Friday Night Lights

March 22nd, 2007

ITV4 have been showing Friday Night Lights for a few weeks now, and it's really grown on me. The show's portrait of life in a high school football-obsessed Texan town is much more than a straight high school drama, with plenty of attention paid to the newly appointed coach of the team, his family, his relationship with the team's interfering sponsors and, above all else, the way the town as a whole lives for Friday night's matches. If the team loses on Friday, the coach finds himself running into people on the street who politely (more or less) suggest that he up sticks and leave town before he destroys their season, the team's quarterback catches abuse from passing motorists, and the local sports radio programme spends the week speculating over the coach's team selections, tactics and so on.

The intensity of the town's interest in high school football seems very strange to a British viewer, but the programme sells the premise so well that I don't stop to think about how odd it is for an entire town to stop to applaud their team as their bus takes them to an away game. Whilst each week's show does revolve around that week's game I don't think you need to know a great deal about American Football to understand what's happening.1 As the series progresses we're starting to get to know the students better and all sorts of interesting subplots and character arcs are starting to open up; the show is starting to develop into something really special, quite possibly the best high school-based drama since My So-Called Life. According to Heather Havrilesky's recent story on the show in Salon2 there's some prospect that the show might not be renewed. That would be a real shame.

1 I used to follow American Football during the Channel 4 years, so it's hard for me to say for sure how a complete novice would fare. That said, I reckon the writers give viewers enough context for the relatively brief game sequences to permit any reasonably attentive viewer to figure out where the game stands and what the stakes are for the coach and team at any given point.

2 NB: non-subscribers will be required to view an advert before gaining access to the article

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"Why would Howdy Doody be sending people mail bombs?"

January 24th, 2005

Saturday afternoon's episode of Monk was, once again, enormous fun. As I've only caught on to the show early in season 2, I'm going to have to think hard about whether to fork out for the DVD of the first season. I've got to see what I've been missing, and I doubt that BBC2 will be repeating the first season any time soon.

One show I'll definitely be buying on DVD just as soon as I can scrape the pennies together is Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars, which is due for release in Region 2 in just three weeks' time. I've heard nothing about the prospects of an outing for the two-parter on BBC2, but this post at but she's a girl…. reminded me that the show's proper finale had finally shown up in the UK, so a DVD release was bound to follow before long. Roll on February 14th.

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Team America: World Police

January 19th, 2005

It's hard to describe Team America: World Police in a word. There's no denying that some individual scenes are really, really funny. When Trey Parker and Matt Stone's script piles one action movie cliche upon another, then throws some gross-out humour on top just for fun, the effect can be hilarious: the puppet sex scene which got so much attention prior to the film's release is every bit as daft as it sounds, but the most cringeworthy puking scene since Mr Creosote's is another thoroughly memorable moment.

The trouble is, the gross-out moments are almost all the film has going for it. Some of this is because the script and the soundtrack expend a lot of effort parodying elements of post-9/11 popular culture – godawful ultrapatriotic country songs, left-wing celebrities espousing naive, simplistic anti-war views, ludicrously unbalanced news bulletins – which don't quite work for non-American audiences. Some of it is just because the whole thing comes off as utterly juvenile. If the pop cultural references had resonated more strongly then this might have been as much fun as South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, but as it was the results were too hit-and-miss for this to be worth another look.

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The Great Sperm Race

January 18th, 2005

No doubt within twelve months Endemol will be putting on a UK version of their latest bright idea.

Celebrity Sperm Race anyone?

[Via Mark Wants a Porsche]

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Fact to fiction

January 17th, 2005

The New York Times has a report by Sharon Waxman about the first attempts by US TV writers and producers to use the Iraq conflict into source material for a TV series.

As you'd expect, everyone involved takes great pains to emphasise that their number one concern is to tell the story of life for the people over there (at any rate, the Americans) rather than engaging with wider political issues, so it doesn't look as if anyone's aiming to produce the Iraq War's version of M*A*S*H any time soon. (Admittedly, one of the current projects is a sitcoms set at a US-funded Arabic language TV station in Baghdad's Green Zone. But I'd think that as long as active hostilities continue there's very little chance that a sitcom set in Iraq will make it to air.) The most promising project discussed looks to be Over There, which is being written and co-produced by Stephen Bochco.

