Sunday, 31 July 2011

TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY – "Escape To L.A"


The best episode of Miracle Day so far, by some distance, thanks to overdue back-story to humanize Rex (Mekhi Phifer) and Esther (Alexa Havins), and tangible development about exactly who, or what, is behind the Miracle Day phenomenon itself. Buoyed by an entertaining moment of espionage for the Torchwood crew in the second half, "Escape To L.A" was breezy and decent fun, showing signs of improvement I hope will continue into the remainder of this miniseries.

Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) remains a real headache for the show, which is a shame because the core idea behind his arc has some merit. I just don't see why they decided to make him a paedophile (the least forgivable crime in human society), when having a serial-killer instead become an unexpected figurehead for tolerance in this New World Order would have worked equally well. Nevertheless, the idea to give Oswald a rival in Ellis Hartley Monroe (Mare Winningham), a mayor who's pushing a"Dead Is Dead" campaign that wants to brush the world's problem under the carpet by segregating the "dead" from the living was an intriguing development. It's just a shame the details don't feel very plausible, with Oswald victorious in this political war by giving a supposedly rousing speech to a makeshift hospital of sick people. (Incidentally, why would anyone ask a convicted paedophile to take care of a small abandoned baby girl?)

Team Torchwood are beginning to form a tetchy dynamic now, too. I was pleased to see Rex becoming less annoying, although his understandable frustration with the amateurism of Torchwood dragged his character back to being unlikable towards the end. This was also the hour where we learned something about the show's new characters: Rex is estranged from his vagrant father and trying to heal their relationship because he's starting to suspect he'll die when the "miracle" ends; and Esther has a sister called Sarah (Candace Brown) who's incapable of looking after her two kids, meaning Esther had to call social services to have them taken into protection. Both stories didn't take up much time and weren't hugely compelling—although Phifer gave a decent performance in the scene with his cantankerous dad and Esther felt more human. Considering the difficulties of fleshing out characters when there's an urgency to a story being told, I've seen it done a lot worse.

One thing that's becoming more of a noticeable issue is how extraneous and, frankly, boring Captain Jack (John Barrowman) has been on the show so far. Has removing his immortality neutered the dashing hero of the previous three series? It certainly seems that way. Here, Barrowman's given a few awkward speeches and a key role in an operation to steal information from PhiCorp's servers with Gwen (Eve Myles), but other than that he's almost surplus to requirement. Very little about Miracle Day is working because of what Captain Jack's bringing to the table, in terms of knowledge, expertise or attitude. It's perhaps one of the reasons Miracle Day hasn't gone down so well with fans. And why is the show still making cutesy references to the fact Jack's lived thousands of years? If you're new to the show (and this Starz miniseries was partly designed to introduce Torchwood to newcomers), it must feel very strange.

Overall, most of "Escape From L.A" worked well enough and it was a more capable hour than we've had so far. It's still not especially gripping, but at least we've been given big clues about what's going on: the unseen villains (their "organisation" symbolized by a rotating triangle) are referred to as "The Families" at one point, so are there three alien families behind this? They've also given Oswald Danes this platform intentionally, and must therefore have infiltrated PhiCorp to do that, so there's a feeling this episode has started to draw a few of the subplots together. We'll have to see if Miracle Day manages to resolve the story in a satisfying way, and I'm still not convinced it can, but I'm prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

Asides

  • Love the scene with Monroe being crushed in a car compactor, ending up trapped alive inside a metal cube, with just her eye blinking. That's quite a horrific fate to be given, and a more imaginative twist on the common scene of someone immortal being buried alive in a coffin.
  • Does anyone care about Gwen's family? I know Rhys (Kai Owen) has his fans, but every time Gwen has to dash off to call her husband while on a mission my attention wanders. And putting her sickly father in jeopardy doesn't feel like a good move, considering all that's happening in Wales. Are we going to see Gwen fly back to Wales for an episode of two to save him? If so, maybe this subplot only exists to stretch the miniseries out? I have a feeling Miracle Day doesn't need 10 hours, and we'll see more padding in the future, like episode 2's plane journey shenanigans.
written by Jim Gray & John Shiban / directed by Billy Gierhart / 29 July 2011 / Starz

Talking Point: are American complaints about Netflix price rises totally unjustified?

I've heard that Netflix have decided to raise their prices, in an effort to effectively get Americans to stop renting discs and instead start streaming content (which is much cheaper for them to deliver).

The unpopular way Netflix have chosen to influence this change has been an unexpected price rise. In particular, Netflix's popular $9.99 per month rental-and-streaming package has risen to $15.99 per month.

Thing is, when you adjust dollars into Pounds Sterling, this "outrageous price rise" looks anything but to British eyes! The pre-existing $9.99 package equals a trivial £6! This means the controversial increase to $15.99 is a deal worth £9.70 in British currency. Yes, Americans are complaining because renting and streaming movies will cost them less than a tenner every month! To me, a $15.99 package would be a bite-your-hand-off-to-get-it bargain!

I subscribe to LoveFilm (the European equivalent of Netflix) and pay about £15 a month for unlimited rental of three discs at any one time, and streaming of content (not including recent releases, where you pay about £3.60 each). This deal is something I've considered reasonable—considering it can cost £15-25 to buy a Blu-ray disc outright.

But £15 in US dollars is a staggering $24! Would any American pay $24 to Netflix, considering they're upset about paying just $15.99? I seriously doubt it. Considering the rumpus Netflix's price increase has caused going up by $6, people would probably cancel their subscriptions if it had gone up by $14.

So today's talking point is: are Americans once again guilty of moaning about nothing, considering the prices Brits pay for an equivalent service? Or are Brits again unaware they're paying extortionate prices, and foolish enough to do so? Or is it a bit of both?

If you live in another country, feel free to say what your own video rental subscriptions are. It would be particularly helpful if you can calculate the cost in dollars/pounds. I'd love to know if the rest of the world have a service that charges similar prices to the US, but I suspect most people are paying similar to the UK. Is that assumption true?

And to any American Netflix users reading this, do you now feel guilty for grumbling about a price rise that Brits would consider a significant reduction?

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Yvonne Strahovski is... 29 today!


I couldn't let today pass without mentioning it's the birthday of the astonishingly beautiful actress Yvonne Strahovski, who turns 29 today. Many happy returns! She doesn't read this blog, I'm almost certain, but the thought's out there. Yvonne's a very personable, talented and drop-dead gorgeous actress, whom I hope goes onto bigger and better things now NBC's Chuck is drawing to a close. I can't wait to see what doors open for her next summer.

If you're a fan like me, and you somehow don't already know, you can follow Yvonne on Twitter, too. I'm sure she'd appreciate a birthday wish. In the meantime, as pure indulgence, here's a fun, sexy, action-packed compilation of the birthday girl's work on Chuck:

Trailer: SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE


Most sequels aspire to be bigger and better, and that certainly appears to be true of Spartacus: Vengeance if this NSFW trailer from Starz is to be believed. Liam McIntyre already feels like a worthy replacement for Andy Whitfield as hero Spartacus, the action's as ludicrously blood-soaked as we've come to expect, some fan-favourite characters are back for more (Lucretia, Ilithyia, Gannicus), and most impressively the show looks three times bigger than its predecessors because the rebel gladiators are out on the road.

I'm very excited about this show's return, knowing how magnificently entertaining and shocking it can be, how about you?


SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE returns to Starz in January 2012.

Video: GAME OF THRONES, visual effects showreel


I'm very impressed by the quality of visual effects in TV shows these days. While some things are obviously created using CGI, a huge amount of work goes unnoticed--and that's the best compliment you can give the talented digital effects artists. The embedded video is a compilation of effects created by BlueBolt, who worked on the first season of HBO's Game Of Thrones. As you can see, most of that show's landscapes and buildings were created artificially, often used to embellish existing locations. It's all very impressive, I'm sure you'll agree.

Warning: a few shots in this reel can be classed as spoilers, so it's perhaps not wise to watch unless you've seen the entirety of Game Of Thrones season 1.


GAME OF THRONES returns to HBO in Spring 2012.

