Category Archives: Movies

Talking with god, the speed force and Mrs. Davis: three TV series end.

After wrapping up S1 of JOAN OF ARCADIA, I put S2 into my Netflix queue, but as Netflix is shutting DVD rentals down and my library had S2, I checked out the library DVDs instead.The first season had God giving Joan messages about how she can help in her community, usually without explaining why or what the outcome is. At the end of the season, Joan got the devastating diagnosis that this was all a delusion — but when S2 starts up, God’s back, giving her more directives. The show’s a little darker, with tragic endings for some of the characters, but still following the same format while exploring character arcs for Joan’s family and friends. Then, in the last two episodes, we meet Ryan Hunter (Wentworth Miller), a wealthy, community oriented man who also hears God’s voice. Only he got fed up with everyone needing his help and decided not to listen. Now he’s set himself against Joan and God, though it’s unclear exactly what his agenda will be. Everyone else thinks Hunter’s a good guy; Joan’s in this alone. It would have made an interesting S3 but alas, we didn’t get one. Still, S2 was a pleasure to rewatch. “Unravelling a scarf doesn’t make the threads go away.”

The final season of FLASH was a lot shorter than the two full seasons the show-runners were hoping for but they still ended on a win. It opens with the Red Death — the Batwoman of a parallel Earth, amped up by super-speed — waging war on Central City and ends with Eddie Thawne — Iris’s boyfriend from the first season — returning from the dead as an agent of the Negative Speed Force, resurrecting a legion of evil speedsters to take Barry and Team Flash down.

What makes the season sing, though, are all the callbacks and cameos: Oliver Queen briefly returning to moral life as Green Arrow (“Ramsey Russo, you have failed this city!”), Thawne, Tom Cavanagh as yet another incarnation of Harrison Wells (and also as Zoom), and the birth of Nora West-Allen proving history is on the right path. Not without its weak spots — Danielle Panabaker’s arc as Kheone didn’t work for me at all — but overall a lot of fun. “You’ve become the person you died trying to stop.”

Peacock streaming service’s MRS. DAVIS has a premise that doesn’t really work but it’s so gloriously loonie I forgive it. The premise is that an algorithm (“Mrs. Davis” is one of the various names for her) is now shaping human society, much to the displeasure of Sister Simone (Betty Gilpin), a stage magician turned nun whose convent just got shut down due to Mrs. Davis’ manipulations. That’s simply to free up Simone to run a mission for the algorithm: find the Holy Grail and destroy it, in return for which the algorithm will turn itself off. If you think that sounds weird … well, keep watching.

The flaw in the premise is that Mrs. Davis isn’t much more than a self-aware search engine (though her origin, revealed in the last episode, is awesome) and I don’t see any real signs she’s changing society (as opposed to Person of Interest). That bothers me, but not as much as I enjoyed watching Simone and her supporting cast in their constantly oddball adventures. I can’t imagine they can work this premise into another season but eight episodes this good is enough. “There is so much to explain, but right now you’re passing through the whale’s intestinal tract.”

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Thank you Netflix!

As I mentioned last month, Netflix is ending its DVD service. Rather than ghost on us, it’s sending out lists of every DVD they’ve mailed us from the first. I was started to see what I watched in my first year on the service — no, that’s not a clickbait lead-in, I really was.

