Thursday, 28 May 2009

End Of Season Review: Fringe

While futilely attempting to catalogue the weekly TV events of the 2008-2009 season, I spent a long time agonising over Fringe, the wacky science fiction show from J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. As mentioned in my In Treatment review, there were many other shows on our to-watch list, some of which were actually reliably good (Friday Night Lights and The Shield spring to mind), and yet I felt compelled to keep watching this first, much to Canyon's bafflement. Much of this I can put down to my nerd heritage, but it was also a consequence of the imminent end of Lost. With that show on the final stretch, I need something to replace that, something with a needlessly complex mythology that is filled with Easter Eggs for me to feel good about spotting. Dollhouse looks to be building some interesting ambiguity, certainly about the history and purpose of the Dollhouse itself, but the clues about all of that are being introduced with actual narrative force, making these revelations story beats instead of just getting the prop department to mock up a poster for Massive Dynamic with a phone number on it.

The loss of Lost will leave a hole in my life that will be absurdly big for something as trivial as a TV show, but when Fringe turned out not to be just a procedural but just the kind of batshit sci fi continuity smorgasbord as Lost, I rejoiced. Could this patchy show fill the hole? Would it settle down and provide the brain fodder that Lost did? By the time the season finished, it was sadly still a long way off, with Dollhouse providing the mental workout. More on that some other time.

Of all the shows I watched this season, Fringe was probably the most exasperating. A lot of shows turned out to be just as good as I had hoped (returning shows such as FNL and Big Love), some surprised me (Party Down, Leverage, and Sons of Anarchy are currently making me very happy, though I had expected to be disappointed), and some were terrible from the get-go and never recovered (Knight Rider, Eleventh Hour, and The Unusuals deserve their ignominious cancellations). Dollhouse was the show I was desperate to love, started out hating, and then ended up adoring, but Fringe was one that tested my patience throughout. More than once I considered dropping it, until the episode Safe came along and showed that the glacial pace of Lost was not going to be replicated. At the midpoint of the season, everything kicked off, and it seemed like Fringe was going to be my favourite new show of the year. Except that Fox kept taking it off the air for months at a time, wrecking any narrative momentum, made worse by some dire standalone episodes that will be next to unwatchable when going through the season a second time. Lost's first season might not be a patch on later seasons, but it still maintained a higher standard than this.

It was foolish to assume the show would be Lost 2.0. For a start, ABC might not be the most daring network in the world, but they have been more than willing to give Cuse and Lindelof slack to create the oddest and most complex show on TV even as that oddness and dense narrative repels viewers who have lost patience with it. Fox are pretty much the opposite, as shown by their insistence on dumbing down Dollhouse long enough to put off any viewers who wanted something more intelligent than Bionical Woman. While Whedon seems to be incapable of creating anything that doesn't demand great attention from his audience, Fringe comes from the minds of a bunch of guys who are more than capable of creating challenging and entertaining TV, but also know that they have to play by the rules if they're going to avoid cancellation. The result is a show of dismay-inducing lowest-common-denominator standalone episodes that are filled with story beats that make absolutely no sense if you haven't seen every other episode. It's not quite the worst of both worlds, but it's close.

Compared to the first two seasons of Abrams' Alias (which had Kurtzman and Orci onboard as head writers), Fringe has been, at times, an appalling mess. Part of the failure is down to the main character, Olivia Dunham, who is nowhere near as compelling or consistently written as Sydney Bristow (and Anna Torv is no Jennifer Garner). Several episodes in, her mild-mannered responses to the death of her lover and revelation of his betrayal were obviously not working. At the time I thought Torv was underplaying great emotional pain, but in the sixth episode, The Cure, Dunham is suddenly a vengeance-crazed maverick, suggesting the character was rewritten to become more dynamic. Of course, it could also have something to do with her brain being invaded by the consciousness of her evil (or not evil) lover, but none of it felt like foreshadowing, merely tinkering.

As Masticator pointed out in another internet venue, the second half of the season saw her living with her sister and niece, probably in an attempt to make Dunham seem less like an unlovable career woman (can't have one of those on Fox!). If the network feels that's what Dunham needs, then fair enough. After all, Sydney Bristow lived with Francie Calfo and hung out with Will Tippin, and both of them allowed the writers to give Bristow more moments of vulnerability, as well as having a sounding board for her troubles.

However, Francie and Will were also used brilliantly to complicate her life, especially in the second season. For two characters that, at first, had seemed extraneous, the amazing second season finale would have been nothing without them. Dunham's sister Rachel (played by Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist scene-stealer Ari Graynor) adds nothing. She kinda flirts with Peter Bishop (the almost eternally smirking Joshua Jackson), and her daughter almost gets her brain melted by an improbable evil scientist in the desperately bad episode The No-Brainer, but other than that, there really is no purpose for them in the show other than to have a child around that Dunham can hug. Look! That woman is reading a story to a child before bedtime! I no longer hate and fear her. Good work, focus group.

Other characters have little or no purpose too. Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) is little more than a lab assistant with a wicked 'do, added just so Walter Bishop (John Noble) has someone to throw exposition at when Peter isn't around. Phillip Broyles (Lance "Intensity" Reddick) either gives Dunham some props or some earache depending on what is needed for each episode. He also seems to be simultaneously jaded by the mad science events in the show, and absolutely shocked by them. Happy though I am to see Reddick getting regular work, I wish he was given more to do. He needs to shoot a motherfucker or two in the second season.

Nina Sharp (Blair Brown) has proven to be significantly less interesting than Ben Linus, or even Charles Widmore. There's a bit of back and forth about whether she's a good guy or a bad guy, but compared to my endless pontificating about the alignment of Linus, I'm really not that bothered about her. When it's revealed on the show, I'll give a damn then. Charlie Francis (Kirk Acevedo) has proven to be such a disposable character that he has been fired and not fired with great rapidity. I have no idea what the showrunners are up to there, though it does strongly suggest that people shouldn't drink consolation rum and then go posting on Facebook. Or wear certain egregious hats.

With almost all of the characters leaving me cold, the mad science has to keep me occupied instead, and a lot of the time it fails at that too. For every amazing, creepy visual like The Sealant (which makes your orifices close up, suffocating you to death), or a weird worm crushing a man's heart, there is some stupid Chimera monster on the loose, or a syphilitic cat woman that drinks spinal fluid (what the hell were they doing that week? Someone should tell the writers that three bad ideas do not equal one good one.). The main arc of the show is the thing that saves it, with Walter's tinkering in parallel universes causing a war with a technologically superior version of humanity.

