of new content. It's a rarity for me, but it does happen! Hey, why don't we shake things up a bit and have an open thread for once? Talk about whatever you want in the comments area below! What have you been watching on TV? Have you seen any good summer movies at the cinema? Have a funny internet clip to share? Any theatre-goers out there? Been to any good gigs? Did anyone go to Glastonbury? How about Wimbledon? Anyone going to the Edinburgh Festival this August? Go mad. If you want.

Monday, 29 June 2009


You'd be forgiven for believing any project from Battlestar Galactica bigwig Ronald D. Moore would have networks clamouring to get it greenlit, but Fox turned down the option to make Virtuality a fully-blown series. Instead, it now exists as a "television movie" curio, primarily because it was too expensive to let sit on a shelf unseen and unloved. It may as well plug a two-hour gap in the summer schedule, re-edited to work as a one-off event. So, how was it?

I have mixed feelings, which surprised me because I expected to adore Virtuality given its pedigree and high-concept. In the near-future, the twelve-man crew of the spaceship Phaeton are on a decade-long round-trip to Epsilon Eridani. It's a mission that could results in the salvation of Earth, as scientists have calculated the planet will become inhospitable in a century.

In this pilot, the Phaeton is approaching the "go/no-go" point of their journey; the last chance to abort the mission if necesssary. It's juicy drama, which is perhaps why the Phaeton's also the setting for a reality TV series, broadcast to five billion viewers back home. It's never made explicit, but the shadowy "Consortium" behind the show are likely to have funded the entire mission, which itself is a satirical look at the growing power of television. Maybe one day the International Space Station will be the setting for Big Brother? Or minor celebrities will spend three weeks on the moon doing zero-gravity challenges?

A key factor to Virtuality (and something that provides reasoning for its title) is that the crew have access to virtual reality "modules" to help break the monotony of space travel. Simply by wearing VR glasses, crewmen can participate in a digitized American Civil War, paint a mountain vista, go rock-climbing, have sex in a beach house, sing "The Munsters" theme tune in a foreign language to an adoring Japanese crowd (!), etc. However, various crewmembers begin to experience freakish goings-on in their VR fantasies, when a creepy man (Jimmi Simpson) pops up in various programs and proceeds to "kill" them. Is this green-eyed villain just a frightening computer glitch, or something much deeper? And after one of the crew is raped by this inscrutable "virtual man", should the crew take the VR system offline and risk cabin fever?

The characters of Virtuality are an interesting bunch, neatly drawn given the time constraints. There's handsome Commander Pike (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who's having an affair with sexy botanist Rika Goddard (Sienna Guillory) in secret VR trysts; ship's designer Julius "Jules" Braun (Erik Jensen); ship's pilot Sue Parsons (Clea DuVall); computer specialist and TV presenter Billie Kashmiri (Kerry Bishe); TV producer and psychologist Roger Fallon (James D'Arcy); Israeli Dr. Eyal Meyer (Omar Metwally), whose ill health threatens the mission; married couple Alice Thibadeau (Joy Bryant) and Kenji Yamamoto (Nelson Lee); a gay couple, geologist Valentin Orlovsky (Gene Farber) and mathematician Manny Rodriguez (Jose Pablo Cantillo); and crippled engineer/second-in-command Jimmy Johnson (Ritchie Coster).

There's a lot to like and appreciate about Virtuality, but there's also enough to make you understand why a network would have second thoughts about it. The characters are well-written and the ensemble felt believable and easy to watch, while this episode introduced lots of dilemmas and worries to turn the Phaeton into an intense pressure-cooker. There's the pervasive paranoia of being subjects on a reality show, concerns that their lives are being manipulated to provide interesting television, the possibility the ship's computer "JEAN" can't be trusted after a suspicious malfunction (shades of 2001's HAL), the ambiguity of the VR mystery man (software glitch, alien contact?); the fact the ship's only medical doctor is diagnosed with the early on-set of Parkinson's Disease; and the obvious problems when you put a group of people together in relatively small environment with the fate of the planet resting on their shoulders.

The issues for Fox may have been Virtuality's relaxed, leisurely pace and intellectual vibe. It's a fairly realistic near-future vision akin to Danny Boyle's Sunshine, with little scope for too much ship-based action. It would feel more at home on a cable subscription channel. You can't keep repairing the Phaeton every other week to provide exciting stories and CGI space-walks, and there's no scope for visiting alien planets or returning to Earth, so Virtuality would probably have leaned on the relationships of the people stuck together and the VR fantasies/mystery. Of course, the latter runs the risk of turning the show into an extended Star Trek-style "Holodeck episode".

One proposal behind the show would have been to weekly release of the fake reality show to online audiences, which is something I wouldn't be keen on. The reality show element is certainly a fresh vein for a space drama, but I have little interest in watching a fictional reality show online in tandem. I'm averse to internet content of any kind, really, particularly "webisodes".

With its POV angles from "lipstick cam" and cameras mounted around the Phaeton's hull and along its corridors, this voyeuristic element of the show felt like an excuse to riff on reality show tropes in a sci-fi context. Good fun, but not terribly involving. Maybe if the whole show had been directed and edited like a reality show, it would have justified itself in those terms. Of course, that would have thrown up problems elsewhere, because the VR simulations are private fantasies inaccessible to outsiders, yet a key ingredient of the drama and mystery.

It's strange, really; Virtuality was packed full of great ideas and decent characters, but all that didn't stop it feeling rather dull. If it went to series, I'm not sure how they'd have kept the story going (as they won't arrive at Eridani for five years and I doubt they'd explain the VR interloper for ages), which leaves us with the simple human drama of twelve people living together in a rotating spaceship getting increasingly suspicious and fearful. Is that enough to sustain a continuing television series, or would this have worked better as a mini-series to begin with?

Overall, despite being rescued from a 4 July "death slot" to a mildly preferable Friday night "graveyard slot" a week earlier, Virtuality only snared 1.8 million viewers. That appears to spell the end of all hope Fox might greenlight Virtuality as a mid-season replacement in the wake of stellar ratings and huge interest. I can't say I'm surprised, or even that upset we won't be seeing more, but Virtuality was definitely a show I'd have watched beyond its pilot episode -- if only to see how the writers planned to tackle its thorny issues, the storytelling problems its premise poses, and how they'd have developed their ballsy, surprising climax.

26 June 2009
Fox, 9/8c

written by
: Ronald D. Moore & Michael Taylor directed by: Peter Berg starring: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Commander Frank Pike), Sienna Guillory (Rika Goddard), James D'Arcy (Dr. Roger Fallon), Ritchie Coster (Dr. Jimmy Johnson), Omar Metwally (Dr. Adin Meyer), Kerry Bishe (Billie Kashmiri), Joy Bryant (Alice Thibadeau), Nelson Lee (Kenji Yamamoto), Jose Pablo Cantillo (Manny Rodriguez), Gene Farber (Val Orlovsky), Clea DuVall (Sue Parsons), Jimmi Simpson (Virtual Man), Graeme Duffy (Rico the Roadie), Erik Jensen (Julius "Jules" Braun), Shawn Braun (Quinn Lord) & Sheldon Yamkovy (Lazerus)

Twin Peaks: Reader, Walk With Me

You have three days to grab yourself a season 1 box-set of Twin Peaks before my weekly retrospectives begin on Thursday 2 July with the 90-minute pilot/TVM. The idea behind this is to inspire people to give this show a try, as it's rarely repeated but often cited as an influence on modern shows -- like The X Files and Lost. It's a prime piece of influential TV history, basically, so well worth a summer revisit over the next 8 weeks...

TV Picks: 29 June - 5 July 2009

Pick of the Week: "Inside Nature's Giants" -- Ch4, Mon @9pm

As always, here's my look ahead at the week's new TV for British audiences:

The Chase (ITV1, 5pm) Quiz show hosted by Bradley Walsh.
Madonna & Mercy: What Really Happened (Channel 4, 8pm) Documentary about the famous singers adoption battle.
Inside Nature's Giants (Channel 4, 9pm) Four-part wildlife series about some of nature's biggest creatures, beginning with a look at elephants and featuring an autopsy.

CSI: Miami (Five, 9pm) Season 7 of the US police procedural.
The Life & Times Of Tim (Virgin1, 10pm) US animated series about an awkward man living in New York.