Friday, 29 July 2011

BBC America producing original series COPPER

BBC America are finally dipping their toe into producing original television shows, rather than show imported programming from the UK and repeat US shows like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica. Rejoice!

Their first project will be a New York crime drama set in 1860 called Copper, following an Irish immigrant who works as a policeman. The series is therefore covering ground Martin Scorsese explored in his movie Gangs Of New York, which told the story of how the Big Apple was born, with particular attention on the unruly "Five Points" Irish neighbourhood.

Tom Fonzana (Oz, Homicide) will be writing and producing the 10 episodes, which are planned for summer 2012. Considering the network, one would assume this will be aired on the regular BBC shortly after its US premiere.

What do you think? Is BBC America original programming a win-win situation? American audiences get something homegrown that adheres to BBC ideals, while British audiences get something expensive with US production values? I wonder if British writers/directors will be able to hop across the pond and have fun working on an expensive BBC America show? If so, will there be a mass exodus of UK talent to the States? Or will BBC America recruit from within—meaning, really, that there's no difference between an original BBC America show and whatever another US cable channel like AMC is making?

Thursday, 28 July 2011

PAN AM lands on the BBC

The upcoming ABC airline series Pan Am has been bought by the BBC for transmission on BBC2.

The period drama, created by Jack Orman (ER), concerns the lives of the pilots and air hostesses working for the world-famous airline in 1963.

It stars Christina Ricci (The Addams Family), Mike Vogel (Cloverfield), Margot Robbie (Neighbours), Karine Vanasse, Michael Mosley (Scrubs) & Kelli Garner (The Aviator).


Janice Hadlow, Controller of BBC2:

"Pan Am captures the excitement and optimism of travel in the 1960s, when being an air hostess was the most glamorous occupation you could possibly have. With a love story at its heart and a great unfolding plot that hints at the danger and mystery to come, viewers will be in for an exciting but turbulent ride."
Sue Deeks, Head of Programme Acquisition:

"Pan Am is a breath of fresh air—a fun, colourful and stylish drama set in a captivating era that changed the world."
Stuart Baxter, Senior Executive Vice President European Distribution:

"Pan Am is taking off around the globe and we're thrilled that the BBC will become its UK home. The BBC crowns a growing list of broadcasters who are the international destinations for this iconic, glamorous series."
I'm surprised by this acquisition, mainly because it was reported the BBC would be ditching US shows and focusing on homegrown content. But maybe Pan Am wasn't attracting the interest of any rivals, so the BBC stepped in? Or was it being offered at a price the BBC couldn't refuse? Whatever happened, I'm sure many people are glad another big US drama is going to be available to the majority of people in the UK.


PAN AM premieres 25 September on ABC. The BBC have yet to announce their UK premiere.

BREAKING BAD, 4.2 - "Thirty-Eight Snub"


After the relentless tension of the premiere, which capped an equally tense third season, "Thirty-Eight Snub" was a quieter hour of introspection and a chance for the characters to parse everything that's happened to them, and in some cases plan for whatever the future may bring. It was another good episode, stylishly directed by Michelle MacLaren, brimming with confidence. The wonderful thing about Breaking Bad is how you could condense everything down to around 20 minutes, but the show really lives and breathes with the extra time to make scenes sink in and the atmosphere to take hold.

Everyone's reaction to Gale's murder and the vicious killing of Victor by Gus, just to make a point, was very interesting to see. Jesse (Aaron Paul), racked with guilt over pulling the trigger on poor Gale, retreated to his home comforts (a colossal sound system, lines of cocaine, chit-chat with Badger and Skinny Pete about zombie video-games, and eventually a huge house party); Walt (Bryan Cranston) was more pragmatic and developing a naive plan to kill Gus, by buying a .38 snub-nosed revolver from an illegal gun dealer (Jim Beaver) and practicing his quickdraw for when he gets Gus in his sights; Skyler (Anna Gunn) began to worry about the size of Hank's (Dean Norris) medical bills, so took the initiative to approach Walt's old boss to buy his car wash (so they can launder money through it); assassin Mike (Jonathan Banks) tried to drown the memory of Victor's death in a bar, only to be reminded by a spot of blood on his cuff (very Shakespearian); and Marie (Betsy Brandt) continued to struggle with Hank's obstinacy over his disability and fixation on collecting minerals.

There was lots of fascinating character beats in this episode, but I particularly enjoyed Jesse's because it's more understandable. He's a kid who's been through a lot and finds solace only when his mind's distracted by friends, music and drugs. The final shot of Jesse alone, after the party finally came to an end, sat in front of a large speaker that's swallowing him with noise, was the perfect was to demonstrate this. But while Jesse seeks escape from the life he's chosen that, ironically, provide the means of that escape, Walt's grown more confident and accepting of the life he's chosen. He's still rather foolish and his "plan" to kill Gus isn't a clever one—especially as Gus appears to have vanished and, according to Mike, the two men will never meet again. Walt's being kept at a distance to cook his meth in the Superlab, and his movements watched outside of work, so the situation is almost hopeless. The only move Walt had was to get Mike on his side, by making him feel as insecure as he does. And despite the fact he has a point, and as an audience we have some hope that Mike's going to leave Gus's payroll, Walt's attempt to recruit Mike utterly failed. After broaching the subject to Mike in a local bar, Walt was beaten for even suggesting the idea of a partnership against Gus. So is Mike fiercely loyal to Gus? Does he just have no faith that Walt's the man to put his trust in? Does he just need more persuading that even Victor's murder didn't provide? Or is there something else happening in Mike's life we don't know about?

At the moment, the situation with Hank is providing Betsy Brandt with some of the best material she's had on the show, and she's doing a tremendous job with it. It's heartbreaking to see how unkind Hank is being around his dutiful, supportive wife. He's such a proud man that being a unable to walk is difficult enough, but Marie's presence just amplifies his feelings of emasculation. I'm still interested to see where this story goes, although it does feel like an entire season of Hank learning to walk is in order. Maybe Hank getting back on his feet will be the symbolic contrast to Walt slipping further into criminality? It helps that I'm a big fan of Norris's work on this show, and I'm pleased Brandt now has something to play that's worth her time (it beats that kleptomania storyline from season 1), but a part of me is concerned this story's going to lose its appeal. Then again, knowing how fluidly the writers plan their season, it's likely they'll get bored of Hank and his mineral collection around the same time the audience do.

Skyler also has a firmer stake in the story these days, which is great to see. Her business brain could make her a valuable asset to Walt once his empire, assumedly, begins to take shape. But getting their hands on that car wash isn't going to be easy, given the bad blood between owner Bogdan (Marius Stan) and ex-employee Walt. Skyler put together a generous $879,0000 offer, but he wants $20,000,000! Can Walt find a way back into his old boss's good books, or will he have to take more disreputable action to get the car wash?

Another fine episode, considering it was giving us the calm after the storm, but plenty to think about as this nascent season develops.

Asides

  • There's a new guy working in the Superlab called Tyrus (Ray Campbell), and you have to wonder if he'll be in any way helpful to Walt and Jesse in the future, or is he going to be as unhelpful as Victor was. Also, now that Gus is asking for the meth to be weighed twice, it looks like Jesse's siphoning of the drug to sell himself is going to be nigh impossible.
  • Nice to see Jesse's ex-girlfriend Andrea back on the show, briefly, although she was more of a plot-device last year than anything else, so I don't blame anyone for having forgotten she existed.
  • Lots of creative POV shots used throughout this episode by director Michelle MacLaren, most memorably with the Roomba device vacuuming Jesse's house, and the windscreen of a vehicle going through a car wash. It all helps give Breaking Bad its distinctive look and feel, but I particularly appreciate the wonderful sonics used in the soundtrack. Sometimes it's like the whole world is buzzing with noise from inside an echoing tube, slowly sending the characters crazy. Interestingly, this noise suddenly quietened the moment Walt put his porkpie hat—effectively becoming his alter-ego Heisenberg as he approached Gus's house. Another nod that Walt asserts control and finds confidence only when he's in that guise.
written by George Mastras / directed by Michelle MacLaren / 24 July 2011 / AMC

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Frank Darabont leaves THE WALKING DEAD

Writer-director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) has stepped down as showrunner of AMC's The Walking Dead, halfway through production on the new 13-episode second season. His replacement is expected to be Glen Mazzara (showrunner of Starz's Crash), who's been working as Darabont's second-in-command after joining the show with a group of new writers—after Darabont disbanded the first season's team. (Update: this has now been confirmed as happening.)

