Monday, July 31, 2006

The Last and The Spurious


So it's taken oodles at the box office, but was The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (known to me and a friend as '3 Fast 3 Furious') any good?

Hmm. Huh. Well...not exactly.

Thing is, sequel success tend to be an indicator of popularity, not intrinsic quality. Popularity of what?

Well, the previous movie, actually.

It used to be said that a sequel stood every chance of making 40% of the previous film's income. They get greenlit on the numbers. Do it right, maybe you make more. And in these days of franchises, believe it or not, more are getting it right than you'd think.

Bringing back cast, writers, directors, producers - this is the way to do it. Sometimes. Dead Man's Chest is a good example. But I love what the Blade series did - same writer every time, but a new director. You want someone with an eye on the saga.

Unless you're a silly car-porn film franchise like Fast/Furious. In which case you need whoever's available.

I'm going to talk about all three films, in reverse order. Because I'm quite perverse.


Things they didn't learn from the previous films: Colour-coding cars helps audiences keep track of who's where. Heroes should be vaguely capable, and certainly not moronic. Have more than two cars per race.

So, Lucas Black. When he was a kid, he was incredible in a series called American Gothic as a creepy but basically innocent kid. Grown up, I suspect he's capable of good things. Just, y'know, not here - where he's asked to play a kid who gets into trouble for no discernably good reason whatsoever. And he isn't even GOOD at trouble!

He takes on races to win access to the knickers of a cheerleader. Only he can't drive very well. He demolishes property, shows zero control, and...well, he's crap. The guy he races against should probably have been the lead.

He's pushed from mummy's bosom to daddy's out in Tokyo, where we discover that English speaking kids are nice, Oriental ones are nasty, and black kids are sidekicks designed to provide wisecracks. Yeesh.

Now, there's a theory that the director - a Taiwanese chap named Justin Lin - is an outsider himself, arriving in the US and trying to make a name. That might almost make sense. But not quite.

So, what's up with the movie?

One-on-ones, mostly. Races between two cars, two drivers, are incredibly hard to make interesting because it's such a...binary state. Either one wins, or the other does. This is why straight boxing films are such a pain - you win or you lose. And given that we want to feel uplifted, the hero's not gonna lose at the end, surely?

(Rocky, the first one, tried to get around this. At a point slightly too late in the film to be anything OTHER than set-up, Rocky insists that he doesn't care if he wins, if only he can last that distance. That would be victory enough. Guess what happened next...)

Confrontation in fiction is like good conversation - it really fires up when there are more than two people involved.

But Tokyo Drift has other issues. The conflict in the film, the thing the climax hinges upon, is money the 'bad guy' (who's never very bad, actually) was ENTITLED to. Oh, and maybe a girl - the hero never snogs her, or has much conversation with her, but she's in the mix. Presumably he fancies her because she's the only non-Asian female in his class. To repeat: yeesh.

I briefly heard this film called 'darker' than before. That's not quite true. It's not darker, it's more pedestrian. The crashes are more realistic - more Cronenberg than Michael Bay. This does NOT fit a franchise that slides day-glo cars under trucks. A franchise like this, which carries a 'don't try this at home' warning at the end of each installment, should be flipping the vehicles 12 times over, killing only nameless extras. No moment is less appropriate than when we see a friend of the hero smash his car and blow up.

Painful scene. But dude, you're in SO the wrong film.

What else? It forgets to be a cop movie. Films one and two were, in their Miami Vice-lite way, about undercover investigations. This one's about a clearly bi-polar kid who couldn't drive cattle. It's robbed of half its genre - which takes away that Bad Boys/Beverly Hills Cop vibe and leaves you with...binary action scenes.

Oh, and the final race takes place in the dark, and fails to realise how important it is to colour-code cars so audiences can keep track.

Now, to be fair, the location is well-used (a shot of cars gliding through a dense crowd will leave you gasping); you get a real feel for the city. And the notion - tight-corner racing - is cleverly tied in to the setting. But what's next? Fast and Furious: Alaskan Snow-Chains?

For all this, though, it's the lack of memorable icons that infuriates most. Not one character you'd recognise again. Not one scene you can recall. Barely one moment you'll talk about in the pub.

Still - millions grossed. Another will follow.

And back in time we go...


Ignoring the too-cool title based on a music track in the first film, what surprised me was this: it's not rubbish. Oh, it's trashy cinema. But I happen to like a bit of trash now and again. What it does, actually, it does not-badly-at-all.

It remembers to colour-code its cars for one thing!

It also manages to throw variants into the races, keeping things more than binary. There's a tag-team thing where two cars race, then pass the baton to two others. There's a four-way. And the finale of the film hinges on chases and getaways - not 'am I quicker than him?' It leaves room for complexity. A little.

It also makes sure to have, oh yes, memorable things. There's a magical, if slightly shop-worn, trick when the police find themselves chasing 50 cars at once. There's petrol sprayed on a windshield and set fire to. Taser guns that disable cars. There's an (okay, okay) wisecracking black sidekick - but he's got a vaguely interesting grudge history, a lovely habit of eating ALL THE TIME (see also Brad Pitt in Ocean's 11), and model/singer/actor Tyrese is, get this, actually charismatic to watch.

Unlike Paul Walker, who's at least as blond and plank-like as he was the first time around - maybe even blonder and with an extra coat of varnish.

Still, we have a villain who is what they claim him to be. We know he's bad, because he tortures a cop by putting a rat on his belly inside an upturned metal bucket, then torches the bucket so the rat will dig downwards. Ian Fleming would have loved him.

The photography's good, too. John Singleton - who seems cursed by critics who think a black guy should be making black movies (therefore, presumably, keeping him away from dem white folks' films). Tough. He's a decent director of 'issues'. But, given the chance, he can get your pulse racing, too.

(I have a theory that an executive put a call out for anyone good with 'race stuff' - Singleton getting a call was the misunderstanding of an office junior.)

He fills the frame with colour and movement. Turns the camera upside-down, but keeps it tight in the edit so it works. Michael Bay wishes his camera were this inventive.

He casts smartly, too. Most characters won't stick beyond the running time, but when they pop up a second or third time, you know who they are.

Oh, and instead of the cocky little git of film three, our guys this time aren't at all sure. (Ironic, really - they're clearly better than him.) In the face of the race, cocky becomes anxious. The other car IS faster. Ulp. Basic drama.

Not art, then. But not arse, either.


Film one. And yeah, okay, you get why they wanted to carry on.

The first film remembers to do things right - start with INCIDENT (a daring hi-jack), find a style (there are some gorgeous time-lapse shots of LA, lovely focus-pulling between cars, and you actually see our stars and their explosions in the same frame at the same time), and tense up the undercover stuff.

It creates icons quickly, too. "A ten-second car". NoS injection systems. "Life a quarter-mile at a time". Spraying checkpoints across the street. The girls and the gears. Hell, I have no interest in cars, but for two hours, it's groovy.