The moment that was revealed was when I mentally committed to the show through thick and thin, as it promised some mindblowing stuff later on, but even then, we find out that Dunham was once a test subject for Walter and William Bell (Leonard Nimoy, in one of the most heavily promoted, and utterly awesome, surprise cameo appearances ever), in order to prepare her for battle as a psychic soldier. Shades of Scanners and X-Files there, and not a problem, except that Sydney Bristow, in Alias, was also trained as a child as part of the absurdly named Project Christmas. It's one thing to complain about how shows by J.J. Abrams seem to focus a lot on father issues, which is kind of unfair as it's not something he is alone in doing, but having two shows feature two special agents who have had a mysterious childhood is really taking the piss. Though still, psychic super-soldiers are a lot more interesting than just your regular super-soliders. I love Captain America, but is he as cool as Michael Ironside and his ability to blow someone's head apart? Exactly.

So, most of the characters suck. Some individual episodes are horribly goofy and uneffective. It can be dismayingly derivative. The format means most episodes end with a race against time, with, at best, a chase sequence or, at worst, Dunham talking someone out of setting fire to her with their brain (didn't they do that twice?). The science is offensively bad, even when you assume a daft sci fi show is liable to fudge the details somewhat. There is far too much evidence of the showrunners playing it safe and doing what the network demands. Why bother with it?

Because JOHN NOBLE IS LOVE, bitches! I can take any amount of dreary Dunham home chat, or Peter Bishop-style smarm, because every so often John Noble wanders into shot, and takes even the stupidest dialogue - yes, even the endless digressions about various foodstuffs - and turns it into a heartbreaking, shocking, hilarious soliloquy (yes, all of those emotions at the same time!). What's best about that is that he actually gets the best dialogue on the show, so imagine how incredible that sounds. His performance as Denethor in Return of the King left me cold, but in Fringe he performs miracles. In the season finale, There's More Than One Of Everything, he has some scenes in an old beach-house during which he has a minor breakdown in front of Peter. Kudos to Joshua Jackson for stepping up to the plate, but the real genius is being displayed by Noble, who is alternately terrifying and vulnerable.

Next to Gabriel Byrne and Michael Emerson, he's the best thing on TV.

He's not the only reason I keep watching, though. That amazing series concept, so much more interesting than "FBI investigates odd science things, has great potential. The episodes that furthered that arc the most were the season highlights, showing up the standalones for the silly mistakes that they were. The ratio of good to bad episodes is tilted in the wrong direction, but even so, the bad episodes often featured some moment of trickery that justified them. The Easter Eggs, mostly involving Michael Cerveris' cameos as jalapeno-loving curio The Observer, are always fun to look for, though again, how much the show will reward rewatching will depend on whether there are even more clues than we thought, and even more future plot twists have been foreshadowed without us even knowing it. Of course, that excludes the heavily sign-posted revelation that Peter is actually Alternate Universe Peter, a twist that was blatantly obvious very early on in the season (though I have to give props to internetter Diane Court for putting her finger on that before me). So far, though, I'm not quite sure what the lens flares mean. Is it to do with crossing back and forth from one universe to the other? Or just a test run for Abrams' dazzlingly bright Star Trek?

Speaking of The Observer, just how cool is he? His introduction in The Arrival was the first hint that Fringe was up to something more than just solving a case a week, and captured my imagination just as I was beginning to think the show was a misfire. It's a good thing too, as the pedigree of the showrunners promised something better than the humdrum introduction. As I am human, I tend to be more disappointed than usual when something doesn't live up to expectations. Kurtzman and Orci get a lot of flack for their film work, and sometimes there is a point there. Their script for The Legend of Zorro was a depressing failure, and the controversy surrounding The Island is the most interesting thing about it. However, they wrote some of the very best episodes of Alias, and only someone with a heart of stone couldn't love their Star Trek revamp. I also didn't hate Transformers, and will not apologise for that, even if judged by God him-and/or-herself (though I reckon God loves Transformers as much as me and has also watched it four times in one week like I did last month).

I'm not sure how much input they have in the show (according to Orci's IMDb page, they're developing nine projects, and that's in addition to their work on the next Star Trek movie), but hats off to them for hiding the real arc of the show for about half of the season, and for gathering together a strong team of writers and directors. Though it was sad to see X-Files legend Darin Morgan depart the show after only a few episodes, the showrunners managed to get some terrific writers like Jeff Pinkner, Zack Whedon, and J.R. Orci, and talented TV directors like Gwyneth Horder-Payton, Lost veteran Paul Edwards, and Christopher Misiano, among others. They also got Brad "Transsiberian" Anderson to direct some of the best episodes (including that excellent season finale), and, in a surprising masterstroke, brought in Akiva Goldsman. For a long time he has been loathed by cinephiles and nerds the world over for writing some of the worst movies of our time, but Bad Dreams, the episode he wrote and directed, was a taut forty-five minutes filled with creepiness, humour, and horrifyingly effective shocks. He can be extremely proud, and I can ease off the urge to scream when his name appears in credits. Give him some better projects to work on, and he might surprise even more people in future.

In the end, I like the idea of the show far more than I like the actual show. It's extremely gruesome, which I always appreciate. It's full of truly awful TV science, but the showrunners have at least made the mad science machines look like real world instruments - all dials and switches and rheostats - which is a lovely touch. The cast is largely forgettable except for one acting titan (Noble) and a bona fide sci fi legend (Nimoy), but I don't really mind, even though that's often a deal-breaker. This is your actual "damned with faint praise" review, but even though the things I love about few and far between, I still do love the show. A surprising amount as well. I can't really explain it. Maybe it's because it's the sort of show I get a kick out of even when it fails, like when you buy a car against everyone's advice just because you like the shape of it, and you can forgive it when the seats aren't that comfortable, or there's a weird smell that never goes away, or the windscreen wipers don't work when they get wet. It doesn't matter. This is the car you wanted! Sometimes that's enough.

People used to say that Heroes was Lost for Dummies*, but in fact it is Fringe that, right now, feels like the low IQ version of Cuse and Lindelof's epic. I don't mean that as an insult, especially as I strongly believe that after this opening season of promising set-ups, quirky narrative experiments, and interesting concepts, the best is yet to come. Let's hope I'm right about that, because after Lost leaves us fans bereft, with Dollhouse unlikely to make it to season three, and Goyer and Braga's Flash Forward an unknown quantity, this might be all we have left to cling to.

* In case you were wondering, Heroes is actually Smallville for Dummies. True fact.

End Of Season Review: In Treatment

When new TV shows are announced, it's inevitable that, for someone like myself, it's the flashy stuff that catches my attention, because basically I'm a twelve-year old nerd in an adult's body. Sad, but true. This TV season it was Fringe and Dollhouse that caught my attention, even when they turned out to be of variable quality. The year before, it was Journeyman, and next year it will be Flash Forward that I spend most time anticipating. Every other new show will be extraneous. Everyone is telling me that Glee is great and must be seen, but it's like High School Musical for adults, right? So, it's the American Britannia High? Even if there was ten Jane Lynch clones in it I'd still not be too bothered.

