Category Archives: Movies

Unsatisfying sequels and a disappointing season: movies and TV

JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017) isn’t as much of a train wreck as I anticipated, and certainly an improvement over Batman vs. Superman but it still falls far short of even an average MCU entry. With Superman dead, the world is falling into despair (which I found a false note — Henry Cavill’s Superman in Zach Snyder’s DC Universe was hardly a shining beacon of hope); when an alien warrior named Steppenwolf steals three ancient Mother Boxes to xenoform Earth into a duplicate of his homeworld, an aging Batman (one of the film’s better ideas is that he’s been at this for 20 years) recruits Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman to stop him.

The cast is solid, but Steppenwolf is just a generic alien warlord; if they wanted to use someone from Kirby’s Fourth World mythos) (I presume this is based on the New 52 origin where the JLA comes together against an incursion from Apokalips) there are far more colorful adversaries (the Female Furies, Dr. Bedlam, Granny Goodness …). And I really hate Cyborg’s look, less like he’s part-metal and more like he’s wearing an Iron Man suit with his head exposed. Overall, not awful, but it left me with none of the enthusiasm for the team the first Avengers film did, let alone TV’s Arrowverse. “I can’t even understand the physics of me feeling my toes.”

RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET (2018) is the Wreck-It Ralph sequel in which Ralph accidentally disables best friend Vanellope’s arcade game which sends them onto the Internet seeking the needed spare part; upon overbidding for it on eBay, they have to then raise money to cover the bill. This has some good bits such as Vanellope testing her racing skills in a Grand Theft Auto-type universe, but the product placement is very heavy (that we also have made-up names like the videosharing site “Buzztube” alongside Google and Amazon presumably tells us who paid to play) and the satire of the Internet’s dark side (vicious comments, lots of cat videos) felt canned; while Vanellope meeting up with Disney’s princesses had its amusing moment, it still felt too much like bonus product placement (I assume Disney mocking princess tropes is as insincere as Kate and Leopold decrying marketing as immoral). While a lot of reviews liked the themes and the emotional arc overall this felt too canned. With Alan Tudyk as a search engine and Gail Godot as a wildcat street racer. “It’s sort of a Pied Piper codependent strategy.”

Although I enjoyed the first season of the CHARMED reboot, the second season has largely killed my enthusiasm. The new showrunners kick things off by relocating them to Seattle (their base is now under a shared-work space), destroying the Book of Elders and taking out their powers, leaving them ill-equipped to cope with the new threats arising. Which could have worked, but the Macy/Harry romance feels very unconvincing, like something the new crew arbitrarily decided was a thing; as it’s a mainstay of the character arcs, that isn’t working for me.

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Batman, a fake pirate, and a man on the run: movies

BATMAN AND BILL (2017) is a documentary by Marc Tyler Nobleman following up on his earlier book Bill the Boy Wonder. Like the book, it lays out the overwhelming evidence that Bill Finger deserved co-creator status on Batman (to say nothing of credit for such classic stories as the Joker’s debut, below), and that when fans began confronting Bob Kane with this, he made outraged denials (the success of Batman on TV is a particular sore spot as Kane’s percentage made him rich while Finger lived in lonely poverty). The documentary traces Nobleman’s efforts to track down an heir who could make a copyright claim for Finger, and eventually succeeded — the closing scene is Nobleman seeing Finger’s co-creator credit on Dawn of Justice. On the whole, better than the book. “This is a statement about Bill Finger as an unsung contributor by the man who’s most responsible for Finger not getting credit.”

I also caught BATMAN: The Scheme Is Sound, a 2019 tribute by the Parkview Elementary School Music Club to the 1966 TV show: Why does the Riddler kidnap a dishwasher heiress? What happens when Catwoman and Batman dance the Watusi? Who can save the Dynamic Duo from death by dishwasher? This was fun, though the actors playing the villains had  more to work with than the straight man roles of the heroes. “This adventure ended on a good note.”

THE PIRATE (1948) is my delayed double-bill to last week’s The Black Pirate as Gene Kelly’s swaggering bravo here is partly a riff on Douglas Fairbanks’ role in that earlier movie. Kelly plays Serafina, womanizing leader of a Caribbean circus troupe in the 1830s. He’s instantly smitten with Manuela (Judy Garland), a repressed, convent-raised girl about to marry her town’s stuffy mayor, Don Pedro. Serafina puts Manuela under hypnosis to get her to admit she loves him, but instead she reveals her fascination with the legendary pirate Black Macocco (“Mac the Black” is one of Cole Porter’s delightful songs added to the non-musical stage show this is based on). When Serafina realizes Don Pedro is Macocco, retired, he contrives to pose as the pirate and win Manuela, but of course that kind of imposture is just bound to go wrong … The leads are awesome, bounding with energy, as are the talented Nicholas Brothers in their one dance with Kelly (black entertainers were limited to numbers the studios could cut out for prints in the south) and the songs are fun. The romance should be unconvincing (there’s really no set up for Manuela falling for Serafina) but the stars make it work; however Serafina’s pursuit of Manuela has enough creepy overtones, it’s not going to be to everyone’s taste. “Now that I’ve seen ya/Niña, Niña, Niña/I’ll have neurasthenia/until you are mine.”