It's not been revealed why Darabont has felt the need to quit, but he's been unhappy with AMC's plans to trim the show's budget, and there were rumours he found it hard to adjust to the demanding pace of TV production (as he comes from a movie background), but this is all just speculation. I wouldn't be surprised if there's some truth in all that, however. The show clearly struggled to produce six episodes last year, so doubling the order to a standard thirteen may have felt particularly gruelling for Darabont.

I have a feeling Darabont would have been happier making The Walking Dead as a series of movies, doesn't like the time/money constraints of television, and perhaps is too authorial to enjoy working in a writers' room. But who knows. Hopefully Darabont will release a statement soon—but those things are usually misleading and don't get at the truth behind these matters. We probably won't know what happened for a few years or more.

It's speculated that Darabont could retain some kind of credit on the show, but without him to steer the ship it'll be interesting to see how The Walking Dead changes halfway through season 2. Hey, it may even improve...

THE WALKING DEAD returns to AMC on 16 October.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

TRUE BLOOD, 4.5 - "Me And The Devil"


After a run of episodes I wasn't very impressed with, things smoothed out with "Me And The Devil". Almost every subplot was enjoyable, and even the weaker ones were easier to watch because writer Daniel Minahan found a way to make them less awkward and tedious. In fact, I was rather astonished by how much better Sam (Sam Trammell) and Tommy (Marshall Allman) were this week, simply by putting them together without much antagonism. The actors work quite well as brothers, so I hope this marks the end of their feud, because they make a fun double-act.

"I had a bad dream."

As usual, True Blood is awash with stories, so to recap this week's events: Jason (Ryan Kwanten) recovered from his ordeal at Hot Shot back at Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) and Hoyt's (Jim Parrack) home; Tommy accidentally killed his parents in self-defense and solicited Sam's help in disposing of their bodies; Pam (Kristin Bauer) went to Bill (Stephen Moyer) demanding they retaliate on the witches coven, seeing as Marnie (Fiona Shaw) cast a spell that's rotted half her face; Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) began to have dreams of his dead maker Godric, tempting him to feed on Sookie (Anna Paquin); Sookie herself went to Marnie's shop to investigate the coven that erased Eric's memory and received a warning from her gran to avoid Marnie during a fortune telling; Jesus (Kevin Alejandro) took Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) to see his enchanted uncle, so they can get protection from Eric and Pam for what they've done; Tara (Rutina Wesley) came clean about her sexuality to Sookie and discovered her girlfriend in New Orleans knows she's been lying about her identity; Portia (Courteney Ford) tried to rekindle her romance with Bill, despite knowing he's an ancestor of hers, only for Bill to glamour her otherwise; and Arlene (Carrie Preston) and Terry (Todd Lowe) invited the Reverend Daniels and his wife Lettie Mae (Adina Porter) into their home to get rid of a spirit they believe is haunting their baby.

"Oh good, the world needs more beekeepers."

There was lots going on, but it didn't feel quite so busy and random. Maybe that's partly because we're now almost halfway through the season and have a better handle on season 4's direction, but things also just seemed to flow. The sense of fun and humour came back, too: Jason theorizing that sex is to blame for all his problems, before dreaming of having sex with Jessica with his best-friend Hoyt present; the moment when Andy (Chris Bauer) nearly had his head bitten off by an alligator in the back of Sam's truck (which was actually Tommy preventing him from seeing two dead bodies back there); the simmering anger of Pam now she's been forced to wear a black veil to hide her disfigurement; and even the sight of Lettie Mae and her husband trying to banish spirits through song-and-incense raised a smile. It's been awhile since my abiding thought about True Blood was one of having had fun, instead of feeling exasperated and annoyed by how unruly everything has become. This episode felt more ordered and structured, although it still had its moments that feel like the script's being improvised—such as Jesus's goat-killing uncle.

"You fuck with my face, it's time to die."

Plus it was just nice to see the episode avoiding a few storytelling dead-ends, with Tommy actually escaping from Joe Lee and killing his parents (meaning he's now become a "skin walker" if Luna's campfire story's to be believed, right?), and I'm enjoying the general direction the story's taking with Marnie. Bill can't sanction the death of a witch because they're human and therefore under the protection of the Authority in the post-Russell Edgington world, and Marnie is merely a conduit for the Spanish witch who's responsible for Eric and Pam's situations. I was worried the witches would be incredibly silly additions to the world of True Blood, but they're actually an interesting enemy for vampires to have, and I'm enjoying Fiona Shaw's performance this year. The scene where Sookie read her mind during a reading, effectively able to hear through Marnie to her grandmother in the afterlife was also a really effective moment.

"There's a light in you. It's beautiful. I couldn't bear it if I snuffed it out."

In some ways this episode was spinning its wheels (nothing much actually developed in the majority of storylines, and it's now very unclear what Portia's role's going to be if she's glamoured to find Bill terrifying), but I actually appreciated the calmer mood and a chance to take stock of where we are. True Blood's been guilty of moving so quickly and rampantly that you can find the show exhausting and difficult to care about, but "Me And The Devil" reminded me of episodes from season 1—when it felt like more care and attention was being employed on the show. The show still has its problems, but "Me And The Devil" was a step in the right direction and, provided it doesn't go off the rails, I'm actually quite excited to see where the story's going regarding Marnie and the vampire's fear that necromancy will compel them all out into the daylight again.

What did you make of this fifth episode? The possible turning point of the season? Or weren't you very impressed?

Asides

  • Is Jason about to become kind of super-creature, considering the fact he's from a family that bred with fairies, recently had sex with dozens of were-panther girls, and now has Jessica's vampire blood pumping through his veins?
  • Deborah Ann Woll in her underwear. Let's just take a minute to remember that...
  • Great fun to hear gran's voice from beyond the grave, although I was expecting Earl Stackhouse to make his presence known. I still think it's a terrible shame if True Blood cast Gary Cole for such a small role in the premiere, and the show would be helped if Sookie and Jason had a parental figure around.
written by Daniel Minahan / directed by Mark Hudis / 24 July 2011 / HBO

Monday, 25 July 2011

Comic-Con 2011 panels: CHUCK, COMMUNITY, DOCTOR WHO, GAME OF THRONES, GLEE, Joss Whedon, RINGER & Women of Comic-Con

In the second compilation from San Diego Comic-Con (the first is here), we have the panels for Chuck, Community, Doctor Who, Game Of Thrones, Glee, upcoming series Ringer, a panel with writer-director Joss Whedon (Buffy, Firefly), and a special "Women of Comic-Con" roundtable featuring Buffy's Sarah Michelle Gellar, Chuck's Yvonne Strahovski, Fringe's Anna Torv and Nikita's Maggie Q.

As before, you'll have to click through to YouTube to continue watching the panels, as most are split into multiple parts. I think this just about covers all the weekend's Comic-Con panels I'm interested in, but if you have others to share just leave a link in the comments below. Disqus cleverly opens a pop-up window, which is very handy.
















TV Picks: 25-31 July 2011 (Beaver Falls, The Code, Dragons' Den, John Bishop's Britain, Gary: Tank Commander, Town, etc.)

