Victor Field

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Star Trek: Voyager: Real Life
Episode 22, Season 3

"If I don't like it, I can always get out..."
Though a way for the Doctor to understand about loss and real families, this still has some flaws - why is it B'Elanna's or ANYBODY'S business how he should live his holographic life? And sad to relate, the Doctor being on the verge of leaving his family when he can't cope with tragedy is EXACTLY what some actual human beings would do, despite what Paris might think.

But the most telling aspect is that his family is never again mentioned in any episode. Ever. And it's not like this series hasn't brought up other family members for characters before and since, either; his family is, after all, just a holographic simulation which he can (and presumably does) switch off... which ultimately makes the episode, though good, pointless if it has nothing to affect future stories.

The summary comes from the scene in "Soul Man" when C. Thomas Howell points out to James Earl Jones that he doesn't really know what it's like to be black - Jones has no choice, but Howell (being white) can get out. Just like the Doctor, who as he himself once said has a programme instead of a life, also gets out...

Alpha and Omega

Not Crufts-level, but not a complete mongrel.
First things first - in animation terms, "Alpha and Omega" isn't in the Pixar league. Or the DreamWorks league. In fact, it's not that far above the "Jakers! The Adventures Of Piggley Winks" league... which kind of fits, since the movie seems more suited to the small screen than the big.

The animation (done in Mumbai, not Japan, contrary to one previous reviewer) is sadly suited to the script; never really surprising and pretty derivative - the climax manages to rip off "The Lion King" (fathers trapped in a stampede), "Jurassic Park" (they're protected by a tree) AND "Far And Away" (the camera pulls back up away from Kate and zooms back down - it's her spirit going up to wolf heaven and coming back into her, get it?) -, the story's conclusion is foretold from the beginning and though it's got its moments, there aren't really enough to make it a must. The howling scenes are always good value, the cast tries with what they have, and there's a welcome lack of pop culture references and romantic ballads over the credits - but while it's not unwatchable and never really terrible, this probably isn't the screen farewell Dennis Hopper fans had in mind.

The movie would have gotten a 4/10, but it's raised to 5 because of a) the effects work of the clouds at the beginning and end (Digital Domain are featured in the end credits. Hmmm...), b) the aforementioned night howls, and c) it being less lame than the last animated movie Hayden Panettiere lent her perky little voice to which got a proper theatrical release, since "Hoodwinked Too" is still stuck on the shelf ("Dinosaur").


As far as I'm concerned, the answer to the question "Are you on the list?" is "Yes."
(Viewers reading this who haven't seen all of the first season, proceed with caution.)

Ever since "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" ended, there's been something missing in my TV viewing; there's been a gap for something essential, something that's a true appointment. Though I watched "Charmed" from first episode to last, that wasn't it; "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" also don't really count.

And then along came "Heroes."

At the time of writing, it's airing on the UK Sci-Fi Channel (but they sadly won't have season two thanks to the BBC), but I've managed to see the entire first Volume; maybe the season finale didn't have all the expected fireworks, but that's pretty much in keeping with a series which puts people above FX. In any case, what's come before has been too effective for this to count as a letdown - yeah yeah, it's not blazingly original, but what matters is how it's executed, and Tim Kring and chums executed it well without a genuinely bad episode in the bunch; some better than others, but no stinkers. In fact, you can come up with a by-no-means-comprehensive list of 23 good things about "Heroes" (one for each chapter):

1. The eclipse logo.

2. The presence of Bryan Fuller on the first season roster (any show involving him will be worth a look).

3. The fact that they aren't obliged to have all the characters every week.

4. Not explaining everything, but not leaving almost everything hanging either.

5. Hiro (who's been exulted over extensively elsewhere, so I won't add to it).

6. Future Hiro.

7. James Kyson Lee as Ando. As deserving as Masi Oka is, Mr. Lee doesn't get enough credit for being a sidekick who's almost a hero himself.

8. The moment when Claude shoved Peter off the top of a building to his non-death, which confirmed that Milo Ventimiglia has improved since his days of annoying me deeply on "Gilmore girls." Because I DIDN'T wish he'd splatter over the tarmac and never come back.

9. "Save the cheerleader, save the world."

10. The reduction of Mohinder's rather pointless voiceovers as the first season went on, although they came roaring back for "How To Stop An Exploding Man."

11. Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman's music - not your usual superhero scoring, but this isn't your usual superhero show.

12. Characters getting actual development, even non-favourites (e.g. anyone connected to Niki Sanders, including Niki Sanders).

13. Sylar, with thanks to the producers for not letting us see how he consumes the DNA of his victims.

14. "This is Claire Bennet, and that was attempt #6."

15. Not overdoing Claire's power of regeneration and still managing to make her one of the show's best characters.

16. The ongoing story of Mr. Bennet.

17. "Company Man," "Five Years Gone," "Homecoming," and come to think of it most of the other episodes.

18. The fact that poor Claire has Steven Carrington for an adoptive dad and Jim Profit for a real one.

19. Jack Coleman, Greg Grunberg, Adrian Pasdar and most of the cast.

20. "Holy sh- " - To Be Continued...

21. The winks to comic fans being kept relatively restrained so the series doesn't become one big in-joke.

22. Missy Peregrym's Candace getting her clock punched in the season finale (she was just as annoying here as she was in "Stick It," so it was justified).

23. The wonderful Hayden Panettiere (one of my TV Girlfriends, with apologies to the "Television Without Pity" book). Hayden, you're totally my hero.

Smokin' Aces

"Smokin' Aces" is neither smokin' nor ace.
Someone help me - has Ryan Reynolds ever been in a good movie? "Blade: Trinity," "The Amityville Horror" and now "Smokin' Aces," a nasty, brutish but sadly not short movie that isn't remotely as funny or as thrilling as it thinks it is. And it can forget about stylish either.

Writer-director Joe Carnahan's bid to give the movie style is its biggest problem; an essentially simple story of the FBI, skiptracers and assassins all after a Las Vegas entertainer-turned-snitch (Jeremy Piven) is subjected to endless stretching out, fantastically annoying touches - way too many connecting scenes have one sentence carried over to another, there are far too many characters and too few of them given any room to grow, and moments that want to be quirky but just grate (why do we have to see Jason Bateman wearing women's underwear? What is the point of a small boy giving karate chops and getting an erection?) - and utter, utter stupidity; "Smokin' Aces" is the kind of movie where three bad guys who look like a punk rock group manage to get into a hotel without anyone seeing them.