Though the show does not yet have an official green light (and won't until FX sees the pilot), Mr. Landgraf said he was confident that it would make it to the schedule by summer. FX is known for tough, male-oriented shows like "The Shield" and "Nip/Tuck," and Mr. Bochco says he was attracted to the idea of writing for cable at a time when broadcast television seems risk-averse. […]

He and Mr. Gerolmo did not seek the Army's cooperation because they did not want to submit scripts for approval. Instead they have hired Sean Bunch, a former marine and an Iraq war veteran, as a consultant, and are privately renting tanks, C-130 transport planes and all manner of military props.

I wonder if any British producers are putting together similar shows. Would the markedly less pro-war attitude of the general public in the UK make them more receptive to stories which paint a bleak picture of life in 'free' Iraq, or would the imperative to "support the troops" trump all other considerations? I'd love to be proved wrong, but I suspect the latter.

[Via Fimoculous]

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Bad news

January 16th, 2005

It was bad enough that Bryan Singer dropped out of the third X-Men film. Now that I've read an excerpt from an interview with Simon Kinberg, the new writer for the film, I'm really, really worried:

Q: Who – or what – would you say has had the biggest influence on your career?

A: Who: Akiva Goldsman. He took me under his wing, and taught me not only how to write, but how to be a writer, how to survive in a system that doesn't value writing. […]

So Akiva "Batman & Robin/Lost in Space" Goldsman taught Kinberg how to write? Oh boy…

On checking the IMDB, I see that Kinberg has also written the forthcoming Fantastic Four film, and that Goldsman is producing Constantine. I reckon between them these two men could pretty much kill off the trend for big screen comic book adaptations.

I think Mark Steese, whose Usenet post pointed me in the direction of that interview, pretty much summed it up:

Now it makes sense! Always two there are…

[Via Mark Steese, posting to rec.arts.movies.current-films]

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Kraftwerk calculator

January 16th, 2005

It turns out that the U2 iPod wasn't half as groundbreaking as I'd thought. Way back in 1981, Casio brought out the Kraftwerk Pocket Calculator, complete with a songsheet so you could program it to play your favourite Kraftwerk tracks.

[Via MetaFilter]

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Darwin Awards: The Movie

January 15th, 2005

Yes, you read that right. A film called Darwin Awards is in production.

Next up, the big-screen adaptation of the Bulwer-Lytton Award.

[Via feeling listless]

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"Germs, needles, milk, death, snakes, mushrooms, heights, crowds, elevators."

January 8th, 2005

A few weeks before Xmas I happened to catch BBC2's Saturday afternoon schedule. Lately they've been filling the afternoon with runs of various detective series. Some, like the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes adaptations, are familiar – classics, even. (Can I just note that I'm horrified, having looked up Brett's series on the IMDB, to discover that it debuted more than 20 years ago. I suddenly feel very old…)

Anyway, this post isn't about the Holmes adaptations, fine as they are. It's about a show which I'd heard of but not seen before, not least because I don't think BBC2 ever tried it in an evening timeslot. Monk is as enjoyable an hour's TV as I've seen in quite a while. Tony Shalhoub's magnificently eccentric detective is clearly the heart of the story, but the supporting cast – especially Ted Levine as Monk's captain and Bitty Schramm as Monk's assistant/nurse – do good work, and the stories are great fun. It looks as if everyone involved is having a ball, which always helps.

As it happens, the detective show which followed Monk in this afternoon's BBC2 schedule was also worth watching. I've never read any of Rex Stout's stories, but by all accounts the A Nero Wolfe Mystery series is a worthy adaptation. As with Monk, you have a sense that the likes of Maury Chaykin and Timothy Hutton are having a ball with the material. I'm definitely going to have to go and hunt down the source material now. And to set my VCR if I'm not around on a Saturday afternoon.