Of course, this means I miss the real gems. Much as I liked Fringe and Dollhouse (and loved Journeyman), with all of their crazy sci fi speculative craziness, they will only occasionally give me as much satisfaction as, say, the whole second season of Mad Men. The rest of the time, I'll wince and hope the next episode is better. It's a sickness. I've not even watched Breaking Bad yet, despite the involvement of X-Files hotshot Vince Gilligan, just because a teacher making drugs doesn't interest me as much as a show featuring a big transgenic monster, even though that episode of Fringe was almost unwatchably stupid and boring, and Breaking Bad is apparently better than sex in a Ferrari, according to its many fans.

I'm my own worst enemy, because this bias stopped me from watching the first season of In Treatment, which struck me as a potentially tedious and earnest drama which would also require a huge investment of time. With the season running over nine weeks, and each week featuring five instalments of around twenty-two minutes in length, it was like watching nine two-hour movies featuring the same characters, the same structure, and surely the same dialogue. Descriptions of the show mentioned how it was the most realistic depiction of psychotherapy yet shown in TV or film, which suggested that development in the characters would be incremental, just like in real life. Why would I spend that much time with these people?

Sometimes I love being proved wrong. Canyon persuasively argued its case, and convinced me to give it a try (which is more than I have done for her new favourite thing in the world, So You Think You Can Dance [It is genius and you are watching the first performance show. Adam Shankman and L'il C 4-eva! -- Canyon]). After a few episodes, during which time I adjusted to the format (one-on-one conversations between therapist Dr. Paul Weston, played by Gabriel Byrne, and his patients), it became apparent that In Treatment was the most intense kind of long-form storytelling on TV right now, and if you’re interested in “The Golden Age of TV”, and how newly confident TV writers and directors have become so adept at creating and sustaining this relatively new form of extended narrative, you have to try it out. Based closely on an Israeli show called Be'Tipul, which ran for two seasons, the show has been described as a series of vignettes or short stories that just happen to be linked by the main character, but really they are "TV as novel" just like shows that run for a longer period (such as The Wire and The Shield), but in a more concentrated dose.

Paul's patients are protagonists in their own way, and we care about the outcomes of their therapy, but more than that the show is an intricately detailed character study of one man, either by reflection - we see who he is through his reactions to his patients - or by action, i.e. how he breaks the boundaries of his role as therapist, and how he treats his family and therapist Dr. Gina Toll (played brilliantly by Dianne Wiest). By the end of the first season, it became clear that, though we had been following five stories, we had learned the most about one man, someone who had lost sight of what he was supposed to be doing and had thrown his life into disarray by committing the same mistake his patients had: not listening to good advice from those who care about them.

Both Canyon and I fell deeply in love with the show after rushing through the first season at a rate we've not done since we watched all of The Shield in a few weeks. Nevertheless, I was concerned about the second season, which was no longer run by Rodrigo Garcia, the man who had done such a good job of adapting the original series for a new audience. This change of leadership struck us as an odd move, thinking it was perhaps brought on by the low viewing figures and minimal press coverage; other than the odd rave here and there, what little attention it got was to point out how boring therapy is and silly it was, with plenty of whining about the amount of episodes. God, it must be SO HARD being a TV critic.

Turns out that making a series of thirty-five to forty-five episodes, with a shooting schedule of two days per episode (with no time to rehearse), takes its toll. In this interview with new showrunner Warren Leight, he tells of the deep fatigue everyone working on the show feels, with Garcia dropping out after one season, and Byrne and Leight both ready to move on as well. Sad though that is, I can completely understand.

And when I say sad, I mean really sad. This season was a marked improvement over the already impressive first, and that terrible burden of thirty-five episodes, that so upset the poor TV critics, was just too small. Could the show come back? Though each episode of In Treatment is based on a corresponding episode of Be'Tipul, the writers and directors and cast seem to have fallen into a consistent groove, rattling out incredibly complex and honest drama at an amazing rate. If HBO were willing to spend more money on development time, letting the writers construct a new set of patients and motivations for Paul, and giving the cast and crew longer to rehearse, there is no reason this show cannot continue indefinitely. Fans are talking about how the show could carry on with a new therapist, perhaps Wiest's Toll. Anything to get it back for at least another year.

Luckily, as the chances of the show returning are slim, this season did provide some measure of closure, though it stretches the definition of the term somewhat. As therapy is rarely able to completely fix a person, the show could not have each patient walk out with all of their problems solved. At best we got to see that some characters were willing to continue their therapy after a breakthrough, and others left before that could happen. Unsurprisingly, after spending the most time with Paul, and seeing him deal with divorce, lawsuits, estrangement from his family, and the death of his father, we got the sense that he was nowhere near happiness, only getting to the point where he wants to continue being a therapist after a crisis of confidence. A nice set-up for a new season, and a nice way to end it if that doesn't happen.

So why do I love it so much? Mostly for the same reasons that everyone does. The performances are truly magnificent (especially considering there are no rehearsals), the writing is perceptive and complex (and is apparently sometimes amended on set as the actors make certain choices), and the direction is a feat of engineering (different directors are expected to keep different "days" visually and tonally distinct even though the show is set almost entirely in a single room). Technically the show is a marvel, and the performers are repeatedly giving their best work ever. All of the characters in Paul’s circle are brought to life with incredible detail, but Byrne in particular deserves most of the praise. His personification of this complex, infuriating, and defiantly sympathetic character is one of the great acting feats of our age. This is not hyperbole; his commitment to emotional truth is revelatory.

I also love that the show is constructed with such meticulous care, even though the tight schedule demands that scripts are sometimes altered at the last minute. Despite that, the arc of the season, with Paul losing sight of what it means to be a therapist, and slowly coming to a realisation of what he can offer, is far more fascinating than some end-of-second-act crisis. While the first season showed him wrecking his life over a futile desire, and perhaps taking the life of one of his most combative patients, the second season showed the aftermath, and his slow climb back to a semblance of normalcy. Threatened with the loss of his practice, horribly lonely now his wife has left him, and increasingly frustrated with his antagonistic patients, Byrne brilliantly portrays his weariness in each session.

That's to be expected. What is even more pleasing is how each patient connects to the other patients, and to Paul. As his father lies terminally ill in hospital, the patients remind Paul of his own familial strife throughout.

Mia (Hope Davis) dislikes her mother and loves her father, while yearning for a child of her own and, possibly, a relationship with Paul.

April (Allison Pill) is dying of cancer, and unwilling to accept the help of her mother after years of caring for her autistic brother.

Oliver (Aaron Shaw) is a young boy whose parents, Luke and Bess (Russell Hornsby and Sherri Saum), are acrimoniously divorcing, and feels responsible for their break-up.

