Monday, 18 June 2007

TVOD (18.6.07.)

Haven't done one of these for a while. Let's see if I remember how to do it...

MONDAY: Well, now that Five have a Prison Break-sized hole in their schedules (plugged tonight at least by none other than Steven Seagal, with the showing of Out Of Reach at 10pm. Apparently, he goes toe-to-toe with a human trafficking network in this one. My money's on Seagal), we can all start watching Heroes at 10, instead of watching it on Sci-Fi's time-lapse channel an hour later. Tonight's episode will show us the outcome of Peter's (Milo Ventimiglia) run-in with Sylar (Zachary Quinto, evil incarnate with a monobrow), that we already know turns quickly in Peter's favour due to last week's "Next week on Heroes" montage.

Peter is rapidly becoming my favourite character which is in distinct contrast with my original thoughts on him. Ventimiglia has somehow turned Peter from mopey wet lettuce to troubled dark avenger in just a few episodes, with a little help from jobbing star turn, Chris Eccleston. It's just another string to the bow of an increasingly impressive mainstream television series that refuses to let up in the action and intrigue stakes but never feels like its straining the viewer's capacity for investing in the characters. Basically, it's done everything that Lost didn't do in the first series. Outside of Battlestar Galactica, Heroes is easily the most consistently entertaining and engaging television series that the American networks have to offer.

Elsewhere tonight, ITV have another new homegrown drama serial starting in the form of The Time Of Your Life (9pm). This one looks like it might be a little different from the rest, coming as it does from the creator of Teachers and imbued with an impressive cast (Geraldine James, Robert Pugh, Olivia Colman and rising star, Jemima Rooper among them). The story even looks interesting for once (girl wakes up from eighteen year coma, having missed out on everything past her school leaving do). It's a six-parter, so you know that ITV, the most attention-deficient of all TV channels, have a lot of faith in it. Just don't expect it to be mind-blowing, although I don't think anyone expects that of ITV anymore.

TUESDAY: Why, oh why, oh why have Sky One given that smug twat from the last series of The Apprentice, Syed Ahmed, his own fucking television programme?! It shouldn't beggar belief as much as it does from the channel who have been shoving Pirate fucking Master down our throats for the past three weeks, but it makes you wonder if the likes of Syed Ahmed - Hot Air? (10pm) is really the type of programming they should be spending our subscription fees on. In the show, the unjustifiably self-assured oily prick is trying to sell his idea for a 'body drier', which he hopes will make towels a thing of the past, to businessmen like Duncan Bannatyne (a man who I like, yet I have no idea why). Any idiot can see that this is yet another instance of someone trying to make money by solving a problem that doesn't exist (what is the problem with towels, exactly, Mr Ahmed?), but it's just going to be either an exercise in schadenfreude or an attempt to make this annoying cunt more likeable in the eyes of the British public. I'm willing to bet that it fails on both counts.

Seeing as though ITV have already ripped off Dragon's Den with the surprisingly watchable, yet for all the wrong reasons, Fortune: The Million Pound Giveaway, they have now decided to pick up some residuals from Apprentice fans now that that series has finished, with Tycoon (9pm). Dragon's Den mainstay, Peter Jones (there must be some other willing entrepreneurs who haven't been all over television already) has taken it upon himself - read: been commissioned by ITV - to help six small business ventures get off the ground. Cue knuckle-gnawing excrutiation as each of them prove that a 2:1 in Business Studies prepares you for life in the big wide world just about as much as a C in R.E. at GCSE level does, no doubt.

WEDNESDAY: A good night to stay in tonight, all told, with the premiere of one hot new US drama and the return to our screens of another. First up, Rome is back (9pm, BBC2) for the second and, sadly, final season. In its first run, the sword and sandals soap managed to strike a winning balance between histrionic melodrama and blood-pumping, yet intelligent, thrills and reports from the States suggest that this is the case second time around too. The first episode is sure to deal with the fallout from Julius Caesar's assassination and Vorenus' (Kevin McKidd) wife, Niobe offing herself in dramatic fashion. Ray Stevenson's Titus Pullo was the standout from the first season for me, so here's hoping that he survives the incessant backstabbing (both literally and metaphorically) that this absorbing drama has to offer.

Channel 4 are running the ABC hit show, Brothers And Sisters from tonight (8.30pm, with the second episode at 10pm and the third following at 11pm on E4), which looks to me to be a watered-down Six Feet Under. The similarities couldn't be more glaring on first look with the first post-SFU TV job for Rachael Griffiths, the series' family-with-skeletons-in-every-closet focus and the first episode death of the patriarch (Tom Skerritt) leading to hitherto-buried secrets being unearthed. Here's hoping that the similarities are merely superficial as the cast deserves better than to be involved in a second-rate knock-off. Sally Field, Calista Flockhart, Ron Rifkin, Balthazar Getty and the aforementioned Griffiths and Skerritt have all proved themselves to be more than capable actors in the past so fingers crossed that Brothers And Sisters delivers on the promise of its healthy ensemble.