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House of Flying Daggers

January 6th, 2005

I was looking forward to House of Flying Daggers quite a bit: after greatly enjoying Hero late last year I was relieved that Zhang Yimou's follow-up had avoided a similarly delayed UK release. For all my anticipation, I have to confess that I was a little disappointed in House of Flying Daggers. It's by no means a bad film, and to be honest I'm having problems putting my finger on the reason I felt it to be a letdown. Somehow House of Flying Daggers just didn't grab me in the way the earlier film did, so it felt over-long in places, to the point where I found myself checking the time once or twice towards the end during a certain ludicrously prolonged death scene; if you thought Trinity's death in The Matrix Revolutions took too long then you'll hate this one.

Which is not to say that there weren't some lovely moments – my favourite being a scene involving a running battle in the bamboo forest which would have looked right at home in Hero – and I have to admit that the performances of the three leads were just fine. It's just that somehow the spectacle and the melodramatic plot didn't quite do it for me this time round. I realise that I'm in a minority on this. Perhaps I just wasn't in the right mood or something.

Alternatively, allow me to completely blow whatever credibility I may have as a cineaste and martial arts connoisseur by noting that I had much more fun this evening watching John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China for the umpteenth time on TV than I did watching House of Flying Daggers last night. There, I've said it. And soon Google and the Internet Archive will pick that comment up and the evidence of my lack of taste will be preserved forever. How's that for an epitaph?

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Buffy animated series

January 2nd, 2005

Writer Jane Espenson and artist Eric Wight have been talking to Mike Jozik about the on-off plans for an animated series of Buffy:

JOZIC: What was/is your favourite aspect of working on the show?

WIGHT: Being able to play in Joss' sandbox was an amazing experience. The Mutant Enemy writers are some of the best in the business, and the animated scripts were as good as any story from the first couple of seasons of the live action show. So the most exciting part was getting that new script to work from every couple of weeks.

ESPENSON: Hmm… I think my favorite part was writing jokes that worked in these scripts but that would not have worked on regular Buffy. Visual jokes or slightly-broad wordplay-jokes that might've seemed too "big" in live-action seemed to me to work very nicely in animation. Also, the scripts were all humor and action and very little angst… they were just a blast to write.

It sounds as if it would have been a fun show, but I'm not so sure about the idea of reviving the animated series. I'd rather see Joss Whedon working on new material in different universes rather than continually harking back to the show that made his name, especially not if the spin-off involved episodes which fit within the timespan covered by the TV version of the show.

In the end, the animated show would suffer the same problem as all spin-offs set in the same timeframe as their parent show: is there sufficient scope to write interesting stories when we all know the fates of the main characters? You either follow the stories knowing full well that the fundamental relationships in the story are going to remain in place, or the writers have to resort to alternate timelines and the like to create some tension about what's going to happen to the characters. Arguably this would be less of an issue in the animated series, where they were obviously not planning to do major story arcs and were likely to concentrate on monster-of-the-week epsisodes. But the parent show was so much more than that, and it'd be a shame for them to settle for less just because of a change of format.

I recently read Christopher Golden's The Lost Slayer, a collection of three linked novels telling the story of a very dark alternate future for the Scooby Gang because of a single mistake Buffy made somewhere early in season 4. It did a decent job of putting some of our favourite characters through the wringer, but in the end it was hard to worry too much because there was no doubt that the end result would be a return to the show's status quo. If I'm going to read or watch Buffy spin-offs, I'd prefer that they were either set well after the events of the TV shows, or – as with the Tales of the Slayers short story collections and comic, not to mention Fray – involved different generations of Slayers and Watchers.

[Via WHEDONesque]

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Profit on DVD

January 1st, 2005

It looks as if Profit, a delightfully twisted little show that lasted not nearly as long as it should have, is due for a (Region 1) DVD release later this year.

The show got a single late night run on BBC2 back in 1997 and as far as I know it's never been repeated, so I'd be interested in seeing it again after all this time. In the States only four episodes were broadcast, whereas the DVD will include all 10 episodes: after all this time, I can't even remember whether the BBC2 showed all ten episodes.