Meanwhile, while Carnahan's indulging himself (note how many of the scenes go on longer than necessary, like Matthew Fox's cameo) the movie's few moments of interest are lost, and the actors are left struggling with their receptacles for profanity - as opposed to proper characters. All of which makes the movie both hypercharged and boring; it just doesn't matter whether or not they get to Piven's character, you just find yourself wanting to say "Oh for goodness' sake just END already." On the upside, Ben Affleck is pretty good in his glorified cameo (before getting abruptly killed off) and Alicia Keys does quite well as a sultry lesbian assassin. (Her contribution is entirely acting-related.) The movie's ultimate payoff would also probably be more effective had the movie been shorter, or better developed.

But since it ain't, all this movie is is, as Chief Wiggum once said, "Lots of flash - no depth."

La déraison du Louvre

A very artistic short. And then some.
"La Déraison du Louvre," shown as a video installation at the London gallery/restaurant Sketch, is a strange short movie in which a young woman tours the titular gallery late at night, and takes in a variety of their exhibits (including the Mona Lisa). The title translates as "The Madness of the Louvre," and the paintings and statues do have an effect on the young woman...

Projected on twelve screens, half of them present the young woman touring the gallery, with no dialogue but plenty of disorienting sound effects and photography as the visitor all but steps inside the exhibits, so overcome is she by the artistic riches in the Louvre. Art by name and art by nature, it's all about the visuals - and with one of the world's most famous galleries and one of the world's most beautiful women as your "guide" (the visitor is played by Laetitia Casta, who's quite a work of art herself - and the reason I sought this out, since I take any opportunity I can to see Laetitia Casta on screen in the UK), it's a pleasure on that front, even though it's very much up to you to decide what the point is. (Other than a plug for the Louvre, that is.)

The other half of the screens take over for the second half, which entirely focus on Laetitia bobbing underwater in a bathtub in slow motion (unlike the first half of the short, the screens never show the exact same image at the same time). Presumably the intent is to show how the visitor has gone from admiring the art to becoming an exhibit herself, but your guess is as good as mine.

DOA: Dead or Alive

The fifth best video game movie ever.
There have actually been good video game movies.

By this I mean movies like "WarGames," "The Last Starfighter," "Cloak and Dagger" and "Tron" - movies that had video games at the core of the story but weren't based on real video games. I do not mean movies like "Mortal Kombat," not "Street Fighter," not "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider - The Cradle of Life" and definitely not "Super Mario Bros." "DOA: Dead Or Alive" (produced by Paul W.S. Anderson, not a good sign - I've never forgiven him for "Mortal Kombat" and "Event Horizon") is from a real game, but it sucks less than most of its ilk. Not that that's saying much, because it's still something of a missed opportunity.

Never mind the plot - island princess Kasumi leaves her sanctuary to track down her brother at the Dead Or Alive tournament, wrestler Tina wants to prove that she's a real fighter, thief Christie is out to steal the cash, blah blah blah - the movie knows what counts; babes and brawls, and it's got lots of both of them. Devon Aoki (Kasumi), Jaime Pressly (Tina), Holly Valance (Christie), Sarah Carter (the adopted daughter of evil Eric Roberts) and Natassia Malthe (the bodyguard sworn to kill Kasumi for leaving) adequately fill the quota for the former - they even throw in a completely gratuitous volleyball game! - and whenever the movie threatens to be swamped under a serious story moment you can bet the swords will be flying and the booty will be kicked very soon.

The movie also has an endearingly tongue-in-cheek tone (which has to be courtesy primary screenwriter J.F. Lawton, he of "Pretty Woman," "Under Siege" and "VIP" fame) and it comes in at well under 90 minutes... but somehow it doesn't take off the way it should.

It's tempting to say it's because of the acting - Devon in particular behaves as if English is her fifth language, and Eric Roberts... well... - but who goes to movies like this for the acting? The problem is more to do with Cory Yuen's direction - the action's heavily stylized but at its most thrilling when it's filmed straightforward; no abrupt changes in speed, no overactive cameras. It's also a pity that the makers upped the "hard to take seriously" factor by including comical sound effects for blows; you never got that on "The A-Team," thankfully.

And ultimately it falls short on the guilty pleasure scale compared to the first "Charlie's Angels," although I did admittedly watch it after spending hours and hours on various buses AND after eating an entire spiced loaf by myself. I think I'd have liked it more if I had been a bit more alert... but "Bloodsport" for the "Zoo" generation is still preferable to "Bloodsport" for the Jean Claude Van Damme generation.

Flimsy but watchable.

The Black Dahlia

Scarlett Johansson looks as if she knows this is dull, confusing and pointless. And can you blame her?
As I write this, there's a rerun of "Close To Home" on TV; despite the fact that Jennifer Finnigan isn't a two-time Oscar winner like Hilary Swank or a BAFTA-winning international sex fantasy like Scarlett Johansson, any episode is much, much better than "The Black Dahlia." It shouldn't be that way.

Brian DePalma and cameras remain a good combination, but even his wizardry can only give this sow's ear so much of a silk purse treatment; James Ellroy's novel must have been better than Josh Friedman's script makes it seem. Ostensibly based on the real-life unsolved 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short, the movie might have been better if it had stayed focused on said horrible crime - but from the off, when Josh Hartnett's endless voice-over kicks in over riot scenes, we're in more for a drama about a cop. And a not very interesting cop at that (Hartnett seems about as hard-edged as Hong Kong Phooey).