Walter (John Mahoney) is a CEO on the verge of losing his job, and who is too attached to his daughter at the cost of his relationship with his sons.

At first the connections between them are slight, but over the course of the season they become more pronounced. April's nihilistic attitude, refusing to treat her cancer, reflects Walter's late-season suicide attempt (both triggered by their dread of burdening their loved ones), which in turn recalls Oliver's guilt over the events occurring around him. Oliver, Luke and Paul all have fractious relationships with their fathers, while Mia seems to have a loving relationship with her father that turns out to be a lie, and Walter feels he has somehow failed his daughter. Mia and Paul both hide from the truth of their childhood, constructing fantasies about which parent was the most supportive, in order to blot out uncomfortable truths.

Bess and Mia are faced with the conflict between motherhood and career, though while Mia opts for career and ends up regretting it, Bess opts for motherhood and regrets that just as much. Paul loses a father, and Gina and Walter are both grieving for lost loved ones to varying degrees. Paul and April have given up on their futures due to circumstances beyond their control (a potentially ruinous lawsuit and lymphoma respectively). Luke, Mia and Walter all want families around them in order to prove a point, because that is the way things are done. Luke is trying to negate the neglect he felt from his own father, Mia thinks other people will make her happy as that seems to be the way of things, and Walter goes along with it as that is just the way things were when he was younger.

All of these connecting issues are secondary to Paul and his relationships, and how he manages, at the last minute, to use those experiences to help his patients. After telling Gina that he thinks he can do no good for others as he himself is so screwed up, she gives him the advice to act as if he believes he is helping them all. In the final week, Paul uses his experiences to bring some form of peace to all of his patients. Mia, whose relationship with her father has been so close that she cannot let any other man get close, despairs of ever finding intimacy, and when Paul tells her that her confessional sessions with him are perfect examples of her capacity for intimacy, he's telling himself as well, and reassuring himself that he is not necessarily alone, which generates the later realisation that he needs to cultivate more non-work relationships. April is unable to imagine a future for herself, and Paul's advice is given from the natural perspective of someone who has lived longer and seen how possibility can arise. He also symbolically stops her from using her brother's needs as a barrier to living life, by giving her his father's hat to use instead of the itchy one, given to her by her brother, that she had previously been using.

In the previous weeks of the show, Paul's father dies before Paul is able to reconcile with him after years of neglect, an error that haunts him until the end of the season, especially as his separation from his own younger son is troubling him. Using this pain as a touchstone, Paul tells Luke to do everything in his power to never lose touch with Oliver, and Oliver is reassured that his father really loves him and always will. As both man and boy respect Paul's judgement, you get the very real sense that they will take his words to heart. Walter is given similar advice about reconnecting with his sons, even though he is adamant that it is too late for him.

Of course, as he heals these people, they heal him. April tells him that Sophie, his suicidal patient from the first season, has written about him on the Internet, and is proof that he has been able to save a life. By keeping in contact with Oliver, Paul finds a new connection, one he can keep and monitor from a perspective of wisdom and not emotional irrationality, as he does with his own children. The advice that he gives both Mia and Walter, about not giving up treatment even though it seems like it is too late to help them (because of Mia's perimenopause and Walter's old age), applies to himself as well, giving him the awareness that what he does has merit, and that the parts of his life that are lacking are easily filled, especially once the lawsuit against him is dropped.

This satisfying cross-cutting complexity is good enough to make this one of the best shows on TV right now. Only Lost matches it for storytelling ambition. It's no coincidence that both shows feature some of the most detailed characters in modern fiction, spending hours revealing enormous amounts of back-story. Lost's use of this device is for story reasons that are not entirely clear right now (other than to have some great characters in the show, obviously), but what makes In Treatment so special is that without distractions (smoke monsters, time travel, the unbelievable hottness of Sawyer and Juliet), the show can concentrate on doing just one thing; illuminating the human condition. That remarkable format means it is done in enough detail that it speaks to all of us.

On top of that are incredible individual moments: Walter's final tearful breakthrough; Paul's confrontations with Alex's father, played by Glynn Turman; Mia’s defiant resistance to any possibility of change, and her epiphany in her final episode; Paul’s eruption at the breathtaking selfishness of Luke and Bess; Oliver contentedly eating the sandwich Paul has made for him; and all of April's fourth session, a masterclass in acting and writing that left me shaking with emotion when it was over. By the time the final week aired, I was sobbing at the end of almost every episode, especially Oliver’s final appearance.

All of this could make the show sound like a worthy slog, but it does manage some light moments too. In the final episode, it was especially pleasing to hear Paul's rant about how much he hates his chair, which must have been added by Leight as a nod to Byrne's real hatred of the prop he has been using. I also love that he is just about the least funny character on TV, occasionally cracking out some dreadful pun to lighten the mood (the only person who seems to enjoy his jokes is Gina, who is similarly nerdy). Nevertheless, the show deals with such bleak subject matter that the tone couldn’t sustain wisecracking from the characters. It’s not something you miss, though I appreciate that this might be a deal-breaker for some.

Right now the show is not watched by many in the US, and the UK is currently not showing it. Hopefully someone will buy it soon. It's on region 1 DVD, so US readers can hire it or buy it, and when it eventually gets shown in the UK, hopefully it will be on BBC Four and that format (one episode each weeknight) will be retained. If so, ignore the critics who label the show boring (it's actually horribly addictive), and don't be put off by the big commitment (you'll be gutted when it finishes). It's more rewarding than any other show in recent memory, and more moving. It's the kind of intelligent, daring, and compassionate experience that makes you glad to be alive. Good TV can help you pass the time. Excellent TV can change the way you see the world. In Treatment is so perceptive, and so profound, it might actually change the way you see yourself. Do yourself a favour and hunt it down immediately.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Adventures In Awesome: Want! Now! (5)

A bunch of fun things happened to me tonight. Seeing a really really good episode of Party Down (essential viewing for all Veronica Mars fans), playing Mario Kart Wii with Canyon (ruined only by the utterly useless driving from Funky Kong. Stupid fucking funky monkey!), seeing this incredible trailer for Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans...

Essential viewing for fans of Nicolas Cage (surely everyone with any sense), Ghost Rider (that would be Canyon), and post-Knight Rider Val Kilmer (probably no one). Even better than that (even though that is pretty damn good), I found out about a TV show I must see immediately. Even though I'm in the UK, I try my best to keep up with whatever interesting shows have come out of the US, but that's a relatively new thing. Back in 1991, there would have been no way to stumble across the obscure experimental non-comedy Fishing With John, a thoroughly bizarre and lovable idea from the mind of musician and actor John Lurie, who made such an impression on me in a run of 80s independent movies.