Skins (Channel 4, 11pm) Terrestrial airing of the teen drama's third series.

The Best Job In The World (BBC1, 9pm) Documentary about the search for a caretaker to look after an Australian barrier reef island.
Reaper (E4, 9pm) Season 2 of the US supernatural-comedy.

Horne & Corden (BBC2, 10pm) Terrestrial airing of the BBC3 sketch show.

Total Wipeout (BBC1, 7.25pm) New series of the obstacle course gameshow presented by Richard Hammond and Amanda Byram.
Madonna Sticky & Sweet: Live From Buenos Aires (Sky1, 9pm) Live concert from the Material Girl herself.

Being Neil Armstrong (BBC4, 9pm) Documentary about the first man on the moon.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

ROBIN HOOD 3.13 – "Something Worth Fighting For" (Part 2 of 2)

[SPOILERS] The best finale's need to be dramatic and fast-paced, where the stakes are high and emotions are large, that finish ongoing storylines and lay the groundwork for more adventures. Robin Hood concluded its inconsistent but entertaining third year with unarguably its biggest episode (in terms of spectacle, incident and drama), to bring some of the series' long-running storylines and characters to a fitting, effective close. I don't mind admitting that this was, quite unexpectedly, a rousing and supremely enjoyable finish.

Picking up exactly where we left off last week, the Sheriff (Keith Allen) has raised an army with the help of his gruff henchman Blamire (Fraser James), who have encircled Nottingham, trapping Robin's (Jonas Armstrong) gang and their ragtag army of local peasants inside. The Sheriff plans to bombard the town with "byzantine fire" flung from trebuchets (inextinguishable flaming projectiles), while Robin knows he has to hold off the Sheriff's army until the returning King Richard's men can come to his aide from Loughborough.

Story-wise, there's not much more going on in Simon J. Ashford's script, which instead delivers an extended siege scenario over the hour. The show isn't known for its realistic combat and battle sequences, but director Matthew Evans pulls out all the stops and managed to create some thrilling set-pieces that rank amongst the series' best. Suddenly, Robin Hood grew a backbone and we were thrust into the midst of a darker, less frivolous situation. Arrows spit through the air, fireballs are slung over castle ramparts, a group sneak across a smoky, amber field to sabotage trebuchets, swords clash in the heat of battle –- all tempered by Allen's wild-eyed scenery-chewing. Silly moments still bubbled up, but most weren't worth getting upset about, or passed by so quickly you barely had a chance to scoff.

In the dungeon, the imprisoned Isabella (Lara Pulver) escapes by fluttering her eye-lashes at a horny guard ("... open the door and I'll give you exactly what you want..."), and the various relationships of the characters cause their own conflicts and concerns. Guy (Richard Armitage) shows mercy by offering his sister a vial of poison to limit her suffering, she in turn escapes to join forces with the Sheriff, and Archer (Clive Standen) decides to stay and help his half-brothers defeat Vasey.

In the underground tunnels, the first of the episode's death scenes occur when a four-way fight ensues between Robin, Guy, Isabella and the Sheriff, when Guy is stabbed twice and is left to die in his former-enemy's arms ("... because of you, I die proud... and free"). Robin also finds his neck has been sliced by Isabella's poison-tipped dagger, consequently made aware he only has a short time to live before certain death. This gave the struggle even greater significance, as Robin tries to end the Sheriff's tyranny once and for all as his strength ebbs away.

We're even treated to a few amusing homage's along the way; Robin evoking memories of Kevin Costner, by shooting a flaming arrow into a chamber full of flammable liquid, killing the Sheriff, Isabella and Nottingham Castle in one fell swoop. Following that, a victorious Robin dragged his hand through a straw field as he retired to Sherwood (an echo of Gladiator), before ensuring his gang that "today is a good day to die" (a sentiment cribbed from Star Trek!) For once though, it all worked and felt fun -– welcome relief from the emotional toll of losing the show's main triangle of characters in one episode. Fans were also given a real treat after Robin limped off into the woods to die alone, as he envisioned his beloved Marian (Lucy Griffiths) in ethereal form, there to promise him that "the greatest adventure is yet to come"... as she took his hand, and Robin died peacefully at the foot of a tree...

Overall, you'd have to be very mean-spirited to pick fault with this finale too much, as it provided a solid hour of engaging action, three seminal moments for the series, and a welcome surprise appearance from Griffiths (who appears to have grown even more attractive, minus her puppy fat.) The only thing I was unsure about was the denouement, where Tuck (David Harewood) inspired the grieving gang into keeping Robin's legacy alive by continuing their fight against evil Prince John. It seems likely that Archer will become their new leader, another Sheriff will rebuild Nottingham's castle and start squeezing taxes from the peasants, while the virtuous King Richard has apparently been taken hostage overseas.

Can the show survive without its eponymous lead, its hammy villain, and his smoldering lieutenant? Or will that require a reinvention they'd be unwise to try and pull off? "Something Worth Fighting For" did feel like a perfect end to me, and I'm not convinced there's much more to be done with this family-friendly vision of the enduring legend.

27 June 2009
BBC2, 6.45pm

written by: Simon J. Ashford directed by: Matthew Evans starring: Jonas Armstrong (Robin), Richard Armitage (Guy), David Harewood (Tuck), Keith Allen (Sheriff), Gordon Kennedy (Little John), Sam Troughton (Much), Lara Pulver (Isabella), Clive Standen (Archer), Joanne Froggatt (Kate), Fraser James (Blamire), Lucy Griffiths (Marian) & Daniel Mogacs (Guard)

Saturday, 27 June 2009

CATFIGHT: Amy Adams vs. Emily Blunt

Last week's Catfight was won by Megan Fox (69%) against Zoe Saldaña (31%), somewhat predictably. So, this week's may be a little more evenly-matched: it's a transatlantic battle of the rising stars, as English Emily Blunt competes against American Amy Adams (co-stars in Sunshine Cleaning.) Read on for details and to cast your vote...

Amy Lou Adams

After appearing in a litany of small movies and TV series, Amy Adams' career began to takeoff with roles in Catch Me If You Can and Junebug (where she was nominated for an Academy Award). But it wasn't until Enchanted, playing an animated fairy tale princess who's transported to the real world, that most people started to notice her. She's recently appeared in the drama Doubt, co-starred as Amelia Earheart in the Night At The Museum sequel and is currently appearing in Sunshine Cleaning. With a gift for comedy, drama and a bright disposition, she's already proven herself capable of mastering complex dramatic roles and fluffier mainstream fare.

Date of Birth: 20 August 1974
Place of Birth: Vicenza, Italy
Website: www.amy-adams.org

Emily Olivia Leah Blunt

After a series of theatre roles, Emily Blunt appeared in the TV historical drama's Boudica and Henry VIII, before gaining some acclaim for her role in the movie My Summer Of Love in 2004 and in the TV drama Gideon's Daughter (where she won a Golden Globe.) Her breakout role came in 2006, when she co-starred alongside Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada as a snooty receptionist. Many more roles followed (The Jane Austen Book Club, Charlie Wilson's War, Dan In Real Life), before she headlined her first movie playing a youthful queen in Young Victoria1. She's can currently be seen in Sunshine Cleaning and her stardom is set to rocket as the love-interest of Benicio del Toro in The Wolfman later this year. She's also filming the big-budget remake of Gulliver's Travels, which is destined to be one of 2010's big releases.

Date of Birth: 23 February 1983
Place of Birth: London, England
Website: www.emilybluntweb.com

So, there you have it. Two gorgeous, leggy ladies currently wowing Hollywood and balancing award-baiting roles with fun popcorn flicks. But, who do you prefer? Vote below. The poll closes on 4 July.

1. Co-starring me, as I rarely mention.

Super Obama

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Superb animation from the JibJab team, turning President Obama into a big-eared superhero. I used to visit their site all the time about five years ago, and this reminded me why. Fantastic animation and very funny.

Batman (1989)

The Dark Knight Begins

These days, the multiplexes are so bloated with expensive comic-book adaptations that it's difficult to remember when such enterprises were a risky venture. In the summer of 1989 (after a marketing campaign that's still a yardstick for how to successfully hype a blockbuster-in-waiting), Tim Burton's Batman was unleashed on the masses. Back then, most people's knowledge of the Dark Knight were childhood memories of Adam West sliding down a pole in the camp '60s series -- but maybe that's part of the reason why Batman struck a chord; pre-release, people were captivated by the idea of bringing the Caped Crusader into darker relief (sans Robin), while Bat-fans were hoping for something akin to the acclaimed wave of late-'80s graphic novels: "Batman: Year One", "The Dark Knight Returns" and "The Killing Joke"...