THE 39 STEPS (1935) was Alfred Hitchcock’s very free adaptation of John Buchan’s same-name novel, a hit book which introduced Buchan’s series hero Richard Hanney (one of the forgotten adventurers covered in Clubland Heroes), but even Buchan admitted Hitchcock improved on the source. Robert Donat plays Hannay, temporarily staying in London; when a woman invites herself up to his apartment, he’s game, but then she reveals she’s part of a spy operation and staying with him to hide. Doesn’t work: she winds up knifed in the early morning and Hannay, realizing he’d be the prime suspect goes on the run. Can he clear his name? What is the secret of the “39 steps” and the man with no little finger? Will Madeline Carroll, who winds up dragged along with him, come to see that Hannay’s on the side of the angels?

It’s a first-rate film, superior to Hitch’s previous movie, The Man Who Knew Too Much. It’s also very much a model of the themes and tropes Hitchcock would play with for the rest of his career. The man falsely accused of a crime. Traveling hither and yon to bring the bad guy to justice (something that also happens in North by Northwest and Saboteur). The “McGuffin” behind all the espionage not really mattering — we know it’s something involving aviation, but the explanation is just a string of technobabble. The Hitchcock Romance argues that Hannay also undergoes a typical romantic/maturing arc for a Hitchcock protagonist. He starts out unattached — no permanent home, willing to have a casual liaison — and ends up happily restored to society and in love with Carroll.

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Terrorists and pirates: This week’s viewing.

While I know next to nothing about Germany’s Red Army Faction, the based-on-truth THE BAADER-MEINHOFF COMPLEX (2008) felts very familiar as these radicals and their attitudes towards authority, free love, anarchism, world-wide revolution and nonviolent activism (not fans of it) are different only in the details from the Weather Underground and other American groups of that era. They were, however, much more successful and professional, lasting for more than a decade when most radical groups in the U.S. fell apart fast. Interesting, but at 2.5 hours without a real dramatic arc, it’s too long (I don’t know if an arc could be found without bending the truth). “Urban guerrillas work in the space between the state and the masses.”
THE BLACK PIRATE (1926) proves my point that The Sea Hawk needed a Douglas Fairbanks to add some star power: this Technicolor swashbuckler has Fairbanks in all his laughing, acrobatic glory, and it makes all the difference in the world. Fairbanks plays a nobleman whose father dies when pirates capture their ship. Fairbanks swears vengeance and begins his revenge scheme by joining the band, capturing a ship single-handed to prove his bona fides (the kind of thing that if a female lead did it would lead to complaints she’s a Mary Sue) and then finding his plans derailed by the need to protect a captured princess (Billie Dove, though Fairbanks’ wife Mary Pickford replaces her in the final scene) from the scurvy dogs. Shows why Fairbanks was a superstar in his day, and it holds up well. “Gather round me, all ye who love gold!”#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Runaways, Nancy Drew, assassins and pirates: TV and movies

With Disney sucking all Marvel back to its streaming service, RUNAWAYS‘ third season is its last (I suppose it could have continued there, but as SyFy Wire says, it doesn’t fit neatly with the MCU brand), but at least it went out on a win.

At the end of S2, the alien Gibborim had taken over several of the Runaways’ parents, and one sleeper among the kids. The kids open the season fighting back, trying to stop the Gibborim before they open a portal and bring more of their people through. By the time they succeed, they have a new problem: Morgan leFay plotting to take over the world by mind-controlling people through cell phones! This actually works well as a story (certainly a better threat than S2’s dirty cops) though they hand-wave that the Staff of One is now really magic rather than quantum physics passing as magic (there’s a reference to magic as unexplained science, but that’s not how they’re playing it). We also get a guest appearance of Cloak and Dagger from that short-lived show, which worked okay but I could have done without. Overall a satisfactory season that ends well — too bad it’s the last. “We’ve done a lot of bad things for our kids — it’s time we do something good for them.”