This article on the Criterion Collection website will tell you all you need to know about it, and more. Of course, with money being as tight as it is, I shouldn't be coveting it, as it is readily available on YouTube, but this really is the kind of thing I would love to have in my collection, just so it's not totally full of Jerry Bruckheimer and Joel Silver movies. Plus, who would want Criterion to go out of business before they get to do a special version of The Island to go with their Armageddon and The Rock DVDs? (Yeah, Ozu, when did you last crash a space rock into Paris? Huh?)

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Adventures In IMDb Discussion Boards: Robin Hood And The BBC’s PC Agenda

A couple of weeks ago, a discussion was started on the IMDb boards for the current BBC version of Robin Hood, with the title “Ruined By PC Casting”. Since the beginning of the third season of the show, the casting of black actor David Harewood as Friar Tuck has caused some controversy, with the rightwing press spinning some bland utterances from historians into “fury”, and the inevitable online commenters railing against the BBC’s so-called “politically correct agenda”, which is supposedly to undermine historical fact and encourage the nation’s children to believe that Britain has always been a diverse and tolerant society. (Oh, the humanity!)

The IMDb has often been a hotbed of such discussions, and the first post in this thread covered familiar ground although taking a slightly different tack.

Robin Hood is an enjoyable show, but unfortunately it has been spoiled by yet another example of Politically Correct BBC casting.

One of the Merrie Men is clearly not the person described in the many accounts of Robin Hood's life. The BBC, with its agenda of encouraging multiculturalism, has cast an exotic actor in this role to indoctrinate children with the idea that people of all races and backgrounds have always been tolerated, or even welcomed, in England. The historical facts DO NOT SUPPORT this and it means the historical accuracy of the programme is completely skewed. This "update" of the Robin Hood story is basically a LIE.

The Merrie Men were not a diverse group. They were a bunch of local yeomen, bred in the environs of Sherwood Forest. For the BBC to suggest otherwise is patronising, arrogant and misleading. How are children meant to learn about our history when a supposedly historical programme like Robin Hood is based on falsehood and propaganda?

What I am saying is, everyone knows that Little John is ENGLISH and not SCOTTISH! And yet the role is clearly CALEDONIAN in this version of the legend. Surely GORDON BROWN is to blame!!

I (yes, I – did you see through my cunning obfuscation?) thought my point was fairly obvious. People complained about Harewood as Tuck but did not seem as upset about the casting of Gordon Kennedy as Sherwood stalwart Little John, despite his strong Scottish accent. And yet those people all claimed not to object to the fact that Harewood was black; they were up in arms because this casting was not “historically accurate” and smacked of “political correctness”. These protesters weren’t racists, you understand. They were simply standing up for truth, justice and the English way.

By using the same sort of language and arguments in reference to a seemingly unobjectionable piece of casting, I was trying to make it clear that the protesters were (a) ridiculous and (b) despite their claims to the contrary, racist. I was interested to see what the response would be to this (I thought) transparent bit of frivolous satire. User axtonuk quickly obliged.

How long will it be before your called racist?, I agree the BBC has bastardised the legend, its part of our English heritage, the BBC doesn't seem to care that Robin Hood is close to our hearts. The series is rather crap though, so will probably be forgotten in a few years!

Seems to me that the BBC is a mouthpeice for Labour and its multicultural dream. They don't think twice about rewriting historical facts, respect for other cultures doesn't extend to English people.

This sums up all the predictable, clichéd elements of internet discussion of the matter: accusing the BBC of being government stooges with an invidious agenda of multiculturalism; confusion over the distinction between “legend” and “historical fact”; complaints that English heritage is overlooked in favour of more exotic or trendy cultures, and that you can’t speak up for Englishness without being called a racist. I was gratified that my parodic opening post had been taken so completely at face value, and looked forward to many similar replies.

But then something odd happened. User crazy_girl2 posted the decidedly non-crazy response:

Does it really matter that much as long as the actors can act?! We all know Robin Hood wasn't a fox but that doesn't make the Disney version any less enjoyable.

The enjoyability of the Disney Robin Hood is debatable, naturally, but I was surprised to see this response appear so quickly. Such eminent good sense is not what I expect from teh internets! And then auroracat-1 blew my whole premise out of the water, exploding it point by point.

From the very beginning of this show the writers/producers said it would be a "modern" take on the Robin Hood Legend. I seriously doubt that children are watching this and thinking that it's historically accurate in any way. They've been off on the dates from the beginning, a casino, camafloge material, women wearing pants, black leather biker outfits,......the list goes on and on.

Given all this - I really don't have a problem with the casting anyone for any of the roles. (Remember to, that this is a lond tradition. Shakespears plays were originally performed with men in ALL the roles.)

The show is meant for entertainment purposes only it has never put itself out there as an educational/historical documentary type program.

Finally, Robin Hood is a legend and it has had many incarnations. It's not as if the subject matter has ever been hard fact.

When I posted again in an attempt to provoke a little more discussion along the lines of “The PC BBC is anti-Enlgish and rascist!!1!”…

The historical facts are well established. Everyone knows this. The BBC has simply ignored them. A Scottish Little John, really - whatever next?!

…I was quickly put straight by wieldy:

No they're not. The historical facts of Robin Hood are almost non-exsistant. No-one really knows who he was and what he did. All the 'robbing the rich to give to the poor', Nottingham forest, evil Sheffif etc etc is a romanticised legend based on a few scraps of evidence. Even the Major Oak in Sherwood forest, supposedly Robin Hood's hideout, is from the wrong era.

There is no truth about Robin Hood so the BBC hasn't taken any liberties with history. It's comparable to the Arthur legends, where there are a hundred different stories and very little tangible truth.

I could hardly gainsay this level-headed, intelligent post with any more ill-conceived rubbish. Fortunately axtonuk returned to do it for me.

The origins of Robin Hood come from: Hereward the Wake, Eustace the Monk and Fulk FitzWarin. All of those people existed! Either way Robin Hood is an old English legend set in a historical period, the BBC should respect that. They should also have respect for English heritage and culture. Its the English getting shafted again, we are supposed to respect everyone elses culture/heritage but no one respects ours!

Following this, a few posters picked up on other historical inaccuracies in the casting (Toby Stephens being too old to play Prince John) and the plotting (the show apparently named the wrong pope at one point), but pointed out that these either fell under the remit of dramatic licence or were too minor to affect anyone’s enjoyment of the programme. The killing blow came from theunderstudy1610, who stated:

Here we go again...

Look, if we're sticking to the original legend, then there should be no Tuck, or Marion (Robin would be too fixated on the Virgin Mary) and Robin wouldn't be some brave defender of Richard the Lionheart, or rival of the Sheriff. People have always been taking liberties with the legend.

Even the legend takes liberties with the history, sad to say that outlaws often weren't very nice people, killing, raping and robbing anyone who crossed them.

