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Secret Diary of a Call Girl: Season One, Ep. 7

As Season One nears the finish line, Belle/Hannah (Billie Piper) takes a big step with Ben (Iddo Goldberg) – or perhaps it’s the other way around. In any case, their relationship isn’t going to be the same after this week. It begins quickly and with almost no setup. The two friends walk down the street with Ben begging to join Belle in a foursome. She of course says no. Her clients are a married couple and she’s short one man. Ben insists he’s the man for the job, but Hannah just doesn’t see it. She claims he doesn’t know how to have sex “professionally.” After she scours various websites and is unable to come up with a suitable partner, she decides to give Ben a chance – despite the fact he’s getting married soon. After all, he claims he’s “always been good at separating emotion from sex.”

After Belle gives Ben a few pointers – as well as a little blue pill – the couple arrive. Kate (Heather Bleasdale) and Liam (Jonathan Phillips) have been married for fifteen years and they’ve been together twenty. The plan is for a straight swap…and maybe a little lesbian action as well. (Forgive the urban slang…at least I didn’t say lesbo or lezzie.) Good, clean fun to spice up their sex life and celebrate their union. But almost as soon as the foursome climb into bed, the couple is only interested in each other, much to Ben’s disappointment and our amazement; the shot of Liam casually pushing Belle aside to go jump on his wife is a great one, because Piper has never looked hotter in the series than she does in this scene. There’s a great montage sequence of the couple going at it while Hannah/Belle and Ben stare in amazement. The couple looks over and asks if their hosts are having fun. Sure! This leads to some minor kissing between our leads, and then Ben looks deeply into Hannah/Belle. In the ultimate scene showing the duality of her character, he calls her Hannah, and she tersely corrects him. “It’s Belle.” She becomes uncomfortable and pulls away, but it’s unclear why. There could be half a dozen reasons at this point.

The episode ends almost as casually as it began, with Hannah and Ben bidding adieu to the couple and then to each other. After everyone leaves, Hannah admits to the camera, “For me the hardest numbers have always been one plus one. I can never seem to make them add up.” It almost seems as if nothing has changed between the two, but the beauty of this episode was the mixture of the said and unsaid. As the final shot fades, you can clearly see that Hannah’s in deep thought, and that her friendship with Ben has changed, and hopefully for the better. For the first time in the series, Ben is not relegated to a couple brief scenes – he’s in every scene, save for the few brief shots of Belle trying to find a “fourth” at the beginning. Piper has been great since the word go, but due to his limited screentime, it’s been tough to get a grasp on Iddo Goldberg’s talents in this series. This material showed exactly why he was cast in this pivotal role, and he and Piper have amazing chemistry. The bulk of the story is interplay between the two. Some is fun, and some serious – but all of it’s great. It makes me really want to see a Season Two that delves much deeper into their complex relationship, instead of it just being the sordid-yet-palatable adventures of Belle. Far and away, this is the best episode of the season and it’s material that takes the show into a whole different arena. Next week, however, is the season finale. Can it possibly top this?

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Starship Troopers 3: Marauder

Whatever self-awareness the “Starship Troopers” franchise may have had about its neo-fascist nature is long gone in this latest installment, which is a shame because it certainly started off promisingly enough. Casper Van Dien is back as Col. Johnny Rico, who goes from villain to hero in time to save old friend Lola Beck (Jolene Blalock) from attack on a hostile bug planet. The artwork promotes the new weapons the Federation has to play with, but they don’t come into play until the final 15 minutes…and look just like Obadiah Stain’s suit from “Iron Man.” Not only that, the soldiers operating them have to be naked for them to work. Yep, that’s the plot piece they wrote into the story in order to get the girls’ tops off. (Strange, then, that Van Dien later steps out of his Marauder suit fully clothed.) They have some fun with the character of Sky Marshall Anoke – not only is he Sky Marshall, but he’s a million-selling pop star with songs like the recruitment anthem “A Good Day to Die” – and the Federation Updates are always amusing, but it seems completely lost on all concerned that they are asking the viewer to root for a “1984”-style government that sentences protestors to death and views religious faith as an act of rebellion in a godless society. Who funded this, Pat Robertson?

Click to buy “Starship Troopers 3: Marauder”

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The Next Food Network Star Is…..

It began eight weeks ago and just like that, reached its finale. “The Next Food Network Star” was like a whirlwind because, well, it was. And instead of torturing us with a two-hour finale like many other reality shows do, last night’s one-hour show was just enough. And they also kept us on the edge of our seats the entire time, because none of us really could guess accurately who was going to win.

After a lot of recapping the season, it was down to business, and the final challenge, which was to create their own pilot in Rachel Ray’s studio. Each contestant had to brainstorm what they wanted their actual show to be, and were able to work with producer Gordon Elliot, who appears to be able to extract the best out of everyone he works with.

