This past Sunday was a hectic night for TV lovers. The conflicting scheduling of the Primetime Emmy awards, the second-to-last episode of Breaking Bad, and the Dexter series finale had many of us performing DVR gymnastics. But — while that was all going on — the soapy British drama Downton Abbey had its UK season premiere. "Oh," friends said when I told them. "Really?"
These are the same friends who used to live and die over Anna and Mr. Bates; ping-pong between loathing and pitying Edith; and gleefully recap every O'Brian and Thomas scheme. The fourth season of Downton Abbey won't hit the US until PBS begins airing it in January. But that extra hiatus should be fanning the buzz, not killing it. Downloaders should already be deconstructing the episode, since pirating a copy means nothing to them. And the fans who are either too sheltered or too scrupulous to do any such thing should be binging on Dowarger Countess YouTube compilations and complaining about the unfairness of it all. Where is everybody?
The UK premiere still pulled in huge numbers, and Downton still racked up 12 2013 Emmy nominations. But the love affair might be over for Americans, or at least a little soured. The third season of the show tested our loyalties and ability to withstand heartbreak. We watch beloved characters die all the time, but with Downton, it was different. We felt emotionally manipulated. Betrayed, even. After last year's Christmas special, I had a few friends indignantly announcing to me that they'd quit. They felt used.
Plot has always been hit or miss, but the romance; Lady Mary's endless parade of fabulous hats; a sexy Irish chauffeur, and the Dowager's unique brand of 1920s shade usually outshined storylines we'd rather forget like, say, Lord Grantham hitting on the maid. But maybe, in addition to the soul-crushing, untimely deaths that we had to deal with, season three made us endure too many boring side stories. Or maybe the American fandom is just lying dormant, waiting to explode in a fervent love fest. We'll have to wait till 2014 to find out.
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In the horror throwback Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark – a remake of John Newland’s 1973 made-for-TV classic – Bailee Madison plays Sally a young girl sent to live with her architect father Alex (Guy Pierce) and his live-in girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) in the Rhode Island mansion they’re busy renovating. The mansion ominously dubbed Blackwood Manor is an exceedingly spooky place made all the spookier by director Troy Nixey’s exquisite production design. Neglected by her father and resistant to Kim’s bonding overtures Sally is free to wander the estate unsupervised and her curiosity eventually leads her to the basement where she hears strange whispers emanating from beneath the fireplace flue.
The whispers belong to the homonuculi a race of odd little creatures who have resided at Blackwood throughout its long macabre history. Diminutive as they are they have a gift for manipulation beckoning Sally by preying on her feelings of neglect and resentment toward her parents. They are simply hungry and longing to be free they say but their true intentions are far from innocent as Sally soon discovers. But when she tries to warn Alex and Kim of the danger posed by the house’s tiny tenants her fears are dismissed as the ramblings of an overactive imagination.
Nixey does a tremendous job of creating a overarching sense of foreboding and menace in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. The homonuculi at first only glimpsed in shadow are impressive CGI creations menacing trolls with beady eyes and claws – an achievement no doubt attributable in part to the influence of Guillermo del Toro who co-wrote and produced the film. But while the creatures themselves are frightening the film as a whole isn’t. It’s heavy on atmosphere but light on scares and as a result its pace feels sluggish. I applaud Nixey for trying to craft something classical and mannered; I just wish he’d given me a little more to fear.
The actor was visiting the self-governing British state, located at the southern tip of Spain, with his American Pie co-star Eddie Kaye Thomas when they decided to hike up the famous rock to wander through the nature reserve.
But the pair was forced to stop monkey-ing around when one of the region's wild apes attacked Biggs and attempted to steal food from his bag.
A source tells RadarOnline.com, "Jason and Eddie decided to go on the trip to celebrate the ten year anniversary of Pie. They were hiking in the woods when this monkey suddenly leapt on Jason from a tree and tried to bite his face off!
"Jason's travelling companions managed to fend the beast off and Jason, thankfully wasn't seriously hurt, just shaken up."
Thomas' representative, Eloise Konialian, confirmed the incident, adding, "The monkey tried to attack Jason and steal food out of his bag but Eddie fended him off and saved the day."