What the BBC have done is they've modernised it - they use modern cultural references (think the casino episode, biker gear etc.), Robin Hood wears a hoodie, Guy of Gisbourne eyeliner, and the women raid the foundation, they killed off Marion etc. etc. What's wrong with using actors of different races? There are plenty of other versions to watch if you don't like it.

It's not like it's historically correct anyway, more of a fantasy programme, if everything was historically correct (and they actually looked like 12th/13th century peasants) then maybe Tuck would stick out, but it isn't, and he doesn't. I'd hate to think there were any children out there who were learning their histoy verbatum from this show! Regardless of the race of the actor's there are just so many mistakes it would be ridiculous!

I just like that they've put a new spin on an old story - lets face it some of the classics would get dull if they weren't being presented in a different way. I don't care that David Harewood (Tuck) is black, same as I wouldn't care if he was aisian, aboriginee, or whatever, all I want is a good actor with a good characterisation, and I think David Harewood is delivering this.

Surely no-one can argue with any of that. In fact no-one did, and after a few more posts the thread petered out. I confessed to starting it as a joke, and was pleased when theunderstudy1610 admitted that he/she had fallen for it because my original post was so convincingly authentic:

I've just reread your post and yeah, I guess it does come across as more of a parody the second time around - sadly I know far to many people who say this stuff seriously AND for some bizare reson I never noticed that Little John was Scottish - hence I took it seriously, tbh, I read the first couple of lines and thought here we go again...

So what have I learned from this trivial but fun exercise? Mainly that the IMDb discussion boards are perhaps not as densely populated with anti-PC idiots and out-and-out racists as I suspected, and that there are numerous intelligent and reasonable people in this country who don’t act as if our birthrights are being sold when they spy a non-white face in a British TV programme set before the Empire Windrush docked. In fact, it seems from this – small but hopefully representative – sample that the people who are best informed about history are the least concerned about “accuracy” in history-based drama and the most prepared to allow licence in entertainment, preferring to criticise flaws in the writing or acting rather than searching for some pernicious hidden agenda.

I guess it’s something to bear in mind next time I see a news article about the “controversy” stirred up by a historical film or TV show. These controversies are often created by PRs in search of easy publicity and/or the media in search of an easy story, and the people who are offended are those who make a habit or even a career of being so. And the problem, of course, goes way beyond such trifling issues as BBC Saturday tea-time dramas.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

In The Future...

...all human communication will sound like this. And we will have evolved so that pop filters come out of our chins to stop ourselves from dousing everyone else with our saliva.

You know those muscles under the tongue? Mine are aching after watching those. That Daichi kid really is something else. Here he is impressing a bunch of blue-rinse-wig-wearing Japanese courtiers, or something.

These clips have, as ever, taken me back to my childhood. Those dark years, when I thought Steve Guttenberg was a role model.

Is it just me, or does Michael Winslow's voice sound just like Eddie Murphy's "White Nerd" voice? (14 seconds in.)

::sigh:: Linkblogging is piss-easy.

Monday, 18 May 2009

End Of Season Review: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

The first season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was reduced to a measly nine episodes by the 2008 writers’ strike, but it was none the worse for it. Those nine episodes crammed in almost a full season’s worth of time-travelly, robot-fighty thrills, not to mention a murderous, shocking climax that heightened expectation for the second season. Unfortunately, the 22-part season two delivered, oh, about nine episodes’ worth of similar excitement.

T:TSCC’s second run can be divided into three parts: the slow burn of the first third, up till the Connors dealt with the evil T-888 Cromartie (Garret Dillahunt) in episode 8; the headlong rush of the final half-dozen episodes, which hurled story and backstory at the audience at a dizzying rate; and the plodding middle section in which Nothing At All Happened.

Season two picked up where season one left off, reasonably enough, with John (Thomas Dekker) and Sarah Connor (Lena Headey), Derek Reese (Brian Austin Green) and their Terminator guardian Cameron (Summer Glau) pursued by Cromartie. This mini-arc concluded satisfyingly with a nicely-shot takedown set in Mexico and had a couple of meaty self-contained episodes – such as “Allison From Palmdale”, which provided some welcome information about Cameron’s future-past – but it had one large and irritating failing. Being the prey of a relentless, almost indestructible killing machine was deemed not enough to drive the plot, and instead the show relied for storylines on an unnamed resistance soldier travelling from the future to somehow find the Connors’ house and scrawling a few cryptic messages on their wall (in his own blood, natch) before inconveniently expiring.

Who was he? Why did he come back? How did he find the house? Why did he not make his bloody points more clearly? This event is an extraordinarily tenuous premise on which to base a TV drama, and yet T:TSCC did so brazenly. Need a way to set an episode in a nuclear power station? Put it on the Wall O’ Clues! Need to get Sarah fixated on an idea that will eventually lead her to a key Skynet facility? I think there might be a mysterious reference to it on the Wall O’ Clues! Need to introduce a psychologist to the show for a bit of scientific gravitas? I don’t suppose the Wall O’ Clues has the name of a good one, does it?

After the Cromartie situation was apparently resolved the show drifted, focusing mainly on John’s tentative romance with Riley (Leven Rambin) and Derek’s liaison with another future resistance fighter, Jesse (Stephanie Jacobsen), and the tension these relationships created. Which was, er, not very much tension. The better episodes in this period, such as “Self Made Man”, in which Cameron’s nocturnal library visits uncovered some early 20th-century cyborg activity and foiled a planned assassination (with an agreeably brutal Terminator punch-up), felt as if they’d parachuted in from a different show.

It was obvious at this point that the producers were severely restricted by budgetary constraints. Showrunner Josh Friedman may have claimed that he is just as interested in exploring Sarah Connor’s psyche as in watching killer robots having a scrap, but it is surely more than a happy accident that the likes of “Some Must Watch While Some Must Sleep” – set in a sleep clinic where Sarah tries to overcome her insomnia, and just as interesting as it sounds for a good two-thirds of the running time – are much cheaper than explosive, stunt-heavy showdowns. Given the lack of funds it’s forgivable, but it still doesn’t make for great entertainment.

Frustratingly, most episodes touched only briefly on one of the most intriguing aspects of the season: the supposed Catherine Weaver (Shirley Manson), another Terminator posing as the head of technology company ZeiraCorp, who had rescued Cromartie’s body with the help of former FBI agent James Ellison (Richard T Jones) and implanted it with a brand new AI, renaming it John Henry and instructing Ellison to rebuild its mind from the ground up. Ellison’s struggles to educate John Henry in the basics of ethics, forcing him to confront his own flaws, were compelling – as were Weaver’s attempts to appear human, not to mention the mystery of her motives.