Eschewing an origin story for its hero, Batman opens with the criminals of Gotham City already fearing the eponymous nocturnal vigilante. The movie instead charts the fall and rebirth of gangster Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) -- right-hand man of redoubtable crime boss Carl Grissom (Jack Palance) and blissfully unaware of his association with the Batman problem. For, in a tweaking of established Bat back-story, Napier was recast as the hoodlum who murdered billionaire Bruce Wayne's (Michael Keaton) parents when he was a child, unwittingly sealing his own fate when boy Bruce decides fight crime as a bat in adulthood, using the resources of his estate.

After a botched raid of the Axis Chemicals factory, Jack is shot in the face by a ricocheted bullet and falls into a vat of toxic chemicals, flushed out into a nearby reservoir and transformed into a white-skinned, green-haired, grinning caricature of himself. Renaming himself "The Joker", he usurps Grissom from his throne and hatches a plot (on the eve of the city's bicentennial celebrations) to poison Gothamites with Smilex -- a chemical agent that causes uncontrollable fits of laughter, leading to death with a fixed grin.

Batman always gets the girl; courtesy Batman Unmasked

In revisiting Batman two decades later, you naturally can't help comparing it to the three '90s sequels and Christopher Nolan's triumphant revamp in '05. What's interesting is how well it stands up, despite the fact its stature as the first "serious interpretation" of Bob Kane's comic has been eclipsed by the approach of Batman Begins. Burton's film walks a fine line between film noir and cartoon silliness; a stylistic mix echoed in its combatants: Batman the brooding straight-man protecting a city that feels stuck in the Art-Deco '30s; The Joker a playful psycho who feels like a creepier Cesar Romero with twisted wackiness. In this incarnation, The Joker's still the psychotic clown with poison-squirting flowers and trouser-length rifles -- in contrast to Heath Ledger's embodiment, where the clown visage was secondary to his mental psychosis.

Perhaps in deference to the Superman model audiences were more familiar with on the silver screen, Batman features a love-interest for Bruce Wayne in the form of plucky photographer Vicki Vale ('80s pinup Kim Basinger). She's adequate as a blonde Lois Lane-type, although Vicki grows less interesting and more shrill as the movie progresses, almost vanishing from our attention once the bat vs. clown finale arrives inside Gotham Cathedral. She's too easily shunted into damsel-in-distress duties, and her romance with Bruce is adolescent in its construct. It's actually a disappointment Burton didn't push to make Vicki a full-blooded femme fatale, to cap the movie's film noir parallels.

Getting under The Joker's skin; courtesy Batman Unmasked

Most characters were window-dressing to the main attraction, of course: Jack Nicholson as the Clown Prince of Crime, a role he chewed the screen with to huge acclaim at the time. Sure, it's a performance that now faces criticism in the shadow of Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning approach, but it's not a bad take on the character, just a different take. Nicholson's Joker isn't as nuanced or frightening as The Dark Knight's villain, but he's a necessary bridge between the '60s colourful-camp and '80s pop-cool. Slightly constrained by the rictus grin make-up, Nicholson nevertheless dominates Batman and, in stark contrast to Ledger's version, at least gets to make the audience laugh at his cruelty -- in scenes like the one where he turns a dissenter into a steaming carcass with a super-charged joy-buzzer.

Interesting, while superstar Nicholson's thunder has been stolen by a superior successor in the intervening years, Michael Keaton has proven himself the better of Christian Bale beneath the famous cowl. Bale has more complex scripts to sink his teeth into as Bruce/Batman, but it's Keaton who inhabits the character and doesn't need to affect a tough-guy voice to labour his alter-ego. He's also a stone's throw from the insane supervillain he's chasing, as one scene finds him suspended upside-down in gravity boots like a bat when he should be in bed with vixen Vicki. That's not the behaviour of a man totally in charge of his faculties, is it? Whereas Batman Begins went to great lengths to justify the ridiculousness of a playboy billionaire becoming a vigilante bat, the '89 Batman lets slip that Bruce Wayne's mentally unstable.

Drivin' Ms. Vale; courtesy Batman Unmasked

Keaton's all the more impressive considering the fact Sam Hamm and Walter Skaaren's script is clearly more interested in The Joker, so much so that the titular hero is just a stoical foil for the cartoon-y villain (a continuing problem for all three of the '90s sequels, actually.) At the time, Keaton's casting was met with consternation by fanboys, who where silenced when they got to see his low-key portrayal. Or maybe attention was entirely drawn to Nicholson's loony uncle act. How funny that our opinion of Keaton and Nicholson has inverted in light of Bale and Ledger's performances...

Batman is easy to appreciate and find virtue in, but hard to love unconditionally -- and increasingly so. Even before the sequels and reboot arrived, I never enjoyed this film from beginning to end. It's a collection of funhouse moments punctuating a moody malaise. For a Tim Burton movie, it lacks the filmmaker's sense of delirium he embraced for the sequel, Batman Returns, so this first effort is curiously inert as a result. There aren't many stand-out sequences that leap to mind, beyond its Batwing climax and ensuing cathedral punch-up ("you wouldn't hit a man with glasses, would ya?") The final confrontation works especially well because the antithecal characters come to realize they owe their very existence to the other.

Hostage-taking with a smile; courtesy Batman Unmasked

The first Act is particularly thick with its grubby noir aesthetic (drowning in that vibe, at times), while many of the film's action sequences now inspire yawns. Seeing Batman order his Batmobile to stop via a handheld microphone looks positively quaint in 2009 ("... where does he get those wonderful toys?" -- indeed.) In '89 it was easy to be swept up in the hype, the majesty of the late Anton Furst's production design, Danny Elfman's superb score, the phallic Batmobile, Nicholson's cackling clown, all while admiring the lack of kitsch and a boy sidekick -- but, 20 years later, it all feels quite hollow, thin and unchallenging.

Overall, Batman is undoubtedly a seminal movie and its influence has been felt in every subsequent superhero blockbuster. As a comic-book adaptation, it represents the biggest cinematic evolution of that art form since the joyously epic Superman: The Movie. There's plenty of details to recommend here, but the wider picture is noticeably static and dull compared to its immediate sequel's joie de vivre, not to mention intellectually empty compared to Christopher Nolan's heady revival.

directed by: Tim Burton written by: Sam Hamm & Walter Skaaren (based on characters created by Bob Kane) starring: Michael Keaton (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Jack Nicholson (Jack Napier/The Joker), Kim Basinger (Vicki Vale), Michael Gough (Alfred), Billy Dee Williams (Harvey Dent), Jack Palance (Carl Grissom) / Robert Wuhl (Alexander Knox), Pat Hingle (Commissioner Gordon), Jerry Hall (Alicia), Tracey Walter (Bob The Goon), Lee Wallace (The Mayor) & William Hootkins (Lt. Eckhardt) / Warner Bros. / 126 mins. / $48 million (budget)

Friday, 26 June 2009

Box Office Charts: w/e 26 June 2009

Transformers: Revenge Of The Proposal

In the US: Sandra Bullock/Ryan Reynolds rom-com THE PROPOSAL takes #1... while Jack Black/Michael Cera prehistoric comedy YEAR ONE is another relative flop, debuting at #4 with just under $20m...


(-) 1. The Proposal $33.6m
(1) 2. The Hangover $26.8m
(2) 3. Up $23.5m
(-) 4. Year One $19.6m
(3) 5. The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3 $12m
(4) 6. Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian $7.81m
(7) 7. Star Trek $5.51m
(5) 8. Land Of The Lost $4.36m
(6) 9. Imagine That $3.29m
(8) 10. Terminator Salvation $3.28m

In the UK: Michael Bay's TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN is the obvious victor at the British box-office with a mighty £8m, with no movie brave enough to compete...