I remembered clearly that the reason I signed up with Netflix was to watch all of Daybreak, a TV series with Taye Diggs as a cop caught in a time loop (I rewatched it for Now and Then We Time Travel). It got yanked for low ratings by ABC and I desperately wanted to know how it all ended so when I saw Netflix had the DVD set … And it was worth it too; it’s an excellent one-season series.That was in February of 2009. After wrapping up the series, I watched a few more things through June (I was on the one-DVD-at-a-time plan) including Coupling, The Big Lebowski and the British Jekyll. Starting in June, though, everything through April of the following year was movies or TV shows I watched for Screen Enemies of the American Way, my book on subversion, infiltration and political paranoia in film and TV. That was a shit ton of stuff I’d have had to buy; streaming wasn’t an option back then and I doubt my library back in Florida had most of it. Local video rental stores could have provided some of it, but still more expensive.That included multiple series such as The Invaders, Surface, Threshold and Sleeper Cell. There were also lots and lots of movies, many of them nothing I’d want to spend money on such as John Wayne’s red-baiting Big Jim McClain.I also caught The Stepford Wives, Rosemary’s Baby, JFK, The Quiller Memorandum and a great many other good films.Other films, such as Red Nightmare, were only available on YouTube; some, such as Stepford Wives‘ dreadful sequels, I taped off the air. Netflix was still a life-saver, from the first movie I watched for the book (They Live), through the last (Left Behind and Left Behind II, because Satanist infiltration is a subgenre). Fortunately with Durham Library’s larger DVD selection and the wide range of streaming, doing my next film book without the DVD service won’t be as pricey.

I’ll blog about what I watched after the book was done, assuming there are further interesting insights to mine from the list.

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Marvel superheroes, a tramp and a king: movies viewed

THE WOLVERINE (2013) has Hugh Jackman still shattered by Jean Grey’s death in last stand (Famke Janssen makes a cameo as a memory) when hellraising mercenary Yukio (Rila Fukushima) drags him to Japan. Years ago, Logan saved Yashida, a Japanese soldier, from death; now the man is a corporate titan who wants to repay Wolverine for the gift. Unfortunately that repayment involves Yashida becoming immortal by stealing Logan’s healing factor with the help of Viper, a mad scientist/geneticist (making her a nihilist as well is a nod to the comics but doesn’t affect anything). The results aren’t classic but they are enjoyable. “You’re not going to want to watch this part.”

The MCU’s Guardians of the Galaxy have popped in several films since their second film, then came this year’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3 (2023). This opens with the team at rock bottom — the resurrected Gamora (Zoe Saldana) has no memory of her romance with Star Lord (Chris Pratt) which leaves him getting steadily drunker on Nowhere. Then Adam Warlock shows up to kidnap Rocket Raccoon; the Guardians thwart him but trying to heal Rocket’s injuries triggers a failsafe that will kill him in 48 hours. Deactivating it requires learning his secret origin and confronting the godlike power of the High Evolutionary on the weird world of Counter-Earth. It’s a suicide mission but the Guardians aren’t letting one of their own down … This swan song for the team (though bringing them back is certainly an option) was thoroughly enjoyable, with bit parts for Nathan Filion and Sylvester Stallone. “I never noticed how black your eyes were.”

CITY LIGHTS (1931) was Charlie Chaplin’s last silent film, a whimsical concoction in which Chaplin’s little tramp befriends a drunken millionaire (Harry Myers) and becomes his BFF when the guy’s trashed; sober, the rich man doesn’t know him. In between the drunken revels, the Tramp tries to help out a blind young woman he’s fallen in love with. Funny, charming and touching. “Tomorrow the birds will sing!”

In the 1970s and 1980s, the BBC filmed the complete run of Shakespeare’s plays. THE LIFE AND DEATH OF KING JOHN (1984) shows the advantages of this because it’s not a play anyone performs very often, yet watching the DVD let me do so. This has a lot of elements familiar from the Bard’s better plays, including a king whose crown has dubious legitimacy, a charming bastard rogue, marriage as a tool to unite everyone (it seems very topical for the Elizabethan age that the Papacy winds up undoing this and bringing on tragedy). Unlike most of Shakespeare’s histories, as Shakespeare After All points out, this has some strong women’s roles with queens on both sides asserting their influence to shape the outcomes. With Claire Bloom as Constance and John Thaw as the tormented, tragic Herbert. “O now doth Death line his dead chaps with steel — the swords of soldiers are his teeth.”

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Women in black break the criminal code! One book, two movies

THE WOMAN IN BLACK by Susan Hill is an old-school ghost story in the style of M.R. James. A solicitor sitting with his family as the kids tell ghost stories reluctantly decides to set down one that happened to him, for the kids to read once he’s dead. We follow him to an isolated village to wrap up a deceased client’s estate, but it seems a spectral woman in black is watching wherever he goes. Ah, surely that’s his imagination, right? Right?