DRAGONS' DEN - BBC2, Sundays, 9PM

MONDAY 25th
Wonderstuff (BBC2, 7.30pm) Series looking at the nation's obsession with hygiene. (1/6)
PICK OF THE DAY Gary: Tank Commander (BBC3, 11.45pm) Series 2 of the Scottish comedy about a soldier, receiving its first national broadcast (1/6)

TUESDAY 26th
One Year To Go: Building Stratford (Five, 8pm) Documentary about the buildup to the 2012 Olympic Games.
PICK OF THE DAY Richard Hammond's Journey To The Bottom Of The Sea (BBC1, 9pm) Science documentary focusing on the depths of the planet's oceans. (2/2)
Geordie Finishing School For Girls (BBC3, 9pm) Series where four privileged girls from the south go north to live deprived lives. (1/3)
Camera That Changed The World (BBC4, 9pm) Documentary about the birth of fly-on-the-wall documentaries in 1960.
CSI: Miami (Channel 5, 9pm) Season 9 of the US crime drama. Starring David Caruso & Emily Procter. (1/22)


WEDNESDAY 27th
Olympics: One Year To Go (BBC1, 7pm) Special to celebrate the day the world's athletes are officially invited to participate in the 2012 Olympic Games. Hosted by Sophie Raworth & Jake Humphrey, live from Trafalgar Square.
50 Greatest Harry Potter Moments (ITV1, 8pm) Countdown of the best moments from the eight Harry Potter movies.
The Code (BBC2, 9pm) Series positing that there's a hidden numerical code that runs through everything in nature. Presented by Marcus du Sautoy. (1/3)
PICK OF THE DAY Beaver Falls (E4, 9pm) Brand new comedy about three university graduates who go to work at a US summer camp. Starring Sam Robertson, John Dagleish & Arsher Ali. (1/6)
Murdoch: The Mogul Who Screwed The News (Channel 4, 10pm) Documentary on the phone hacking scandal involving media mogul Rupert Murdoch's company News Corp.

THURSDAY 28th
Air Crash Investigation (Channel 5, 8pm) Return of the series looking at aviation crash-landings.
PICK OF THE DAY Town (BBC2, 9pm) Spin-off to Coast focusing on the inland towns of the UK. Presented by Nicholas Crane. (1/4)
The Rattigan Enigma by Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC4, 9pm) Documentary on playwright Terence Ratigan, whose work dominated theatres of the West End in the '40s and early-'50s. Presented by actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

FRIDAY 29th
PICK OF THE DAY Charles & Diana: The Wedding Of The Century (ITV1, 9pm) Retrospective on the iconic royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. Narrated by Juliet Aubrey.

SATURDAY 30th
PICK OF THE DAY John Bishop's Britain (BBC1, 9.10pm) Series 2 of the stand-up comedy/sketch show. Andrew Flintoff guests. (1/6)

SUNDAY 31st
PICK OF THE DAY Dragons' Den (BBC2, 9pm) Series 9 of the business reality gameshow. Starring Peter Jones, Theo Paphitis, Deborah Meaden, Duncan Bannatyne and newcomer Hilary Devey. (1/10)

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Comic-Con 2011 panels: DEXTER, FRINGE, SPARTACUS, TORCHWOOD, TRUE BLOOD & THE WALKING DEAD

San Diego Comic-Con is winding down for another year. I'm sure most of you have been watching and reading the coverage online in some capacity, but I thought I'd embed a few videos of various panels that are relevant to DMD's own coverage. Below are the panels for Dexter, Fringe, Spartacus, True Blood, Torchwood and The Walking Dead. Most were filmed using the "wobbly-cam" that's all the rage, so the quality's not great, but I commend Starz for ensuring their Spartacus panel was professionally recorded in its entirety. (You can click through the subsequent "parts" of each video via YouTube.)

A few more panels may be added soon, when they become available. But in the meantime: enjoy!











Trailer: DOCTOR WHO, series 6 part 2 (Comic-Con)



"My time... is... running out..."

The BBC have released a trailer for the second half of Doctor Who's sixth series, which just had its world premiere at San Diego Comic-Con. It certainly looks impressive, right? Adolf Hitler with a British accent? Amy riding pillion on Rory's motorbike! The return of Winston Churchill! Was that a middle-aged Amy? River Song is Eye-Patch Lady, or just pretending to be? The Doctor's about to kiss a man? The TARDIS smashing through a window! The Silence are underwater? The Weeping Angels are back! Rory punching Hitler! Amy with twin samurai swords! Exploding Cybermen! A minotaur in a hotel? The impossible astronaut! Phew.


What do you make of this trailer for the remainder of series 6? Oh, and here's a sneak preview of writer Toby Whithouse's "The God Complex", which is episode 11:


DOCTOR WHO returns to BBC1 and BBC America on 27 August.

State of the Blog: summer break

I'm on a week's break from today (24-31 July), so blogging may be intermittent during that period. There's a chance you won't notice a difference, because I'm not covering many shows right now, so I might be able to keep my regular reviews going. Let's play it by ear, but if a few days slip by with few updates, you know why...

Summer hasn't bitten as hard as it did last year because I've make an effort to alter my workload recently. I'm sticking to the core shows I care about, or have something to say about most weeks. I could be squeezing out half-hearted reviews of Wilfred, Louis and Alphas, but I'd rather just watch them. As I've mentioned before, I think quality can suffer if I'm covering too much, and blogging can start to feel like a burden if half of what I'm writing doesn't receive any feedback. I think it's best to stick to the shows I feel passionate about (Breaking Bad), enjoy ridiculing when it's deserved (True Blood, Torchwood), or don't mind writing about to fill some time (Falling Skies).

Considering the slowdown over the past month or so, I'm pleased to see that hasn't impacted page-hits and comments too badly. I constantly worry a change in the quantity of weekly posts will be detrimental to DMD (as it's been ticking away at quite a furious pace for a one-man operation), so it's a relief to see I'm probably worrying about nothing. Readers seem happy to just receive whatever's offered, when it's offered. So thank you, everyone. That really helps my sanity.

Oh, just a quick thing, but do you subscribe to my RSS feed? If so, I've noticed there are actually TWO feeds pointing to the same content. Don't ask me how that happened! Anyway, the most popular feed is this one, so I advise you to use it, if you're not already. There's no difference between that feed and this other one, but if you have a few seconds to amend your RSS settings, please do. And if you DON'T subscribe to either of those RSS feeds—well, why not? It's by far the easiest and quickest way to read content. Of course, I still advise you check the actual blog from time to time, as there are links in the sidebar that may be of interest, and it helps me financially if you click a few adverts sometimes. Pleeease remember to click some ads occasionally! But other than that, I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't recommend RSS.

As always, if you have anything to discuss, or a question to ask, this is the best place to do it!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Trailer: TRUE BLOOD, season 4 (Comic-Con)


Whoever puts together trailers for True Blood has to be commended, because they never fail to make the show look astonishingly exciting. This newest trailer is a sizzle reel for the remainder of season 4, and it's absolute dynamite. I haven't been that impressed with True Blood so far this year, although it's preferable to the atrocious third season, but maybe things are about to kick into gear? Or is it just impossible to make a bad True Blood trailer, because it has so many fantastic sequences that, if taken out of context and strung together for two-minutes, will never fail to look fantastic? Either way, this has helped rekindle some hope in me.


TRUE BLOOD continues Sundays on HBO.

TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY - "Dead Of Night"


From the overrated pen of Buffy's Jane Espenson, "Dead Of Night" was of mixed success and, owing to the fact this is a miniseries, I have less to say that's not just reiterating points from previous reviews. I still find Gwen (Eve Myles) so annoying she makes my teeth itch, because she's written as confident and sassy but it's all done so cartoonishly, and none of that attitude flows naturally from Myles. Rex (Mekhi Phifer) continues to be a belligerent dickhead, Esther's (Alexa Havins) written so thinly she elicits no reaction, and Captain Jack (John Barrowman) currently seems lost in the crush—and, frankly, more interested in shagging the local barman than saving the world. (Or if you're watching the BBC airing a week later, just flirting with a local barman?)

In some ways this episode is where the story truly started to take shape, but that shape doesn't feel like anything remarkable. The Torchwood team discovered a warehouse containing millions of painkillers stockpiled by a pharmaceutical company called PhiCorp, who assumedly knew about Miracle Day a year in advance and have planned to make a fortune by selling an immortal world their medicines. The CIA, personified by Rex's butterball boss Friedkin (Wayne Knight), are also in the pockets of whomever's pulling the strings. But right now the prime suspect must be red-lipped PR woman Jilly Kitzinger (awesome Lauren Ambrose), who invited Dr Vera Juarez (terrible Arlene Tur) to a PhiCorp presentation, while also managing to get child killer Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) on her client list, with plans to manage his sudden and wholly implausible celebrity status with the support of PhiCorp.