(-) 1. Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen £8.3m
(1) 2. The Hangover £2.2m
(3) 3. Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian £817k
(2) 4. Terminator Salvation £803k
(5) 5. Angels & Demons £353k
(4) 6. Drag Me To Hell £275k
(6) 7. Star Trek £239k
(8) 8. Looking For Eric £215k
(7) 9. The Last House On The Left £189k
(9) 10. Last Chance Harvey £159k



Action-horror. A vampire who is part of a covert government agency that hunts and destroys demons in a post-WWII Japan, is placed in a military school to discover which one of her classmates is a demon.
Director: Chris Nahon Starring: Gianna Jun, Allison Miller, Masiela Lusha, Koyuki, Liam Cunningham & Yasuaki Kurata


Drama. A girl tries to earn medical emancipation from her parents, who only conceived her to be a donar for their leukemia-stricken firstborn.
Director: Nick Cassavetes Starring: Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin, Jason Patric, Sofia Vassilieva & Walter Raney
Tomatometer: 43% (Rotten; based on 61 reviews) "My Sister's Keeper gets fine performances from its adult and child actors, but the director's heavy-handed approach turns a worthy emotional subject into an overly melodramatic tearjerker."


Comedy-drama. To raise the funds to send her young son to private school, a mother starts a biohazard removal/crime scene clean-up service with her unreliable sister.
Director: Christine Jeffs Starring: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Jason Spevack, Steve Zahn & Mary Lynn Rajskub
Tomatometer: 72% (Fresh; based on 127 reviews) "Despite a sometimes overly familiar plot, Sunshine Cleaning benefits from the lively performances of its two stars."


Comedy-adventure. Two men living in prehistoric times go on an adventure together.
Director: Harold Ramis Starring: Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt, David Cross, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Vinnie Jones, Olivia Wilde & Hank Azaria
Tomatometer: 18% (Rotten; based on 118 reviews) "Year One is a poorly executed, slapdash comedy in which the talent both in front of and behind the camera never seem to be on the same page."


The worst episode so far, sadly. Mid-series episodes don't tend to be the strongest in sketch shows, and episode 3 was definitely lacking the big laughs and intelligent ideas M&W are capable of. There were worryingly few highlights to sustain the half-hour, for me. Comedy is subjective, but does anyone agree this was rather dull? To summarize:

Great: The new sports drink Glucozade Port (alcoholic isotonic); and a Bond spoof where Agent Suave visits a casino of parlour games, to try and defeat a villain who's his equal at guessing the weight of cakes.

Good: A dinner-guest makes a fuss of being a carnivore in a reversal of the "vegetarian" issue; Mr. Darcy busts disco move in a Pride & Prejudice parody where toffs are dancing The Conga; a man commits suicide behind a weatherman by leaping off a roof during an outside broadcast; Sir Digby Chicken Caesar returns and Ginger is sober following a car accident (a fun development of characters I'm bored of); a Best Man speech where he's embarrassingly honest about the bride's attractiveness (dragged a bit); and an Antarctic expedition where the starving explorers try not to eat food designed for special occasions (advent calendars, harvest festival hampers, Christmas puddings, etc.)

Bad: The Queen becomes a "special guest" star, but proves to be terrible on camera; another "Get Me Hennimore" sketch poking fun at the mix-up comedy of '70s sitcoms (we get the joke now, move on...); and another Captain Todger superhero press conference (really bad).

Russell T. Davies on "epic" Torchwood and his final days with Doctor Who

Here's an excellent interview with Russell T. Davies, speaking to Alan Sepinwall. It answers lots of questions about Torchwood's Children Of Earth special (a few posed by readers here), as well as his thoughts about his time on Doctor Who. Well worth a read!

"'Epic' was one of the keywords that we used. And it's quite important for newcomers to [Torchwood] to know they can watch it from scratch. We're going to give them this big huge story where they can understand everything important in the first five minutes and go from there. I love telling stories about scale, and it's a big international story. But at the same time, even if you make things epic, no matter how big the threat is, you've got to have great characters, great actors at the center of it, so everything works on a personal level." Continue reading...


I can feel my interest slipping in this flimsy fantasy spoof, despite the best efforts from some of the cast. To its mild credit, "O Biclops, Where Art Thou?" at least had a proper mission for Kröd (Sean Maguire) and his gang, as they try to earn a place on the Elite Resistance Council by stealing a jewel from a cave-dwelling bisexual Cyclops (Jonathan Slinger)...

But it's still woefully unfunny. And that's the death blow for a comedy that can't even find a worthwhile role for Lord Of The Rings guest-star John Rhys-Davies, who appears as warlock Grimshank... to sit at a table not saying very much.

The subplot for villain Dongalor (Matt Lucas) was also tedious, as he tries to steal back his beloved concubine Cute Girl (Remie Purtill-Clarke) from the weapon's inspectors' castle. Lucas has enthusiasm to burn, but his attempts to improve the material by playing it broader than a barndoor just highlights how unfunny anything he's saying is. He tends to rely on pulling faces and extending his reactions to things. Beyond one half-decent scene with sidekick Barnabus (Alex MacQueen), where it's revealed he killed Barnabus' adulterous wife, there's just nothing here.

The Cyclops provides the episode's few decent moments, as Kröd's gang mistakenly believe the fearsome monster's just a camp loner, so join him for a soak in a jacuzzi (another excuse to get India de Beaufort semi-naked), only to find themselves trapped in a gold cage and ordered to perform strange sex acts for ol' one-eye's amusement. The Cyclops' make-up was amusing cheap-looking, too -- reminding me of something from the BBC's Hitchhikers' Guide To The Galaxy in the '80s. If only Kröd Mändoon was likewise able to transcend its limitations with a funny script, but there's actually too much cash behind this series. It's a lazy romp with comedy that belongs in the playground. Yes, the bisexual Cyclops is referred to as a "Biclops".

Overall, this was another huge disappointment. The series may as well ditch characters like Zezelryck (Kevin Hart), Loquasto (Steve Spiers) and Bruce (Marques Ray), as they're given very little to do beyond make a weak wise-crack, sniff for poison and act out gay clichés, respectively. The emphasis is already placed on Kröd and Aneka, although even the latter just gets to coquettishly bite her lip at whatever sexual innuendo is thrown her way.

Dongalor's storyline of slowly building a doomsday weapon also feels limp, as it's unclear exactly why he wants to do this, and Kröd's gang don't feel like particularly worrisome thorns in his side. There's no real tension, drama, thrills or clashes to anything here -- just lukewarm characters, tired plots, and jokes most ten-year-olds are too discerning to laugh at. The fact Kröd Mändoon And The Flaming Sword Of Fire occasionally drops in crude, blue humour just adds to the problem -- everything's too grown-up for kids to watch, yet too childish for adults to enjoy.

25 June 2009
BBC2, 9pm

written by: Christopher Briggs & Peter A Knight directed by: Alex Hardcastle starring: Sean Maguire (Kröd Mändoon), Matt Lucas (Dongalor), India de Beaufort (Aneka), Kevin Hart (Zezelryck), John Rhys-Davies (Grimshank), Steve Spiers (Loquasto), Marques Ray (Bruce), Alex MacQueen (Barnabus), James Murray (Ralph Longshaft), Brad Johnson (Santu Mooseknuckle), James McDonnell (Gustav the Short and Curly), Remie Purtill-Clarke (Cute Girl) & Jonathan Slinger (Cyclops)

RIP Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

It's always sad when icons die. I wasn't a rabid Michael Jackson fan, truth be told. Even as a kid in the '80s I thought he was a bit odd and, while I loved his signature dance moves, he didn't really appeal to me. I only really developed an appreciation as a teenager, looking back on all his classic music videos and realizing the spectacle of his concerts and record-breaking successes. His album "Thriller" has sold 100 million copies, a feat unlikely to ever be beaten. Then came the allegations of child abuse and the mid-'90s slump, which he never really recovered from...

His life got crazier, mud stuck, and the hit singles dried up. Over the past decade, he became a bizarre, lanky caricature of himself. There's probably a whole generation (or two) that equate his fame with nothing but bizarre behaviour, controversy, dangling babies out of windows, court appearances, making his kids wear face-masks, and being mobbed on the street by screeching fans in white gloves. Fortunately, his heyday was so phenomenal that the music cuts through all that nonsense. "Thriller", "Smooth Criminal", "Black Or White", "Bad", "Billie Jean", "Man In The Mirror"... it's quicker to list the singles that weren't hits for Jacko.