It's a hell of a lot more ethnically balanced, as well, with gags about Latino names ("Even I can't pronounce it" says Hector of his surname) balanced with bitches right back (Brian O'Conner's name "Sounds like a serial killer").

The story pounds along, too. On the night our hero and his prey meet, they take part in an illegal street race, get caught, escape and flee, get attacked by Chinese gangsters then go back to his place for a beer and a crack at his sister.

There are some 'relationships' on show, too. Brian's boss is also his dad (likely expected to return in film two but didn't - there's a character who acts just like him, though), one of Vin Deisel's gang has ADD and a bright future in design, only he's in with the wrong crowd. Vin himself has a 'proper (movie) past'.

Oh, and okay, let's give Vin his due. He's failed to find decent films since, but for a moment here it seemed like we had something hot on the screen. Raw, masculine, not short on an era where audiences (including myself) prefer their men a little more complex and capable of emotion, Vin was kinda refreshing.

There's a mis-lead in the bad guys, some judgment calls, tough decisions...okay, it's basic, but it's something the sequels don't do at all. But both this film and the sequel put more on the line than straight victory, than first past the post.

There's only one real car wreck, and it takes place during a smashingly tense set-piece as three cars try to take down a truck and fail, painfully. One on one races - those binary bastards - are treated as perfunctory. One overtake, big deal.

It also plays smart with the obvious stuff. Vin finds out his new best mate is a cop...they look at each other, never speaking. Again, it's basic, but it shows a confidence.

People saw the second movie because they liked the first. They saw the third because they liked the second. I doubt many liked the third - though Empire seems to have gone out of its mind giving Tokyo Drift three stars having given the second film only two - so who knows whether they'll bother with the fourth.

Maybe - if Vin's in it. He has a cameo at the end of Tokyo Drift, after all (which probably cost half the budget, and actually has more verve than any other dialogue scene in the picture).

Maybe - if they bring Tyrese back. He and Vin work in my head as an on-screen pairing.

Maybe - if they ditch the binary race results.


Monday, July 24, 2006

Desperately Seeking Something

Ever since adding the webstats info to Before My Eyes, I've been able to see who's referring to me (thanks China Blue!).

And, okay, hardly anybody is visiting. And those that are, ain't staying long.

So while I spend a little time contemplating the point of all this nonsense, trying to figure out how to reach my target audience of media nerds, I wanted to share with you a few of the Goggle searches that have led to this under-updated corner of cyberspace.

When people pop over from a Google link, the system takes note of what was searched for. Some of these make me proud:

"Russell T Davies" Bleasdale GBH
GBH with Michael Palin, Robert Lindsay
gbh lindsay palin convention

Excellent. Want to read about one of TV's best ever drama? Come to Behind Closed Eyes for review and opinion. Splendid. There was also one where 'Bleasdale' was spelt with an extra E in the middle - which got here thanks to my own typo (now corrected) in the middle of this item.

The Dead Man's Chest piece also did long as you knew the name of the wacky pirate with one eye played by that bloke from 'The Office', or have no idea how to use apostrophes:

ragetti eye
ragetti temptation quotes
real live kracken's
ted elliott pirates interview waffle

I especially like the 'waffle' there. Going out on a limb, chances are they weren't expecting Ted Elliot, co-writer of the Pirates films, to be discussing waffles. So they were searching, I guess, for him waffling on about the movie. Which is an unlikely, but charmingly literal, way to Google.

Meanwhile, there have been quite a few of these:

emma caulfield fhm

Presumably a disappointment when they find that this is actually something of a piss-take.

On the other hand, I love that someone searched for this:

"i miss you,and the way we used to be"

One of my more self-indulgent posts, there. Nice that somebody found it.

Specific blog searchers, meanwhile, have been decidedly on-topic:

superman returns box office
"doctor who" doomsday

Good for them. And I choose to think that the Googlers who went for variants of "hard candy 2" trailer were a) appreciating the irony of this piece when it came to unnecessary sequels, and b) not ACTUALLY looking for a sequel to Digital Playground's hardcore porn film Hard Candy. (A Robby D video, currently one of the most over-productive and generally mediocre rude film directors currently working.)

Still, my inner demons suggests that my optimism misplaced. Partly because it's the internet, and you just expect a bit of sleaze. Partly because this site isn't exactly afraid to talk naughtiness on DVD, and like attracts like.

And partly because, on a separate occasion, one Google search led to my site with these words:

young 13 year old hotties

Gulp, frankly. Dude, whoever you are, go away.

I console myself with the fact that I came up 19th in the search. (Which begs the question - why'd he come here, surely one of the first 18 options provided the sicko with what he wanted?) I hate to be judgmental, but there aren't a lot of ways that search can be misinterpreted, are there?

Look, hey, I can Google porn for my country. And we all have our own proclivities. But seriously, dude, go away, don't come back. Get help.

The rest of you - any advice on getting myself noticed would be appreciated. I'm willing to do anything short of removing clothing in public or eating broccoli.


Additional: Yes, I am very much aware of the irony that, with that hotties line included in a post, I've just set myself up for MORE visits from Googling paedos. Like I said, I need the ratings.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Clock Up A Point For Creationism

What terrible thing did those poor dinosaurs do to their agents to deserve ITV's new series, Prehistoric Park?

Nigel Marven, as far as I can tell, usually spends his time with real animals. (One of the 'If I poke it with a stick, maybe it'll get angry' school, presumably.) Now he's 'presenting' a 'time-travel' 'documentary'.

Note the sarcastic quotes there.

The premise is this: Nige is catching dinosaurs from the past and transporting them to a private enclosure to become a public attraction. Jurassic Park, then, without the cloning.

Problem number one - how are ITV getting away with this title and premise? Shouldn't Michael Crichton be suing already? Christ, they even showed Jurassic Park directly before the first episode! Which implies some kind of approval that surely isn't there.

Problem number two - if ITV told people they were planning a series where animals from around the world were being hunted down and captured, wouldn't there be uproar? Why is it morally acceptable when the beasts are CGI?

Problem number three - given that the beasts ARE computer generated, playing the whole thing as 'genuine' just makes everyone look a bit silly. Nige shows us maps of his park, they build big pens (out of, erm, wooden poles), and we watch thinking "Hmm, they'll slip right through the bars, won't they? What with being TWO DIMENSIONAL!"

Problem number four - acting. Presenters have trouble doing it. Nigel couldn't pretend he was under attack from a T-rex if his khakis depended on it. I'm all for verisimilitude (it worked amazingly well in the BBC mock-doc Ghostwatch, more or less) but maybe an ACTOR might have been an idea...?

Problem number five - time travel. Hi, welcome to the science fiction genre. A genre that's been alive and well for a few centuries now. One which, apparently, has passed the makers by.