Lisa began, and her theme was beautiful basics. As she did at the start of the season Read the rest of this entry »

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Comic-Con 2008: Day Three – Sony

As the final major movie panel of the weekend, Sony really disappointed, which was a bit of a letdown, since it would have been nice to end Comic-Con with a bang. Instead, the studio limped its way through a presentation of the “Cloverfield”-inspired horror film, “Quarantine,” by just showing the trailer, while panels for “Underworld 3” and “Pineapple Express” seemed to come and go without anyone really taking notice.

“Underworld 3: Rise of the Lycans” (guests: director Patrick Tatopoulos and stars Rhona Mitra and Bill Nighy)

The idea of making the “Underworld” series into a trilogy has been around since before the first film was even released, but after the disastrous sequel that was “Underworld: Evolution,” it’s hard to believe that they’re actually going through with another movie. To be fair, director Patrick Tatopoulos is mixing it up a bit by telling the tale from the werewolves point of view (not to mention setting the story in ancient times), but this prequel sounds about as interesting as another “Scooby Doo” movie. The fact that Bill Nighy is returning is encouraging, and he definitely sounded excited about coming back for another round. During the film’s panel, he proudly proclaimed “I’m a vampire, I’m a zombie, and I’m a squid” in reference to his roles in “Shaun of the Dead” and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Underworld” films. Rhona Mitra, on the other hand, was just a little too snooty for my liking (can’t movie stars do a better job of pretending that they enjoy promoting their films?), but she did promise that while her character won’t be wearing the popular PVC leather from the first two films, her outfit is still very “saucy.”

“Pineapple Express” (guests: director David Gordon Green, co-writer Evan Goldberg and stars Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride and Amber Heard)

After two lackluster lead-ins, I really hoped that the guys behind “Pineapple Express” would be able to lighten the mood, but the panel was quickly ruined by a series of awful questions from the crowd that led to Seth Rogen ripping on most of them – namely Bob Stencil, a Comic-Con favorite who Rogen called out for acting like a dumbass. A few minor details were also spilled along the way (like how everyone did their own stunts because of the film’s restrictive budget, or that the two stars weren’t really smoking weed during production), but there wasn’t anything particularly groundbreaking. Apatow did disclose that he has no plans for a new TV series in the immediate future (mostly out of fear of being cancelled again), but anyone that’s been paying attention to his career over the last few years could have told you that.

The one shining moment during the Q&A session was the random appearance of Human Giant. Paul Scheer asked who would win in a fight between Frank Miller’s Elektra and James Franco; Rob Huebel inquired whether the film was based on a Frank Miller graphic novel; and Aziz Ansari tried to give Judd Apatow the script he co-wrote with McG called “Superbad 2: Full Throttle.” It was a nice distraction for the crowd, but it didn’t really help with promoting “Pineapple Express.” Not that it mattered, because even though the four clips that were shown were all funny, this isn’t the kind of movie that people need convincing to see. Either you want to see it or you don’t, and you probably already made up your mind shortly after seeing the first trailer.

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Comic-Con 2008: Day Three – Universal

If there’s one panel that totally took me by surprise this weekend, it was Universal. Most of the films represented probably didn’t deserve to be featured at a place like Comic-Con, but the studio had the fans eating right out of their hand thanks to their decision to bring just about every major cast member from all four of their films. They also debuted some great footage from two of the summer’s biggest remaining movies, as well as reconfirmed that Sam Raimi is still a master of horror.

“The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” (guests: stars Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Maria Bello, Michelle Yeoh, John Hannah and Luke Ford)

The movie may be opening in less than week, but that didn’t stop the cast of “The Mummy 3” from including San Diego in their international publicity tour. After showing an extended clip from the film involving a pack of Yetis that are called upon to help the O’Connell family escape from their latest misadventure, the cast spoke a little about the challenges of making a third installment after so much time had passed after “The Mummy Returns.” Brendan Fraser insisted that he was just sitting around waiting for the call for years, but the fact of the matter is, I don’t think Universal ever really thought about moving the franchise to a different part of the world until director Rob Cohen was brought on to the project. Michelle Yeoh agreed that Cohen is very much Chinese in the inside, and that one of the reasons the film was being made was because it featured “the fight that all of Asia had been waiting for,” referring, of course, to her onscreen duel with longtime pal Jet Li.

I’m not exactly sure I agree with that comment (wasn’t the battle between Li and Jackie Chan in “The Forbidden Kingdom” far more anticipated?), but Li didn’t say otherwise. In fact, the martial arts star was mostly tightlipped throughout the course of the panel, but he did lighten up later one, especially after an audience member asked Fraser who was more intimidating: Jet Li or The Rock? Fraser danced around the question, insisting that Li was such a professional that he could perform a roundhouse kick that only touched your shirt, but he eventually admitted that he didn’t know, since he never actually met The Rock on the set of “The Mummy Returns.” He went on to criticize just how unintimidating the Scorpion King actually looked in the film, stating that it was “no better than an avatar” and earning the collective applause of the audience for saying so.