Michael Jackson died of cardiac arrest at the inconsiderable age of 50, on the eve of 50 comeback gigs at the London O2 Arena that, honestly, nobody thought would go ahead. He'd already postponed the first batch, there were reports he'd barely attended rehearsals in L.A, and it felt like he was being pressured into doing these concerts to pay his bills. The first 10 gigs alone were rumoured to net the singer £50 million.

Upon hearing the news he'd been admitted to hospital after a heart attack, the cynical part of me suspected it was all faked to give him an excuse to cancel his summer shows. That's the kind of outrageous stunt you wouldn't put past him, really. Sadly, I was wrong.

Was the heart attack tied to his general ill health or plastic surgeries? Was it brought on through stress about his final gigs? Or was it just "one of those things"? Maybe we'll find out in a few days, but one thing's for certain: Michael Jackson may have left us, but his music will never die.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Torchwood: Children Of Earth - Website

The official Torchwood: Children Of Earth website has launched! So, head over there for trailers, photos, and... well, not much else. I twittered about this yesterday, but the BBC have also confirmed the five-part series begins on Monday 6 July @9pm. I have to quickly mention how much I like the eerie vibe of the trailer on their site's main page, with "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" as the backing track. I hope COE lives up to the hype of these generally excellent promo's, especially as the wait for new Torchwood has been torturous. 11 days n' counting...

Has anyone seen Transformers: ROTFLMAO?

Isn't that the correctly acronym? It's the natural extension, at any rate. I have to admit, I've read so many joyously cynical and amusingly negative reviews about Michael Bay's latest CGI masturbation that I'm almost persuaded to go and see it for myself. This is what happens when a director like Bay ploughs ahead with making a movie during a writers' strike (by brainstorming unrelated action sequences with ILM geeks), before asking two screenwriters (Star Trek's Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci) to string it together into a half-coherent story. I hear they failed. I also hear there are robo-testicles, robot-semen, street talkin' racist robots, a fembot and Megan Fox dry-humping a motorbike in this kid's film. I can't wait to buy the action figures and eat the burger. Has anyone seen it?

FX are Eastbound & Down; Primeval cancellation details

Here in the UK, FX have picked up the rights to the first two seasons of black comedy Eastbound & Down. The series stars Danny McBride as failed baseball player Kenny Powers, who returns to his hometown to work as a PE teacher but can't stop behaving like a celebrity. The first season was shown on HBO a few months ago and another six-episode season has been ordered.

Jason Thorp, Managing Director of FX UK:

"We’re keen to push into comedy and Eastbound & Down represents this. It's an excellent script and we’re very confident our audiences will love it."

It's also been revealed that Impossible Pictures, creators of the now defunct Primeval, had offered to make a fourth series for ITV at a bargain cost of £600,000 per episode. The savings would have been made via a partnership with The Sci-Fi Channel, who would have aired new episodes first.

Tim Haines, Impossible Pictures' founder:

"There was a lot of talk when Primeval was cancelled that it must have been because it is a big show, with lots of CGI and special effects. That’s not the case. ITV wasn’t paying the whole costs anyway but we offered to lower the price further and bring in 50% of the funding with co-pro deals. It would still have been getting a show worth more than £1m for less than £600,000."

Right now, Impossible Pictures are negotiating with a US broadcaster to adapt Primeval. The US version is expected to "start from scratch" with a slightly edgier feel. Haines also hopes that Primeval will be back on ITV one day, but only in the form of the US remake.

Teen Wolf Too, Too

Michael J. Fox's 1985 comedy Teen Wolf is being remade, and MTV are also proposing a TV series in addition to that project. I'm assuming there will be no crossover of actors in any roles, a la Superman Returns and Smallville. Is anyone excited by this news?

Teen Wolf is one of those films that I have affection for because I adored it as a kid. I used to watch it all the time. It's a childhood movie I can't bring myself to dislike, even though I've seen it through adults eyes and now notice all the problems my child self ignored or didn't care about. Chief amongst them: why does the werewolf make-up make Fox look like a monkey? Did someone confuse canine with simian along the way? Look at the photo above! Also, even as a kid I remember being confused that MJF covered in long hair and fangs was somehow irresistible to high school hottie Pamela? That girl had some real issues. Someone should get animal welfare round to her house.

The idea of remake doesn't bother me in the slightest, though, because Teen Wolf is definitely a movie I can imagine being improved. Beyond the likeable MJF and a few memorable scenes ("give me a keg of beer", the bathroom transformation, van surfing, the final basketball match, etc.), there's plenty of scope to improve the storyline and ensure stronger actors take the supporting roles. This is the kind of remake I prefer to see: something that stands a chance of bettering the original.

But what about a TV series? I was enough of a Teen Wolf fan to remember the short-lived cartoon spin-off, which included a few changes to the Teen Wolf storyline to make it amendable to a weekly series -- like giving Scott Howard a larger family who are all werewolves, too. I'm sure similar changes will be required to ensure the somewhat limiting Teen Wolf story will work as a weekly series. They'll probably add more werewolves and include other supernatural beasts only our lupine hero can defeat, etc. Roswell with hair, basically.

Promisingly, writers Rene Echevarria (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, The 4400), Marty Adelstein (Prison Break) and Jeff Davis (Criminal Minds) are attached to the project. I can actually see this working out because there's already a template in place for this show -- a bit of Smallville, a slice of Roswell, stir in some Buffy. Et, voila!

I hope the werewolf transformations are good, but I suspect they'll have to be CGI'd and fast because you can't be doing bone-crunching metamorphoses every episode. It would slow the pace and be too costly. The original Teen Wolf had a fantastic transformation sequence to begin with (or does that look terrible 14 years later?), but after that first "wolf-out" they just obscured MJF behind basketball scrums before he leaped out fully hirsute.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

AMC greenlight Rubicon

AMC are developing another hour-long drama to sit alongside their award-winning hits Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Rubicon is a political thriller starring James Badge Dale (Chase from 24's third season) as a New York think-tank analyst who discovers that his employers are part of an unfolding global conspiracy. The show will co-star Lili Taylor (Six Feet Under) and Miranda Richardson (The Crying Game).

I like the sound of the premise, the cast are good, and AMC have yet to put a foot wrong with their ongoing drama. My only cause for concern is that it's the brainchild of Jason Horwitch, who created Medical Investigation (a show I didn't see much of, but didn't like what I saw.) Still, Mad Men and Breaking Bad are two of the best shows around right now, so let's hope Rubicon doesn't let the side down for the cable channel...

The more detailed AMC press release is below:


From Writer and Executive Producer Jason Horwitch

Series Stars James Badge Dale (The Departed), Lili Taylor (Six Feet Under), and Miranda Richardson (The Crying Game)

Warner Horizon Television to Produce Network's New Original Drama

NEW YORK, NY, June 24, 2009 – AMC announced today it has greenlit the dramatic series Rubicon. From writer and executive producer Jason Horwitch (Pentagon Papers, Medical Investigation), Rubicon is a conspiracy thriller that follows an analyst at a New York City think-tank whose work leads him to uncover a hidden clue that points to an unfolding global conspiracy. The one-hour, 12-episode weekly series will be produced by Warner Horizon Television. Rubicon marks the third series order from AMC. The first two series that the network developed were Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

"This script is an iconic project for us in that it underscores AMC's brand promise of 'Story Matters Here,' combining great storytelling with a world that hasn't been explored on television before. Think tanks are inherently mysterious places with murky agendas, and it’s a great setting for a show like this. Jason's understanding of the conspiracy thriller genre is evident in a plot reminiscent of some great films like Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View. We're thrilled to have a world class cast, director, and production team to bring this series to life," said Joel Stillerman, SVP of original programming, production and digital content for AMC.

Rubicon revolves around a secret society that pulls the strings on the world political stage. The series focuses on an analyst at a national think tank who discovers that his employers are not who they seem to be. The show's cast includes James Badge Dale (The Departed), Lili Taylor (Six Feet Under, High Fidelity), Dallas Roberts (Walk the Line, Flicka, The L Word), Jessica Collins (The Nine, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation), Christopher Evan Welch (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Lauren Hodges (Law & Order), Paul Butler (The Insider, Reign Over Me) with Arliss Howard (Full Metal Jacket, Natural Born Killers, The Sandlot) and Oscar®-nominated actress Miranda Richardson (The Crying Game, Sleepy Hollow).