Much like the spooky stories of James’ era, this is slow, creepy, without gore, and full of descriptions of rural England (I don’t associate that with James in particular but it’s common to a lot of similar stories I’ve read). The results are effective and evocative, though the most nerve-wracking part was worrying whether the protagonist’s terrier would buy it (relax, he lives).

I’d probably have liked THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012) more if I didn’t have the book fresh in my mind; it’s well executed but nowhere near the source material and the changes don’t improve anything (while Nigel Kneale’s TV adaptation also makes changes, I’ve read that it’s brilliant). Radcliffe plays the solicitor whose visit to the old mansion drives the eponymous ghost into a fit of even more child-slaying than usual — she’s a lot more murderous than the print version. Radcliffe is good in a tortured role and the film revealed to me that Hammer Films has (appropriately) risen from the dead, as they were one of the production companies involved in this.“You should have left when we told you to.”

The next Howard Hawks films following Fazil are lost, and I mistakenly thought that included The Dawn Patrol. It doesn’t but by the time I learned that I’d already watched THE CRIMINAL CODE (1931) out of sequence. Not that I think watching in sequence would give this adapted stage play any more oomph.

The key players are Phillips Holmes as a young man who kills a guy in a fit of passion and Walter Huston as the ambitious prosecutor who steamrolls Holmes and his attorney, resulting in the young man getting a ten-year stretch in the state pen. Wouldn’t you know, when Huston loses his bid for governor he gets prison warden as a consolation prize. And it seems a lot of crooks he put away have some resentment …

This has some striking moments, such as Huston confronting an angry mob of prisoners but the clunky moments outweigh the startling ones and Holmes is too bland to make his role work. What does work is Boris Karloff as a fellow inmate of Holmes, quietly plotting to settle scores with a pair of squealers. Karloff steals scenes merely by standing there, even though he’s not credited on that poster above; while he’d been working in Hollywood for more than a decade but mostly extras and bit parts. A role like this was quite a step up, though of course his star-breaking role as Frankenstein’s creature is looming. In any case The Criminal Code is better as a Karloff film than a Hawks. “What good is it to save a man if you destroy him while you do it?”


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AIDS in the ’80s: one book, one movie

When I first read Randy Shilts’ AND THE BAND PLAYED ON: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic, I saw it as a current-events book that would be worth reading as history in decades to come. Rereading it recently I still think so, with one large exception (discussed in Killing Patient Zero further on).

As the book begins, gay men in San Francisco and New York — two hotspots for gay life at the time — start coming down with Kaposi’s sarcoma, a skin cancer that typically affects elderly Jews and grows slowly. These cancers did not. Other victims are hit with baffling bacterial growth in the lungs or brain diseases. Before long it becomes clear that something is killing gay men but is it drugs? An STD? How can it be stopped? And what do you call it: what started as “the gay cancer” became Gay-Related Immune Deficiency and then Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

Shilts’ book is fueled by rage at pretty much everyone. Gays who refused to believe their sex life was the issue, and refused to practice safe sex. Government officials in both cities who sat on their hands about doing anything to help gays, or refused to close gay bathhouses for fear of offending gay supporters. Media that had zero interest in writing about some disease killing those icky people (the first stories focused on It Might Affect Straights!!!). Blood banks that resisted taking precautions against tainted blood — their blood does not have gay cooties! And it would be expensive to test! The Reagan administration lied through its teeth saying, over and over, that they’d funded every possible AIDS research and mitigation project when requests for funding were piling up. University administrations refused to expedite research requests by staffers and punished anyone who made an end run.

The result? Years wasted, lots more people dead. I’m not sure if AIDS was, as many people describe it, the most terrifying disease of the century (was it scarier than the Spanish flu or the possibility of kids getting polio?) but it was a horrifyingly lethal one. It might have been even worse if Rock Hudson, closeted Hollywood gay, hadn’t come down with AIDS. Here was a star who could put a face on the disease (though TYG says for people her age, young Ryan White getting AIDs from a transfusion was a much bigger deal): if a Hollywood icon and manly man could get AIDS, nobody was safe!