The pay-off of the Riley storyline set in motion the events that brought the Connor and ZeiraCorp families together, and few could deny that the final six episodes of the season – which saw the deaths of three of the good guys, neatly explained Jesse’s mission and betrayal with a tense two-part flashback/forward, and, in the finale, turned the show on its head by separating Sarah and John in time – marked a new high for the show. Whether they made up for the preceding tedium is another matter.

One problem T:TSCC has is that almost every character’s emotional level is set to either “stoical” or “enigmatic”. Sarah, Derek and Jesse are forced to overcome hardship and swallow their feelings daily with the greater good – saving humanity – in mind; and John, increasingly, is of the same mindset. He seems prepared to jeopardise the Connors’ mission for the sake of Riley but when he loses her, he falls back in step with barely a murmur. It’s inevitably difficult to know what Cameron and Catherine are thinking, because they don’t actually think as such. The Terminatrices’ inscrutability is well played by both Glau and Manson, but they naturally struggle to make the characters truly compelling – and are given little to work with by the writers. Glau in particular was criminally sidelined for much of the season, her potent physicality and deft comic touch surfacing only sporadically.

Riley divided fan opinion but at least she displayed recognisable emotions and, in the crunch, she acted decisively and admirably. Rambin’s performance was sympathetic and, at times, verging on adorable – as was Jones’s as the conflicted Ellison, both actors lending a human face to a dramatis personae consisting of actual robots and people acting robotically. Curiously, though, it was the childlike John Henry who proved the most affecting character, with his wide-eyed efforts to understand the world and desire to protect Weaver’s daughter Savannah (Mackenzie Smith). This was by far the sweetest relationship on the show, sensitively written and skilfully handled by Dillahunt.

When I started writing this blogpost the future of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was in the balance, but Fox has just announced that the show will not be renewed. The middling-at-best ratings of its second season made it unlikely that there would be a third – and yet there was enough quality in the season, and in Friedman’s attempted gamechanging in the finale, to suggest it was merited. But surely the only way a third season could bring in new fans – and please the existing ones, many of whom grumbled online about its lack of action – would be to up the budget to allow, at the very least, a few more balls-to-the-wall fight scenes. Hands up who ever thought Fox might start throwing money at an underperforming sci-fi show?

Well, stranger things have happened.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Formerly Much-Liked Welsh Rock Band PWNed By Bobblehead Predator

A friend of mine just called and asked if I wanted to see Manic Street Preachers in London next month. (The friend and the call are both real, by the way, and not just contrived into existence for the purpose of having this blogpost hung on them. The only part that isn’t really real is the “just”, because obviously it’s taken some time to compose the post, source pictures and so on. I’ve left it there for the sense of immediacy it confers. But I don’t want Shades Of Caruso to face accusations of lacking authenticity. There really is a friend, and he really did call me.)

Anyway, a friend of mine just called and asked if I wanted to see Manic Street Preachers in London next month, and I surprised both of us with the vehemence of my refusal. At one point in my life I would have dropped everything to attend one of the band’s gigs; indeed, between the spring of 1994 and the summer of 1996, I saw them a total of six times. Three times before Richey Edwards’s disappearance and three after, including Edwards’s last gig and their first show as a three-piece (supporting the Stone Roses at Wembley Arena). But now… I believe I actually used the words “You couldn’t pay me to see the Manics.”

So why is this? They were my favourite band in my late teens and early twenties, so even if their recent recordings haven’t exactly given me the Welsh horn, there should be a certain nostalgia value in seeing them live. Although they’re promoting their new material, the setlist will include plenty of old favourites for the fans, right? I couldn’t be less interested if you told me Ocean Colour Scene were the support act and threw in a copy of Kula Shaker’s Greatest Hits.

Why? Because of the new single – and I’m physically cringing as I type this title – “Jackie Collins Existential Question Time”.

I still rate The Holy Bible as one of my favourite albums. All four Manics unarguably hit a creative peak with the 1994 record: lyricists Edwards and Nicky Wire mined a seam of raw, confessional/political poetry combined with a literary quality not evident in pop music since the heyday of the Clash; songwriters and chief musicians James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore pummelled the senses with ominous riffs, disconcerting rhythmic changes and thunderous beats. It was, and remains, an astonishing major-label release.

Either side of THB, the polished, more radio-friendly rock of Gold Against The Soul and Everything Must Go brought the band’s passion, integrity and songwriting nous to the charts – the albums contain most of the Manics’ biggest hits and best pop songs, while never less than fiercely intelligent. Their debut Generation Terrorists is mainly fuelled by angst and bravado, and certainly lacks much in the way of musicianship, but it still has a few great moments (“You Love Us”, “Motorcycle Emptiness”). However, it’s been downhill ever since 1998’s This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, and “Jackie Collins Existential Question Time” marks a nadir.

In the early days, detractors sneered that the Manic Street Preachers were the worst kind of pseudo-intellectuals, using big words that they didn’t fully understand to show off and living up to the “preacher” part of their name. While it’s true that their lyrics are often awkward and make little sense at first glance (leading to countless “magnolia despair tumbles beneath basketball jumpsuit vegetable misery”-style parodies), fans pored over them and discovered – especially in the Edwards days – they were allusive, literary, even erudite, betraying the lyricists’ sharp intellects.

But surely even fans can’t defend bloody “Jackie Collins Existential Question Time”. The title is the worst kind of sixth-form non-profundity (the 40ish band members don’t even have the excuse of callow youth any more), with the use of “existential” particularly heinous. Its clever-clever juxtaposition of lowbrow and highbrow subjects is intensely irritating, not least because it’s hard to believe any of the band would actually read a Collins novel. Also because it has nothing to do with the song itself, which seems to be a reactionary rant about the supposed coarsening of society, with some nonsense about the marital fidelity of Catholics and the chorus a repetition of the question, “Mummy, what’s a sex pistol?”

“Your Love Alone Is Not Enough”, the lead single from the Manics’ otherwise unlistenable last album Send Away The Tigers, employed the Cardigans’ Nina Persson on vocals (it was almost as if they were trying to win me personally back as a fan). Although it did go on a bit, it was a decent track with a big chorus that harked back to the Everything Must Go period. “JCEQT” is a screechy, repetitive nonentity of a song whose aluminium-y production sets my teeth on edge. I gather the new material, including this song, uses lyrics left behind by Edwards (who has been declared legally dead). Perhaps there’s a reason they weren’t used in the intervening 14 years.