AMC's Joel Stillerman, SVP of Original Programming, Production and Digital Content; Vlad Wolynetz, Vice President of Production, Series and Movies; and Jeremy Elice, Vice President of Original Programming, will oversee the development and production of the new drama.

Rubicon's pilot was produced in New York City and was directed by acclaimed film and television helmer Allen Coulter (The Sopranos, Hollywoodland, Damages and Nurse Jackie). Kerry Orent (Michael Clayton, Rescue Me) is the producer, and the casting director is Avy Kaufman (The Sixth Sense, King Kong, Garden State).

In July of 2006, AMC entered into the original programming arena with Broken Trail starring Robert Duvall and Thomas Haden Church, which garnered record ratings for AMC and scored four Emmy wins. In the summer of 2007, AMC debuted its first original drama Mad Men. The series has received overwhelming recognition from the industry including making history by becoming the first cable network to garner back to back Golden Globe® wins for Best Dramatic Television Series and receiving multiple Emmy wins including making history again by becoming the first cable network to win for Outstanding Drama series. Then in January of 2008, AMC premiered its newest original series, Breaking Bad, which took home the Emmy for outstanding lead actor for Bryan Cranston's portrayal of lead character Walt White. The network features an extensive library of iconic, top-rated movies, acclaimed unscripted originals and specials, including AMC StoryMakers with Peter Bart and Peter Guber, and curated movie franchises including Hollywood Icon, AMC Complete Collection and AMC Celebrates.

About AMC

AMC - the most Emmy®-winning basic cable network of 2008 - reigns as the only basic cable network to win back-to-back Golden Globes® for Best Television Series – Drama and boasts a comprehensive library of the most entertaining movies of all time. Whether commemorating favorite films from every genre and decade or creating acclaimed original productions, the AMC experience is an uncompromising celebration of great stories. AMC's original stories include the Emmy® Award-winning dramas Mad Men and Breaking Bad, the upcoming miniseries The Prisoner and insightful non-scripted programming such as AMC Storymakers and AMC News. AMC further demonstrates its commitment to the art of storytelling with curated movie franchises like AMC Hollywood Icon and AMC Complete Collection. Available in more than 94 million homes (Source: Nielsen Media Research), AMC is a subsidiary of Rainbow Media Holdings LLC, which includes sister networks IFC, Sundance Channel and WE tv. AMC is available across all platforms including on-air, online, on demand and mobile. AMC: Story Matters HereSM.

About Warner Horizon Television

Warner Horizon Television (WHTV) is one of the entertainment industry's fastest-growing television companies, specializing in the creation of scripted series for the cable marketplace, and primetime reality series for both network and cable. Founded in 2006, this second production entity allows the Warner Bros. Television Group to expand its programming offerings and explore creative options made possible under a new business model. WHTV is producing more than a dozen series for broadcast and cable networks in 2009–2010.

NURSE JACKIE 1.2 – "Sweet N' All"

For me, there's one thing in Nurse Jackie's favour as a summer show: each episode only lasts half an hour. It's easy to pass some time watching this, you don't need much commitment, and I don't feel much attachment. I also don't feel much empathy for Jackie (Edie Falco), just yet...

Like all the best second episodes, "Sweet N'All" continues elements from the pilot while fleshing the characters out. The ear that Jackie flushed down the toilet resurfaces, prompting an investigation into misconduct by bureaucrat Mrs. Akalitus (Anna Deavere Smith), even after Jackie blames the incident on newcomer Zoey (Merritt Weaver). A little later, a sachet of Jackie's Sweet N' All (containing ground-up Percocet), is accidentally drunk by Mrs. Akalitus, who then wanders around the hospital in a euphoric daze.

We were led to believe Dr. Cooper (Peter Facinelli) was a dangerously inexperienced idiot last week, but he proves otherwise here by diagnosing a patient's aneurysm simply by listening to their abdomen through a stethoscope. It was a remarkable show of medical intuition that half-irritates Dr. O'Hara (Eve Best), who doesn't want to inflate the new doc's ego with too much praise.

Right now, my primary interest is trying to get a handle on Jackie herself. She appears to have a healthy, sexually-active relationship with attractive barman Kevin (Dominic Fumusa) and two cute kids, but is having an affair with pharmacist Eddie Walzer (Paul Schulze), who supplies her with drugs. Is that the sole reason she's playing away, or is there more to it? Is she just easily bored? Maybe she finds Walzer more intellectually stimulating? Here, he regales her with details of the Large Hadron Collider's search for the "God Particle"; later, Kevin just looks perplexed by a news report about it.

Jackie's job is definitely tough and exhausting (necessitating her drug use to keep her going), but it should also be rewarding, too -- no? Jackie is quite cynical and hardnosed about her role and the challenges staff face each day; as she tells Zoey: "this job is wading through a shitstorm of people on the very worst day of their lives. And just so you know, doctors are here to diagnose, not heal. We heal." She's way past Zoey's days of bringing muffins in to share amongst colleagues, clearly.

However, Jackie's not entirely past caring about people: she helps a man who had slapped her across the face earlier, getting him a bed for the night when he explains the reason for his bad behaviour; then she helps revive a cab driver suffering chest pains that she pulls out of his taxi after he fails to stop for an invalid.

The best moments of the show so far has been seeing Jackie refuse to mollycoddle patients and family members, instead preferring to give them a reality-check. Here, Jackie discovers that the mother of a boy who suffered a brain injury (as a result of not wearing a bicycle helmet), was actually told to remove his helmet by her -- and gets both barrels in the face from Jackie over her mistake. We're accustomed to hospital staff turning the other cheek and ranting in private after hours, so it's quite cathartic to see someone speak the truth in a face-to-face situation. In that respect, Jackie's a fun character to watch -- doing and saying things unexpected of a medical professional.

Overall, this wasn't terrible and it had a few nice moments, but I'm not yet convinced Nurse Jackie's anything very special. Falco keeps me interested, even if I'm not very fond of Jackie herself right now, but I'm really only sticking around because each episode floats by in a breeze and there's not much else on.

15 June 2009
Showtime, 10.30pm

written by: Liz Brixius & Linda Wallem directed by: Craig Zisk starring: Edie Falco (Jackie Peyton, R.N), Eve Best (Dr. Eleanor O'Hara), Merritt Weaver (Zoey Barkow), Haaz Sleiman (Mohammed "Mo-Mo" de la Cruz), Paul Schulze (Eddie Walzer), Peter Facinelli (Dr. Fitch "Coop" Cooper), Dominic Fumusa (Kevin Peyton) & Anna Deavere Smith (Mrs. Glorua Akalitus)

BIG BROTHER 10: Better

See? You just had to give it a few weeks to warm up. Okay, so Big Brother 10's clearly not going to be a classic run, and the absence of a live-feed (while financially understandable) has killed a lot of BB10's "dip in" appeal, but... there are four reasons to stick with it now....

Those are: Noirin, Sree, Marcus and Halfwit, a foursome that are rescuing BB10 from being a BB4-style dud. The first three are part of a bizarre "love-triangle" that makes you feel sorry for object of affection Noirin. She's easily the most likeable girl in the house (as Sophie and Karli are bimbo cartoons), but for some reason the Irish honey's only attracted the attention of Mowgli, Wolverine and a Russian lesbian.

Man-child Sree is besotted with Noirin, but the fact she isn't interested never gets through. He seems obsessed with having reconciliatory "chats" whenever his flirting crosses the line, or he's irritated her into giving him the cold shoulder. He's always there; grinning in denial when faced with her frosty response, dancing with other girls in an effort to make Noirin jealous, following her around like a lovesick puppy, or having tête-à-tête's that are ways for him to get a hug at the end.

Marcus is likewise infatuated with Noirin, but seems determined to keep things on a matter-of-fact level. Or else he's just incapable of pushing the issue into a serious realm. He just likes to remind her that he thinks she's the Sexiest Girl In The House every few hours. I think he half-expects her to ravish him at the slightest compliment, but Noirin has no feelings for Marcus either.

A side problem is the fact Noirin's admirers hate each other's guts. Marcus has a form of Tourettes that makes him say things like "now don't fuck it up, you little shit!" to Sree, immediately after a new task is issued by Big Brother. He then wonders why Sree gets upset and can have an argument about why he's within his rights to speak to him like that.