All that said, Shilts writes about a number of admirable figures too: people who fought for funding, researched the disease, pushed for safe-sex measures and struggled to save lives (right wing Senator Orrin Hatch was, to my surprise, one of them). Plus those who died, whether with dignity, resignation, fury or tears (or a mix of all of them). It’s the mix of individual experience and big-picture worldview that makes the book so effective.

Even though I lived through the era it feels unreal to me now. Shilts, writing in 1987, talks about how our lives are broken into Before the epidemic and After which is how it felt at the time. It was a seismic shock that made it suddenly acceptable to talk about condoms on TV (a big taboo previously) but now it’s a musty memory (keep in mind I was a straight guy living a low-risk life so I didn’t go through the harrowing some of the book’s subjects did). It makes me appreciate how the Spanish flu and polio have receded into history. It also makes me see some of the covid insanity with fresh eyes. Religious conservatives insisting their right to hold superspreader services — who knows if covid’s even real? — aren’t that far off from the reactions some gays had to the news sex could kill them.

The one place Shilts blows it is his portrayal of Gaetan Dugas, the man he fingers as Patient Zero, the gay dude who brought AIDS to America and spread it through a promiscuous lifestyle that kept going even after his symptoms became obvious. Except as KILLING PATIENT ZERO (2020) shows, AIDS had a much longer latency period than first appeared, taking as much as a decade to destroy people’s immune systems; that meant it was established in the American gay population well before Dugas, a Canadian flight attendant, supposedly began spreading it.

Dugas was, like many gay men, skeptical about AIDS being spread by STDs (one of the things better funding might have confirmed sooner); the movie points out that for many gays, sexual freedom in the 1970s was proof they were no longer the love that dare not speak its name and they didn’t want to withdraw from that. Dugas, ironically, came off looking like the prime mover because he cooperated so much with the CDC, providing lots of information about his sexual contacts; had other men been as forthcoming the map of who infected whom would have looked very different. And Patient Zero — a term that didn’t exist before AIDS — was really a misinterpretation of “Patient O” in one file, short for “Out of California.”

Shilts’ editor (the author himself has passed) says he seized on Dugas as a way to put a face on the epidemic; giving readers and the media a Typhoid Mary figure (and Typhoid Mary herself was nowhere near the lethal carrier legend has made her out to be) would generate enough attention people outside the gay community would read the book. Giving them a Typhoid Gay guaranteed right-wing media would flag the book as one of interest (right-wing outlets, as I recall from the time, took great glee pointing out it was All Gays’ Fault for their lechery, but ignoring Reagan’s role). Shilts didn’t like demonizing Dugas but he went along with it and the tactic worked. The documentary does a good job painting Dugas as human being rather than a deviant monster. I’d recommend anyone who reads Shilts’ book follow up with the movie. “It seems to me reality shouldn’t come ready-packed with metaphors.”

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Traffic, Trafic, Truffaut and Chicago: movies and a play

Some years back I caught a British TV serial, Traffic, about the UK government’s futile efforts to beat the drug trade. It bored me silly but Stephen Soderbergh’s film version, TRAFFIC, was anything but dull.Michael Douglas plays the judge recently promoted to federal drug czar, confident he can succeed where his predecessors failed. But as he soon discovers, the demand is huge, the cartels’ resources and ruthlessness huge and his efforts amount to bailing out the Atlantic with a tea cup. None of this is a novel insight, of course, but the film turns it into riveting drama and earned Soderbergh a Best Director Oscar. It doesn’t hurt that we have a fantastic cast: Benicio del Toro and Don Cheadle as cops, Erika Christensen and Topher Grace as drug-using teens, Steven Bauer and Catherine Zeta-Jones as drug kingpins and Amy Irving as Douglas’ wife. “If you’re going to start on the fucking war metaphors, I’m going to wrap this car around a telephone pole.”