Let's ignore the really geeky stuff - say, the fact that you can't just go back in time and change the past without seriously jeopardising the whole of history, or that fact that moving in time doesn't suddenly enable you to move location as well (Nige should pop-up in the middle of space, the point where his park hung 65 million years ago. And don't I just wish that had happened) - and concentrate on two factors.

Firstly, if a documentary really did use time-travel, the audience might be more interested in learning how that worked, rather than seeing some bloke building fences. Secondly, that, with the whole of time available, maybe this whole 'last minute dash to beat the apocalypse' was unnecessary. Why go back to a day before the end of the era, the day before the comet crashed down? Go back another fortnight and save yourself some tension.

Problem number six - speaking of verisimilitude, who's filming this series? For every segment showing tents for camera crews and the like (why stay overnight? They have a time machine! Go home to your beds and come back in the morning!), there's a segment clearly filmed by the world's most suicidal cameraman - strapped to the back of a Triceratops, on the ground between fighting dinos. You're either a documentary or a drama - make up your mind!

Problem number seven - education. Provide some. The best this series can muster is anecdotal discussion of Rex tipping over if it leans forward. Other than that, it's all 'height this' and 'weight that'. I can get that from Wikipedia before the first commercial break!

Ripping off the BBC seems to be ITV's new big plan. Spend less on drama, sod all on comedy, and plough it into big shows that nick the best notions from other channels.

Get the Walking With Dinosaurs DVD. It's a lot better, the improvements of CGI aside. At least, it's actively less offensive.

Word has it that ITV have plans for an action/SF series based on time portals. In this show, dinosaurs will be popping up and it's the job of our heroes to stop them. Or something. My fond hope is that this series was intended as a series of FX and photography tests for that show.

Because they're the only areas in which Prehistoric Park is anything other than abysmal.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Just Super Enough

Leaving the cinema after Superman Returns I was hit with various conflicting responses. They included, in no particular order:

- Loved Kevin Spacey

- Why does Lex Luthor hire such utter goons?

- Brandon Routh (Supes) is incredibly likeable

- Christ, Superman is just the blandest hero in comics

- Kate Bosworth (Lois) looks terrific, but...

- She's too young to be Lois. And nowhere near tough enough.

- When a villain literally changes the map, it's really disturbing to look at

- How come nobody really misses Clark during his Superman-sized time away?

- Actually, they don't notice he never does any reporting, either.

- And why write your hero and villain only meeting once?

And so on. It's no mean feat for the kind of super-strong guy I'd usually hate/resent/wish I was that I actually really took to Routh in the part. It's a shame they've mangled him to be half-hero, half-stalker for the new movie. He only gets one set of emotions to play - those of being super-miffed.

Bosworth is far more hugable than Margot Kidder, but she's far less acerbic. I always liked the interpretation of Lois as overly-tenacious, to the point of danger - something Teri Hatcher would also mange pretty well in the TV series. That's given lip-service here, but you never FEEL it.

Spacey, meanwhile, lights up the screen. Funny, a little scary, he sees himself as noble David to Superman's Goliath. (Huzzah for a villain with motivation!)

Spacey scenes tend to be filmed a little more in wide shots, and group framings. Letting Kev, Parker Posey and others play a little, find their own rhythm. It works a treat - and it's a hangover from the style of Richard Donner's scenes from films one and two - but highlights the fact that this ISN'T happening among the good guys.

Whether inside the Daily Planet building as Clark, or on top of it as Superman, none of the other players are afforded this chance to act. It's all done in the cut, the score, close-ups and specific gestures.

Not to lob any aspersions, but this is, traditionally, how a director will cope with actors who aren't living up to the promise.

Which I'm not suggesting must be the case here. Usually, even when you cut around outlines this heavily, the real shape still shows. (George Lazenby as 007 is a prime example.) These two are endearing leads. Chemistry? Who knows. Too often it's played in individual close-ups; they could be playing their lines to a roll of gaffer tape.

Watching Christopher Reeve (yes, I did it, I made the comparison, I didn't intend to, but here it is anyway) bumble around the Daily Planet was like a silent movie. Postitively Buster Keaton-esque. Our new Clark plays his clumsiness in CU of suitcases, CU of table being bumped, CU of person going 'ow'. Is Routh any good at comedy? I dunno. His editor seems to do okay, though.

Still, after a nostalgic but slow start, the movie has a decent lick to it. It doesn't feel over-long during the body of the film - only at the end, when a coda becomes a fourth act, does Superman Returns outstay its welcome. Action is solidly staged (though never with the 'gasp' factor of the great action movies; Singer's never really nailed his action scenes for me), FX generally excellent. Blah blah.

Oh, the film is shot on the Genesis digital camera. Mistake. Night scenes are shot through with grain. Elsewhere, Singer's photography goes again for dark, muted colours - an odd thing to do when your hero wear nothing but primary colours. (Suit looks great, by the way. Dark, but nifty...y'know, for tights and a cape.)

Still, all this whining is missing a lot of decent stuff. Lex's plan has huge scope, but still fits with his continued craving for land and property. Jimmy Oslen (who has way too much screen time at the start) is another likeable guy in a film full of likeable guys. And there's no denying the emotion brought up by using old motifs, familiar designs and the classic Superman theme.

Great nods to the history abound, too. My favourite? Perry White has pictures of Superman taken on a kid's cameraphone. He describes them as iconic. One is the classic 'carrying damsel' stuff - cover of any number of comics - the other shows Supes holding a car over his head, putting it down front-end first.

That, my friends and web neighbours, is the Action Comics cover pose for Superman's first ever appearance.

Very cool.

In my Pirates 2 write-up I praised the details in the film. How much stuff was in there to reward a second viewing, a DVD purchase. Some stuff was better than the stuff you were focused on the first time.

Superman Returns has the opposite effect. Everything you're meant to see, feel, notice is front and centre.

You can claim that this shows a director with focus and I'd happily agree.

Or you could say that the film is a little one-note and shallow. And I'd accept that, too.

We have the usual Christ subtext, of course (heavily hit when, towards the end, Supes falls to his 'death' in a crucifixion pose, only to rise again three days later*), constant waffle about Earth needing/not needing a savior. Oh, and some strictly textual stuff about how people move on when you go away. But that's kinda it.

No, the problem with repeated viewings is just how many holes open up in the story.

Clark returns, Superman returns. They left at the same time, reappear within hours of each other, then Clark vanishes while Supes is in a coma. Nobody notices. Even though the Planet covers Superman stories constantly.

Superman is stabbed with a Kryptonite shiv. (Great stuff, this by the way. Making you wonder why Supes and Luthor weren't handed a great deal more shared screen time.) He's on a part-Kryptonite island and is rendered essentially mortal by it.

Later, he is able to LIFT the island that renders him mortal.