Admittedly, Sree does have the attention span of a gnat. Marcus gets frustrated when he's forced to work with Sree during a task. Really, I think Marcus is a control-freak who knows he can't exert control over any of the guy's around him beyond boyish Sree, because he's essentially a rather tragic bully. So, Sree bares the full brunt of his beserker outrage.

And now Russian lesbian Angel has apparently fallen head-over-heels for Noirin, after drunkenly snogging her one evening. Suddenly, Sree and Marcus look rather palatable as would-be boyfriends. Angel is crazy but in a dull way. Her most interesting moments have included "starving" herself (with egg-juice and spaghetti sauce her only sustenance), skinny-dipping in the pool, and snogging Halfwit. Mind you, the prospect of her trying to turn Noirin's head has its appeal, as she's bound to be more forthright and experienced when it comes to such things. Noirin can avoid Marcus' flirts and ignore Sree, but how will she cope with an infatuated lesbian eccentric?

Moving on, Halfwit (aka Freddie) is a comedy caricature I can hardly believe is a real person. He must be Sacha Baron Cohen's latest stunt, surely. He's a posh hippy with a face that mixes Derren Brown with James Dreyfuss, and is the biggest tit we've had in the house since... well, last year's tit. He's also harmless, unintentionally amusing and blissfully unaware of his annoying traits (moaning in orgasm while eating, launching into a show tune for no apparent reason.) He's a spaced-out grinning tool, certainly, but he's at least embracing the experience and (in his best moment so far), decided to keep his BB-imposed nickname of "Halfwit" and instead let Noirin remove the glasses and moustache she's been forced to draw on her face. Don't ask.

Everyone else has only made a minor impression on me. Kris is the bland hunky-boy, mightily pleased that he's wooed big-boobed Sophie for poolside smooches; Charlie's likeable and goodhearted, but also an exasperating himbo; Lisa's just a normal Brummie beyond her pink Mohawk; Scottish lassie Karli's unable to pronounce the letter "t" (I particularly cringe when she says the word "any'hing"); Rodrigo seems to have escaped into the real world from a Disney cartoon; Siavash is more amiable than I expected, with a hairier arse than Chewbacca; and Sophie is sweeter than sweetex, if consequently a little tedious. You can see her mentally spending the money she'll make from her inevitable lad's mag photoshoot.

Channel 4, various

The Saturdays: "Work"

I know my musical taste often calls into question my gender, age and sexuality, but I can assure you that I'm only interested in the likes of The Saturdays for one thing -- and it's not to learn their choreography or perfect my karaoke. Here they are with their latest single "Work"; a more mature look and sound after the candyfloss pop of earlier efforts like "Up" (i.e, colour-coded tights are replaced by black skirts or flesh.) The hair, makeup and wardrobe teams have played a blinder, but the video itself is undistinguished and clichéd in its approach. The Sat's just strut around on a stage in a darkened warehouse. The director appears to have realized the group aren't very good at dancing in unison, so halfway through a group of hunky boys arrive and provide some cool moves instead. But hey, I can't complain too much: the song is catchy as a summer tune to be forgotten by September, and the girls look super-sexy in short skirts.

CHUCK 2.3 - "Chuck Versus The Break-Up"

"I'm living in a Lamborghini. You can't imagine how little leg room there is."
-- Von Hayes (Steve Valentine)

The will-they/won't-they undercurrent to every Chuck adventure has always been a precarious element of the series; prone to overuse, repetition and audience apathy because we know the cardinal TV rule -- never allow your characters to get together (see: The X-Files), or you'll risk a creative dead-end (see: Lois & Clark) and face probable cancellation (see: Moonlighting).

"Chuck Versus The Break-Up" once again forces Chuck (Zachary Levi) into a romantic quandary, thanks to the return of super-spy university friend Bryce (Matthew Bomer), who immediately starts schmoozing his faux-girlfriend Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski). Bryce is everything Chuck isn't: sophisticated, worldly, sexy, ambitious, and a confident ladies man. Most damningly, he has a sexual history with Sarah and more in common with her, given the fact they're both government agents. How can geeky Chuck possibly compete against him?

Well, this series has already played with "the ex" as a complication for the Chuck/Sarah romance, so it ultimately felt pointless to rake over old ground so soon. The mission backdrop is also very familiar, with Chuck once again going undercover as a waiter -- this time at a party thrown by English software magnate Von Hayes (Steve Valentine), with Casey (Adam Baldwin) providing backup from a van parked outside, while Sarah and Bryce pose as a married couple. You see, Von Hayes has been tapped by Fulcrum agents to decrypt the stolen Intersect 2.0 chip, so it's up to Team Chuck to steal it back...

In the obligatory Buy More subplot, Morgan (Joshua Gomez) has to try and empty the A/V demo-room of the Mighty Jocks football team, who are rowdily enjoying a video-game and causing a disturbance. It all started quite well, actually -- with Morgan amusingly ill-equipped to deal with these antisocial, hulking brutes -- but the comedy didn't sustain itself without lurching into silliness later, capped with another backroom cage-match pitting Morgan against the Jock's gap-toothed leader Mitt (Michael Strahan).

Second of Strahotness: wipin' it clean, courtesy Strahotski.com

As usual, there's a lot of fooling around and hostage-taking for Chuck to contend with in the last act, which is rapidly becoming a formula the series relies on too often. Indeed, "Chuck Versus The Break-Up" is almost a collection of deleted scenes from season 1, strung together to make a half-coherent new adventure. Still, Levi is excellent throughout, particularly in his slack-jawed reactions to Sarah and Bryce's sexy lambada to their appreciative audience. Likewise, Strahovski may not be the most accomplished person at delivering a gag, but she's incredibly sympathetic, a good physical performer, and effortlessly sexy. Bomer has less to do compared to his appearances last year, but acquits himself well, as does Adam Baldwin as Casey.

It was great to see Chuck less adrift during a mission, too. He even saved the day in a competent, effective manner that didn't rely on blind luck or covert guidance this week. As Bryce admits in the denouement, Chuck is becoming an effective, if unconventional, agent in his own right. More of that, please.

Overall, I wasn't mightily impressed with this third episode. It played out like a selection of Chuck's Greatest Hits, although I enjoyed half the Buy More subplot (which is more than I usually do), and it was interesting to see a part of the story set at the hospital where Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) and her boyfriend (Ryan McPartlin) work as doctors. But, really, beyond the resulting "break-up" of Chuck and Sarah (a tactic to make the audience reaffirm their desire to see those characters get together) and an intriguing denouement involving a pair of high-tech glasses, this episode was bland and avoidable.

23 June 2009
Virgin1, 9pm

written by: Scott Rosenbaum directed by: Robert Duncan McNeill starring: Zachary Levi (Chuck), Yvonne Strahovski (Sarah), Adam Baldwin (Casey), Sarah Lancaster (Ellie), Joshua Gomez (Morgan), Vik Sahay (Lester), Ryan McPartlin (Captain Awesome), Julia Ling (Anna Wu), Scott Krinsky (Jeff Barnes), Matthew Bomer (Bryce), Bonita Friedericy (General Beckman), Steve Valentine (Von Hayes), Bianca Chiminello (Fulcrum Agent) & Michael Strahan (Mitt)

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Dexter: Season 4 Poster

Showtime have released the one-sheet poster to advertise Dexter's fourth season. It's a big spoiler if you haven't seen season 3 yet, so only click below if you're up-to-date with Dexter.

Did Merlin cast a spell over America?

The BBC's Merlin has become the first British series to air on American primetime for over 30 years, which is great news for everyone involved in its creation. Sure, it's been slotted into the summer schedule just to plug a gap for thirteen weeks, but NBC could easily have filled its hour with re-runs or a reality show, so you can't be too sniffy. So, what was the critical reaction to the first few episodes, which aired as a double-bill last Sunday? Read on!

"Cheesy? Sure. But there's enough sword-clanging action -- not to mention homoerotic tension -- to keep viewers happily entertained for a spell."
-- Entertainment Weekly
"For those new to the legend, this is a fresh, and delightfully color-blind, approach to the tale."
-- Hollywood Reporter
"A lighthearted, quite charming medieval adventure series made by the BBC, is tailored to the age of Obama."
-- The New York Times

Well, that doesn't sound too bad, does it. They seem to have enjoyed those episodes a lot more than I did! It's always interesting to hear American opinions on British shows, as Americans usually perceive a level of charm missing from their own shows (see: Doctor Who), or else hate it for the "silly accents" and comparatively tiny budgets. But then, sometimes, the general concensus from across the pond is entirely at odds with British opinion: to wit, Torchwood being twice as popular as Doctor Who, despite the latter being (to my eyes) better in every respect.