[Via Crocodlie Caucus]

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Crossroads

December 29th, 2004

Anthony Lane's panning of the film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera inspired a MetaFilter thread, which naturally turned into a list of people's favourite negative reviews.

Perhaps my favourite (courtesy of Fourmyle's contribution to the thread) is the Flick Filosopher's attack on Britney Spears' big screen debut, Crossroads: style and content working in perfect harmony.

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Joss Whedon interviewed

December 29th, 2004

CHUD has an interview with Joss Whedon about turning Firefly into a feature film.

Q: Is film more or less stressful than TV?

Joss: Well, it's been as stressful. I thought it would be less stressful. I thought I'd be golfing in between takes and writing sonnets. Two things have not worked in my favor. One is, although I don't have three shows to run – and believe me, nothing will ever be as hard as that was – the movie takes up your attention in a way that three shows do. All of the creative energy that you're usually pouring into telling 20 – 40 stories a year, you're pouring into one. And you find you need it. You wake up in the middle of the night and you go, "His pants are too baggy!" And it's important. You have watch everything so carefully because every mistake you make is gonna be forty feet high. Whenever you think, "Well, maybe that's good enough," I say to myself, "Cinerama Dome." […]

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FF producers panicking?

December 28th, 2004

Not surprisingly, the producers of the Fantastic Four movie have reportedly been thinking hard about how they can respond to The Incredibles. In itself this isn't necessarily a huge problem, particularly given that so much of the finale is probably going to involve a lot of CGI work anyway; if you're prepared to throw the necessary money at your animators, what's a few hundred more man-hours of animation time anyway?

In a sense, that's the heart of the film-makers' real problem: some superpowers – most noticeably the ability to stretch your limbs like elastic – looked much more realistic in the stylised world of The Incredibles than they're likely to when CGI'd onto footage of real actors. That's not to say that all superhero films need to be done as 3D animations in future, but you've got to balance how goofy your characters will look on-screen against the desire to use actors to sell their characters and their stories through their performances.

Of course, it also helps if you have a really good script, actors who know how to work with the material, and an inspired director. We won't know about any of those factors until we see the finished product.

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The Year in Swag

December 26th, 2004

The Onion's AV Club surveys the astonishing range of tat their film writers received from eager publicists this year:

Item: A faux-bearskin envelope

Promoting: The DVD release of Brother Bear

Description: Manufactured to contain a press release touting the Brother Bear DVD, and sealed with a metal clip, the furry envelope suggests what an office-supply store might stock in an alternate universe that never developed paper.

Relevance to product promoted: High. Bears are an excellent source of fur for those who can still sleep at night knowing that their comfort means the death of such majestic creatures.

Item quality on a scale of 1 to 5: 1

Though relatively sturdy, the synthetic bearskin is unpleasant to touch and too thick to close easily once opened.

Persuasive power: Poor. If anything, it suggests that Disney was so dissatisfied with the cast of Brother Bear that it had them skinned in a desperate attempt to get its money's worth.

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Sin City trailer

December 23rd, 2004

CHUD has links to streaming and downloadable versions of the latest trailer for the Robert Rodriguez/Frank Miller adaptation of Miller's Sin City stories. It certainly looks the part, and with that cast if the script is halfway decent then it's got all the makings of a fine evening's entertainment and then some.

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Blade: Trinity

December 22nd, 2004

For my money, Blade is often unfairly overlooked. Not only was it the first of the successful run of Marvel comic adaptations, but if The Matrix hadn't come along just a few months later Blade would have got more recognition as a kick-ass action movie. Not that star Wesley Snipes and writer David Goyer came off too badly: Snipes found a signature role, and Goyer became one of the go-to men for comic book adaptations. Then they teamed up with Guillermo del Toro to make Blade II, a sequel which did a decent job of opening up the setting of the original film while giving Snipes ample opportunities to perfect his cool badass act.