Dateline: 10 000 B.C. The day of the last hunt has arrived. Oh dear. If an ancient prophecy holds true a remote mountain tribe’s quiet existence is hours away from coming to a bloody end. Not that it matters to a hunting party comprised of mud-splattered Abercrombie & Fitch himbos--nothing’s going to come between them and a hot plate of woolly mammoth meat. But no sooner is dinner over than “four-legged demons” attack. Actually they’re just slave traders on horseback but they quickly make off with plenty of women and children including Evolet (Camilla Belle). This “girl with the blue eyes” just so happens to possess the tribe’s “promise of life”--whatever that is. Enter D'Leh (Steven Strait). Our would-be He-Man loves Evolet so he organizes a rescue mission with the help of tribe elder Tic’Tic (Cliff Curtis). Their destination is a place unlike anything they have seen before (because they didn’t see Apocalypto): a city with pyramids built by slaves and ruled by a purported god the evil Almighty. First though our heroes must make it there alive--which is easier said than done when there are hungry (and poorly computer-generated) saber-toothed tigers on the prowl. Forget about Belle replacing Raquel Welch as the prehistoric playmate of your dreams. It’s my sad duty to report that are we denied the pleasure of seeing Belle strike some sexy poses in an animal-skin bikini straight out of One Million Years B.C. But it’s nice to know that even in the Mesolithic period our dreadlocked damsel in distress has access to the spa services needed for her to pass as the well-scrubbed face of a Vera Wang perfume campaign. Everyone else though needs a hosing down. Besides keeping herself clean and healthy Belle’s only other responsibility is to give the occasional hard stare that emphasizes Evolet’s piercing blue eyes which she does with aplomb. The Covenant’s Strait may have the beefcake physique of a warrior but he doesn’t possess any noble qualities. He’s more dolt than D’Leh natural born leader. Just listen to the sleepy Strait’s morale-boosting Independence Day-ish speech and you’re be inspired to fall on your own spear. Live Free or Die Hard’s Curtis can barely contain his embarrassment at having to fight at Strait’s side. 10 000 B.C. doesn’t boast a villain worthy of our hisses but Affiff Ben Nadra and Marco Khan at least project some menace as at-odds slave traders. “Only time can teach us what is truth and what is legend ” intones narrator Omar Sharif with all the pomposity of Seinfeld’s J. Peterman. Fine but 10 000 B.C. is hardly the stuff of legends. There are too many problems with this serious-minded but fantastical prehistoric romp to enjoy it on its own terms or as an unintentional exercise in pure camp. Forcing the cast to speak with grating generic European accents makes the inane dialogue harder on the ears. The plot borrows too liberally from Apocalypto. Even when Emmerich stops treading on Mel Gibson’s toes 10 000 B.C. also comes across as a de facto prequel to Stargate what with its antagonist being a pyramid-obsessed supreme being. You even brace yourself for the Almighty to reveal himself to be Jaye Davidson. All could be forgivable if Emmerich delivered on the action. He doesn’t. A woolly mammoth stampede proves to be inferior to similar scenes in Jurassic Park and King Kong. A phorusrhacid attack provokes laughter because it looks like our heroes are fleeing from a pissed-off Big Bird. The climatic revolt ends as soon as it begins. No one demands much from Emmerich. Just pure spectacle. So why does 10 000 B.C. feel no bigger than a natural history museum mini-diorama?
If the legendary Scottish Loch Ness monster exists Water Horse imagines how he may have come to be. Based on the book by Dick King-Smith and set during WWII it all starts when Angus (Alex Etel)--a young Scottish lad living with his housekeeper mother (Emily Watson) on an estate while his father fights in the war--finds an enchanted egg by the shores of the local lake. Thinking it another crustacean he takes it home but soon finds himself face-to-face with an amazing creature: the mythical "water horse" of Scottish lore whom Angus calls “Crusoe.” As Angus becomes attached to his new friend the young boy does everything he can to keep Crusoe a secret even as the animal grows abnormally large over a short period of time. With the help of a handyman (Ben Chaplin) Angus soon has to put Crusoe into the lake so he can live comfortably. But outside influences conspire to expose Crusoe--even threaten his life--and Angus risks everything to help his friend. Young Etel expertly carries Water Horse on his small shoulders proving his stellar performance in Danny Boyle’s Millions wasn’t a fluke. He never goes over the top or tries to play it with too much sweetness and light. Instead Etel is a complete natural convincingly interacting with a green-screened creature and most importantly conveys all the right emotions to get the audience just as wrapped up in the sea monster’s plight as he is. The rest of the cast however is a bit misplaced. Watson is mostly wasted as the mother hardened by war who can’t bring herself to tell her young son the truth about his father. The Oscar-nominated actress is simply too good for something this childish. Meanwhile Chaplin (The Truth About Cats and Dogs) doesn’t really connect with his character a soldier who returns home after being wounded only to wander the country working aimless jobs. The only adult actor who stands out is veteran Brit Brian Cox. As the film’s narrator he plays an old pub patron who tells the true story of Crusoe after two American tourists spy the now-infamous “photo” of the Loch Ness monster. It’s the constant twinkle in his eyes that gets you. Director Jay Russell has a key into family fare having helmed films such as My Dog Skip and Tuck Everlasting so there is an ease to his direction in Water Horse. He guides his young star to deliver an unaffected performance and handles the special effects with a sure hand. Crusoe is awfully cute when he’s a youngster flopping around and making a mess of things. Then when he’s full grown he is quite impressive. The moment Angus faces his fear of water climbs on Crusoe’s back and lets the creature take him for a deep-diving swim in the lake we are hooked by the exhilaration of it. Unfortunately there is also a level of predictability to Water Horse especially when it comes time for Crusoe to escape the lake into open waters before he is killed by the local militia. Not too hard to figure how it all ends up.