Also tonight, there's Friday Night Lights (8pm, ITV4), the best programme on television that nobody watches. ITV don't help matters though, with its one showing per week policy. To be honest, if you started watching it now, you'd probably just be perplexed as to why everyone who's seen it raves about it so. Wait for the DVDs, should they ever make an appearance.

THURSDAY: Burt Reynolds guest stars in My Name Is Earl (10pm, Channel 4) tonight, obviously trying to prove that he isn't the humourless arse he is often painted to be. Jason Lee is obviously a big fan, seeing as though he tries to sneak a Reynolds reference into nearly every film he's in ("How many times do you get to see Smokey fuck The Bandit?" - Mallrats). The only question is, is Burt a closet scientologist? This article, from last week's Guardian Guide suggests that Scientology doctrines run through the heart of the show, leading to an all-too-clear jobs for the boys scenario (Lee, Ethan Suplee, show creator, Greg Garcia and previous guest stars, Giovanni Ribisi and Juliette Lewis are all known devotees of the writings of L. Ron Hubbard). It's enough to make you reassess your feelings about the show but, hey, funny's funny whether you believe that you're an immortal alien or not.

Other than that, there's not a lot on tonight. Keith Allen has his own Louis Theroux-style documentary on Channel 4. Keith Allen Will Burn In Hell (10.30pm) has the Groucho Club emeritus travelling to Westboro Baptist Church, Kansas, in order to meet those foul god-botherers who picket the funerals of dead soldiers with "God Hates Fags" placards. Looks interesting at least.

FRIDAY: If you're not actually going, then BBC is the only place to watch Glastonbury (8pm and 11pm, BBC2, with blanket coverage from 7 'til 11 on BBC3). The usual suspects of Phill Jupitus, Jo Whiley, Lauren Laverne and Mark Radcliffe all sit there on hay bales, wearing wellies you know will never get dirty (in the case of Whiley at least anyway) and looking smugger than all-get-out that they're there and you aren't. 'Highlights' tonight look set to include Arctic Monkeys, Amy Winehouse, Kasabian, Bjork, Arcade Fire, Bloc Party, Rufus Wainwright, Super Furry Animals, The Magic Numbers, The Coral and The Fucking Fratellis. Actually, I'm glad I'm not going now.

Have I mentioned how good [adult swim] (from Midnight, Bravo) has been lately? After a few months' lull where there wasn't any new programming at all, they've gone nuts and have been treating us to Afro Samurai, Assy McGee and the patchy-but-occasionally-brilliant, Modern Toss (previously shown on Channel 4). We've also been getting brand new episodes of Robot Chicken, The Venture Bros. (both on tonight), Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Tom Goes To The Mayor, Squidbillies and 12oz. Mouse (Monday and Tuesday). By far my favourite of the new shows has to be Assy McGee (1am), the adventures of a rogue, trigger happy American cop who also happens to be just an arse on legs. A lot funnier than that sounds, Assy McGee has a lot of fun at the expense of the conventions of cop shows and movies (NYPD Blue's Sipowicz and Dirty Harry Callaghan are clear inspirations) and is just plain, laugh-out-loud hilarious. Anyone with any interest in smart, funny animation needs to watch this.

SATURDAY: The sixth instalment of BBC2's outstanding documentary series, Seven Ages Of Rock (9.30pm) airs tonight with a look at the US alternative scene of the 80s and 90s. While it's reductive to look at such an expansive movement in just an hour, the spotlit bands are the most obviously influential ones. Black Flag, R.E.M., Pixies and Nirvana are all under the microscope tonight, so expect insightful musings from the likes of Henry Rollins (always an effusive, entertaining talker), Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, Frank Black, Kim Deal, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic and an impeccable, familiar soundtrack. Wouldn't kill them to talk to Sonic Youth and Husker Du too, but we'll see.

Earlier on BBC2, there's a shortened The Culture Show (8pm), which sees the culmination of their search for Britain's most iconic film locations, via the conduit of a mock road movie starring the ubiquitous (this weekend anyway) Lauren Laverne and Mark Kermode. Should be fun. Can't get enough of that chirpy, loveable Mackem? Then, Laverne is back on our screens for more Glasto coverage (4.45pm and 10.30pm on BBC2, with the usual stuff on BBC3 and BBC4), with music from The Killers, Lily Allen, The Stooges, Editors, Paul Weller, Maximo Park, Klaxons, Babyshambles, The Good, The Bad & The Queen and The Fucking Kooks. Seriously, you wouldn't want to get trench foot for that shower now, would you?

SUNDAY: There's yet another new episode of The Simpsons (6.30pm, Sky One), with Bart getting hitched to Natalie Portman. Last week's newie was killer, so here's hoping that the wacky premise of tonight's throws up some decent laughs along the way, which is all you can really hope for from a show that's ran for over 400 episodes now.

Glasto today (5.15pm and 10.30pm, BBC2, with, y'know, shitloads on 3 and 4) promises sets from the likes of The Who, The Chemical Brothers, Kaiser Fucking Chiefs, Manic Street Preachers, Dame Shirley Bassey (honest!), The Go! Team, The Fucking View, The Rakes, Modest Mouse, James Fucking Morrison and Mi-fucking-ka. Pilton seems like a cold, dead place to me this weekend.