Along the way the video-camera contact lenses from an old Torchwood episode make an appearance, Espenson's script laboured the point that Americans and Brits use different words for things (although I must admit I never knew lemonade isn't fizzy in the States), a cult called the "Soulless" has started walking around town in frowning face-masks (um, it looks good for the trailers), Rex slept with Dr Vera (possibly because he needs someone to get a recurring blood stain out of his shirts), and there was Miracle Day's first gay sex scene—together with a gay joke playing on the double-meaning of the word "impaled". Fnar, fnar. And don't you dare criticize said joke or you'll be labelled homophobic, rather than having an evolved sense of humour.

In the episode's favour, at least it managed to get Oswald Danes into the same storyline as Torchwood's random investigations, and Oswald's speech to Jack about "painting" bruises on the 12-year-old girl he raped and killed was an effective piece of writing. We also now have a potential villain in PhiCorp, but if they're the definite culprits of Miracle Day I think they've been revealed too early in the show's run. Or are they just one part of a bigger plan, seeing as their painkillers are being given to the public without a lucrative prescription charge? Is it possible there's something in those drugs someone wants the entire human race to ingest en masse? And if so, is it encouraging that Torchwood's lifting a storyline from the first season of V's remake?

Overall, "Dead Of Night" didn't really work for me because the juiciness of the Miracle Day concept is beginning to wear off, and it feels like the explanation's edging into predictable "evil company" territory. But it's early days still, so I hope PhiCorp is just a dead-end, or will lead the investigation into a more imaginative realm. But really, given the size and scale of Miracle Day, the explanation's got to involve either aliens or futuristic technology. What else could it possibly be? I'll be mightily impressed if Russell T. Davies can avoid anything obvious for a cogent explanation, but given the show's abject failure to even make Oswald Danes' forgiveness and public worship feel plausible, I have serious doubts.

written by Jane Espenson / directed by Billy Gierhart / 22 July 2011 / Starz

Trailers: SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE & THE WALKING DEAD, season 2 (Comic-Con)


Starz apparently showed a fantastic trailer for Spartacus: Vengeance at Comic-Con yesterday, but that hasn't hit the internet yet. But we do have the briefer tease (above), which gives you an idea of the increased scale of production in season 2 (horse-riding sequences set against greenscreen will be achieved), plus our first look at Liam McIntyre (replacing Andy Whitfield as the eponymous Thracian warrior).

McIntyre, speaking at Comic-Con:

"It's a great privilege, a great honor, it's a great responsibility. I was a fan. I would have been sitting down there [in the audience]. All of a sudden, I find myself sitting up here. Everyone can agree Andy [Whitfield] was amazing. The best thing I can do is bust my ass and honor that legacy trying to make season 2 as amazingly as exciting as season 1. And that's all I can do."
The Comic-Con panel, which included showrunner Steven S. DeKnight, also confirmed the return of Ashur and that the story will cleave close to how Stanley Kubrick's movie version ended.

SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE returns to Starz in January 2012.


Comic-Con also gave us a four-minute trailer for The Walking Dead's second season, which certainly looks promising. I didn't really like the first season, which fell flat for me after an entertaining feature-length pilot. Showrunner Frank Darabont has apparently recruited a team of writers who are actually fans of the comic-book now, so I hope that means there'll be more passion on display. Last year's was almost excruciatingly earnest and lacked a sense of pace, rhythm, and... well, enough zombies biting people.


I still have my doubts about The Walking Dead, though. I think there's an audience who will watch anything with zombies in it, those people number greatly, and there's no alternative for them on TV. This will be a hit whatever it does. But for me, I didn't really like any of the characters, and because I can't see a plausible solution for a zombie apocalypse, a TV series of this nature has a constant feeling of futility and depression. A zombie movie can be brilliant if depressing, but you're done with it in two-hours. The Walking Dead could be on-air for another five years or more. By the time Andrew Lincoln's blasting a corpse in the head for the sixtieth time, I'm just not sure I'll care, but we'll see if season 2 manages to change my mind. At least from the trailer it looks like the characters are on the move, instead of hanging around that tedious mountain camp.

THE WALKING DEAD returns to AMC on 16 October.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Trailer: DEXTER, season 6 – He'll Make You A Believer



"Yes. It's begun."

After the disappointing tease and the arty promo, we finally have a full-blooded trailer for the sixth season of Showtime's Dexter, which premiered at San Diego Comic-Con. I've said all I can say about this show, but I can't deny this looks like a big improvement over season 5, and potentially season 4 if Edward James Olmos's character is as absorbing as John Lithgow's. Pleased to see the visuals seem more creative and dark, reminding me of the show's dark and pulpy first season. Later years basked in the warm Miami sunshine too much for my taste, as I much prefer the neon-lit nightlife feel of the city on camera. (Not that it's the real Miami, of course.)


If you have anything left to say about Dexter, say it below. This trailer has restored some of my enthusiasm, I must admit. Has it done the same for you?

Talking Point: what have you series-linked?


If you own a Sky+, V+ or TiVo box, chances are you've series-linked various TV shows to record every week. And like browsing someone's bookshelf, what people choose to series-link says a lot about them. So what do you have series-linked—that's airing right now? Care to share, or just too embarrassed to admit you've recorded multiple episodes of The Jeremy Kyle Show?

This is the current rundown of shows my V+ box is diligently recording for me:

Alan Carr -Chatty Man: I've warmed to this Channel 4 chat show recently, as I think Alan Carr's improved slightly and the guests are starrier than they used to be (the result of limited chat show options in the UK?) But I still fast-forward through Carr's opening monologue and any guests that don't interest me, so can easily delete a recording if that week's guests don't appeal.

Arrested Development: FX have been running double-bills of this axed comedy every week, so I've been tearing through its three seasons. This is a show I missed during its original run, but kept hearing about over the years, so I'm glad I took the plunge and caught up. It's excellent. The best US comedy of the '00s.

Coast: I love this BBC series where a team of voluble scientists travel around the UK coast (and, increasingly, the shores of our European neighbours), revealing interesting societal, scientific, geographic, and historical stories along the way. It's always an hour of interesting discoveries, mixed with stunning aerial photography. Beautiful, enriching and fascinating.

Dynamo - Magician Impossible: Bradford's answer to David Blaine gets his own street magic series. And despite the fact it's massively derivative of Blaine's late-'90s shows, in terms of format and style, Dynamo's magic is still astonishing and will leave you scratching your head and giggling like a seven-year-old. This is easily the best original show Watch has ever made.

The Hour: It's early days, but I enjoyed episode 1 of this 1950s newsroom drama and, it would seem, conspiracy thriller. Stylish, well-acted, a little sluggish and awkward at times, but ultimately memorable with enough to lure you back. The kind of quality drama that was once commonplace on BBC2.

Lee Mack's All-Star Cast: There are things here I enjoy for their well-meaning shiny floor cheesiness, but a lot I hate or have grown to find tedious. This has been a surprise hit for the BBC on Saturdays, but I think that's more to do with the fact audiences want a show that's like this... of which this is a middling example. The problem is that it's not a very good chat show, and the best moments are when it goes all Noel's House Party-meets-Generation Game (a comedy sketch involving celebs and the public, and a webcam segment where people try to impress us in 15 seconds). Mack's a likeable host in the music hall tradition, but this show started uneven and has now become repetitive. I wouldn't mind a second series to improve things, or the BBC could just make something similar for primetime that works better. It's close to being deleted on my DVR.

Mock The Week: This satirical BBC2 panel show is still series-linked, but there are weeks where I can't be bothered to watch and delete it. MTW's struggled without Frankie Boyle's savage bite these past few years, and I never particularly liked the rounds and format to begin with. Funny acronyms from tabloid headlines, etc? Weak. Without Boyle lancing the week's politicians and celebs, it's become toothless pap.

The Office USA: Yes, you read that right. You must think I'm a masochist because I'm always mentioning I dislike the American version of The Office. But yes, I have seen most of the episodes and it's series-linked. So I must like this show deep down, right? Well, I'll admit I've learned to enjoy it on a shallow level—mainly because I think Steve Carrell's great and his charisma alone covers a multitude of sins. The rest? Well, it has some funny moments and some good lines. I do laugh sometimes, I'm not made of stone, but I don't embrace this show as anything other than a way to pass half-an-hour.