Look, it either drains him or it doesn't. You can't change that to suit the story. Also, it's made even MORE unlikely when you find that he STILL had a fragment of the broken-off shiv in him at this point.

I get the feeling that next time I'm going to wonder just why Clark gets his job back. He never does any work. I'm going to wonder why Lois is hogging a TV interview when she's a print journalist. I'm going to wonder why Lex and Supes didn't get a proper series of face-offs. Why they dragged that conclusion on so long. I'm going to wonder whether all this skulking around Lois is really fair; it feels more like another example of Superdickery.

Sorry, sorry, ranting away without saying that yes, it's a decent movie. It's fun, sad, exciting, funny. It's also going to come and go in a blink. And, sadly, it seems that the box-office has spoken - no sequel is looking likely.

I really, REALLY would like there to be one.

*N.B. Might not have been three days. Felt like it, though.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Rose Makes Me Thorny

Doctor Who concludes, then, with a two-parter that makes me want to swallow my previous rantings. Bastards.


I hated the Cybermen two-parter in the middle of this series, I make no bones about it. So the idea that the series finale would follow on from it filled me with dread. This was supposed to be a blub-worthy farewell to Rose Tyler - how could they manage that with another load of cyber-nonsense going on?

The answer, annoyingly, is 'incredibly well'.

Once again, as with last year's two-part finale, we were given a lo-o-o-o-ong build up. We knew the cybermen were coming, even as everyone whittered on about ghosts. Shrug. And all this build up, despite a manipulative-but-effective teaser sequence, might have been infuriating, had it not been carried out with such wit and enthusiasm.

Listing the lovable: The Eastenders spoof, The Doctor's delight at being a prisoner of Torchwood, Rose and The Doctor singing Ghostbusters, Jackie's peculiar promotion to 'companion'...and those 3D glasses.

The glasses rate a special mention because, as it turned out, they mattered to the story. Now here's a writer who knows what he's doing - hiding important plot information in plain site, dismissed as amusing-but-standard Doctor wackiness. Brilliant.

All good entertainment it was. Awesome and mind-blowing? Not until the last few seconds.

Because somehow a production usually unable to prevent leaks of all sizes managed to plug the holes. A vague tabloid mumble about 'Daleks V Cybermen' was dismissed in the early days as more journo daydreaming. (Right alongside Rachel Stevens becoming a companion.) Turned out, it was true. And we didn't see it coming.

(That said, the tease as to the creators of the sphere WAS enough to have me yelling 'Daleks!' at the screen in the minute or so before it opened. I relish that moment, as it reduced me to the age of about 7. Suddenly I was an excited kid watching Doctor Who, and for that feeling to be recaptured at 30...well, thanks guys, it's appreciated.)

So, not-bad, won over by execution and cliffhanger, despite being light on story...and the fact that Tochwood's main staff seem to work in a cupboard.

But part two? Oh boy...

Witness me dancing around a room as battles are fought, jokes are hammered home and daleks have banter - BANTER! - with cybermen. Witness my jaw drop as we realise that the Genesis Ark is a prison for an entire dalek race, now sprung open on an unsuspecting populous. Witness me blubbing like a child when Rose and The Doctor say goodbye.

How is all this possible? The cybermen were crap last time, how are they now so imposing? How did the lazily resurrected emotions of Rose's family become this graceful, powerful elephant in my living room?

Jackie gets her husband back, Rose gets her dad. They all stay together, in another reality, with Mickey. And the lot of them are transformed, better people for knowing The Doctor. Who himself is now left, alone, once again.

Christ, that's smart stuff.

I've heard fans bemoan the convenience of the climax, but I'm not listening. The Doctor's plan was seeded early with the specs - he had plans early on. Moreover, I'll take every one of Davies' 'silly' climaxes - viral cures in showers, diamonds and telescopes - over Trek's gobbledygook every time. Davies writes conclusions that work emotionally, viscerally. I could care less about them being TECHNICALLY correct.

Seriously, who's bothered by '"Captain, we can do it! We just need to reroute the binary relays to hexigladical output and flouridate the mattermixmaster and we can do it!"? Not me.

Yes, there were flaws, there always are. There's no way Pete's rescue should have worked, and there's no good reason to see so little of the war being fought outside. (I'd assumed budgetary reasons, but the commentary track informs us that the director had shot loads more and they cut it out.)

But I'll pay those prices. To see Tennant - much maligned this series for gurning (which I love, Dave; keep it up!) - cry his single tear, I'll pay all that and more.

Oh, and another well-hidden cliffhanger, too. This one funny rather than shocking. That'll do nicely. Christmas special and third series please, quick as you like.

Which brings us to The Future Of Who. That future is Freema Agyeman.

Wrongly named as 'the first black companion', as if Mickey Smith hadn't spent two series growing impressively right before us (and traveling in the TARDIS, pedants), the character of Martha is bound to be another of Davies' interesting, down-to-Earth females. Which is fine.

Only...gah, I just can't shake my concerns about the actress. Because she was pretty lousy in Army of Ghosts.

But hey, Piper was hardly Brando in her pop videos, right? And 'flirty office worker who gets killed' ain't a great part. Frankly, everyone in Torchwood needed a performance enhancing drug - something wasn't gelling in those office scenes, and almost every performance was off.

So I shan't worry too much about Ms Agyeman. These guys know casting. I have faith.

It's an exciting time for Brit sci-fi. Because we finally have some again.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Avast Behind!

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Beware ye who read on - here there be spoilers.

"Jack's back" the campaign touted, and with good reason. Depp's Jack Sparrow was a major reason the pirate movie finally shed decades of bad reputation (Cutthroat Island literally sank its parent company) and sailed off with millions of the public's booty.

But there were other reasons, too, and they're more or less all here, too. Top of the list are writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio. These guys are MASSIVELY important to the Pirates saga, and to modern Hollywood movies. Their peculiar mix of honest character, fast-moving story and knowing irony has informed some of the best recent blockbusters.

Top of the list - Shrek. Oddly, this saga's closest relative in some ways. The POTC films are 'Pirate movies' in the same way the Shrek films are 'fairy stories'. They have all the elements - even cliches - of the genre, but are perpetually subversive and knowing. (Playing a pirate as a rock-star is absolutely akin to Shrek playing a Lord/ruler as a dictatorial movie studio head.)

They did similar, but more subtle, work on the first Banderas Zorro flick, Small Soldiers and, far more so, Disney's Aladdin. These guys rock my kasbah.

Also pretty explosive is Jerry 'blow it up!' Bruckheimer, on board as producer to make sure there's no shortage of set-pieces. But there's another side to Bruckheimer that people rarely appreciate - character. All his wham-bam flicks - Crimson Tide, Bad Boys, Beverly Hills Cop, The Rock, Armageddon, Con Air, Top Gun - are really tuned in to what motivates people.