A fuzziness in execution is this movie's downfall; the murder of Miss Short almost seems to take a back seat to a whole load of other things, and if our hero is supposed to be obsessed enough that he falls for a woman who looks like her it doesn't come off, in part because Hilary Swank doesn't look much like Mia Kirshner. At all. (That Kirshner, seen almost exclusively in film footage, delivers a more heartfelt performance than the caricatured Miss Swank doesn't help her case.) This also makes the implied ending of the movie fairly senseless - the main murder is solved in this movie (it may be a "This comment may contain spoilers" review, but I won't give away the killer's identity), but given that the real Black Dahlia lived a wild life and got the name because of her fondness for the colour black, and that a key character who winds up dead has a wild life and loves wearing black, if we're supposed to be thinking that she's the "real" Black Dahlia (the man who kills her is, by implication, never made to pay for his crime) it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. And renders the preceding two hours or so utterly pointless... or should that be, even more pointless, since we've been made privy to several utterly confusing plot points that come along without rhyme or reason, until the impression is left near the end that the makers realised they've got to tie together everything somehow, never mind if it doesn't make sense.

To make matters worse, the movie manages to take story factors like lipstick lesbianism (and the genuine article), boxing cops, what used to be called "stag" films, riots, and gruesome murders and make the entire movie dull and uninvolving. The acting doesn't help for the most part (except for Aaron Eckhart, Mia "girls on girls a specialty" Kirshner and a nice cameo from Rose McGowan, most of the cast don't seem to be in the spirit - Scarlett in particular never looks at ease, though the script is more to blame), with Fiona Shaw particularly excruciating as Hilary's mum. And Mark Isham's score is reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith's score for "L.A. Confidential," but not as good.

"The Black Dahlia" is, paradoxically, both good to look at and a bad watch.

High School Musical

Abandon cynicism, all ye who enter here.
"High School Musical" is corny... it's about as realistic as "The Bash Street Kids"... it's never going to be mistaken for a classic...

...and I adored it.

Just as anybody watching "Prison Break" and expecting it to be "The Glass House" or "Oz" is grasping entirely the wrong end of the stick, so anyone watching this expecting "Jesus Christ Superstar" will be inevitably disappointed. True, the songs aren't exactly Menken & Ashman; yes, some of the singing sounds treated; and for sure, some of the lip-syncing (especially Vanessa Anne Hudgens') is Hall of Fame poor. But everyone proclaiming this the Worst Musical Ever really needs to take a look at something truly inept like "From Justin To Kelly," and then come back and apologise to everyone involved with this TV movie; unlike that misbegotten vehicle, "High School Musical" overcomes its limitations and emerges as what it wants to be - a charming little diversion.

Zac Efron and Miss Hudgens make up for their involvement with "Summerland" and "Thunderbirds" respectively, but Alyson Reed as the cellphone-hating drama teacher and Ashley Tisdale as the egotistical would-be scheming ice queen of the school are the standouts (I say would-be because the movie's biggest roadblock in the way of our heroes isn't actually placed by her); the movie's extremely eager to please and doesn't have a mean bone in its body, and Kenny Ortega's improved as a director since the stodgy "Newsies" - this is great fun throughout, and the characters are likable and sympathetic (and, it has to be said, very attractive, which is hardly a minus for this kind of thing).

Its message about it being okay for people to be who they are may be obvious, but it's harmless and appealing - it's aimed squarely at younger audiences, but not all older viewers will be squirming... I say not all because my older sister is 38 (two years older than me) and likes "Grey's Anatomy," but if it was a choice between an hour with boring old Meredith Grey and watching Troy and Gabrielle breaking into "Breaking Free," I know which one I'd go for. "High School Musical"'s a delight, which is more than can be said for quite a few Disney movies made for the BIG screen lately.

This could be the start of something big indeed.


Can you wait for a remake of "The Swarm" or "When Time Ran Out..."? Yes, so can I.
Boats don't seem to be lucky for Freddy Rodriguez on screen; his character met his maker on a cruise ship in the last episode of "Six Feet Under," and in "Poseidon" he's the first of the band of heroes to be killed off. In one of the few moments that indicate how much of a better movie this could have been, it's not so much his death as the circumstances of it that are striking (it tops similar moments in "Vertical Limit" and another (but far superior) disaster movie with Emmy Rossum, "The Day After Tomorrow," because it's not a heroic self-sacrifice like the latter or a convenient way to kill the villain, save the good guys and atone for personal guilt at the same time like the former - Richard Dreyfuss basically, and to be fair unwillingly, has to kill him so that the others have a chance)... but then nothing much is made of it. Or much of any of the characters.

Wolfgang Petersen certainly knows his water what with "Das Boot," the climax of "Air Force One" and the logo for his company (Radiant Productions - sun shining over a tranquil sea), and this isn't as bad as I was afraid it was going to be (it's certainly more watchable than "Lost in Space," which ain't that hard anyway), but even without comparing it to the original movie it almost never catches fire; with most of our heroes mono-dimensional no-narks (it figures that the liveliest one, Kevin Dillon, should be among the ones to bite it) it's pretty hard to care whether or not they make it out - yours truly kept getting Josh Lucas and that guy who plays Miss Rossum's boyfriend confused, which isn't a plus. Dreyfuss and Mia Maestro do manage to make some kind of positive impression, and it's amusing to see Kurt Russell start to turn into Nick Nolte, but most of the others are either wasted (Andre Braugher in particular) or nondescript.

The hand of Akiva Goldsman had to have been brought onto that dialogue (Russell: "Everyone can see..." Rossum, playing his daughter: "The twins?"), the reduced running time is more the work of savage editors than the script (although Mike Vogel's aching legs after being pulled out from under the wreckage in the disco never seem to hinder him again...), the standard army of FX studios (ILM, The Moving Picture Company, Giant Killer Robots and so on) turn in work ranging from excellent (like the capsizing) to dire (like the shamelessly fake oil that ushers in a pillar of fire), and unfortunately this was one time that Petersen left the music intact; Klaus Badelt proves that he's no John Williams (like we didn't know already), and the less said about Her Butterfaceness Queen Stacy of Ferguson and that awful sub-Celine Dion dirge over the end credits the better. This all seems a bit like a video game rather than a movie, with people facing challenges to get to the next stage. And about as emotionally stirring.

But as I said earlier, there are some strong moments - the air vent sequence is genuinely tense (and it's refreshing to see an air vent in a movie which isn't big enough to fit an SUV in for once), the opening journey around the boat is pretty decent, and a couple of the fates met by key characters are truly affecting. Overall, though, the best thing you can say about the movie is that it's better than "Beyond the Poseidon Adventure" - although if you must watch a big-budget box office bomb with Josh Lucas, you might be better off with "Stealth." I never thought I'd say that.