TRAFIC (1972) was French comic Jacques Tati’s next-to-last feature, in which his eternally hapless Mr. Hulot is just one part of the ensemble struggling to get a new-model camper to a Belgium auto shop in the face of French holiday traffic. I’ve only seen a little of Tati’s work but this seemed much less slapstick than his earlier work, though it still kept me watching. “You left the motor running and I have to do the cranking.”

ANTOINE AND COLLETE (1962) was the first of Francois Truffaut’s sequels to The 400 Blows, wherein Antoine, now 17 and living on his own, falls for a college student who persists in seeing him as Just A Friend (while this bums him out, Truffaut treats this as just hard luck, not some cosmic injustice). While I saw this on its own, it’s actually part of the French anthology film Love at Twenty.  “You think there’s a difference between a reason and an excuse — I don’t.”

My birthday presents was tickets to a touring production of CHICAGO which finally hit town at the end of April. As y’all may know, the show centers on a conniving adulteress (“First I fooled around, then I screwed around, which is like fooling around without them buying me dinner.”) on trial for murdering her lover before he could dump her. She hopes the celebrity will jump-start her failed showbiz career but that’s only going to happen if her attorney can successfully rebrand her as a wronged innocent.Strippers, Showgirls and Sharks says this flopped when it opened in 1975 but its 1990s revival found audiences connected better with its cynical take on corruption and show business. This was a dynamic show, full of energy and great dances (clearly channeling some of the style Bob Fosse gave the original production); if you’ve seen the movie version, Catherine Zeta-Jones has a much bigger role than the same character here (I’m guessing it’s because CZJ had more stage-musical experience than costars Renee Zellwegger or Richard Gere). The photo above is the spare but effective set after the show ended. “So I fired two warning shots … right into his head.”

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New companions, new Doctor: Doctor Who Season 21

It’s a weird feeling to realize that my Doctor Who rewatch is now closer to the end of the classic run than the beginning. Season 21 has a lot of good stuff going on but we say goodbye to the Fifth Doctor, Turlough and Tegan; the new TARDIS team is disappointing by comparision.The first serial, WARRIORS OF THE DEEP has the TARDIS materialize on an underwater base two centuries from now (well, from when “now” was the 1980s). Earth is divided in a tense cold war between two superpowers, something the Silurians and the Sea Devils — working together onscreen for the first time — plan to exploit to eliminate the hairless apes they resent for stealing “their” planet. Can the Doctor stop a nuclear war? Can he, perhaps, make peace between the Silurians and humans? While the effort to broker peace is a common theme in Sea Devils/Silurians stories, this handles the themes of coexistence and mistrust very well. “Why do humans insist on thinking a futile gesture is a noble one?”

The two-part THE AWAKENING is weaker. This time they land in a small village where Tegan’s uncle lives, only to discover the traditional re-enactment of a local Roundhead/Cavalier battle is getting uncomfortably realistic. It’s reminiscent of countless stories about sinister goings on in small British villages, including the Pertwee serial The Daemons. It doesn’t succeed because the evil entity behind everything, the Malus, fails on every level. “I shouldn’t worry about it — as local magistrate, I shall find myself completely innocent.”

FRONTIOS, by contrast, takes a familiar premise — a beleaguered, struggling space colony — and injects it with life. Mysterious meteor strikes on Frontios, colonists getting sucked into the Earth — what’s behind it? And why is Turlough freaking out about it so much? Familiar stuff but well-executed, even if the alien Tractators look too much like Tenniel’s Mock Turtle in Alice in Wonderland. “If anyone asks whether I made any material difference to this planet’s welfare, tell them I came and went like a summer breeze.”

Like Warriors of the Deep, RESURRECTION OF THE DALEKS is a grim one involving an imprisoned Davros, a struggle for control of the Dalek race and the Doctor deciding not to go soft on destroying them as he did in Genesis of the Daleks. It’s grim enough that Tegan decides she can’t deal any more and walks out; it also introduces Lytton, an alien mercenary working with the Daleks, memorably played by Maurice Collborne (he’ll return in S22). I don’t like the Daleks using brainwashed human infiltrators — it feels off-brand for them — and given the reveal about the Movellans from Destiny of the Daleks here (they beat the Daleks) it’s all the more surprising they never returned, even if I didn’t care for them much. “I am hard to kill, Lytton. You should have realized that.”