Yes, they're big. Yes they're overcooked (in the most entertaining way). But he knows how to marry movie stars to characters with clear arcs, wants and desires. How appropriate, then, that he produce these Disney movies with two of their better writers. Disney's animated movies, at best, always make the 'gotta' very clear. ("I want more than this life", "I want to walk on land", "I want to be king someday".)

Then we have the director - Gore Verbinski. A strange cove indeed, with a fascinatingly erratic CV: he scared the crap out of me with his Ring remake, did broad slapstick in Mousehunt, and lensed one of the weirdest 'nearly brilliant' mis-fires of recent history with The Mexican.

Now he does big comic action and FX. Really bloody well.

Yes, Knightley and Bloom are 1-D performers. Don't mind that too much, really - they're the Luke and Leia of their saga, and Hamill was as flat as...well, as Knightley's chest. They work as functional chess-pieces, with positions and back-stories that do their job for the bigger plot. They'll do.

Still, all this is pretty much as film one, and I'm meant to be talking about film two.

Which adequately makes Point Number One: if you like the first movie, you'll like this. If you didn't, you won't. Don't even bother.

Mark Kermode, a reviewer I always enjoy (for bonus points he also introduced my uni class to The Exorcist), hated film one, and he hates this. He says this wasn't inevitable - that he goes in with an open mind.

Big deal! It has the same cast, director, writers, producer, and it's doing all it can to be a direct relative to the first film audiences flocked to. At what point was he likely to enjoy it?!

Ugh - never mind.

Bad stuff first, then.

The Empire Strikes Back. Anyone see this at the time? I didn't. I saw it as a kid knowing, vaguely, that it was an episode in the middle of a saga. I let it all slide past and loved it. It's still my favourite of the series.

But watch it back and it's really, really odd structurally. The main characters are split up early on and never ruinited. Han Solo and his gang spend the bulk of the film trying to fix an engine. Luke spends the same bulk training to be a Jedi in a swamp. At the end, Solo is captured, Luke's found a father and lost a hand, and Leia's attractions are moving towards the roguishly sexy side of the Force. That's it.

Seriously - isn't that a weird way to structure a blockbuster? Imagine if James Bond spent an entire film trying to get his Aston Martin running. Or if Indiana Jones spent the whole flick taking bullwhip lessons and target practice. It's strange, no?

Not if it's the middle of a trilogy, probably.

And Pirates 2 wears its Star Wars influence sewn to its eye-patch. By the end of Dead Man's Chest - SUPER SPOILER ALERT - Will's found his father, Elizabeth's got a crush on the rogue, and Jack's encased in carbonite...well, sort of. And the saga also finds its bad-guy-turning-better-Lando-Calrissian character in its final shots.

The ways that we get to these conclusions are massively entertaining. Monster attacks, tricks and double-crosses, terrific jokes, and plenty of swash and buckle. Oh, and some more cross-dressing. It's all performed as it should be, directed well, realised in photography, score and design with aplomb.

And yet it's all a little bit...I dunno...inconsequential?

All the fuss doesn't actually climax. As a second act, this is probably the way it should be. And yet...and does mean that we've done an awful lot and achieved very little.

I have problems with the first swordfight in the first film between Will and Jack because I'm not on anybody's side. It's hard to feel exhilarated when everybody HAS to win. Well, film two has another - brilliantly rendered - swordfight, this time between Jack, Will and Norrington. And, again, I want all three of them to win.

So it's BIG, but it ain't POWERFUL.

Much better are the fights against the Kracken. Now that sucker is big, and we DO want to beat it. The odds against are huge. And oh yes, that battle works.

But...we never see beyond the Kracken's tentacles and massive maw. Nor do we actually kill it. Saving for movie three, no doubt. As we're saving the defeat of the East India Company (this film's Evil Empire; headed up by Tom Hollander as Cutler Beckett, who, like the Emperor, only gets to sit and boss people around this time). As we're saving the defeat of Davy Jones, presumably.

The thing is, everything you get is great. The plot has been derided as being 'too complicated' or 'non existent' (CAN you be both?), which makes about as much sense to me as the people who say they weren't able to follow the ONE AND ONLY TWIST in Mission: Impossible (One).

If you go back and watch Pirates 1, it has a lot of layers. Everything feeds into something else. Will's history is tied to Jack's mutiny, which is tied to Barbosa, who is tied to the Aztec gold, which is tied to Elizabeth. Even the small stuff matters - the crappy compass, the gun with one shot.

The second film is, once again, more of the same. Everyone has their own agenda. All the little stuff matters. Even that last post-credits scene in the first film matters. You actually do have to pay a little attention. Maybe you're not used to doing this with big films - one bad guy and one objective is easier, right?

Right. But it also results in films like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. So let's give complexity its moment, shall we?

Also, thanks to the writers' cunning self-referential style, you can run exposition as an audience recap. As in the first film, the dumb double-act of Pintel and Ragetti (fat bloke and wooden eye) turn to each other and ask "So, what's going on?" And it's actually FUNNIER this time, watching as they try to make sense of three men sword-fighting over the same treasure chest. (The contents of which, by the way, makes the film's subtitle insanely, wonderfully literal.)

Also lambasted are the set-pieces. Not for being what they are, but for making Pirates 2, ironically, little more than a theme park ride. Again, if that's what you're seeing, you're missing something.

The final scene makes you realise what these films are really about. It's not a big, explosive sequence. It's a character walking into a room.

In that moment, the series is more like Buffy at its best. In knowing that a CHARACTER will affect people and events far more than any incident could, Pirates 2 shows its real cards - it's about the gang. Of course it is, otherwise the jokes wouldn't be working.

Check out, for example, Norrington's return. Last seen chasing Jack and losing Elizabeth, he's now a Tortuga drunk, sleeping out with the pigs. Now, think back to the first film - Gibbs is seen, at first, working for the fleet (he's the one who warns young Elizabeth about pirates when she's still a little girl); later, he's a pirate himself, a Tortuga drunk, sleeping with the pigs.

Gotta love that symmetry. Even the minor characters are getting their beats - and Norrington's line that he's living the same story, just a chapter behind, is sheer poetry.

To conclude, then - I'm bloody loving this series. If you weren't, though, you still won't. Dead Man's Chest has more flaws, more good jokes, but less originality, than Curse of the Black Pearl. As a series fan, it'll have you gasping repeatedly. (Go back and watch the first film before heading to the cinema, there's a lot of detail points to pick up that mean WAY more if you have.)

Oh, and Jack's entrance? While not as great as his arrival aboard a sinking ship in film one, it IS funny and surprising.

"Not as great, but still funny and surprising." Actually, that sums this whole thing up pretty well.


Additional: If you have Pirates 1 on DVD, there's a deleted scene showing the pirate town of Tortuga - made up of various rampaging extras looking a lot like the original Pirates theme-park ride. (Including one guy being dunked in a well.) This one shot, removed from the first movie, appears in Pirates 2.