Sophia Lillis, the Nancy of NANCY DREW AND THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE (2019) strikes me as awfully young, but unlike the Emma Roberts version not awkwardly so — it’s probably that I’m at the age where a lot of people just look really young (plus Lillis comes across as wholesome — though not implausibly so — which implies younger to me). This has Nancy and her friends help Linda Lavin investigate her haunted mansion and discover the secret behind the spooks; it’s not as fun as the Bonita Granville films, but it’s reasonably enjoyable. “Only one person has purchased a large supply of nutmeg recently.”

With THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934) Alfred Hitchcock finally broke out of the mediocre crap he’d been doing and began the kind of film that would make him a legend. Leslie Banks and Olympic sharpshooter Edna Best are the unfortunate recipients of a dying agent’s message about an upcoming assassination; to ensure they don’t interfere, Peter Lorré kidnaps their daughter to keep them silent. Hitchcock himself considered this the work of a talented amateur and it’s certainly not his best, but it is enjoyable, which can’t be said about Easy Virtue. “Before June 1914, had you ever heard of Sarajevo, or even of Archduke Franz Ferdinand?”

Rafael Sabatini’s The Sea Hawk is a great swashbuckling novel that has nothing in common with Errol Flynn’s swashbuckler of the same name. 1924’s THE SEA HAWK is a faithful adaptation wherein a retired Elizabethan privateer gets framed for murder by his dishonorable brother, then shanghaid by pirate Wallace Beery before he can clear his name. By several twists of fate he winds up as a legendary Barbary corsair and eventually heads back to England with his pirate crew to kidnap his lost love and get revenge on his brother. This is a competent swashbuckler (it also has a lot of white people in brown face for the Arab roles), but it badly needs the screen presence of someone such as Errol Flynn or Douglas Fairbanks. “Nearby lived a matron whose conscience was elastic and whose husband was — old.”

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A crisis hits, an Arrow falls: CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths (and the aftermath)

Due to Trixie’s health problems and other personal matters, I didn’t get much in the way of movies watched this past week. So I’ll take the opportunity to review the CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, it’s aftermath and the end of the Arrowverse’s founding series, Arrow.

After the first half-season of the various superhero shows, we plunged into Crisis with a bang. In the opening of the first part of the crossover we see the Earth of the 1960s Batman series and the 1989 Tim Burton movie annihilated (eventually we’d also see the deaths of the Doom Patrol universe, Birds of Prey (the 1990s series) and a cameo by the Flash from the JLA movie). Supergirl witnesses Argo City, the last surviving outpost of Krypton, wiped out along with her brother.

Fortunately the Monitor gathers several of the Arrowverse heroes together to fight back, along with several others, such as Brandon Routh’s Superman Returns Man of Steel (played here as a weary, aging Kingdom Come type). Their efforts, which include visiting Kevin Conroy (the animated Batman voice) as a bitter, ruthless, Dark Knight Returns Batman and Tom Welling as a retired Superman (gave up the powers when he and Lois had kids — so we still don’t see him in costume), collapse in the third installment: Earth dies. All the Earths die. Can the heroes, including Black Lightning (“My god — Superman’s real?”), turn things around?

Well, of course. Fortunately Green Arrow, who dies early on, rises from the dead as the host for the Spectre, the one being with the power to take on the Anti-Monitor (whose moniker led to Cisco shaking his head and grumbling “Can we workshop that name?”). Thanks to Oliver and the heroes, a new, combined Earth rises from the ashes of the multiverse (the ending makes it unclear whether there are still some other surviving Earths) and after a final battle with Anti-Monitor’s forces, life resumes as before. Well, except everyone’s now living on one Earth and they’re the only ones who remember it was ever different. Fortunately J’Onn fills the truth in for the supporting casts of the different shows (except Black Lightning, probably so they can keep that show still at a distance from the main group). Which means team-ups are now easier, as witness the Crisis ends with Batwoman, Supergirl, J’Onn, Black Lightning and others sitting at a conference table in the newly named Hall of Justice. The Superfriends live.

I really loved it. I’m a comic book geek from childhood, and while I enjoy the Marvel movies, their efforts to keep things tied to reality don’t appeal to me as much as the Arrowverse’s willingness to go full comic-book. The Endgame battle with Thanos is epic and I had a hell of a good time, but for me the CW Crisis — jampacked with costumed heroes and Easter eggs and very little concern with realism — is way more fun.