Mark Strickson’s Turlough bows out and Nicola Bryant’s Peri Brown debuts in PLANET OF FIRE, a lackluster serial despite the presence of Peter Wyngarde and Barbara Shelley as colonists on the eponymous world, now collapsed into superstition with no knowledge of their origins; one member of the production teram quipped that the serial only existed so they could shoot at the beachfront vacation site Lanzarote.

This brings back the Anthony Ainsley’s Master for his final performance — Ainsley’s contract was expiring — though he would, in fact, return — and writes out Kamelion, returning for the first time since The King’s Demons despite having been on the TARDIS the whole time. Bryant is tremendous eye candy but her American accent as Peri is very inconsistent; worse, after someone as strong-minded as Tegan she’s kind of wimpy. One interesting trivia note, producer John Nathan-Turner insists the Master’s “How can you do this to your—” statement would have ended with “brother” if it hadn’t been cut off. “I deplore such unsophisticated coercion but your cooperation is necessary.”

Peter Davison fortunately gets a much better swan song in THE CAVES OF ANDROZANI. Efforts by a colonizer planet to crush an independence movement on Androzani are complicated by everyone on every side having a hidden agenda and by the scheming android master Sharaz Jek (Christopher Gable). A masked scarface who becomes obsessed with Peri, Jek is a blatant Phantom of the Opera knockoff but Gable plays him with such intensity I don’t care. I’m also amused by the climax in which the Doctor dies and regenerates while obtaining milk from a subterranean queen bat to save Peri’s life; as my friend Ross says, the milking happens off-stage so apparently we can take it for granted Time Lords know how to milk bats. A great farewell for Davison. “You sound like a prattling jackanapes — but your eyes tell a different story.”Colin Baker had a much less successful debut in THE TWIN DILEMMA, a dull story about aliens capturing young genius siblings and exploiting them for some tedious evil scheme (you can see how invested I was). It would be mediocre as Davison but Baker is incredibly unpleasant here; while the new Doctor is usually a little off, they’re not usually arrogant, bullying or selfish as Baker turns out. Peri is too ineffective for a good foil, too — Tegan would have held her own and told him where to get off. Baker’s clearly written to contrast with Davison — not so gentle or nice — but he comes across like Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor amped up to 11, and it doesn’t work. While he’s probably the least popular of the classic Doctors, I don’t remember him being this awful so hopefully he’ll improve later. We’ll see. “I don’t want gallons of blood to be spilt, especially mine.”

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Writers on strike! There’d be film at 11 but we have no script!

The Washington Post provides the basics on why screenwriters are striking, what they want and how it will affect TV.

Vanity Fair looks at the current streaming environment and how it’s already become hard for writers to make a living in it. “Wall Street changed the rules of the game,” says Marc Guggenheim, a veteran showrunner. Instead of chasing subscriber growth with great content, streamers are now directed to focus on profitability. “Overnight, all the streamers will suddenly be measured by a completely different yardstick that they weren’t built to meet.”

If you want a primer on the topic, these articles should do the trick.


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Taking documentary films to the Outer Limits: Movies and TV

Automats were restaurants I’ve seen in 1930s films where instead of servers you had a vending machine like structure, but with real meals and food behind the glass windows.THE AUTOMAT (1922) filled in a lot I didn’t know about these eateries: they were a format associated with one company, Horn and Hardart, found only in New York and Philadelphia but so successful that in their heyday they served more customers a day than any other restaurant chain. They also lasted much longer than I realized, the final automat only closing in 1991. A fascinating look at how they worked, how they appealed to people across the social spectrum and how they fell (as more people went home to the suburbs for dinner, the customer base dried up). “There were baked beans and baked beans — and Horn and Hardart baked beans.”

