Flight 828, Freedonia and sabotage: TV and movies

While I enjoyed the first season of MANIFEST, the second season, which wrapped up this week, left me disappointed.

The first season introduced us to the passengers of Flight 828 — most notably siblings Ben and Michaela Stone (Josh Dallas, Melissa Roxburgh) — who disappeared for five years before landing, unaware any extra time had passed. They and the families who wrote them off for dead have to adjust to their new reality, and to the mysterious “callings” in their heads that keep sending them out to save lives.

There’s a lot I like in the second season, such as Jared, Michaela’s ex (he moved on while she was gone, comes back to her, then loses her) accepting it and just becoming a friend, and one passenger founding a church that sees them as agents of God (only to later reconsider whether they’re false prophets of the Biblical end times). But the general tone of the series is that “all things work together for the good,” with the Callings working miracles even when they go against common sense. This is a hard sell for me because it usually comes off way too pat (as in Kiefer Sutherland’s 2012 series Touch), as was the case here. The season climax, involving a trio of drug-dealers getting revenge on Michaela, could have been on any number of cop shows, and one of the B-plots was just ridiculous (even shadowy government conspiracies can’t simply revoke someone’s medical license overnight). I’ll watch S3 if there is one, but I won’t be heartbroken if there isn’t. “For the record, we both turned on me.”

DUCK SOUP (1933) was the last of the Marx Brothers’ anarchic Paramount films, wherein Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) becomes the new leader of Freedonia, which undercuts a neighboring nation’s plot to take over. Fortunately they have two spies (Chico and Harpo) to find Firefly’s weaknesses — that can’t possibly go wrong, can it (“Wednesday we fool Firefly. We not show up.”)? Although this bombed at the box office, it’s wild, funny film with many great lines (“We’ll fight for this woman’s honor, which is more than she ever did!”) but the ending is an unsatisfactory resolution to all that energy; still, it makes me appreciate why MGM imposing a more conventional story structure on the brothers worked against their strengths (with the exception of Night at the Opera). “Will you marry me? Did your husband leave you any money? Answer the second question first.”

After the poor The Secret Agent, Alfred Hitchcock’s back in top form with SABOTAGE (1936), based on Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent (retitled to avoid confusion with his previous movie — but that only made me confuse it with Hitch’s later SABOTEUR). Oscar Homolka plays a cinema owner married to Sylvia Sydney, earning a little money on the side by acts of sabotage. Now he’s been given a really big assignment; can the greengrocer next door, who’s actually a Secret Service agent, charm Sydney enough to get the goods on her husband?

This is a well-made movie that shows Hitchcock’s belief that the McGuffin doesn’t matter: like the much later North by Northwest, we never learn what, exactly the  bad guys’ agenda is or what they want. It’s not important. It also shows Hitch’s mastery of suspense: a long sequence involving a character unwittingly carrying a time bomb, and constantly encountering delays before he can drop it off, is an absolute nail-biter. I did find the suspense at the end somewhat overwrought, though; after everything that’s happened, it seems Sydney’s actions are more likely to earn her a medal than jail time. “I don’t think I want any cabbage.”

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