Manic Street Preachers seem to have reached that period of their career where every album is hailed by critics as a “return to form”, which is a pretty obvious journalistic reduction of “Bloody hell, are they still going? Can anyone remember their last album? Fuck it – let’s just say this album’s their best one since that really successful one they did.” I seriously doubt whether there’s any form to return to. On the evidence of “Jackie Collins Existential Question Time”, Wire’s and Bradfield’s breaks to record hugely underwhelming solo albums didn’t recharge any creative batteries, and if the rest of the album sounds like the lead single, you might be better off with a good book. Or even a bad book.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Adventures In Miscellaneous Pointlessness: Shopping With No Money

The fifth season finale of Lost aired in the US last night, but it's still hanging in the air for us UKers. To a lesser extent, so did the finale of America's Next Top Model (go Allison and/or Aminat!!!). Therefore I'm hiding from the Internets in order to avoid spoilers, which I've managed to stumble upon for the past two years running. Easier said than done, as Digital Crack is unavoidable in our home, even with a computer that breaks down more often than a car in a horror movie. (Tip for readers: never buy Dell!)

So I stepped out this morning to buy broccoli (The Fart-Inducing Green Brain of the vegetable world), and browse in shops, rather than run the risk of absent-mindedly opening Twitter and seeing something spoilery. Browsing in shops is fun when you have money. When you don't? Not so much. Anyway, to pass the time I took bad pictures of things that caught my eye, using the iPhone. And now I'm sticking them on the Internet to distract myself from the excitement about the finale of ZOMGLOST, which I'm hoping will be ten times better than the finale of Fringe and twelve times better than the finale of Dollhouse.

How in the hell did this become so cheap so quickly? Hasn't it only been out for about six months, and it's being sold for tiny pounds? I thought this would be much more successful. Everybody likes horror games based loosely on almost-competent Paul W.S. Anderson films, right?

Maybe it would have been more successful if it came with an in-game option to throw Sean Pertwee out of an airlock. Of course I'm being terribly glib. I know this was partially written by Warren "Evil" Ellis, and so has the mark of excellence branded on it. More than anything else I saw today, this almost convinced me to spend money on something that wasn't essential, like bills, or medicine for me and my cat, or Allman Brothers Band downloads for Rock Band, or broccoli.

Usually when I browse in game shops, the prices never seem to come down. Today? It seemed like the recession finally convinced shops to drop game prices, which is one good thing about the crunch, I guess. There were bargains everywhere, and not just in the Pre-Owned racks. This caught my eye, however.

Yet another Red Storm game, only this time one that is based on a movie adaptation of a Jack Ryan novel instead of being directly developed by Tom Clancy and his team of macho pro-army coders. Clancy is a total gaming whore (in a good way), developing dozens of average-to-great games over the years. Something tells me that a first-person shooter based on a very dull movie by an otherwise intriguing director (Phil Alden Robinson, improbably enough) is not going to be listed up there with Splinter Cell or Rainbow Six. It did make me wonder if there was scope to develop games based on other Phil Alden Robinson movies:

  • Sneakers - Give me the controller, right now, or I will shoot you, right now! Guide your team of hackers, security experts, and piano teachers through a series of heavily guarded facilities in search of gadgets and doodads that do very exciting things to computers. Levels include: avoid a trace on a phonecall for one whole minute! Solve multiple anagrams using Scrabble tiles! Drive a van across town with no visual aids whatsoever (the first entirely pitch black game level ever devised)! Try to convince Sidney Poitier to explain just why he was thrown out of the CIA! Have long chat with Sir Ben Kingsley and his stylish ponytail! Bonus level includes first-person-shooter scenario inside the Setec Astronomy moonbase.

  • All Of Me - Get out of my mind, Lily Tomlin! Guide Steve Martin through LA while the controls on your joypad are randomised to mimic the disruptive influence of body-sharing crank Tomlin! Bonus level includes first-person-shooter scenario inside Steve Martin's brain.

  • Field of Dreams - You've built it, but will they come? A baseball simulation featuring many famous disgraced players of yesteryear. Featuring voicework from Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Billy Crystal, Ray Liotta, Amy Madigan, Jimmy Smits, Patti LuPone, and Timothy Busfield, and expanding on the franchise campaigns of Football Manager and the Madden series, you are given the task of earning enough money to keep a baseball stadium and a farm going over several years. Bonus level includes first-person-shooter scenario where Costner has to shoot the tears caused by the heartwarming final shot of a million hippies visiting the farm.

I can say, with full confidence, that those games would be better than this.

Fuck you for allowing this to happen, Nintendo. (ETA: I just noticed the title of the game isn't even grammatical. GAH RAGE!)

It wasn't all browsing for games. Zack Snyder's movie adaptation of Moore and Gibbons' Watchmen split nerd opinion down the middle, often within the same nerd. I liked some of it, but was utterly unmoved by it in the long run. A shame, as Snyder was obviously expended a lot of effort to recreate the shell of it, though he didn't seem to have figured out what was supposed to go inside, i.e. a point to the whole thing other than slavish imitation. Even if you really hated the movie, however, you could console yourself with the thought that the original book was still there, and remained unsullied by the film. Until now.

I don't know if that t-shirt design is really drawn by Dave Gibbons, but the thought that his wonderful character designs are being slowly replaced in the popular mind by the faces of these actors upsets me greatly. Far more than is deserved, I'm sure, but still, it's a dick move by DC and Warners. If Gibbons did draw it, I hope he got paid well.

Speaking of movie adaptations, here's something for every miserable emo teenager in your family; yet more Twilight merch!

Here is an exclusive excerpt from the book, just to give you a taste of what's inside:

Monday 3rd. Just got back to my trailer after a hard day half-assing it. Much harder than I thought it would be. The director of photography kept making things harder by putting the camera in some really interesting places, but that's missing the point. Teenagers see the world as an ugly place, and so we have to make sure that the movie is as ugly as possible. If I could switch off the lights altogether, that would be perfect, but no one will let me even though I'm the fucking director. Even so I've managed to drain the film of as much colour as possible. The rest can be removed in post. Director of photography is unhappy about this, but I'm in charge, dammit!

Tuesday 4th. My teenage stars were wonderful today. Almost none of the dialogue was audible, with Kristin doing a great job of turning all of Melissa Rosenberg's words into exasperated noises and facial twitches. Robert was even better. There was one shot where his eyes bugged out of his head for about two minutes straight! I think it was acting, though he might have been expressing horror at Stephenie turning up on set to stalk him again. She's getting really good at avoiding security.

Wednesday 5th. Big effects sequence to be filmed today! I'll let someone else handle that.

Thursday 6th. Robert keeps giving interviews about how stupid Twilight is, and how much he resents being in the film. If I wasn't so entranced by his beautiful hair and unnecessarily complicated face, I'd fire his ass. Kristin is much easier to work with, though it's getting harder and harder to keep her awake during takes. Oh, the glamourous life of a film director!

I have a terrible feeling there will be some poor emo girl who will stumble across this blog and be very very upset. It will look something like this picture I spotted on the way home.

Don't cry, little emo girl! I'm sure there will be another Paramore album coming out soon.

And now, LOST FINALE!!! You'd better rock my world, TV show.