Penn & Teller - Fool Us: Entertaining ITV1 magic show, which hasn't done as well as it deserves to. I'm struggling to see why it hasn't caught on more, because it's one of the weekend's highlights for me. Maybe people don't like how Penn & Teller never outright expose how a trick is done, which appears to be the point when you're told the premise? I don't know. Do people really want the magic spoiled at the end of every act? Or maybe the ITV audience just don't like Penn & Teller themselves, who are a better fit for Channel 4—where they had a show in the '90s? ITV primetime certainly means their notorious edginess has been lost.

The Rob Brydon Show: Another chat show hosted by a funnyman, as if there wasn't already enough on British TV. Brydon's USP is that he's heterosexual, it would seem. Now, I like Rob Brydon, but what I saw of his chat show's inaugural year was limp and forgettable schedule-filler. All chat show live or die on the quality of their guests, and Brydon tends to rely on showbiz mates as his best bookings, sadly. It's series-linked for series 2, to see if things have improved, but I can see me deleting this.

Top Gear: I'm less enamored with this motoring show than I was five years ago, when it seemed to hit a peak, but it remains the UK's best-produced show in many ways. Truth is though, I tend to fast-forward through most of the hour these days –- except the news segment (doing my best to ignore the scripted "ad libs") and Star In A Reasonably-Priced Car lap. If there's a cross-country challenge, I'll perhaps watch that, but Jeremy Clarkson aggrandizing a Ferrari on an airstrip? No.

But what about you? Let me know what shows YOU'RE series-linking in the comments below. If you don't have a DVR, a quick rundown of which shows you're watching religiously will suffice!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Trailer: Original British Drama (The Body Farm, Doctor Who, The Hour, Merlin, Page Eight & Spooks)


I'm enjoying this "Original British Drama" campaign the BBC's marketing team have hit upon recently, primarily because BBC2's been given money to spend on homemade drama. The trailers are nicely judged teases, and it's just great to feel like the BBC are excited and passionate about making quality drama--rather than cough up another reality TV series or gameshow.


This latest promo features clips of '50s newsroom conspiracy thriller The Hour (which started this week), Doctor Who (featuring a potential gay kiss), Waking The Dead spin-off The Body Farm (starring Tara Fitzgerald and Keith Allen), Merlin's fourth series (featuring an angry-looking Morgana), Bill Nighy and Ralph Fiennes in Page Eight, and the return of Spooks. All set to the tune of Motorhead's "Ace Of Spades".

Excited by any of that?

Review: SHOW ME THE FUNNY


Unfortunately titled, considering the scarcity of laughs. Jason Manford presents The Apprentice-for-comedians, as 10 stand-ups compete for £100,000, a DVD deal, and a nationwide tour. Show Me The Funny's judges are comedian Alan Davies (a man whose stand-up comes a distant third to panel show appearances and acting these days), Kate Copstick (a respected comedy critic, whose nonetheless best-known as a panelist on '80s quiz Crosswits), and a weekly guest judge (this week, comedy dinosaur Jimmy Tarbuck). Are the warning lights flashing yet?

Every week the stand-ups travel to a different city, perform totally unnecessary tasks (on the streets of Liverpool some were asked to find passersby with names from a Beatles song), and soak up local knowledge to inspire a five-minute set of brand new jokes. Each comedian then performs to a local audience (comprised entirely of women this week), while assessed by the three judges, and the worst performer sent home.

The format's a key problem here. The street tasks didn't influence most people's comedy, beyond one person who unashamedly stole a joke a hairdresser told him about posh Scousers from the Wirral picking their noses with cutlery. It was instead just a way to kill time. After an unforgivable half-hour (including two ad breaks) we'd seen precious little comedy or jokes (there are disputed rumours that host Manford's jokes were cut for legal reasons). And when the stand-up finally arrived, the quality was understandably poor because it was new material hastily written in 24-hours. Few comedians work under those exacting conditions, particularly new ones hoping to make a splash. It can take years to hone some material down into a decent 5-10 minute set, so why not judge them on their existing material instead of forcing them to write five minutes of imprecise local gags?

It was also blatantly obvious who the worst stand-ups were out of the 10 (a half-Spanish man feebly peddling a "lothario" image, and a black man who unwisely persisted with an excruciating Scouse accent), so the judges weren't saying anything we didn't know already. You could say that Simon Cowell likewise states the blindingly obvious (bad singing is bad singing, right?), but there's more of a grey area with wannabe popstars. In comedy, you're either funny... or you're not. There's very little wriggle room. The judges comments weren't particularly constructive or helpful, anyway. ITV could have opened a phoneline for 15 minutes and ended with the same result.

Show Me The Funny's sole positive is how it acknowledges the lows that come from stand-up comedy. On TV, stand-up is understandably edited so performers always look successful at what they're doing, for fear of killing the mood, or just features performers who've reaches a standard where their material is generally more hit than miss. But this show gave a more honest view of the art from a lower rung, with most people suffering through stony silence or bemused tittering. It made you squirm in your seat at times, guffawing out of embarrassment as people's jokes hit the floor like dead fish.

But that doesn't forgive the fact that this was a stand-up comedy show that took half-an-hour to actually feature any stand-up, and then its comedy "highlights" were ironically the lowlights. Show Me The Funny feels like a show that's been thrown together by committee. People like X Factor, The Apprentice and stand-up comedy these days, so let's throw them in a blender and serve it up! Will audiences even embrace the winner of this show when they're announced in six weeks? Buying their DVD and booking tickets for a tour? I just can't see it. Tesco bargain bins and some gigs at Butlins is the most likely outcome.

Show Me The Funny / Mondays / ITV, 9pm

Trailer: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN



"We all have secrets: the one we keep... and the ones that are kept from us."

I don't often review movie trailers, but thought I'd say a few words about the first footage from director Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man. It's such a bizarre thing when Hollywood reboots film franchises, but this is probably the strangest instance ever. I could just about get my head around them remaking The Incredible Hulk so soon after the failure of Ang Lee's art-house version Hulk, but the Spider-Man franchise wasn't a flop that needed reviving quickly. It was a very successful trilogy of popular blockbusters that only finished in 2007. When Amazing Spider-Man comes out next summer, only five years will have passed. Is that long enough for audiences to accept someone other than Toby Maguire as the geeky webslinger? I have my doubts. Then again, five years is half a decade, and for anyone under 15 that's a sizable chunk of time in your lifespan. Your perception of times changes the older you get, but for me five years is too soon for a do-over.

Onto the trailer itself. What's most noticeable is how much darker and moodier this version looks and feels, compared to the vibrant and energetic Sam Raimi trilogy. Is Webb going after the Twilight crowd with this? Or is this just what Spider-Man looks like if you treat things semi-seriously? Raimi's vision was always bright, kinetic and comic-book, but this trailer appears to be more subtle. Then again, maybe it just has to be because they've cut the budget to around $90m, it's believed. To put that into perspective, Spider-Man 3 cost three times as much at $258m. Even the first movie was given $140m to play with. So this new movie will almost certainly feel low-key and restrained, meaning it'll have to focus more on story and character instead of action set-pieces and villains. And that's not a bad thing, provided the action we do get is creative and worth the build-ups.


The most promising thing about The Amazing Spider-Man is the very intriguing cast. I was never a fan of Toby Maguire's take on Peter Parker, who just came across as a wet blanket to me. Andrew Garfield is slipping on the spandex this time, and he's a far more interesting performer to me, and it helps that the public have seen him in The Social Network and are anxious to see what else he can do. We also have the scrummy Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy (with her natural blonde hair), who's just about ready to become a huge movie-star post-Easy A, and the unexpected choice of Rhys Ifans to play villain The Lizard. He's not a villain I'm interested in, and it's a shame Dylan Baker never got the chance to become the Lizard in Raimi's hypothetical Spider-Man 4, but the rogue's gallery is another issue this reboot has to grapple with. As a reboot, it could recycle villains like Green Goblin, Dr Octopus and Sandman, but has perhaps wisely chosen not to.