Night Stalker

This isn't "The Night Stalker," and not only because the definitive title isn't there.
Whether on its own terms or as an update of the '70s series, "Night Stalker" ultimately deserved to be chopped by ABC after seven episodes (although as is often the case, all ten produced shows turned up over here, via Bravo this time - bravo! Not).

It's not so much that Stuart Townsend's no Darren McGavin, although it's certainly a minus... it's that developer Frank Spotnitz is a graduate of "The X Files," and he brought the same sensibility to this re-imagining (copyright by everyone who slagged off Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes"). So while the two TV movies and the series made no bones about the supernatural being out there, the new take on it endlessly pussyfooted around (not to mentioning throwing in yet another big arc, surrounding the death of Kolchak's pregnant wife) and tried to focus more on psychological horrors than ghoulies, ghosties, etc.

Not that that in itself is bad, it's just that it almost never really worked (apart from the episode about people literally scared to death). Maybe the creative staff felt that the go-for-broke approach wouldn't work these days, that "Night Stalker" would have to be "real" to be effective - but the makers of "Supernatural," by all accounts (I don't watch the show), were less troubled with that aspect, and that's coming back for a second year. Either way, the bottom line is that "Night Stalker" just wasn't absorbing enough, and for the most part also wasn't scary enough. But it WAS unbearably serious enough; dreary gubbins, essentially.

Three stars for getting Philip Glass to write a swirling piece (far superior to Michael Wandmacher's scoring for the pilot and all the episodes), and for Gabrielle Union as a very sexy Scully to our hero's Mulder... but if "Night Stalker" had been better, Union's chocolaty goodness would have been a mere bonus. Here it was the only reason I watched. Not good.

The Wild

Amusing, but more tamed...
"The Wild" demonstrates yet again that Disney's Pixar-less CGI features lack something ("Chicken Little" notwithstanding). The irony is, for all the justifiable comparisons people have drawn between this and "Madagascar," this is actually a better movie than that inexplicably successful mess - the trouble is, I saw this after DreamWorks' "Over The Hedge," which is far superior to both of 'em...

PROS: Wonderful computer animation, substantially from C.O.R.E. (among whose directors is one of this movie's cast); minimum of culture references and some attempts to tell an actual story; the voice cast (particularly Patrick Warburton, William Shatner and Janeane Garofalo).

CONS: An inability to tell its story straight - in some kind of misguided attempt to appeal to everyone, "The Wild" changes its tone seemingly every five minutes and winds up undercutting the serious core of the plot so many times (especially with the wildebeests - what's up with the dance troupe?) that it ultimately shortchanges itself. This would have been a far better film if it could have made its mind up about what it wanted to be and stuck with it, the way "Curious George" did.

It's actually fairly amusing, and at least it doesn't seem too small for the big screen (a la "Hoodwinked") but really not much to write home about. And not much to write about, really.

X-Men: The Last Stand

Not X-cellent, but not X-ecrable either.
There were those who were worried about "X-Men: The Last Stand" when it was announced that Brett Ratner was directing; my worries came when I saw that the script was credited to Simon Kinberg ("Mr. & Mrs. Smith," "xXx: State of the Union") and Zak Penn ("Last Action Hero," "Elektra")... that this movie doesn't wind up as a bomb is a relief, therefore.

That's not to say it doesn't have its flaws - some movies suffer from being too long, but with the amount of story strands in this one (Jean Grey's resurrection, Rogue's heartbreak, the discovery of a cure, and so on) the movie isn't long enough to deal with all of them satisfactorily; another half hour would have helped (the first two movies didn't have such a problem) and would have given this movie the scope it was crying out for - what should be as powerful as "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" or the final episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is instead a bit undernourished, with lots of characters and not enough heft. It would also quite possibly have removed such jarring moments as an abrupt change from day to night in one crucial scene towards the end, but as this is a No Spoilers review I won't elaborate.

As well as shortchanging Rebecca Romijn's Mystique and several other mutants, the movie also suffers from some weak performances (Josef Sommer is particularly bad as the US President) and a worrying tendency to be comic book in the worst way (case in point: every single scene with Vinnie "Why the hell is he in this movie?" Jones's Juggernaut); Ratner might have been advised to take a tip from "Prison Break" and let other people... say, Bryan Singer... direct while he took executive producer credit. (And yes, I realise Ratner did the first episode.)

The main cast members are for the most part effective, both veterans (Stewart, McKellen, Jackman, Janssen, Paquin, Berry etc) and newcomers (Ellen Page, in addition to benefitting from the most convincing FX in the movie, is wonderful as Kitty); John Powell's terrific score is another plus, and even the general semi-dumbed-down approach can't hide the intelligence underneath the concept and the ambitious ideas. It still falls short of the first two films, yes, but there's still a big gap between "X-Men: The Last Stand" and, say, "Daredevil." (And I thought I had figured out what the post-credits scene would be like... I was, happily, wrong.)

Mission: Impossible III

Tom Cruise, I served with Jennifer Garner. I knew Jennifer Garner. Jennifer Garner was a friend of mine. Tom Cruise, you're no Jennifer Garner.
Not long before his death, Greg Morris saw the first "Mission: Impossible" movie and hated it so much he walked out halfway through. I didn't. Walk out, that is. But I disliked it for much the same reasons he did - for all the razzle-dazzle, it was NOT "Mission: Impossible." And neither is "Mission: Impossible III" (I've never seen the second one, but I doubt it's any closer to the real thing); it's more like "Alias: The Movie," which may well be what Paramount hired J.J. Abrams for in his debut as a big-screen director, but it's not right somehow.

Not only does it have a lot of stylistic similarity - both this movie and quite a few episodes of "Alias" open with our hero in grave danger followed by an extended flashback to how this came about, both feature extended slow motion, both have Greg Grunberg, and so on - but you can draw parallels between the characters, making it two summers in a row that Abrams' co-writers and "Alias" alumni Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci have been called on this (remember last year's "The Island"?).