Some time has passed since the dead rose up to feast on human flesh and what's left of mankind is making
the best of it. The people have cordoned themselves off from the zombies--or "stenches " as they are so
lovingly referred to--behind the walls of a fortified city where they try to maintain an illusion of life
as it once was. Supplies and food are still needed so a hardened group of mercenaries--headed by Riley
(Simon Baker) and Cholo (John Leguizamo)--run retrieval missions into the vast wasteland using little tricks of the trade to keep the zombies at bay. Back in the city however things aren't so hunky dory. The wealthy and powerful lead by the slimy Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) dwell in a swanky and exclusive high rise and rule over the working class while the disenfranchised peeps on the streets stew over their lot in life. But they aren't prepared for what happens next. Seems the army of the dead are evolving learning to organize and communicate with one another. And they don't take too kindly to getting shot in the head. The only thing the humans have going for them is the fact the zombies still don't move very fast--but that's not saying much.
It's tough for an actor to shine in a horror flick in which the gore and special effects make-up are pretty
much the main attraction--but the Land of the Dead cast do their best. You've got Baker (The Ring Two) as the kindhearted hero; character actor Robert Joy as Baker's mentally challenged sidekick but who's also a wicked sharpshooter; the lovely up-and-comer Asia Argento as a tough-as-nails street chick willing to help out; Leguizamo as the wisecracking mercenary with a major chip on his shoulder and firepower to back it up. And then there's Dennis Hopper. He's playing it pretty straight this time around as the evil and greedy rich guy who doesn't really consider himself the villain considering he was the one who built the fortified city. But a little of the weird Hopper pops through every once in awhile. Of course we've also got the hordes of evolving dead walkers lead by a particularly fearsome zombie. With a bloodcurdling zombie battle cry this badass teaches his comrades to take up arms beat down walls and walk under water. Resourceful fellow.
You can thank George Romero for giving us flesh-eating zombies. If not for his 1968 cult classic Night of the Living Dead we wouldn't have 28 Days Later or Evil Dead--and we'd be a much duller place without them. Now 20 years after he made the last Dead movie Day of the Dead Romero is ready to hurl body parts at us again. Maybe after he saw how well they remade his Dawn of the Dead last year he felt he could do it even better. Not quite. Sure Romero has definitely grown up and improved his writing. Land of the Dead does a nice job moving things along showing how the survivors have adapted to living with their "neighbors" but never really learning much from the experience. Romero also has brought a certain pathos to the zombie. They move around as if in a daze also trying to maintain a semblance of what they used to be--human. And frankly they are tired of being labeled mindless idiots who do nothing but wander about. Dammit. If you prick them do they not bleed? But with all the gratuitous violence and hardly any of the Dawn remake's humor or irony Land of the Dead doesn't really distinguish itself from any of Romero's other gore-filled zombie flicks.
When retired U.S. Special Forces Soldier Chris Vaughn (Johnson) returns to Kipsat County Wash. it's only to find his hometown overrun with crime drugs and violence. The old mill where Chris's father (John Beasley) worked for most of his life is closed and the town's only thriving industry is the Wild Cherry casino. Even Chris' high school sweetie Deni (Ashley Scott) couldn't resist the Wild Cherry's lure; she's become a peepshow dancer to "pay the bills." But Chris really loses it when he discovers the casino's dealers are using loaded dice--and he starts a brawl that ends with the security team carving up his chest and abdomen with a rusty Exacto knife. Chris also learns that that his old high school rival the casino's owner Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough) has transformed the mill into a crystal meth lab and is using the casino's menacing security staff to sell the drugs to innocent kids. Chris strikes back by running for sheriff firing the entire police department on his first day and with the help of a cedar two-by-four and his deputy and buddy Ray Templeton (Johnny Knoxville) restores peace to the Pacific Northwest.