Oh yes, I noticed. Bonus points for me! Gaaaarrrrr!


Additional additional, July 12th. Seen the film a second time and there's SO much to pick up on with another pass. Mostly cute or clever things, or background details, but there's one story point I think I'm the first to notice. So I post now, and await the judgement of history.

Davy Jones had, on his organ (fnar), a musical box/locket. A silver heart. The same design was around the keyhole on his chest.

BUT - we saw a third heart, silver, same design, same size as Jones' the home of the voodoo priestess Tia Dalma.

Could Tia be the woman Jones fell in love with? The woman he cut his heart out for? It might explain her actions at both the start and end of the film. (Alternatively, less spectacularly, it could just mean that she gave him the magic to do what he did in the first place...)

Everyone, by now, is talking about the pair of feet the monkey runs to in Tia's hut early on. But this...this is something we'll have to wait a year to get an answer on. Book early to avoid disappointment!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Great British Holiday

Alan Bleasdale is in my top-five of great British TV drama writers. Others on the list include Jimmy McGovern (Cracker), Dennis Potter (The Singing Detective) and Russell T. Davies (Queer as Folk). Paul Abbott is probably the fifth.

I mention this because you NEED to switch on to More Four on Saturday at 10.15pm.

The show is G.B.H. It's over a decade old. And it's probably still going to be the best thing you see on TV this year.

Bleasdale wrote what is, on the surface, a political thriller. (G.B.H. appears to have been a huge influence on the more recent State of Play.) But it's really a study of power versus strength, and the signs of madness. It's a study of people.

Okay, so maybe you saw this thing go out the first time. Or maybe, like me, you just picked up the DVDs (which I had intended to write about before finding out that the repeats were starting). If it anyway. Watch it again.

Because in a country that lacks a left wing, that's stuck with a soundbite leader and more conservative (small c) global influences than can be entirely healthy, Bleasdale's voice isn't just an echo. Right now it plays like prophecy.

G.B.H. tells a story about a guy whose principals, while not exactly bought, are sacrificed for a bigger standing. For ego trips and the promise of yet more power. Michael Murray (played by Robert Lindsay) makes claims to a Labour revolution that he doesn't necessarily want. He doesn't want change so much as he wants to WIN.

Caught in a scheme conjured by yet more powerful men, Murray starts strong and crumbles right in front of our eyes. Piece by piece his facade peels away - the women he beds (throwing away spare condoms to pretend he used more than he did), the prefect physical appearance (he's balding up top and desperate to hide it). And with it goes the power.

As his world crumbles - his chauffeur (and brother) kicks him out of the car, takes his mother away, leaving Murray with a wife we never see beyond some terrifying heels and a loud, loud voice - Murray develops ticks. A wink in the eye, and a spasming hand one step away from Dr Strangelove.

And for all this pain and tragedy, G.B.H. is the funniest damn thing you've seen. It WILL take you to the borderline of hysterics as Michael, unable to control his ticks, swings around his hotel, accidentally hitting things, trying desperately to borrow condoms ("Borrow? I wouldn't want them back!") while avoiding his wife...right in the middle of a Doctor Who convention. ("Durex! The greatest exterrrminator of them all!")

It's a powerhouse performance from Lindsay. It will make your sides ache. And afterwards, you may just cry.

Playing Murray's polar opposite is, of all people, Michael Palin.

Seriously - Michael Palin. Parrot sketch, chips up the nose, globetrotting - THAT Michael Palin.

God knows who thought to cast him. It seems such a bizarre idea - why not go all the way and have Cleese doing Michael Murray's saluting-in-hotels schtick? But it WORKS. And not in some 'decent effort' way. Palin is gobsmackingly good with dialogue that's just the right side of poetic melodrama...and sometimes brilliant sitcom.

Jim Nelson teaches at a 'special' school. He has no power, but he does have acres of familial responsibility, masses of inner strength, and a genuine love of others. He is, in no uncertain terms, Murray's opposite; still where Murray is frantic. He's also a little crazy, in his own way (hiding in the wardrobe or the shed, naked and sleepwalking). But he's everything Murray is not - including a pillar of true socialism.

(For the record, I don't care where your politics lie. You shouldn't care about mine. Let's just agree that good drama is good drama, and we can accept those merits regardless of the message you choose to take away. (That message, by the way, could be 'Right wing politics are by nature cruel, selfish, devious and deadly' or 'The left is a fundamentally weak position that will inevitable never succeed, doomed to cave in on itself'.))

Murray and Nelson, though. These two in a room together - it's everything that DeNiro/Pacino scene in Heat should have been. It crackles. A string of fast-played banter lines, constantly backed up by character and purpose. Palin all stillness, Lindsay perpetually about to explode.

Lump in the throat. Every time.

By the end, as we reach Jim Nelson's empowering speech to his Labour club - "Proof that the further left you go, the more right wing you become" - you will have been through tragedy, comedy, intrigue. You will have seen the press and politics and celebrity and life all weaved together with breathtaking style. You'll have seen a master at work.

Every character, it seems, gets a beginning, middle and end in G.B.H. From the major characters to bit-parts and cameos. Murray's hired researcher is bribed with a hooker...who he falls in love with. The wine waiter goes from comedy prop (perpetually delivering to the wrong rooms because he's "numerically dyslexic") to Murray's ally to victim and political tool. The borderline-psychotic holiday resort owner who plays Electrical Storm Russian Roulette with an umbrella.

Everyone is a hero in their own small story. And ain't that just life.

I implore. I BEG. I know it's a digital station, I know it's Saturday night and you'll likely be out larging it up. I know decade-old drama isn't on the top of your viewing list. But please, try it. Set the video. Try episode one - it does everything the series will do in a microcosm.

And you won't be able to resist coming back.


Oh, by the way - the title? It's the G.B.H. that Bleasdale initially wrote about - his half-novel the TV drama was to become. The Nelson family take a holiday and are robbed of an important file while the manipulators hold a gathering inside their empty house. But this isn't just about bodily harm, it's about the harm done to hearts and minds. And it definitely isn't about two holiday-based episodes. So - the title was reduced. Quite right too.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Do Da Da Vinci Dance

A while back I had planned to write a review of X-Men 3. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't BOSS, y'know? And the direction was okay, so I'm not blaming Brett 'scapegoat' Ratner. The man's a hired-gun, not an artist, and he does fine with what he's given. (Bottom line, look at Red Dragon. It's WAY better than Ridley Scott's Hannibal. But nowhere near Michael Mann's Manhunter. Thus Ratner has made a better film than Ridley Scott. Thus - not a complete waste of celluloid.)

Anyway, that Hannibal stuff is for another time. As is the X-stuff, as my opinions have been mostly ably summarised in Todd's review.

So we move on to the Worst Morning Of My Life. The morning I went to see The Da Vinci Code.

Where do you start with a train-wreck of a film like this?