THE ARISTOCRATS (2005) is a documentary about a notoriously gross, tasteless joke comedians tell to each other backstage or at parties (I’m not going to repeat it here), trying to put their own spin and style on it and stretching out the disgusting parts with new gross elements. This would make a great film to study if I were into stand-up, for example trying to figure out why George Carlin’s delivery had me in stitches. While I’m not into standup particularly, I still found it interesting and entertaining. Familiar faces include Tom Arnold, Eric Idle (I think), Eddie Izzard, and Phyllis Diller. “They have a midget uncle with three dicks coming out of his head.”

Robert Culp and Arlene Martel appear above in one of OUTER LIMITS‘ best episodes, Demon With a Glass Hand, with Culp as Trent, a man pursued by aliens for unknown reasons, knowing only that the clues reside in his mysterious artificial hand. Written by Harlan Ellison, it’s terrific (as is Ellison’s Soldier) but an outlier in the show’s second season, a poor follow-up to S1. The second season has some effective episodes but between budget cuts and shifts in creative personnel, more of them are third-rate and uninspired, such as Keeper of the Purple Twilight. Disappointing. “The silence of the infinite void has been broken.”

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A rat, a bat and more: movies viewed

RATATOUILLE (2007) is the delightful Pixar film in which a rat, Remy (Patton Oswalt) baffles his clan by turning up his nose at human refuse in favor of fresh food, preferably combining tastes or even cooking. Inspired by a master chef’s cookbook, Remy winds up as covert cook by helping a hapless kitchen drudge (Lou Romano) cook spectacular dishes, reviving the restaurant he works for. However that doesn’t suit the goals of head cook Ian Holm, nor acerbic food critic Peter O’Toole. Can Remy and female chef Jeanine Garofalo win th day?This was quite charming and like most Pixar films, great visual style. It does bug me some that like so many Disney films, father/child relationships are prioritized and Mom’s forgotten — while it’s not surprising Remy’s mom is dead (“rat” is a hazardous occupation) it’s annoying when seen as part of a pattern. “I don’t like false modesty — it’s another word for lying.”

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (2017) is another piece of animated fun: Batman (Will Arnett) stubbornly resists working with new commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) even though she’s a hyper-capable graduate of “Harvard for Police.” His stubborn soloing only leads to trouble when the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) manipulates him into trapping the Hoodlum Harlequin in the Phantom Zone, from which the Joker returns with the World’s Greatest Villains (including Voldemort and the Eye of Sauron) to destroy Gotham City. Can Bats reach out to his “Batman family” in time to save the day?This movie beautifully sends up both the ultra-grim, emotionally closed off Batman of the 21st century and the characterization of the Joker as Batman’s obsessed soulmate, determined to be the most important person in his life (“In 79 years, you’ve never once said you hate me!”). It also has a spectacular array of visual jokes, including obscure villains such as Zebra Man in bit parts. While I didn’t care for the Joker or Batman voices, Dawson, Michael Cera’s Robin and Ralph Fiennes’ Alfred were all great. “We’re going to punch these guys so hard, words describing the impact are gonna spontaneously materialize out of thin air.”

By contrast, WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING (2021) is an entry in the I Wasted 90 Minutes Of My Life On This? genre as a family find themselves sealed into their own house and begin cracking up under pressure, hunger and fear, with occasional hallucinatory sequences to weird things up. This becomes tedious fast and while not explaning anything worked when Luis Buñuel used a similar concept for Exterminating Angel, these creators aren’t Buñuel. “That’s right, I’m a good boy.”

SUMMER OF SOUL (2021) is an excellent documentary on the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, footage of which languished unseen for fifty years despite a black audience in the thousands (“We tried calling it ‘Black Woodstock’ but still nobody was interested.”).This covers both the behind-the-scenes stuff (when the NYPD wouldn’t provide security, the Black Panthers stepped up), the politics, and interviews with and about the acts including the Fifth Dimension (“People thought we sounded white so we really wanted to make an appearance.”) and Sly and the Family Stone (“We couldn’t get over the fact their drummer was white.”) plus of course music from famous names (Gladys Knight, Nina Simone) and several acts whose names I didn’t recognize (they may be just as famous, of course, as music isn’t my field of expertise). “We didn’t know anything about therapy but we knew Mahalia Jackson.”

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