Binary solo! Formerly of BBC Radio 4, Flight Of The Conchords, New Zealand's premier digi-folk duo now have their own TV show on HBO in the States. Ingeniously entitled, Flight Of The Conchords, it follows the guys trying to 'make it' in New York. Jimmy Carr isn't in it anymore but Rob Brydon still is and you can watch the first episode online right now. It's really funny, although don't look out for Brydon as he doesn't come into it until later. Do, however, look out for a very funny cameo from upcoming NY comic, Eugene Mirman.

"We went for that like thirsty people in the desert seeing a Coke machine". Watch clips from this week's Seven Ages Of Rock online. Rollins is always worth listening to, but I was surprised at how nice Kim Deal came over as.

"I'm going... to shoot you". Watch a full episode of Assy McGee while you can.

Think that went alright,


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Saturday, 9 June 2007

Review: Hostel: Part II

Okay, I know that this is primarily a TV blog, but no matter what the size of the screen, we don't discriminate. With that in mind, here is a review of Hostel: Part II.

Eli Roth, the director of both Hostel films, is a sick fuck. The inside of his mind would surely be a nightmarish place to reside. While science does not yet permit us to view just what goes on in that diseased brain of his, his films afford us a peek at his most nihilistic, basest desires and fantasies and it is not a pretty place at all.

With hindsight, Roth's feature debut, 2003's Cabin Fever seems tame now, despite the lashings of outlandish gore on display in the flesh-eating virus splatterfest. The Hostel films are where Roth has really cut loose with the head-wrong "torture porn" stylings, but to be honest, the commercial success of the original Hostel says more about the audience who lap up every slash of a tendon, every eyeball being cut out than it does about Roth himself.

I didn't enjoy (frankly, who could have?) the first Hostel film one bit. I found it to be a soulless, relentless nasty, joyless piece of snuff and this isn't because I'm some reactionary, Daily Mail-reading, ban this sick filth merchant. On the contrary, I like my gore, but the numbing effect of the bloodletting (inventive though some of it was), coupled with the lack of any emotional investment in the victims (they had it coming), left an unpleasant taste in my mouth, so it was with one part trepidation and two parts morbid curiosity that I approached the sequel.

I'm pleased to say that Hostel: Part II is a more successful, altogether more enjoyable and satisfying movie than its progenitor. Starting things off with one of the creepiest credits sequences I've seen in quite some time, with the torture resort's furnace operator ritually dispensing of recent victims' artefacts (passports, driver's licences, clothes etc), we then get to find out just what became of the original's 'hero', Paxton (Jay Hernandez, looking more existentially puzzled than frightened for his life). This feels like a concession to the fans of the first Hostel or aimless preamble than any kind of foreboding prologue however and the film only really starts to get interesting when we meet our heroines.

Beth (Lauren German), Whitney (Bijou Phillips) and Lorna (Heather Matarazzo, not a million miles removed from the weird kid she played in Welcome To The Dollhouse) are travelling through Europe, striving to strike some kind of balance between youthful kicks and cultural enlightenment. They happen upon a helpful stranger who suggests they make the trip to Slovakia to check out the beautiful spas they have there (in actuality, the hostel of the title).

You can probably guess what happens next. You'd be surprised however at Eli Roth's brave attempts to eschew any re-hash accusations. For starters, the victims are female this time around, but more interesting is the sub-plot - which neatly and naturally dovetails with the main story - which involves two American businessmen, Todd (Richard Burgi - bullish and cocky) and Stuart (Roger Bart - reserved and apprehensive) hooking up with the elite hunting cabal to illegally and vicariously indulge their fantasies of killing their wives.

In showing the other side of the original's story in an unjudgemental fashion, Roth adds a new depth to the ensuing thrills and spills. TV stalwarts Burgi and Bart both relish their roles, veering wildly between underplaying and shameless hamming as the plot dictates. Of the female leads, Lauren German (previously seen in the Texas Chainsaw remake) treats the scream queen role with a winning gravitas, while Matarazzo plays it kooky without descending into annoyance. It's Bijou Phillips who impresses most however, bringing naturalism and light-and-shade to what could have easily been just another 'silly bitch' role, much like she did in Larry Clark's Bully.

BUT (the caps are necessary, as it's a big but), despite the fact that it's a leap forward from the first Hostel film, you will still feel a little dirty afterwards. There's still the overriding feeling of "should I be watching this?". It's obvious that this is Roth's intention - to make the audience hate themselves for enjoying this - but does that make it something of a noble cause? Not really, but in scenes like the chilling round-the-world email bidding war for the girls and the showdown between the hunting club president and the bubblegum gang from the first film, Roth shows a deft touch and sensitivity that he wilfully and gleefully negates with his tendency towards snuff-like set-pieces.

When Roth shows a bit of restraint, it's clear that he's starting to mature as a director, but for now, we have to counterbalance that growth with the juvenilia we've come to expect from him. Here's to Roth moving out of the Hostel and into the big leagues. Whether I'd want him to bring his twisted brain with him however, I'm not all too sure.

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