Right up front I want to say that I really enjoyed the book. It's written the way a cat plays the piano, but it rolls along at a decent lick and keeps you guessing. Dan Brown's books may be idenitkit thrillers, but there is at least some thrill to them. And you do sit there trying to puzzle stuff out.

Well, except for that 'mirror writing' bit. While all the characters are saying stuff like 'hmm, I think it could be a language derived from the ancient Sumerian', the reader takes one look and thinks 'backwards'. (This is the only improvement the film makes over the book, by the way; Tom Hanks immediately demands a mirror. No faffing.)

So what's wrong with the film?

More or less everything, really. The tone is as solemn and reverential as a monk on Easter Sunday. This isn't a rollicking romp, it's a dour history lesson. The score treats every action like it's a Chuck Heston biblical epic. What's missing from the thriller is THRILLS.

To be fair, many of the issues come from adapting the book TOO closely, a phenomenon no longer limited to the Harry Potter saga. Yes the public loves the book, but if they want it that badly they can read it again. This is a FILM - screenwriters, show some backbone! Adapt the thing, don't just transcribe it.

I would have loved the Da Vinci Code adaptation job. The plot's all there for you, you just have to get rid of the novel's worst aspects - the prose and the dialogue. Dan Brown's text goes in the bin, his structure remains. It's ideal. You get to take a near-brilliant structure and wrap it in your own brilliant dialogue.

Well, you might...if you hadn't hired the screenwriter of Batman & Robin and Lost in Space. Seriously. (Yes, okay, Akiva Goldsman also has an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind, but come on...)

So we get some of the same crappy dialogue, plus some all-new crappy dialogue. We also get a grafted-on back story for Tom Hanks. Presumably feeling left out because Paul Bettany gets a flashback history, and Audrey Tatou gets two, Hanks gets to be 'the kid who got claustrophobia by falling down a well'. Ugh.

To be clear, this phobia appears twice in the film. Once at the start, in a lift, just to establish it. Then, later, he gets a little sweaty in the back of a van.

Later in the film he will also hide in a Limo, travel in a small plane (and presumably use its bathroom) and hang out in an underground crypt. None of which will affect him in the slightest.

It's presumably supposed to lend the character some depth. It doesn't. Adding a characteristic does not amount to the same thing. It's no better than saying "Why doesn't he play the flute when he's nervous?' Characteristics are NOT character.

Worst of all, any screenwriter knows that these problems are created to be overcome. At the climax of the story, the claustrophobe is meant to overcome his problem as the villain traps him in a tight space. Or something. Doesn't happen.

Tom Hanks is, pretty much, lousy in this film. I can't REMEMBER when Hanks was ever bad in a movie. Oscars be damned, he's an incredibly watchable actor. If you didn't like the parts he got the nod for - Forrest Gump and Andy in Philadelphia - that's fine, but you surely liked him in Apollo 13, Big, Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile, Toy Story...

The lousy performance, I've decided, is his attempt to fit in with the rest of the film. He plays dead-pan and flat because his character is flatly written. He's overly solemn because the direction is. It's an appropriate performance for the film.

Poor old Audrey Tatou, meanwhile, is scuppered with too much back story and, again, no discernible character. She's written, though, to be pro-active and hard-edged. So why cast the girl who was Amelie, the French Meg Ryan? Tatou does waifish and vulnerable better than anyone, but this part needed a Sophie Marceau.

The rest of the cast do what they do. The World's Coolest Frenchman, Jean Reno (erm, who was actually born in Morocco to Spanish parents and lived in Africa until his late teens) is given NOTHING cool to do, something even a mess like Godzilla managed to achieve. Alfred Molina is villainous...over the phone, mostly.

Paul Bettany comes off best. His albino make-up is shocking, the self-inflicted wounds more so, and his accent is pitched perfectly. But so what? Big deal. All he does is stalk and kill...and get caught. Oh, and then die miles away from the action having accidentally killed his mentor. (Another book-flaw made large here - two of the villains are dispatched miles away from the action by generic cops. Imagine if British Bobbys defeated the bad guy while James Bond was off somewhere else. Again, it's just poor writing.)

All the way through The Da Vinci Code I kept asking myself why it wasn't working. Other critics have pointed to the nature of the material - following clues and dishing out exposition isn't exactly cinematic.

Wrong. It's just not EASY.

When you figure it out, it's ideal cinema. They're making 66 episodes of CSI every year, and every one of them works. We follow the clues, the one-dimensional characters dish out exposition at the right times. It works - and it's the biggest-selling show in the world right now. (Which explains why Da Vinci tries to ape its CGI crash-zoom close-ups and ghostly flashbacks laid over the real word. Though it doesn't explain how it does them so badly and in the wrong places.)

Audiences who flocked to last year's Nic Cage movie National Treasure know that this stuff can be done. Sure, not a great flick by any stretch, but the clues were clear, we sat in the cinema and thought them over, and we watched as the character figured them out, following them along the trail of logic.

With Da Vinci, they blast past the clue-and-solution stuff so quickly, you barely notice it. And all the CGI anagrams in the world won't help the fact that, half the time, you're unsure what just got solved, or how. (The Fibonacci Sequence, for example, is named as such and never explained. Without the book I'd have no idea what they were talking about.)

Exposition CAN be cinematic. Moreover, it can be dramatic. Courtroom drama thrives on it - not just the revelation of information, but just what that revelation can mean. Da Vinci's secret could, apparently, change the world. Erm, okay - prove it.

Ghastly lip-service is paid to the controversial nature of the revelation that Christ had a child. In the final scene, Hanks goes off on one about how Christ's humanity doesn't contradict his divinity. (An argument that didn't work when Last Temptation came out, so probably won't this time, however reasonable.) Then Tatou, apparently Christ's heir, makes a jokey attempt to walk on water.

To coin an expletive - Jesus Christ. (This is tied in to an earlier scene where she stops a man in a park taking heroin so she can use his picnic table. Hey, maybe that was like a miracle cure! This is, actually, a vaguely interesting idea, but so at odds with the rest of film, because it's a new addition, it just feels ham-fisted and unrealistic.)

It's ironic, in fact, that the two best scenes in the film are the exposition sequences they otherwise work to avoid. At the start, Hanks gives a lecture showing the history of some icons. Watch for the swastika. Someone in the production office created a great piece of work while nobody was looking - how it made its way into the film is anyone's guess.

Then, later, the film's ONE GOOD THING shows up. Ian McKellen. In the book he's written as an English cliche. In the film he might be, too, but McKellen saves it. He's fast, funny (to be fair, some of this DOES come from the script. It's as if Goldsman got sick of writing histrionics so loaded up one character with all the irony) and - blimey Charlie - interesting to watch.