The supporting cast also includes movie legends Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Peter's uncle and aunt, which is just brilliant, although they've failed to find anyone to play news editor J. Jonah Jameson because J.K Simmons was so perfect in that role it would be nigh impossible to better him. I'm surprised Jameson wasn't asked back as some kind of weird continuity, rather like how Judi Dench has played M in James Bond movies that starred both Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.

So there are pro's and con's to this project, that much is clear. But I still have a tough time accepting a reboot so soon after Spider-Man 3, when there was nothing wrong with the previous saga. Spider-Man 3 may have been critically derided, but it was no Batman & Robin-style debacle that made a reboot necessary. I'm very interested to see what reaction this movie gets next summer. I suspect it'll be a huge hit (brand and name recognition will do that), but will we leave the cinema amped to see more from Andrew Garfield as Spidey?

There's nothing in this trailer that provoked a wildly positive reaction from me (although I get a feeling the quality of acting is going to be appreciably higher, and I like the serious tone), but then again I didn't particularly love the revered Spider-Man 2. This superhero doesn't really speak to me, for whatever reason, but I'm not sure a darker take is going to change that. Perhaps the biggest problem with this trailer is that there's absolutely nothing new to explore here with the characters and story. It's just another origin story that doesn't offer any big changes to what Maguire's character went through a decade ago...

What do you think? Did this trailer get you pumped for more Spidey action, or are you  puzzled by this movie's existence? Will it be the Batman Begins of the Marvel universe, or another Incredible Hulk?

The Amazing Spider-Man opens across the US on 3 July 2012.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Christopher Eccleston finally reveals the truth behind his DOCTOR WHO departure


Bad Wilf have reported on comments Christopher Eccleston made about his year working on Doctor Who and why he decided to quit. The actor was speaking at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, and his candid response to why he left the revived sci-fi drama is below:

I left Doctor Who, because I could not get along with the senior people. I left, because of politics. I did not see eye-to-eye, with them. I didn't agree with the way things were being run. I didn't like the culture that had grown up, around the series. So, I left. I felt, over a principle. I thought to remain, which would have made me a lot of money and given me huge visibility, the price I would have had to pay, was to eat a lot of shit. I'm not being funny about that. I didn't want to do that and, it comes to the art of it, in a way. I feel that if you run your career and-we are vulnerable as actors and, we are constantly humiliating ourselves auditioning. But, if you allow that to go on, on a grand scale. You will loose, whatever it is about you and, it will be present in your work.

If you allow your desire to be successful and visible and financially secure. If you allow that, to make you throw shades on your parents, on your upbringing, then you're knackered. You've got to keep something back, for yourself. Because, it'll be present in your work. A purity or an idealism is essential, or, you'll become-you've got to have standards, no matter how hard work that is. So, it makes it hard road, really. You know. It's easy to find a job, when you've got no morals, you've got nothing to be compromised you can go 'yeah, yeah. That doesn't matter. That director can bully that prop man and, I won't say anything about it'. But, then when that director comes to you and says 'I think you should play it like this'. You've surely got to go 'How can I respect you, when you behave like that?'

So, that's why I left. My face didn't fit and, I'm sure they were glad to see the back of me. The important thing is that I succeeded. It was a great part. I loved playing him. I loved connecting with that audience. Because I've always acted for adults and the suddenly, your acting for children. Who are far more tasteful, they will not be bullshitted. It's either good, or it's bad. They don't schmooze at after show parties, with cocktails"

That seems to confirm rumours that have circled his departure in 2005 after just 13 episodes playing The Doctor. He just didn't get on with the "senior people". It's not known if that includes showrunner Russell T. Davies, but how could it not? Of course, the very reason Eccleston got involved was because he'd worked with RTD on The Second Coming, so they definitely had a good working relationship at some point. It seems to me that the job and the creative direction just wasn't what Eccleston expected. And to be frank, I don't blame him for wanting to go. I didn't really like series 1, either. It was too childish and Eccleston looked uncomfortable whenever required to play the clown. It was definitely a wise move for him to go, particularly as his replacement David Tennant was a better fit for the demands of the role.

I appreciate Eccleston's candor here, but I'm guessing it's now impossible he'd come back for the show's 50th anniversary in 2013. Although some of those "senior people" have changed since the days of Russell T. Davies' reign...

Scottish comedies GARY: TANK COMMANDER and BURNISTOUN finally coming to whole of UK


Do you remember one of my Talking Point's in May, asking why so many popular BBC Scotland comedies aren't available to the rest of the UK? Well, it feels like someone read that post at the BBC and decided to do something about it! Or I just got lucky talking about an issue someone was already preparing to put right this summer...

Whatever the reason, military sitcom Gary: Tank Commander and sketch show Burnistoun are coming to BBC3 and BBC2, respectively. The downside is that Tank Commander's timeslot is just before midnight at 11:45pm, so set your generic digital recording box. Even so, it'll be interesting to see if these shows prove to be a hit with viewers outside of Scotland..


Gary Tank Commander / BBC Three / Monday 25 July, 11:45pm
Burnistoun / BBC Two / Coming Soon

FALLING SKIES, 1.6 - "Sanctuary: Part 1"


"Sanctuary: Part 1" was a decent episode that eventually pushed Falling Skies into different territory (literally, with a new location), but I don't have much to say about it. I liked the opening—with a father stealing medicine because he wants to leave the 2nd Mass with his family, who are freaked by recent goings-on—and there was a terrific set-piece with kid-soldier Jimmy (Dylan Authors) surviving a Mech attack and then being confronted by a Skitter angrily bursting an inflatable Earth, but the episode only piqued my interest in its dying moments...

This occurred when Terry Clayton (Henry Czerny), a military pal of Weaver's (Will Patton) from a vanquished platoon, was revealed to be collaborating with the aliens. In a parallel to the Blitz, the 2nd Mass's children were evacuated under Clayton's command to a country retreat, unaware he intends to hand them over to the Skitters. And the cherry on top was discovering that Clayton only learned the 2nd Mass were protecting kids after torturing the captured Pope (Chris Cunningham) for information.

It was a great ending that had me eager to see what happens next, but this was otherwise an hour of simple adjustment. I'm glad Falling Skies has realized it can't hang around that high school for much longer and is starting to branch out, though. There's still no explanation for why Ben (Connor Jessup) was "unharnessed" from his parasite and has recovered better than Rick did (he's even endowed with increased strength), but I trust that will come. The mystery of why the Skitters need human children is the show's best hook, and Skies is doing a good job teasing us with what it all means. I remain convinced the writers were inspired by Torchwood: Children Of Men's own child-coveting ETs, but they're adding a few interesting twists.

I'm still enjoying Falling Skies, let's be clear, but the potential of early episodes hasn't evolved into anything transcendent yet. It's advertised as a big-budget "TV event" epic with Spielberg's name reminding you of a small-screen War Of The Worlds—but it's really just a competent, sometimes interesting apocalyptic drama, with a tolerable budget. There are a handful of good ideas, some fantastic aliens, and an engaging if clichéd performance from Patton (here given a great paternal moment with a boy who just got the scare of his life), but it needs work bringing everything together in a special way that excites its audience. Successful television drama is often alchemical, and Falling Skies hasn't quite found a unique voice from within itself (possibly because its well-trodden concept can't break free of intrinsic mustiness), but there are definite flashes of gold here and there. Fool's gold? That's for you to decide. But now we've started the second-half of season 1, with another 10 episodes in development for next summer, your demand as a viewer naturally increases. I hope the show rises to this tough challenge.

written by Joel Anderson Thompson / directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan / 17 July 2011 / TNT

TV Ratings: BREAKING BAD, season 4 (AMC)


The fourth season premiere of Breaking Bad broke a record for the AMC show, with a total of 2.6 million people tuning in for the tense "Box Cutter". This includes 1.5m people in the lucrative 18-49 demographic, and is a massive 30% increase on the third season premiere's numbers. This suggests the show is catching on with more people, thanks to extremely positive word-of-mouth. Breaking Bad is actually one of very few shows that's become more popular with each passing season, too.

Are you watching the spellbinding DYNAMO: MAGICIAN IMPOSSIBLE?