Ethan Hunt is Sydney Bristow (although unlike Sydney, Ethan is really just a cipher - and unlike Jennifer Garner, Tom Cruise never really projects any kind of warmth or anything to make you root for him), his superior officer Brassel is APO director Chase crossed with Jack Bristow (and lets Laurence Fishburne have the best line in the film - "Please don't interrupt me when I'm asking rhetorical questions"), rookie agent Lindsay Ferris is Rachel Gibson (a wasted Keri Russell, and it's to be hoped that Rachel doesn't meet the fate that greets poor Lindsay), Davian is a less complex Arvin Sloane (Philip Seymour Hoffman, stealing the movie and making me regret there wasn't more of him), the never-really-explained Rabbit's Foot is the Rambaldi device, the guy played by Simon Pegg is Marshall, Ethan's fiancée Julie is Sydney's fiancé in the pilot, and so on. They even have the place names on screen. Frankly, I'm surprised the Bad Robot logo doesn't come along at the end (surprised, and relieved... that thing is scary!).

But what this doesn't take from "Alias" and "Lost" is the willingness to really go for broke, or indeed the complete and utter absorption; "Mission: Impossible III" is never unwatchable, but it doesn't really catch fire either - good setpieces, but the climax is something of a damp squib compared to the Vatican break-in or the assault on the bridge; the echoes of what has come before + lack of human feeling = no real investment. (Ironically, the two moments that really strike home are among the simplest - the scene in the helicopter after rescuing Lindsay, and a brief bit in Shanghai where our hero is trying to get the Rabbit's Foot in the road.) Of course, humanity wasn't what the original show was about either, but it WAS about building suspense - this doesn't for the most part, and it also doesn't cut much mustard when compared to almost any episode of "Alias."

For the most part the cast (Hoffman, Pegg, Fishburne, Russell, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, Michelle Monaghan, Maggie Q etc) are free of blame, and Michael Giacchino's score (though not as good as Danny Elfman's) is fine. But while the movie doesn't self-destruct, I wouldn't mind disavowing it... though if it hadn't been called "Mission: Impossible III" I may have had kinder thoughts.

Oh, and Kanye West should be shot.

16 Blocks

"16 Blocks" in 16 lines.
"16 Blocks" gives Richard Donner a chance to do a straighter cop film than the latter-day "Lethal Weapon" movies were.

This also lets Bruce Willis have another shot at his Everyman character and have a hero who's closer to "Unbreakable" than "Striking Distance."

No Superman he, he's a balding paunchy guy who just wants to go home.

Always good to see the Willis who can act rather than smirk.

It's a pretty stripped-down storyline, but Donner and writer Richard Wenk give as much emphasis to character as to action.

This means it isn't exactly "Die Hard" thrilling all the way through.

But it does make the movie somewhat more interesting than it might otherwise have been.

Mos Def's witness is irritatingly talkative, but that's the idea.

David Morse is terrific as the leader of the bad cops out to stop Clint and Sondra... er, sorry, Bruce and Mos.

(Face it, they are running "The Gauntlet.")

For fans of '80s TV, it's a kick to realise that this essentially pits David Addison against that nice Dr. Jack Morrison from "St. Elsewhere."

And props to the makers for not trying to spring a "surprise" twist on us about his best friend being a baddie, but rather showing it early on.

Especially since they save the real twist for much later.

It could have been a minor classic had it ended with the bus under siege as set up in the opening, rather than carrying on for about 20 minutes after, and Klaus Badelt's score is dreadful and completely outclassed by the snippet from "Ladyhawke" over the logo for The Donners' Company at the end.

But there are worse Richard Donner movies out there, like "Timeline."

And worse Bruce Willis cop movies, like the aforementioned "Striking Distance" and "Die Hard With A Vengeance."

Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a man who saw it without reading the book.
Steven Spielberg was due to direct "Memoirs of a Geisha," but it ended up in the hands of the man who steered Catherine Zeta Jones to an Oscar, Rob Marshall. Maybe if the bearded one (still credited as one of the producers) had stayed in the director's chair, this would have been the powerful drama it aspires to be instead of a soap opera. A beautifully designed, wonderfully shot and gorgeous to look at soap opera, true, but a soap opera nonetheless.

The story of Sayuri's travels from a childhood separated from her sister to her flourishing as a geisha to her post-WWII life, Robin Swicord's script is too uneven and often too surface-skimming to successfully bring over what may well have been a more affecting story in the novel; it hits more often than it misses, and it is moving in a Sunday afternoon movie way (when we see the American soldiers in China and the debasement of the geisha world, it's hard not to feel disgusted), but Ziyi Zhang - stunning though she undoubtedly is - is a bit lost as our heroine, especially when she's appearing opposite Michelle Yeoh as the Svengali to her Trilby and/or Gong Li (energising proceedings whenever she appears, and the real star of the movie) as the eventually former leader of the clubhouse, geisha-wise.

Though ZZ tries hard and never really stinks, you don't really believe she could be so captivating (which is surprising considering her previous films), whereas you never doubt for a second that Gong Li really can make men trip over their own feet just by looking at them - although ironically she never demonstrates it, the way our hero and Miss Yeoh do. Even Youki Kudoh as her best friend Pumpkin fares better.

In fairness, it's not all Ziyi's fault; the movie's got style to burn but not all that much underneath, and the emotional pull the ending should have really isn't there - John Williams's score often has a better grasp of the proceedings than the filmmakers do (in addition to being almost as sumptuous as the female leads), and really should have won the Oscar instead of Gustavo Santaolalla. I'm definitely buying the soundtrack, and I look forward to seeing Ziyi Zhang again... just not in this movie. Missed opportunity, basically.

Ice Age: The Meltdown

Ironically considering it's about ice and water, it's not cold or particularly drippy. But remember, it's all about Scrat.
You can tell how much I liked "Ice Age" by this little nugget; flying back from a holiday a couple of years back, I watched this (again) in a Portuguese dub and "Daddy Day Care" in English. The latter was by far the more painful experience.

The trouble is, the first film was so self-contained it's hard to see how they could have gotten a sequel out of it, and "Ice Age: The Meltdown," though not really deserving to be dubbed "Ice Age: The Letdown," is indeed a step down from the first one. The animation is, if anything, better this time around (and conclusive proof that it's a lot easier to animate water than it used to be); it's the story that's the problem... this time around there isn't much of one, and the story and characters were a major part of what made "Ice Age" work - Sid and Diego are sidelined here in favour of Manfred's worrying about his being the last mammoth on Earth (a feeling the first movie handled far more movingly in the cave drawings scene than in this entire flick), with Diego's fear of water seemingly thrown in when the writers remember they have to do something with him.

