Wednesday, 22 February 2006

TV review - Movie Lounge *

Waaaaay back in the day, I had this great idea for a new television programme about films that was based on BBC2's Top Gear. The thing about current TV shows about films is that, well, they're dull, which is a real shame, because films are anything but. Top Gear seemed like a good model because I love watching it, even though I have absolutely no interest in cars. A TV show format that can do that is a powerful thing.

Here's what's available in this arena at the moment: There's Film 2006, of course, which is the most reliable of movie review shows, but suffers greatly from having a single reviewer's point of view (Jonathan Ross now, Barry Norman before him) and also suffers from Ross' insistence on sucking up to his guests, or asking crass questions like, "Have you lost weight?"

There's Talking Movies, which is another BBC production concentrating on the latest releases on the other side of the pond.

On ITV, you have regular "behind the scenes" programmes, which are basically cheap filler, because they are provided essentially as advertising for the film in question. Channel 4 fills its film-reviewing remit through its weekend T4 strand, alongside a very nice website which, with the demise of FilmFour's production arm, seems to have taken rather a severe pruning recently.

So, up steps Five, with its new offering, Movie Lounge. At first glance, this seems to be exactly what I was hoping for: the Top Gear of film review shows, with celebrity guests offering their opinions, and a weird and wacky sense of humour underpinning the show.

That's not exactly how it turned out. The "celebrities" selected for tonight's opening episode were hardly experts on, or even very interested in, film. One of them, who was charged with the task of reviewing the critically-acclaimed, award-winning film Capote, confessed early on to not knowing who Truman Capote actually was, rendering his opinion of the biopic rather moot. His contribution became even more derisory when it emerged that he hadn't seen any of the other films under discussion. "I don't go to the cinema," he said, twice; "I stay at home and watch Antiques Roadshow." So, an ideal guest for a show about films, then.

Things got steadily worse as the host was repeatedly ridiculed by his guests for being "posh". As he struggled to keep the uninformed debate under control, he introduced "the most famous actor in the world... under four foot." I was expecting, as I am sure every other viewer was, Verne "Mini-Me" Troyer, but no, it turned out to be Warwick Davis, whose main credits are as Marvin in Hitchhikers' Guide To The Galaxy (in which he doesn't actually appear) and an Ewok in Return Of The Jedi (ditto). The format of this interview was uncomfortably similar to Jonathan Ross, inasmuch as it comprised mainly praise for Mr. Davis' work in a series of low-budget horror films called Leprechaun.

There was a brief diversion into the history of local picture palaces - a subject in which I am very interested - that went absolutely nowhere apart from a long and pointless plug for the presenter's local cinema. No mention of the fact that local cinemas are being shut down and demolished at an alarming rate, but an invitation to the viewer to submit the local fleapit for consideration for a future bit of irrelevant propaganda.

There were two moments that nearly saved the show. First, they had a teenage boy "reviewing" Into The Blue, which focused exclusively on the exact moments in that opus at which either Jessica Alba or Ashley Scott disrobed. That would have been moderately funny, were it not for the sinking feeling that the producers are going to re-use that gag every week. Then they had snooty art critic Brian Sewell on to rant about the latest multiplex-fodder, The Fog. He's always good value for money. Unsurprisingly, his scathing review appeared only to encourage the show's studio guests to go and see the film he hated.

The programme lasted 45 minutes but felt longer, even though it imparted absolutely no useful information whatsoever. It is utterly impossible to make a judgement on whether to go to see the films reviewed on the basis of the studio discussion shown here. One can't help but feel a scintilla of sympathy for the presenter, Giles Coren, who probably is a genuine cinema buff, who happens to have been landed with a dull, pointless TV show.

Movie Lounge (2006) *