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Comic-Con 2008: Day Three – Fringe

Especially if you wanted to see panels on such phenomenon as “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” or “Battlestar Galictica,” getting into Comic-Con’s 4000 seat Ballroom 20 required fans to arrive significantly early, with some guests sitting through hours of events they cared little about to see the event they came to see in the first place. Such was not the case, however, if you wanted to check out the J.J. Abrams-led panel on “Fringe.”

The new show from super-creator Abrams (“Lost,” “Alias,” “Felicity”) and the co-screenwriters of Transformers as well as Abrams upcoming theatrical “Star Trek” reboot, has been the beneficiary of viral marketing and a significant amount of buzz, while also being the victim of an unauthorized Internet leak of an incomplete version of the show’s pilot. On Wednesday night, a complete version of the episode was screened as part of the Comic-Con’s preview night.

Though the pilot received good reviews from online critics for Time and MovieWeb, yours truly found those opinions fairly inexplicable. The eighty minute production slowly drains the energy from a fun and intriguing premise (what if most of what we now call pseudoscience was real science?). Though the cliche-ridden, often campy, dialogue was one problem, far worse was a dead-in-the-water performance by Anna Torv as an FBI agent racing to discover what mysterious force killed all of a plane’s passengers and is now severely endangering her coworker/lover (John Valley). “Fringe” also features Joshua Jackson (“Dawson’s Creek,” “The Skulls”) as a cynical adventurer/scientist and John Noble (ultimate bad dad Denethor in LOTR) as his father — an actual mad scientist…or possibly merely an eccentric one. Not surprisingly, Noble steals all his scenes.

Still, who cares what I think? It’s the judgment of fans that counts for team Abrams. But, with Comic-Con attendees apparently voting with their feet, it was the job of the panel, moderated by Television Week‘s Joe Adalian, to make that half-empty auditorium feel half-full. All the principles were on hand, including the three stars, Abrams, and writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (“Transformers,” “Star Trek”). Abrams did most of the talking and, while the mood was upbeat on the surface, damage control was under way. Later on, when an audience member praised the pilot, declaring it “awesome,” two or three audience pairs of hands out of some two thousand applauded.

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Comic-Con 2008: Day Three – Dollhouse

Of course, the “Dollhouse” event was a love fest. Actually, a mega-love fest.

That’s absolutely no surprise if you know anything at all about the kind of admiration (both lusty and talent-wise) aroused by star Eliza Dushku (“Tru Calling,” “Bring it On”) and the Bono-esque stature of multi-hyphenate series creator Joss Whedon (“Buffy, the Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly“) across a huge swath of Geektopia — a swath recently made even larger by the net-success of his second acclaimed genre-blending musical, “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.” Add to that the appearance of Dushku’s excessively handsome costar, Tahmoh Penikett of “Battlestar Galactica” (a show with a few gazillion ardent fans of its own) and you have fanboy and fangirl critical mass.

And, indeed, the first three quarters of the panel was loaded with silliness, over-the-top praise, jokey-silly putdowns (a Whedon trademark) and flirtatious asides between the three folks onstage as well as with the audience. Topics early on included the peripatetic Ms. Dushku’s trips to such locales as Iran, where she survived a “terrorist attack” from some errant Persian rugs.

Moving to a Q&A, the first question was about the source of the premise of “Dollhouse,” in which Dushku will play an “active,” a sort of human blank slate who is downloaded with a new personality and skill set for each new assignment, with jobs that range from from pre-tailored love/sex object to hyper-skilled operative. The show appears to take place in a world much like our own, and this sort of thing sure sounds highly illegal, not to mention extremely immoral, and BSG’s Pennikett will play a cop wondering just why this beautiful woman he keeps meeting never seems to be the same person twice. The show is currently set to premiere this January.

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Comic-Con 2008: Day Three – The Simpsons

As mentioned near the start of this panel, “The Simpsons” has pretty much beat every other prime-time television show in terms of longevity, number of episodes, etc. — except for “Gunsmoke” and “Lassie,” which also makes it the all-time king of sitcoms with a reservoir of goodwill able to withstand more than one below-par season. This appearance by the show’s main creative team was a predictably relaxed and mirthful affair in which creator Matt Groening and writers Al Jean and Matt Selman did most of the talking — quieter panelists included director David Silverman, who helmed “The Simpsons Movie,” and writer Carolyn Omine.