Sadly, it looks very much as if handing Goyer the director's job for Blade: Trinity was a mistake. Forcing Snipes to share the spotlight with a wise-cracking ex-vampire and his sidekick Whistler's daughter wasn't an entirely terrible idea in theory, but in practice neither new character was given enough lines to actually develop a character. Jessica Biel looked suitably buff and handled her action scenes pretty well, but didn't get enough time interacting with the other characters to make much of an impression. Ryan Reynolds was also extremely buff, but his character seemed to be completely unable to utter two consecutive sentences without inserting an idiotic wise-ass comment. Which made for a nice contrast with the even-more-taciturn-than-usual Blade, but got very irritating very quickly.

What really ruined the film wasn't the good guys: in the end, a good horror film needs a good villain, and this is where Blade: Trinity fell flat on its face. If you'd told me after I saw Van Helsing that I'd see an even less impressive Dracula on-screen this year I wouldn't have believed it possible, but Dominic Purcell's "Drake" pulled it off. He gave a stunningly uncharismatic performance: for once, throwing lots of special effects at the climactic fight scene helped, because it at least made Drake seem genuinely menacing. Then there was Drake's main sidekick, a bitchy vampire played by Parker Posey, giving a stunningly misjudged performance which was neither menacing nor funny: for whatever reason, she was all over the place.

For all that, the film might have been rescued if Goyer's direction and story had been above average. Sadly, his work here doesn't suggest that Goyer has any great talent as a director. The fight scenes were incoherent, shot in that irritatingly choppy style which leaves you with little idea of what's going on beyond the fact that there are some crunchy sound effects suggesting that someone is getting pummelled. The plot never really explained who the group of vampires were – were they successors to the elders who we've met in earlier films, or just a gang of "young" upstarts like Deacon Frost from the first film? Come to that, the question of what Parker Posey and her gang hoped to gain from the revival of Drake never really came into focus beyond the idea that he'd kill Blade (who is pretty lethal one-on-one, but it's not as if there was any sign that he was really making a dent in a flourishing underground society of vampires.)

I wouldn't mind seeing Biel's and Reynolds' characters taking over the mantle of Blade, not least because giving them an entire film to themselves would force the writer to give their characters a bit more depth, but realistically there seems little hope of a fourth cinematic release unless one of the principals gets lucky and ends up so hot that the studio will let them do whatever film they like to keep them sweet. It's a sad end for a fun series.

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BBC Cult to shrink

December 20th, 2004

Reports suggest that the BBC's Cult TV website is about to metamorphose into a simple promotional site for forthcoming shows, or possibly to close altogether depending upon whose reporting you believe. Because we all know that there are a host of British companies just queueing up to provide British-oriented fan sites for TV shows they won't actually be showing.

I just wonder: twelve months after the appropriate sections of the BBC Cult site close, do you think there will be new high-quality commercial sites devoted to Farscape, Buffy, Angel, Red Dwarf, Taken and the like? BBC2 never even showed Angel but they still built a very decent site devoted to a show running on a rival channel. What do you think the chances are that Channel 5 will build a site devoted to the new Doctor Who?

I know the theory is that the money the BBC frees up by pruning the Cult site will be used to provide better "public service"-oriented content, but I'd guess that the best case scenario is that they'll put the money saved towards publicising forthcoming shows. The worst is that the savings will land in a big pot of money and never produce a single identifiable benefit for ordinary viewers.

[Via WHEDONesque]

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Le Guin on Earthsea again

December 17th, 2004

Neil Gaiman pointed out this article by Ursula K Le Guin expressing her disappointment with the Earthsea adaptation at greater length that the article I linked to earlier this week. As a bonus, and a reminder of how badly Hollywood can treat pretty much any decent source material, he linked to an Ain't It Cool News article about a draft script for a Sandman film:

WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE? Where did any of this crap come from? The Corinthian is Morpheus' brother? Why? Lucifer is his other brother? How does this even begin to make any kind of sense? Farmer can't even get the most basic motif of the books right. Scroll back up and check out the names of The Eternals. Notice a pattern involving the letter "D"? Well, Farmer evidently didn't, since he's changed the name of one of Dream's sisters to "Love" when she shows up finally.

(Normally I'd be mildly sceptical about a script review on AICN, but if Neil Gaiman is pointing to it I'm guessing the article is an accurate account of the storyline.)

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