Thursday, 16 June 2011

Dexter. The new season.

Just seen this: bigger better and badder.

Can't wait.

When you play the Game of Thrones, you win, or you die.

It's been a while, mainly because we're in the long dry spell for US TV, while they work out what's worked this year - the Walking Dead, Broadwalk Empire, and what didn't - the unloved Event and Rubicon, which I confess, I liked and watched, but I always seemed to fall asleep in the middle of each episode (not a good sign). One programme that's had my attention since day one is Game of Thrones.


I'll come back to that title sequence in a mo - first up, let me make something absolutely clear.

I thought I was going to hate it

Fantasy pretty much leaves me cold.

Yes, I read The Hobbit when I was 10, and endured a few hours of Dungeons and Dragons as a teenager (for the love of God, why? It wasn't my idea, and I hated every single second)

So, I had no intention whatsoever of watching this show when I saw the Sky trailers,  despite the promise of gratuitous nudity, heaving bosoms and guaranteed shagging (Spartacus Blood-and Sand-style) in every episode. It's based on the Song of Fire and Ice novels by the US author George RR Martin, and there's a reason why it's like crack for fantasy saddos, having sold more than six million copies in the states and 7 million worldwide,

It's simply bloody good. Fantasy without any of the crap.

No Elves, Orcs, Wizards, bloody boring walking trees, here be dragons, hey nonny nonny, chunky jumpers, open-toed sandals, "hey look, I've named my house Rivendell" big orange eye-in-the-sky bad Smeagol shite. Someone recently described the show as "The Sopranos in Middle Earth" but it's better than that. Chances are that if you like Battlestar, The Godfather or Goodfellas, are you'll like this.
It's set in the mythical Kingdom of Westeros, which looks a bit like this:

It's like a large, stereotypical version of the UK, with extreme weather, frozen, haunted wastes north of a giant wall,  a grim north (seriously), a despicable, backstabbing and hot south, mad weird lands of the east, and rich and vicious westerners.
The land's made up of seven warring lands barely held together by King Robert Baratheon, played by the magnificent Mark Addy. He's clearly wasted in those crappy Tesco adverts. Just look at him here. Wot a geezer.

As I mentioned a moment ago, there are 7 kingdoms run by different families, each with banners, showing a different animal and family sayings for each (see below)

You get the idea - now scroll back up again and rewatch the title sequence vid. The banners next to the name of each actor are set, according to their house (and I think the one of the Queen and the Heir to the throne, change from the Baratheon stag to Lannister lion, because they're both). Each family also has very strong physical characteristics. The title map sequence also changes each time we're introduced to a new place that's integral to the plot. I like little touches like that.

Hmm. I seriously think my OCD is playing up.

There's a cracking, Brit-heavy cast, led by Sean Bean (or as my in-laws call him, Seen Been) as Lord Edard (Ned) Stark. Basically he rules the North, and is the most honourable man in existence - and as Mr T would say, he's a damn fool. Frankly old Sean's not Sharpe anymore, but is still clearly a bit of a chap and a hard bastard in real life. He got punched and stabbed outside a pub this week while defending his woman's honour - but felt nowt).

The rest of the cast is a bloody treat, Lena Headey does her angry tuff (unloved) Queen-bit again (unloved by the King, that is), Her father is played by a very scary Charles Dance and the fantastic Peter Dinklage is her younger brother Tyrion (the Imp), who literally steals every single scene he's in. That man has never been bad in anything he's done.      

Anyway, catch it while you can - it's brilliant.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Crossing the Rubicon

Sad fact. Crossing the Rubicon comes from the moment in Roman History, when Julius Caesar crossed from being the protector of the Roman republic, to it's conquering emperor. It was literally the point when his legions crossed a shallow river in north east Italy, called "Rubicon", which the Senate regarded as an act of war, a sort of revolutionary or political point of no return, so to speak.

But you knew that, didn't you?

What this has to do with AMCs Rubicon, now showing on BBC4, (freeview's home of quality foreign drama), Feck knows.

But that might be the point - it's conspiracy drama number two this year (after the "who can be arsed with it anymore?" Event).

This is a bit more low key and subtle, playing out like one of those magnificent 70's conspiracy thrillers, like All the President's Men , the Parallax View and the like.

Will Travers(James Badge Dale from The Pacific) is an intelligence analyst with a think-tank called the American Policy Institute, which advises the State Department on exactly what the bloody hell is going on across the world.

Y'know, they're the sort of weirdo smart-arses that before last Christmas would have said "see that North Africa...revolutions in the spring. Guaranteed. Maybe even Libya too..", while the rest of us would have been going "Shut-up!" (like some of the characters from The only way is Essex)

Will's boss gets killed in the first episode, and he gets promoted. At that point, he gradually realises he works for some immensely strange and creepy people, and they might actually be up to no good (as my mother would say).

The Rubicon of the title may refer to the extent of the conspiracy itself, which may actually be akin to Caesar's challenge to the Republic (y'see? I don't just sit down at my computer and throw this shit together, y'know - it's crafted I tell you, crafted)

Rubicon has already been cancelled in the states. And there's a good reason why. I'll give you a clue. Watch that trailer again with the sound off. Now mentally ignore the jump cuts (the trailer editor's way of injecting immediacy into a story) and the partially sped-up panning shots (which don't happen in the programme). Then take away the only real action shot at the end (the train hurtling towards you). What do you have left? Lots of scenes of Will Travers shitting on about something. And scribbling lots of notes. And looking a bit moody and constipated and in need of a haircut. Oh and there's a few shots of his secretary/PA Maggie Young (played by Jessica Collins) looking chic with nice hair.