Which is the best magic show on television? BBC1's Magicians, the series presented by Lenny Henry where celebrities assist illusionists with big stage tricks? ITV1's Penn & Teller: Fool Us, where various British magicians try to perform a trick that will hoodwink the titular American double-act, hoping to win a money-can't-buy performance in Las Vegas if they succeed? No, it's probably Watch's Dynamo: Magician Impossible, showcasing the street magic of Bradford-born conjurer Steven Frayne (aka "Dynamo").

The series owes a huge debt to the 1997 TV specials Street Magic and Magic Man that introduced the world to US magician David Blaine, as it follows almost the exact same template. Dynamo could even be mistaken for Blaine's shorter, younger, British brother—only without the pretentiousness and Messiah complex. We can only hope Dynamo doesn't also start performing ostentatious endurance challenges like standing on an enormous column, being encased in ice, or spending 40 days and nights stuck inside a plastic box.

Magician Impossible's format is unquestionably derivative, with Dynamo performing magic to American and British members of the public on streets, mixing it with cameos from celebrities that range from Misfits actor Robert Sheehan and boxer David Hayes, to footballer Rio Ferdinand and popstar Natalie Imbruglia. But while the show isn't as revolutionary as Blaine's (back when the idea of street magic was new and exciting), the quality of tricks and skill of Dynamo are equally as impressive.

There are often a handful of astonishing moments in each hour-long show. My favourites so far being a climactic sequence where Dynamo walked on water across the Thames (a stunt that became a tabloid news story), or the moment Dynamo stepped behind a jacket held in front of a shop window and walked through the glass onto the street outside. Almost every trick feels fresh and confounding—like the moment he rubbed a woman's wrist-watch tan line and moved it to her upper-arm, or when he balanced a guitar on two chairs, removed one, and the instrument remained suspended in mid-air.

Magic's at its best when it's close-up, personal, and seemingly impossible to achieve given the circumstances (no stage, no moody lighting, no huge props, no sexy assistants). The concept and format of Magician Impossible may be nothing new, and has arrived almost 15 years behind Blaine's trailblazing series, but when the quality of magic is this high it's churlish to complain. Plus, while Blaine's spaced-out weirdness was once a key part of his appeal, he's since turned into something of a pop-culture joke because of his fixation on ludicrous endurance stunts, whereas Dynamo (despite even stealing some of Blaine's quirks, like the phrase "I just want to try something...") is a far more personable and likable fellow.

If you haven't been watching Dynamo: Magician Impossible because it's on a relatively obscure digital channel, you've missed a trick. And boy, is that an understatement!



Dynamo: Magician Impossible / Watch (Virgin 124 & Sky 109) / Tuesdays, 9pm
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Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Review: BREAKING BAD, 4.1 - "Box Cutter"


The best show on television returns with a virtuoso premiere, this one simmering with tension and glowing with confidence. Like Walter White's (Bryan Cranston) peerless recipe for crystal methamphetamine, Breaking Bad's operating at 99% purity now the writers know precisely what works, and—more importantly—how to squeeze every last drop of juice from each hour.

"Box Cutter" opens with one of the show's occasional flashbacks, often employed to give guest-stars a chance to reprise dead characters. That proved to be the case here, too, as we found chemistry nerd Gale (David Costabile) giddily opening giant packages containing the so-called Superlab he's going to be operating for local drug kingpin Gus (Giancarlo Esposito). It was a nice reminder of how amiable and childlike Gale was, before the show truly began by continuing from the third season's climax—with Jesse (Aaron Paul) shooting nice-guy Gale in the head, in desperate to ensure Walt's indispensability to Gus as the Superlab's numero uno. From there, the episode was something of a slow period of uneasy clean up: Walter held hostage in the Superlab by jaded assassin Mike (Jonathan Banks), only alive because he managed to make himself irreplaceable in the nick of time; Jesse found and taken back to the Superlab by Gus's minion Victor (Jeremiah Bitsui); and all four awaiting the return of Gus himself to see how Gale's murder will effect their working relationships.

Elsewhere, we caught up with Skyler (Anna Gunn) as she drove Walt's car from her house to his condo, fearing their son (RJ Mitte) will take it as a sign his parents are getting back together; a conclusion her sister Marie (Betsy Brandt) has already jumped to while visiting. Skyler's often a character just skirting events, but there are increasing signs she's going to become a more dynamic and vital part of the show now. It helps that she now knows Walt's cooking meth to make a fortune before cancer kills him, and there was a great sequence in this episode where Skyler's own skill as a liar came in handy—as she managed to convince a locksmith she lives in Walt's condo so she could get inside to look for her missing husband. To me, it feels that Skyler's headed towards becoming accepting of her husband's vocation (perhaps even enjoying some of the lifestyle it brings), at least until her eyes are opened about just how dangerous this life really is.

A brief scene also revealed the status of Walt's brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris), who's now bedridden and undergoing physiotherapy to regain his mobility—having been paralyzed last season when the Mexican drug cartel's twin enforcers tried to kill him. Hank's story is continuing down the path of eroding his masculinity, in contrast to how weedy Walt's story is turning him into an alpha male. Norris is wonderful in this role, and seeing macho Hank reduced to spending his days bidding for rocks and minerals online, and having to be helped onto a bedpan by his dedicated wife, was heartrending stuff. I just hope the show finds a way to get Hank back on his feet soon, because while making him an invalid delivers  emotional drama (and something for Betsy Brandt to play), I prefer it when Hank's proactive and looking for the mysterious "Heisenberg" and his renowned blue-meth.

The confidence of this episode came from very simple things like the measured pacing and, at times, almost total lack of dialogue. Simple sequences like Skyler returning Walt's car are shown in unusually long takes for TV, often with just the thrumming soundtrack for company. It's far from tedious or pretentious, just oddly mesmeric. You're suddenly giving the tiniest of scenes a great deal of thought and feeling of importance, as they appear to be trying to show you something deeper than what's obviously happening. In this episode, there was a feeling that everyone apart from the core characters were out of town, or—in lawyer Saul's (Bob Odenkirk) case—closed for business. Even Walt Jr was holed up in his bedroom playing music for most of the episode, as Albuquerque became a strange little ghost town for the hour. A place constantly under the microscope of that impressive sky.

Of course, the best example of the show's self-belief was in the moment when Gus finally made his entrance in the Superlab. A taciturn man at the best of times, he had everyone quaking in their boots as he calmly slipped into protective overalls and floated around Jesse and Walt with the blade of a box cutter knife in one hand. Poor Walt could only talk in an effort to make Gus see sense, while fearing for his life, trying to appeal to Gus's common sense over any feeling of vengeance. The tension was drum tight, almost as if the air had been sucked out of the room, and the release came in one of the most horrendous scenes the show's done: Gus slicing open the neck of stooge Victor, arm clutching his head and choking him out, as arterial blood spattering Walt's jeans. Gus is a man of few words, but indelibly memorable actions.

But as Walt says to Jesse in a diner afterwards (once they melted Victor's corpse into a plastic barrel with Hydrofluoric acid), their actions killing Gale has merely bought them time. Gus will be looking to replace the troublesome, unruly Walt, and when he finds someone equal to Gale, their lives will under threat once again. Walt knows they have to start planning their move before death comes a-knocking, but a shell-shocked Jesse's just clutching to a naive belief the worst is over and it'll take Gus years to find a replacement he can trust implicitly.

Overall, "Box Cutter" was a great episode of an even greater series. This hour was chiefly concerned with resolving the issues left dangling from season 3, so it doesn't feel like season 4 even began until the diner scene. The denouement suggests the cops investigating Gale's murder will find his "Lab Notes" journal, which will undoubtedly have clues about the whereabouts of the Superlab, how it's run, and who owns it. But if the net's closing on Gus, can Walt find a way to escape this associated danger, while perhaps ousting his callous employer?

Fascinated to see how this season develops.

Asides

  • Loved the match-cut from a pool of blood being cleaned with a mop to someone at a diner swirling a splodge of ketchup with a french fry. Darkly amusing.
  • Nice callback to season 1's "Cat's In The Bag...", when Walt and Jesse disposed of their first body using Hydrofluoric acid in a bathtub.
written by Vince Gilligan / directed by Adam Bernstein / 17 July 2011 / AMC