We won't talk about Sid being the Fire King. Or most of the songs.

The movie also fudges a bit with the thawed-out predators pursuing our heroes on their journey to escape the flood; even though they actually do kill one of the animals they never really emerge as much of a threat (compare them to Sharptooth in "The Land Before Time," with which this shares the basic premise) - and when you think about it, not since "Casper" has a film aimed so much at younger viewers had such an obsession with death, what with one key scene involving a deceased mammoth and the threat of extinction looming over all their heads. And frankly, the most important major characters introduced - Ellie, The Mammoth Who Thought She Was A Possum (emphasised because it sounds like the kind of "The Wonderful World Of Disney" episodes I always used to hate as a boy - and as a man, come to think of it) and her genuine possum brothers - are all really, really irritating.

However, there's still a lot of entertainment here. Sid, Manny and especially Diego remain engaging, and the vulture voiced by Will "Gob Bluth" Arnett really deserved more time; John Powell's score is one of his better efforts (although I still prefer David Newman's work on the first film - pity he didn't return); and Scrat has considerably less difficulty stealing the movie than he has in hanging on to his nut (I shamelessly confess to being more gripped by his travails than by the main story). So, not quite up to the first film or "Robots" but still far superior to yer garden variety DreamWorks.

One thing though - like "Robots," the UK release version of "Ice Age: The Meltdown" has a tacked-on pop song from a British artist. While I didn't like how it turned out there, it's even worse here, with most of Powell's end credit score suite junked in favour of a chronically out-of-place ditty from the talentless ex-boyband oaf that is Lee Ryan - who also redubs a character in the movie - and said aural plague isn't even on the soundtrack album. (Thank goodness, or better yet thank Varese Sarabande.) Why they felt the need to do this, I do not understand. At least with "Robots" they got someone who wasn't crap...

The Pink Panther

Not to be confused with the one and only, truly original, panther pink panther from head to toes.
I can see how this take on "The Pink Panther" has failed to be the box office disaster many have hoped it would be - it never pretends to be anything other than pure slapstick from beginning to end, which is no bad thing for a comedy. The trouble is, it's pretty BAD slapstick, rendering this "re-imagining" (with thanks to Tim Burton's problematic but slightly underrated "Planet of the Apes") somewhat pointless, and another misstep on the CV of inexplicably employable producer Robert Simonds and director Shaun Levy.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't laugh at all; the gag with the MGM lion is better than all of Kurtz & Friends' animated titles, and Steve Martin and Jean Reno masquerading as Beyonce's backup dancers is genuinely funny. But for most of the time the jokes are set up so obviously that Ray Charles in his current state could see them coming, not to mention being flogged to death (why are there TWO laboured gags about people thinking our hero is shagging a wasted Emily Mortimer? What is this, "Three's Company"?), and though Martin as Clouseau isn't nearly as annoying as he was in "Looney Tunes: Back In Action," he's still more infuriating than funny. (And why is his hair white when his moustache is black?)

Though star and co-writer, the former comic genius can't take all the blame; Kevin Kline's ineffective as Dreyfus (as well as never explaining why this supposedly French Chief Inspector sounds almost as British as some of the cast members), and though an uncredited Clive Owen is much better as Bond-alike Nigel Boswell, 006 ("One away from the big time"), his scene seems from an entirely different movie. The director proves that the weak "Cheaper By The Dozen" wasn't a fluke, with his light approach being too light to bring across a comedy and totally unable to handle mystery (remember, the first two "Naked Gun" movies were both very funny AND told a good story), and this is the kind of movie where you can tell who the villain is by careful study of the opening credits. And as for the rampant slathering of endless Paul Oakenfold remixes of Henry Mancini's famed theme in lieu of proper scoring... not that Christophe Beck's original music is all that good, but he still deserved better than that. (I could also wonder why a movie predominantly set in France was partly filmed in Rome and Prague, but that's just being really picky.)

Jean Reno is terrific as Clouseau's far more intelligent and supernaturally patient partner, and Beyonce Knowles turns in her best screen performance to date (probably because she's cast as a drop dead gorgeous world-famous singer), but ultimately ANY instalment of ANY animated incarnation of "The Pink Panther" is more satisfying than this entire movie. And yes, that does include the one where the Panther talked.


Is there anybody down there? Yes. Uh-oh...
At the time of writing, of the three shows riding "Lost"'s supposedly supernatural coattails (ironically, "Lost" is the least fantastical of the lot when you think about it), "Threshold" is gone and the fates of "Invasion" and "Surface" are in the air. The first two are no great losses (after "Invasion" and "American Gothic" I've learned my lesson - no more Shaun Cassidy shows, ever), but "Surface"... that's another matter.

The Brothers Pate's series lacks the methodical (to put it kindly) pacing of "Invasion" - which I admit I bailed out of screaming - and the sub-"X-Files" aura of "Threshold," preferring instead to go for such old-fashioned tactics as keeping the story moving along and having something actually happen each week (the sinkhole swallowing up a lake and the unfortunates sailing on it is a standout), but it also has some good wrinkles to throw in.

The mysterious creatures that are at the core of the show aren't necessarily evil, certainly not as bad as some of the humans; our main doctor hero (Lake Bell) may be a woman but her sex is completely incidental to the yarn (even allowing for her swimwear scenes) - kudos to Jonas and Josh Pate for having her relationship with Jay R. Ferguson be as a fellow Person Who Knows The Truth and not as a lover - and the running side story of Miles and the creature manages to stay the right side of sentimentality, with bonus points earned for making his big sister (the very cute Leighton "Debbie from '24'" Meester) less of a cow as time goes on. (If sentimentality can be used for a scaly electrical-conducting biting thing.)

Admittedly, "Surface" can't completely hide its sources - particularly "The Abyss" and to a lesser extent "E.T." - and the scripts have more holes than the Pussycat Dolls' collective wardrobe (how is it possible for someone to plunge to the ocean floor in a submersible, come back up full speed ahead, and not suffer the kind of bends last endured by Miguel Ferrer in "DeepStar Six"?), but no one will ever call it boring. It's strange that the least promoted of the trio of "Threshold," "Invasion" and "Surface" should turn out to be the one that's most watchable - but then again, the people who gave us "GvsE" will always trump Brannon Braga and Shaun Cassidy. Won't they?