Yup, there is no action to speak of. I tried watching Rubicon previously, but (time to 'fess up here) I fell asleep halfway through the second episode.

That's not a great recommendation is it? but I think the best is yet to come with the show on BBC4 - it may well be worth sticking with. Take a look at this...

(youtube won't let me embed it - click on it, it's worth watching the clip all the way through). Superb dialogue. And as the West Wing proved, dialogue heavy shows can make cracking viewing.

This time, I swear I'll stick with it, without my GLW nudging me in the ribs to wake me up. I'll report back on it soon.

Friday, 4 February 2011

What a non event

Just a short update right now. I've got 4 episodes of "the Event" on my PVR. They've been sitting there, unloved, like a jumble sale in the rain (it's not good, it's not right)...10 points if you can guess that lyric.
Anyway, I can't be bothered to watch another episode.

Why did the Event go so wrong, so quickly?

It's not brain surgery, folks. After the initial episodes, with some serious spectacle, we had to put up with an extended road trip, a dithery wimp President who couldn't decide whether the aliens were his friends or not, and even a giant building collapse couldn't help it.....and, and....I can't be bothered to write any more about it.

It won't be missed.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Law and Order UK, explained to a US audience....

I had to bring you this.

The UK version of Law and Order (which we saw on ITV1) - now showing on BBC America HD. For US readers, it's like the Law and Order you know and love...but more like a good solid pair of british Y fronts, the type of pants that helped win the war for blighty. This trailer explains briliantly...

(translation: pants = underwear, Blighty = Britain and even though the trailer says Knackers are what you would call pants, they're actually testicles).

Friday, 10 December 2010

Feel the Burn (Notice)

I've held off from reviewing Burn Notice so far, because I'm embarrassed I'm so far behind (the GLW got me Season 2 for my birthday, which I'm watching on my daily commute, and loving every single second).

Burn Notice. My friend Adam recommended it to me years ago, and to my shame, I never quite got round to seeking it out. I mean, it hasn't exactly got a title that jumps up and bites you on the cojones has it?

And then while I was flicking through my digital channels this year, I stumbled across it. Those idiots at Fiver (almost as stupid a name for a channel as SyFy) had plonked it secretly, and randomly, on the Thursday night schedule, (which is kinda appropriate for a spy show) and then proceeded to show the first two seasons in one go.

So what's it about? Watch and learn, friends, watch and learn....

So, superspy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) is on a search to find out who got a Burn Notice placed on him - and as the video above says, it's not just a matter of being sacked. Westen is frozen out, left penniless, blacklisted, oh, and his movements are limited to the greater Miami area. If he tries to leave the city to hunt down his tormentors, they'll send a hit squad out to kill him.

So, he has to take on odd-jobs - mostly undercover stuff - for peanuts, to cobble together the cash to pay people to find out information. He sort of has a client of the week, so to speak.

I know, I know, I know, It sounds like Magnum PI with a spy twist.

What sets Burn Notice apart, is what I call the "useful spy shit" you learn every episode. For example:

Evil, but superb.

I can't get enough of these! Bam! lets have another one!

Every episode of the show is peppered with these little gems of wisdom. Are they real? Who knows?

Do they work? Let's see.....

This shit works, man ...awesome, dudes......I particularly like the imaginative use of an oven glove, and the mess they made of mom's kitchen (not forgetting dad's toolbox).

With all this "useful spy shit" every epsiode, I can just about forgive the Michael Westen character for being a bit overconfident and pompous at times.

It's funny, but his type of character seems to be almost exclusively popular in the USA. Indulge me for a second - consider Seinfeld, or any character played by Adam Sandler, or even Ray Romano's character in Everybody Loves Raymond. All comedy examples, sure, but they all have a single unifying trait.

At the end of the day, they're smug, want to be smartest guy in the room, and someone else ends up being the butt of their jokes. It doesn't travel well, particularly in the UK, where we don't have a soft spot for - how can I put it? - arrogant dickheads.

And the character of Michael Westen would fall into this category if it wasn't for the brilliant supporting characters who are his weakness. He wants to be the aloof superspy, and he clearly left Miami years ago (Grosse pointe blank-style) to reinvent himself, but unfortunately, he cares about his friends and family.

And what a lineup! Gabrielle Anwar is unrecognisable here from her early 1990s soppy roles, as Michael's trigger-and-bomb-happy, former-terrorist ex-girlfriend, Fiona (and I thought some of my ex-girlfriends were psycho......) It's a dream of a part for any actress, and she's brilliant at it.

Bruce Campbell  (the main man of the Evil Dead movies - and also one of my favourites, Bubba Ho-tep) is also fantastic as Michael's gone-to-seed green beret friend, Sam. And the third, and finest casting coup was getting Sharon Gless (yes, Cagney herself) to play Michael's mum.

At different times, you can almost feel Westen's exasperation with the demands of these three (in Sam's case, it's usually financial, and in the case of Fiona and his mum, emotional, which, frankly, is not good for a spy). And yet, he needs their help to find out who burned him. 

The one part that is unconvincing is when Michael Westen goes undercover. The actor Jeffrey Donovan, bless him, is useless at accents. His British accent is mind-bendingly bad, his texan one is OTT-mental and he can't even do a Boston accent....

But if you ignore that, the show's packed full of explosions, Miami locations, sharp editing, smart suits, sexy laydeez, and I say again, "useful spy shit" wonder the USA network boasts that Burn Notice is the number one cable show in the USA.

Oh...go on then, let's have one more useful spy tip.....

Just brilliant. I could listen to this stuff all day.

By the way, if you've missed it, Fiver's showing it again, right from Season 1, Episode 1, at 8pm on Monday 20th December onwards.