Mostly this happens in his first scenes, where he lectures us in grail history. It's great stuff - it's interesting, no matter how preposterous. And while director Ron Howard seems to think that this is the dullest part of the film, doing his best to avoid anything like it again, audiences will find themselves intrigued for the only time in two hours and twenty minutes.

You do feel that everyone - writer, director, cast - read a different book to the rest of us. Theirs was dull, ponderous, ruined by puzzles. Ours was fast-paced, lightweight and revelatory.

You can tell this by the fact that the few changes that ARE made, are made for the worse. Even to the point of making fundamental mistakes.

In the book, Hanks' character is woken in the middle of the night and taken to the Louvre, to the murder scene that kicks things off. The dead man was someone he had dinner plans with the following night.

In the film, Hanks is at a book signing after a lengthy lecture. The cops take him to the Louvre. The dead man was, apparently, someone Hanks had had dinner plans with THAT night, only he didn't show up. Y'know, cos he was dead.

Hang on, though...

So Hanks went to dinner, didn't find his guest, then gave a lecture, then signed books. That's three hours or so at least, right? Probably more like five, given that you plan a decent time for the meal.

The victim was shot after setting off an alarm in the gallery. Which means that the police must have been there within, say, 30 minutes. Then what? They waited hours before contacting Hanks? It never made the news - prominent guy, killed in famous location?

Don't start taking apart the toaster unless you know how to put it back together.

And don't waste you money on this film. Everyone here has done better work elsewhere. Rent National Treasure, or watch CSI. Hell, just read Brown's books.

I'm too late, of course. A sequel has already been greenlit, based on a huge box office intake.

Christ save us all.


Additional: The book has suffered no little controversy by, well, being about Jesus. Because Christian groups everywhere seem to believe that the power and influence of their One True Lord and Savior can be damaged by a fictional book. (Yes, shock horror, it's a NOVEL, not a legitimate historical tome.)

Seriously guys, the religion has a strangle-hold on the planet, your God is apparently all-powerful and eternal. Do you seriously think He gives a damn that some American academic has written a book about his kid, and that that book might bring the whole homophobic, judgmental, unforgiving house of cards down? Not likely.

More hilarious, though, is the fact that Brown was (unsuccessfully) sued by the writers of Holy Blood Holy Grail, an alleged history book that tells, more or less, the story that Brown's book also 'reveals' - Christ had a child, the holy grail is Mary Magdalene's body, secret societies, blah blah.

Brown obviously read their book - one character's name is an anagram of one of Holy Blood's authors, and the title is namechecked in the novel.

Thing is, if that book WAS a true history, can they sue? Can they really claim Brown ripped them off when all his characters do is believe what Holy Blood Holy Grail says? You can't copyright history. If what those writers claim was true, as suggested, then they can't sue. Nobody owns World War II. If I write about it as a history, I can't sue someone who sets a novel in the midst of the action.

Ah-ha, but...what if the whole thing is bunkum? What if Holy Blood is a made-up pile of tosh? Made up by the same kind of conspiracy-crazy authors that have ruined investigations into Jack the Ripper, concocting nonsense theories based entirely on supposition.

Well, now. If they DID make it up...yes, I suppose Brown nicked their fiction and used it in his. That is grounds for legal action.

Which, then, brings the whole thing down to this: you can claim it's true, and in which case have no legal case. Or you can admit it's balls and sue. Except you always claimed it to be true. Oops.

Your Exclusive FHM Cut-Out-And-Keep Interview

So you're a young and sexy thing on your way up the ladder of fame. You've had a boob job, a role in a teen soap and a public relationship with a minor pop-star. In short, you're ready to flash some skin for FHM.

With all that in mind, B-M-Eyes presents a handy guide to your very first interview. Take these easy-to-remember phrases, mix up the order, add a few personal details, and you won't have to think once while that grubby little journo lets his tape-recorder roll.

"I love my new boobs! They make me feel so sexy."

"These pictures are the sexiest I've ever done."

"I love FHM. We read it all the time on the set. Me and INSERT SEXY FEMALE CO-STAR are always looking at the sexy pictures and taking notes."

"Oh yeah, when we're out I kiss my girlfriends all the time. It's really sexy and it drives the guys mad. I love it!"

"I've never had a threesome, but I'd love to. Maybe with INSERT FHM COVER STAR ONE or INSERT FHM COVER STAR TWO. They're really sexy."

"In my new film/TV show/children's book I do go topless. But it's really important to the story, and kinda sexy. INSERT GENERIC MALE CO-STAR was so funny, we just kept laughing about it."

"I am single right now. It's been, like, years since I even had a snog. It's a shame, cos I feel so sexy." (This will make the readership think they have a shot. See, also, the next line.)

"To impress me a guy should just walk up and be funny. A sense of humour is the thing most likely to get my attention - I love to laugh. It's really sexy." (So David Beckham? No chance. Joe Pasquale? Result!)

"Me and INSERT PAPARAZZI-SNAPPED BLOKE? Oh, the press blow these things right up. We just had a few drinks one time. He's great, though; so talented. We're just friends. He's really...oh, what's the word?" (Don't forget - you must NOT mention Max Clifford's involvement in putting the relationship together, the fact that the guy's five times as famous as you, and gay, and the way you brutally dumped your existing boyfriend to do it as it would be 'good for your career'.)

It's worth noting that Emma Caulfield once gave an interview to a lad's mag (I forget which one) saying something along the lines of "I've never had a sexual experience with another woman. It just doesn't interest me. It's never felt like it's for me to kiss one of my friends or something. Though I'm not against it."

While the quote WAS used in the main body of the interview, the pull-quote - the big-type quote printed large on the page and used to attract casual readers - read "I've never had a sexual experience with a woman. I'm not against it..."

I mean - come ON!

Are we really this shallow? Seriously? That with every set of semi-naked pics (to which I have zero objection) we have to have a tick-box of wish-fulfillment answers? Up for a threesome, lesbian tendencies, single and looking, willing to shag ugly blokes (read 'good sense of humour').

Apparently so.

What nobody seems to have noticed is that these lines are just the weak-gened cousins of porn mags' own set of pull-quotes.

Proper porn mags don't bother with the interview, obviously. They just print a few lines in large print to...aid the process. Stuff like "I want you to lick me til I cum" or "Can I suck you off? I really want to."

Is there anybody reading who doesn't know that these lines are written by Big Geoff in the office? In between pizza slices, cold coffee and watching I'm a Celebrity, Geoff's job is to impersonate a horny, if mentally deficient, nude model. Nice work if you can get it.

So, look, FHM - can we drop the pretence? The latest Hollyoaks actress has sod-all to tell me anyway. Phone Geoff - he'll have some time on his hands once Big Brother ends - and give him a job.


Additional: Does gay porn and girl-porn have the same line in pull-quotes? If you know, please post! I find it hard to believe a woman is likely to be turned on by man-based Geoff-isms such as "Would you like to see me play with my nipples? I bet you would."