Johnson looking buffer than ever is well cast in the role of Chris: He's a fearless and determined soldier with beyond-human fighting skills. But while the film takes advantage of Johnson's brawn it fails to take advantage of his brain. In last year's comedy The Rundown Johnson proved he was more than a muscle-bound action star; he oozed charm and was surprisingly witty. With Walking Tall he never gets a chance to flex his acting muscles; if anything they atrophy. The only skills Johnson gets to show off are his ability to swing a plank at someone's shins and his unique way of bashing skulls against slot machines. Johnson's sidekick Ray played by Knoxville of MTV's Jackass fame is an ex-junkie who after spending a couple of years in the slammer is content with living in a camper and doing odd jobs around town. With his scraggly appearance and klutzy demeanor Knoxville supplies the film with brief interludes of humor amid the slam fest including a scene in which he stabs a bad guy with a potato peeler. Johnson and Knoxville would have made a first-rate action team had they had more screen time together.
A WWE production with Vince McMahon serving as executive producer Walking Tall has none of the subtlety of director Kevin Bray's last film All About the Benjamins and all the elements of a wrestling match. As with wrestling the film begins by melodramatically establishing the story (Chris and his family's lives are devastated by the mill's closure) and just like rival pugilists who publicly taunt the favored wrestler Chris challenges Jay--not for the world title but at least for control of Kipsat County--in a never-ending battle between good and evil that mimics wrestling to a T. But what's entertaining in the ring doesn't translate to film especially when the good guy running the town is a maniacal meathead. Chris is supposed to be the protagonist who single-handedly saves the town but who's responding to the citizens' domestic violence calls for example when the sheriff fires the entire precinct and spends 24 hours a day casing the casino? Never mind the fact that he has sex with his girlfriend in his office while he's on the clock.
Well, the 1999-2000 TV season is finally, officially over. But don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you have to go out into the sunshine or pick up a good book to read at night. There’s no need to panic. TV has not deserted you. Just think of summer as your chance to watch all the shows you missed while watching “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” or “The 10th Kingdom.”
Here's a look at the tube the week ahead:
Showtime comes aboard the miniseries train with “On the Beach” (8 p.m.-midnight EDT/PDT, Sunday). Armand Assante (“Odysseus”) stars as the commander of a nuclear submarine left to wander the planet after a catastrophic nuclear war in the near future. Based on the novel by Nevil Shute, “Beach” is not just scary scfi-fi fare. It also grows into a love story, as Assante’s sub picks up some Australian survivors (including Rachel Ward), and they all head off for the less contaminated shores of Alaska to go about the business of repopulating the species. The film is not rated, but it’s Showtime, so at the minimum expect "strong language."
Network television may not have abandoned you, but it has abandoned 16 other people, as CBS presents “Survivor” (8 p.m. EDT/PDT, Wednesday). The premise of this death-defying-docu-gameshow features eight men and eight women who actually asked to be marooned on a real desert island for 39 days. They are given only a few coconuts and bamboo shoots, with which they must build spacious homes, fully functional golf carts and a stage so Ginger can put on her little skits. Oh, wait … that’s the wrong show. The difference is, “Survivor” is “Gilligan’s Island” for real. And it’s a competition. As a well-fed, well-rested camera crew documents their struggle to survive on this genuine desert isle, contestants vote each week on which of them should leave. After 13 weeks, it will come down to one person walking away with a million dollars. That’s quite a concept. Seriously… Wow.
Also on Wednesday: "A Supernatural Evening with Santana" (9 p.m. EDT/PDT, Fox). The title kind of says it all, but if you’re wondering, it’s a solid hour of live performances featuring virtuoso rock guitarist and Grammy darling Carlos Santana, as joined by fellow Grammy darlings Lauryn Hill and Sarah McLachlan, Everlast and Rob ("Smooth") Thomas of Matchbox 20.
It’s a Wednesday-heavy week, as yet another potential little gem, "Clerks," debuts on ABC at 9:30 p.m. (EDT/PDT). This is an animated series based on the 1994 film of the same name by director/writer/comic-book-aficionado Kevin Smith. Smith (who also lends his voice to the character of Silent Bob) has griped that the network is dumping this long-in-the-works toon, but if the network is ready to get in the animation game, Smith might just be the guy to get the ball rolling for them.
And, finally, for you folks who like your sci-fi with a heart to go along with the form-fitting outfits, you might want to give "Farscape" (8 p.m. EDT/PDT, Friday, Sci-Fi Channel) a look. Produced by Robert Halmi Jr. (yes, the son of the guy who brings you network mega-spectacles such as "Gulliver’s Travels"), "Farscape" is not only a visual smorgasbord of otherworldly images, but also it's unexpectedly well written. For fans of the genre, this is the show that "Star Trek: Voyager" wants to be. Give it 15 minutes to hook you, and you’ll see that there is nothing cookie cutter about "Farscape." The characters are all well defined, and the plots are unique. This week, Capt. Crais (a cool recurring villain) kidnaps the "child" of the intelligent biomechanical spaceship Moya, which will one day grow to be a mighty Leviathan warship. See what we mean? Cool, huh?