"Afterlife"? What's that?
"Ghost Whisperer" isn't the only series about a female medium to come along after "Medium" (although Jennifer Love Hewitt in dead-people-conversation mode has yet to arrive on these shores); just before BBC1 began its run, ITV1 launched a show about a blonde medium and her cases called "Afterlife." Factor in the fact that the main character in both shows is called Alison, plus ITV's long-standing belief that their audience thinks US shows don't exist for purposes other than grouting, and we may have one of the most suspicious cases of probable coincidence in TV history (see also "Teachers" and "Boston Public" - the former came along not long after the latter). Of course, this is only supposition.

What's fact, on the other hand, is how consistently watchable "Medium" is now it's in its second season. The pilot episode announced "There really is an Allison. Really," but that's as close to cheekiness as the series has gotten; there is indeed an Allison DuBois, but it's difficult to imagine she's glamourised for the purposes of television - her family life rings true from the off (children who aren't showoffs or obnoxious, husband who's a rock but hardly a wimp), and though Patricia Arquette's Emmy win was a surprise to many, she does provide a good anchor for the series.

Even better, she's not carrying the show on her own; not only are her fellow cast members all good (particularly Jake Weber and Miguel Sandoval) but the show's Phoenix setting is a good change from New York, LA and Chicago, and Glenn Gordon Caron and his crew of writers from "Dark Angel" rarely if ever let us down - they even allow Allison's psychic gifts to lead her wrong sometimes! The series' mix of real relationships and the supernatural makes for something impossible to believe comes from Kelsey Grammar's company (he did, after all, also give us "Girlfriends" and "In-Laws"), and with Mychael Danna's excellent theme music the show leaves just one question - why is it on at after 11pm on Tuesday nights?

Oh yeah, I forgot. It's American, like so many other shows on inaccessible slots or the smaller channels. I guess British TV powers that be are afraid more viewers'll realise which country makes the *real* best television in the world.

Zathura: A Space Adventure

Everyone's a winner, baby, that's the truth.
As far as movies based on Chris Van Alsburg books go, "Zathura: A Space Adventure" is superior to both "Jumanji" and "The Polar Express." (Which means it'll probably make less money than either.) Jon Favreau may not rank with Robert Zemeckis, but he certainly kicks Joe Johnston's butt.

The plot may well be "Jumanji In Space," but whereas the previous movie was little more than an extended look at the various ways to destroy a house (and those overly cartoonish monkeys didn't help), this one has more of a plot to go with the shenanigans - the relationship between our young protagonists (played without going for easy sentiment by Josh Hutcherson and Jonah Bobo) has as much screen time as the work from Sony Pictures Imageworks and Stan Winston, and rightly so; it's also great to see a family movie about divorced parents where it's accepted as a fact of life and no attempts to reconcile mum and dad are made - mum never even appears here.

Screenwriters David Koepp and John Kamps also deserve credit for adapting a (reportedly) slim book in a manner that never seems bloated, the way "The Polar Express" did; few characters (apart from the two boys and their father, the only other people in the movie are their sister (Kristen Stewart) and an astronaut they pick up after one turn (Dax Shepard)... who, it must be said, is part of one of the movie's few questionable plot points. Since this isn't a "This comment may contain spoilers" review I can't really elaborate, but you'll probably understand what I mean if you see the movie.

"Zathura: A Space Adventure" doesn't stretch the limits of film-making, and I could do without the Paul Simon song at the end, but it - like the under-appreciated "Sky High" - shows it is possible to make effects-filled comedies that genuinely do work for the whole family, with some amusingly edgy dialogue ("We never should've rented 'Thirteen'!") and a built-in spin off premise for the cartoon that would surely have resulted had this been a bigger hit at the North American box office (two kids caught in a game and having to finish it to get back home). Ironically, it would probably not have been as good as the movie... the way the "Jumanji" cartoon is far superior to the source.

The '60s

A miniseries in search of a soundtrack album. Bad vibes, man, and so on.
Is there any other time period that has been so exhaustively covered by television (or the media in general) as the 1960s? No. And do we really need yet another trip through that turbulent time? Not really. But if we must have one, does it have to be as shallow as "The '60s"?

I like to think that co-writers Bill Couturie and Robert Greenfield had more in mind for this two-part miniseries than what ultimately resulted, especially given Couturie's involvement in the superb HBO movie "Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam" which utilized little original music and no original footage, letting the sights and sounds of the time speak for themselves. This presentation intercuts file footage with the dramatic production, but it doesn't do anyone any favours by trying to do too much in too little time; like so many of its ilk, it's seen from the point of view of one family. But the children of the family seem to be involved tangentially with almost every major event of the '60s (it's amazing that one of them doesn't go to the Rolling Stones gig at Altamont), making it seem less like a period drama and more like a Cliff Notes version of the decade.

The makers rush through it so much that there's little or no time to give the characters any character, with the stick figures called our protagonists off screen for ages at a time - the children's father is especially clichéd - and then when they're back on BLAMMO! it's something else. Garry Trudeau could teach the filmmakers a thing or two about doing this kind of thing properly. In fairness, Jerry O'Connell, Jordana Brewster, Jeremy Sisto, Julia Stiles and Charles S. Dutton give their material the old college try, but they're wasted (especially the latter two); it's undeniably good to see David Alan Grier in a rare straight role as activist Fred Hampton, and Rosanna Arquette (in an uncredited cameo in part 2) is always welcome.

What isn't welcome is how "The '60s" drowns the soundtrack with so many period songs that it ultimately reduces its already minimal effect (and this may well be the only time an American TV presentation about post-60s America never mentions the British Invasion - no Beatles, no Rolling Stones... then again, there's only so much tunes you can shoehorn into a soundtrack album, right?). Capping its surface-skimming approach to both the time and the plot with an almost out-of-place happy ending, "American Dreams" and "The Wonder Years" did it all much, much better. Nothing to see here you can't see elsewhere, people... except for Julia Stiles doing the twist, that is.