Before the official start of the panel, Groening introduced some clips from next Fall’s “Treehouse of Horror” episode, including a brief segment involving Homer Simpson and a particularly violent form of vote rigging that goes well beyond the worst imagingings of Diebold-fearing liberals, as well as a spot on parody of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” with a Linus-like Milhouse accidentally tricking the supernatural pumpkin into a form of vegetarian cannibalism. (It’s complicated.)

Wasting no time, the event was immediately thrown open to questions. The first young questioner asked if the long-suffering Marge Simpson, tiring from her numerous attempts to get the permanently obese Homer to lose weight, would start gaining weight herself. The writers’
response was they would promptly steal the idea and that it would likely show up in a Simpsons comic book, if not the actual show.

Another question referred to a recent episode parodying the comic book world featuring an appearance by mad comic writing genius Alan Moore (“Watchmen,” “V for Vendetta,” “From Hell”) and a joke about an animated “Watchmen Babies” series. Writer Matt Selman expressed his own intimidation at working with the artistically and personally imposing Moore, who apparently got the joke but also stipulated that the gag itself was also an example of an evil corporation (this is Fox, after all) debasing one of Moore’s creations.

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Comic-Con 2008: Day Three – Disney

Much like last year, the Disney panel wasn’t even remotely as entertaining as some of the others, but that’s mostly because they tend to look more at the technical side of the production process. Big names draw big crowds, and though the panel itself delivered plenty of first-look footage, it didn’t exactly do much in terms of wowing the crowd.

“Bolt” (guests: directors Chris Williams and Byron Howard)

When I first saw the poster for “Bolt,” I promptly rolled my eyes and thought, “John Travolta is voicing a dog in a Disney movie? Yep, this is going to be shit,” but after seeing about 20 minutes of footage from the film, I’m happy to say that it actually looks much, much better. Now, it isn’t quite Pixar-standard, or even Dreamworks-standard for that matter, but it does look like an entertaining kid’s movie with a nice blend of action and comedy. Most of that comedy comes from the basic concept of the film (about a canine TV star who believes he has superpowers just like the character he plays), but it also comes from the fine cast of voice talent they’ve wrangled up, including Susie Essman, Malcolm McDowell, James Lipton, Diedrich Bader and Nick Swardson.

“Up” (guest: director Peter Doctor)

The second part of Disney’s presentation was dedicated to Pixar’s new film, “Up,” a “coming of old age” story about a curmudgeonly widow who transforms his home into a makeshift air balloon and travels the world. If that description scares you a little bit, well, you’re not alone. Pixar movies are notorious for sounding so simplistic that they couldn’t possibly work as full length features, but as both “Ratatouille” and “Wall*E” have proven, it’s just not worth doubting these guys any more. Does “Up” scare me? You bet, but director Pete Doctor’s latest will probably be just as good as the others. Aside from the two clips shown, the only other nuggets revealed were the cast (which includes Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer and, of course, John Ratzenberger) and the fact that the movie will be jam-packed with plenty of Pixar Easter eggs.

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Comic-Con 2008: Day Three – Terminator: Salvation

Guests: Director McG and stars Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Bryce Dallas Howard, Moon Bloodgood and Common

When it was announced that McG had signed on to direct a “Terminator” reboot staged in the future, it was met with a fair share of pessimism from diehard fans and moviegoers alike. There was no way the man behind “Charlie’s Angels” could ever make a decent “Terminator” flick, right? Well, after a presentation today that included a rough (but still impressive) trailer cut exclusively for Comic-Con, there’s not a doubt in my mind that those very same cynics are happily eating their words. It’s not that the trailer was so amazing that it’s all anyone could talk about for the rest of the day, but it definitely showed promise for a film that isn’t even done shooting yet. Take that Paramount, and kudos to McG for managing to scrap together some footage to show the crowd.

With Christian Bale away in Japan promoting “The Dark Knight,” McG brought the rest of his cast on stage to discuss the new film, including the possibility of Arnold returning for a cameo, and that pesky controversy over the film’s still undetermined rating. While speaking more on the latter, McG made it clear that the film comes first, and “if it’s an R-rated picture, it’s an R-rated picture.” The crowd seemed pleased with that response, and McG continued to play right into their hands with plenty of juicy details about the look of the film, as well as what Skynet creations to expect to pop up throughout.

Anton Yelchin also spoke on his preparation for the role of Kyle Reese, claiming that he studied the original “Terminator” in order to develop his younger version of the character into who he eventually becomes. Or as Anton himself put it: “I wanted to see him reach the point where Linda Hamilton would sleep with him.” I was actually quite surprised to discover just how much Anton and Sam Worthington (as a new character named Marcus Wright) are in the film, and though this is very much John Connor’s movie, that doesn’t mean there isn’t enough room for everyone to kick a little ass.

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