Of course, there were some bad reviews of Merlin, too:

"The middling show plays too much like The O.C. -- with swords, crowns, and a cheesy CGI dragon (voiced by John Hurt)."
-- Boston Globe
"t takes the stuff of legend and imagination and makes it dry and commonplace. You look forward not to the next exciting chapter, but for the whole enterprise to go "poof" and disappear."
-- Washington Post
"It's just that Merlin is clearly shopping for tricks in the bargain bin, and like the song says, the new Camelot's shining moments are all too brief, indeed."
-- Variety
"Merlin looks, well, typically British with shoddy production values. Worse, it tells dull stories."
-- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Yeah, that's more like the reaction I expected!. The series does get better as it goes along, but it's a little frustrating that Merlin nabs the NBC primetime slot while Doctor Who languishes on Sci-Fi or BBC America. Anyway, the double-episode premiere only attracted 5 million viewers, so maybe NBC will yank it from the schedule.

Twin Peaks Revisited

Do you have your Twin Peaks season 1 box-set ready? Did you buy it? Rent it? Borrow from a friend? If so, well done! If not (and probably not), well, feel free to follow along to my retrospective reviews of Twin Peaks, anyway. If you're disinclined to revisit this seminal series, I hope you'll still enjoy reading my reviews for a weekly hit of nostalgia. However, if you've never seen Twin Peaks, I'd prefer you just ignored my reviews and catch-up some other day yourself... but it's up to you!

The plan is to watch one episode every week for review on Thursdays (starting 2 July.) I'd like to approach the episodes as I would a new show, so I won't be referring ahead to anything very much. In that endeavor, it helps that I haven't revisited Twin Peaks since the early-'90s, so I genuinely can't remember everything that happened, and I doubtless missed its nuances and depth as a young 'un.

If you feel like discussing each episode in the comments area, please can all Twin Peaks aficionados refrain from posting spoilers. Just focus your thoughts on the episode being reviewed and preceding ones. In particular: DON'T SAY WHO KILLED LAURA PALMER! Please. That's a cardinal rule, for very obvious reasons. Any comment that breaks a common sense rule and spoils the experience for newbies will be deleted. Repeat offenders will also be blocked, but I'm sure it won't get that far. Just play nice, basically.

Now, while there are only 30 episodes of Twin Peaks spread across two seasons (8 in season 1, 22 in season 2), I'm only going to tackle season 1 here. That's because I don't want to get stuck into something it becomes clear nobody's that interested in, but mainly because season 2 isn't available on DVD in the UK. I'd have to buy it as a Dutch Region 2 release on Ebay. Now, while I'd be perfectly willing to buy it if these reviews prove very popular (for a reasonable price), I think it's wise to concentrate on season 1 for now. Maybe I'll get around to revisiting season 2 later this year, or next summer to celebrate Twin Peaks' 20th anniversary..?

So, grab your mug of "damn fine" coffee and cut yourself a slice of cherry pie, because it's nearly time to get reacquainted with the Log Lady and talk (backwards) to the dancing dwarf again...

TRUE BLOOD 2.2 - "Keep This Party Going"

[SPOILERS] Quite a few True Blood episodes take awhile to warm up. The first fifteen minutes of "Keep This Party Going" were adequate but a little bland for a series that had dug its claws into me last season. I guess season 2's pieces are just being positioned on the table before play begins. Fortunately, there was enough later development to make this episode worthwhile...

Sookie (Anna Paquin) is adjusting to her "stepmother" role to rebellious vampire Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll), although I'm getting more of a sisterly vibe given their age-gap. Jessica appears to have been toned down from the little hellraiser she appeared to be, and confides in Sookie that she's feeling homesick (her parents are on TV, believing their daughter's been kidnapped) and wants Sookie to drive her home so she can be close to them. I knew we'd get to this storyline sooner or later, but I'm still a little confused about why the vampire subculture insists newly-bitten vamps sever all ties to their former, human life. In a world where the existence of vampires is accepted, why do the vamps have to keep these transformations a secret? If vamps want to be regular citizens, it doesn't make a lot of sense that newcomers to their race have to relinquish their former identities.

Elsewhere, Jason (Ryan Kwanten) travels to a Light Of Day retreat aboard a bus of likeminded, brainwashed anti-vampire Christians. He quickly becomes a star pupil, winning a "capture the flag" game for his team, and later impressing Reverend Newlin (Michael McMillian) and his wife Sarah (Anna Camp) during a role-playing scenario that ends with him snapping an flagpole into a makeshift stake after Sarah pretends to be a vampire. Right now, Jason's spellbound by a sense of acceptance and respect from these people, but there are signs that he's unsure about the Children Of Light's philosophy. It's an interesting storyline that should develop well (especially now his roommate Luke is jealous of Jason's "golden boy" status), even if I'm not convinced Jason would find this Christian community an immediately appealing lifestyle -- with its Christian pop gigs and silver membership rings. Mind you, Jason's always been written as a beefcake with no muscle between his ears.

Back in Bon Temps, we get more development with Maryann (Michelle Forbes), who arrives at Merlotte's and immediately unsettles Sam (Sam Trammell). Her mood appears to infect those around her, as she starts dancing with patrons and her upbeat temperament spreads like wildfire. Even Andy (Chris Bauer), a staunch party-pooper, gets caught up in the impromptu shindig. So, it would appear that Maryann can either influence people's behaviour or just has a very infectious disposition. Her power requires plenty of fuel, too, as her multiples food orders from her table attest -- not to mention that abundance of fruit back at her mansion. She also proves she can force shape-shifter Sam to transform into his canine form by quivering her body, and Sookie hears her thinking in an incomprehensible language when she meets her for the first time.

Over at Eric's (Alexander Skarsgård), we discover that Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) is being held in a dungeon below the vampire sheriff's business. It's still not really clear why Eric kidnapped him, but it feels likely he's just the unfortunate victim of Eric replenishing his pantry with fresh food. Anyway, Lafayette proves resourceful in escaping from the dungeon using a metal hip-joint he digs out of a dismembered leg to jimmy his chain, but he doesn't get far after he's shot by a waitress tasked with keeping him imprisoned while the vamps sleep. Later, in desperation over his situation, Lafayette suggests to Eric that he be made a vampire, promising that he'd be a fine addition to the Fangtasia staff...

In small subplots: Tara (Rutina Wesley) grows closer to Eggs (Mehcad Eggs), even after he comes clean about his nefarious past as a drug-dealer and armed robber, before being asked to move in with Sookie; and Bill goes shopping for more appropriate clothes for his "daughter" Jessica, where he's approached by Eric and asked to let mind-reading Sookie help investigate into a prominent vampire's disappearance.

Overall, "Keep This Party Going" didn't hook me into this new season, as too much is being kept vague right now, intentionally or otherwise. Right now, I'm enjoying the Jessica storyline because it's interesting to see the after-effects of a sassy teenager being made a vampire against their will, the Jason storyline is an amusing pastiche of religious retreats, and I'm eager to see exactly what Maryann's doing in Bon Temps and how far her powers extend. Is she grooming Eggs and Tara for something, or is Eggs already complicit in whatever she has planned for the unlucky barmaid? Does Sam understand what Maryann's all about from personal experience, or does he just know she's bad news?

21 June 2009
HBO, 9pm

written by: Brian Buckner directed by: Michael Lehmann starring: Anna Paquin (Sookie Stackhouse), Stephen Moyer (Bill Compton), Sam Trammell (Sam Merlotte), Ryan Kwanten (Jason Stackhouse), Rutina Wesley (Tara Thornton), Anna Camp (Sarah Newlin), Michelle Forbes (Maryann), Deborah Ann Woll (Jessica Hamby), Chris Bauer (Andy Bellefleur), Nelsan Ellis (Lafayette), Carrie Preston (Arlene Fowler), Alexander Skarsgård (Eric Northman), Mehcad Brooks (Eggs) & Michael McMillian (Rev. Steve Newlin)