Cheaper by the Dozen 2

When Carmen Electra is one of the best things about something, something's very wrong.
As a general rule, in my book any movie that bills itself as a comedy and includes a scene where a dog goes for someone's crotch has failed - see "Hudson Hawk" and "Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills." As a general rule, in my book anything with Carmen Electra is a must to avoid (except for her episode of "The Simpsons," of course). "Cheaper By The Dozen 2" has both, and the latter is actually bearable in a Kathy Ireland kind of way as Eugene Levy's fourth wife. In no sense should she come off better than either him or Steve Martin.

The first movie was no classic, but it was amusing; this followup is even less of a classic and almost entirely non-amusing - the movie's totally predictable (is there a chance that pregnant Piper Perabo's waters will break at just the wrong moment?), fails to get even the cheapest sentiment deservedly, and most of the jokes are DOA and/or badly staged, with the exceptions of the duelling campfire singalong and the scene where Martin and Levy are spying on two of their kids in a cinema showing "Ice Age." Lucky them. (Incidentally, Martin says the movie is rated G; "Ice Age" was rated PG in America.)

My condolences to the cast, who do try their best with Sam Harper's script (even Tom Welling and Jaime King) - but you know what they say about sow's ears and silk purses. A harmless but pretty dispiriting and bland sequel; and Hilary Duff's worryingly gaunt appearance isn't a plus. Like the script, the girl needs some help.

King Kong

Sometimes bigger is better...
With "The Lord of the Rings," Peter Jackson displayed a Spielbergian gift for making three hours go by in half the time. With "King Kong," he does it again. Once again, I refuse to compare this new version to any earlier ones - although I will say that the 1976 version is one of the first movies I remember seeing, and the sight of Charles Grodin being stepped on has never, ever left me - and judge it on how it works by itself. And this works just fine in spite of its flaws, although most of said flaws aren't that apparent in the watching.

True, it doesn't really have much depth with most of its human characters; yes, the second hour - mostly a bid to become "Jurassic Park IV" - could have been removed with no harm to the movie (although the scene where Skull Island becomes a sort of Pampalona with dinosaurs replacing bulls is effective); and indeed, the climax on the Empire State Building had me more concerned about Ann than about Kong (surely we're supposed to be completely on the ape's side, with the fear that our heroine - who must surely set some kind of record for the number of times someone comes close to plunging to their death in one movie - anyway, with the fear that she's going to tumble off the building a close second?).

But as a spectacular monster movie, it works. As a strange kind of love story (you do bond with Ann and Kong, especially when she does her vaudeville act in front of him), it works. And as an adventure, it really does work. Although Kyle Chandler is better casting than Jack Black, the main players otherwise work well; and it was nice of Universal to leave Howard Shore in the picture (although his score was replaced by a (mostly fine) new work by James Newton Howard, Shore still has an uncredited cameo as the orchestra conductor).

Not a beast, but definitely a beauty.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

One down, six to go. Hopefully.
While "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (now there's a mouthful) is in no way a bad movie, it still falls short of its own aspirations. And quite possibly Walt Disney and Walden's; though there's no proof, it's difficult not to think this is the opening salvo of their me-too response to certain other movie series (we all know which ones, so I won't name them). Especially since Peter Jackson's movie(s) seem very much like an organic product; this seems more like an assembly line, though still very far away from a failure.

Giving the roles of the Pevensie children to four stronger actors would have helped, though director Andrew Adamson has to share the blame; it's not always that stirring, and the story loses itself towards the end (and unlike, say, "King Kong" or any of the entries in Jackson's trilogy, it doesn't wear its length that well - although ironically this clocks in at a comparatively economical 140 minutes). Perhaps he's not quite as used to dealing with live actors as with animated characters like Shrek. (Although some of the CGI is suspect, meaning Aslan. If only he'd been assigned to Industrial Light & Magic instead of Rhythm & Hues.)

Then again, Adamson does get excellent performances from Tilda Swinton as the White Witch and James McEvoy as Mr. Tumnus, and the stodgy beginning and slightly fizzled finale is made up for by just about everything from the point Lucy discovers Narnia; Harry Gregson-Williams' score and the voice work helps, although having Alanis Morrisette and Tim Finn warbling over the credits doesn't. I'll be back for the second movie (it's surely not going to perform badly enough to rule out the next one) but ultimately Bill Melendez's TV cartoon version from the '70s is better.

And yes, I did get the Christian allegories, but it didn't bother me. We don't all have a thing against religion here, you know. :)


Something watchable in the air, though not special.
The shortlived British magazine "Cult TV" once claimed "Newhart" was an American copy of "Fawlty Towers," even though apart from both being set in small hotels the two are about as similar as night and day. Similarly "Flightplan," to its credit, is in no way a Xerox of "Red Eye" - both involve women in peril on a plane, but they both have different plot lines and twists. Also, "Flightplan" takes itself more seriously than "Red Eye"... but despite carrying more baggage on its flight, ultimately the latter is the better movie.

For the first two acts, director Robert Schwentke and writers Peter A. Dowling and Billy Ray concentrate more on tension and character, focusing on the unravelling of Jodie Foster's character, quarrelling with the crew and passengers and building up an effective sense of paranoia. Her acting may be a bit on the edge of hamminess sometimes, but then again how far is too far in a situation like this? As a psychological thriller, "Flightplan" comes across just fine, even if it does chuck in some red herrings along the way (9/11 trappings notwithstanding).

Unfortunately the biggest red herring of all turns out to be the storyline, as it takes a sharp left turn into "Die Hard" territory (or should that be "Passenger 57"/"Executive Decision" territory) and swaps emotional torture for action hi-jinks... except that in addition to the idiocy quotient increasing, none of the principals really seems to do it with conviction; Jodie Foster may have two Oscars, years of experience and (unlike many actresses) no difficulty in being taken seriously, but this kind of thing calls for someone unpretentious like, say, Rachel McAdams. If you're going to go for broke, go for it; that they don't still doesn't make "Flightplan" unbearable, but it's a shame that it couldn't have played out its hand all the way.

In the latest duelling-movies match between Disney and DreamWorks, the House of Mouse loses for once. (Although it makes a change to cast Sean Bean in an American movie as someone who's fully on the good guys' side.)

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