Along with the plotlines from the first half-season, the heroes are now dealing with fallout from the worlds combining. On New Earth, Lex Luthor’s a respected businessman and head of the DEO. Batwoman’s sister Alice now has a doppelganger from a world where Kate saved her and she was never abandoned. And in the last two episodes of Arrow we learn Oliver, in recreating Earth, made an extra effort to save his city: post-Crisis Star City is a crime-free, peaceful place to live, with Moira, Quentin and Tommy Merlyn all resurrected (confronted by another bit of weirdness, Quentin comments that “I just discovered there’s a reality in which I died, so that’s the curve I’m grading on now.”). Diggle actually feels free to move away to Metropolis with his family, but along the way he finds this green lantern and ring that fell out of the sky … why yes, I do think they’re seeding a future role for him.

The other episode sets up for the possible new series Green Arrow and the Canaries, set in 2040 Star City. As a fall-out from Oliver’s transformation of the city, Mia’s able to grow up happy, fun-loving and hanging out with her older brother William, but now things are starting to turn bad … fortunately Dinah Drake and Laurel Lance have both jumped into the future (this doesn’t quite fit with what we saw in the other episode, but I’ll trust them to explain eventually) and are there to help. Mia’s going to need it …

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Bruce Lee, Alfred Hitchcock and More: Movies viewed

And I also reviewed the 12 Monkeys TV series on Atomic Junkshop.

After reading Bruce Lee’s biography, I Netflixed ENTER THE DRAGON (1973), the movie that showed Bruce Lee’s dream of superstardom was within his grasp (he died too soon to realize it). Lee plays a Shaolin monk recruited by British intelligence to hunt down a Shaolin renegade running a crime empire, including a sex-trafficking ring. Getting to the bad guy requires competing in his martial arts tournament against John Saxon (who only realized midway through the film that he wasn’t the hero) and Jim Kelly (the trio of white/black/Asian fighters was part of Lee’s idea for another, unmade film). Solidly entertaining, though now that martial arts films are so mainstream, it doesn’t have the seismic shock it must have given audiences in ’73. “A man’s strength is measured by his appetites — no, a man’s strength is fueled by his appetites!”

Alfred Hitchcock again — MURDER! (1930) suffers from being a yet another Filmed Stage Melodrama in which actor-producer Herbert Marshall tries to clear a former protege of murdering a rival (“If I hadn’t told you to gain experience in the provinces, this wouldn’t have happened.”). Despite several stagebound scenes, though, some of the visual moments are interesting, such as a couple getting ready in the morning, the pressure on Marshall to vote guilty with the rest of the jury. “We use life to create art, then we use art to critique life.”

NUMBER SEVENTEEN (1932) is another filmed play, but with a lot of what would later be classic Hitchcock elements, such as lots of identity games and a very visual final chase. However, after an initially great shot of a windswept street, the results are dull and confused as the various cast members explore the eponymous address which contains a dead body, a stolen necklace and possibly an undercover cop. Hitch’s next film was the equally forgettable Waltzes of Vienna but I’ll be jumping over that one to the classic Man Who Knew Too Much. “You don’t have to do nothing — in this house things just happen.”

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (2001) has a cop infiltrating a street-racing ring with an eye to bagging alpha racer Vin Diesel for a series of highway robberies, only to find himself going native as he bonds with Diesel and falls for the racer’s younger sister (Jordana Brewster). I watched this because any series with this many movies in it must be doing something right; while fast cars, sexy people and male bonding all have time-tested viewer appeal, I can’t see anything that made this in particular stand out. Michelle Rodriguez plays Diesel’s woman. “I watched my dad burn to death — I remember hearing the scream.”

Directed by Hiyao Miyazaki’s son, Studio Ghibli’s TALES OF EARTHSEA (2006) has magic mysteriously going haywire, forcing the wizard Sparrowhawk (Timothy Dalton) to search out the cause and restore the balance. A young man guilt-ridden over having slain his own father joins with the wizard and together they confront an immortalist (Willem Dafoe) desperately struggling to open the barriers between life and death, no matter the cost. This was good, though the young man’s patricide doesn’t make any sense to me. “You turned away from light so that you could see only darkness.”

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Amicus curiae: horror movies viewed

From the early 1960s on into the 1970s, Amicus Productions was known as the British horror-film company that wasn’t Hammer Films. Unlike Hammer, which favored period pieces, Amicus films were almost entirely contemporary. They also liked anthologies, one of the company heads believing it was easier to sustain a horror premise in a sprint rather than a full-length work. As I like their films, I picked up a three-DVD set with some of my Christmas money.

ASYLUM (1972) is the film I really wanted in the set. Based like most of their anthologies on Robert Bloch’s short stories, this opens with Robert Powell as a psychiatrist applying for a post at a mental hospital. Unfortunately the doctor who hired him is now insane, having fabricated an entirely new personality and history; his replacement (Patrick Magee) offers to hire Powell provided he’s sharp enough to identify which of four patients is the doctor. This leads to interviews with Barry Morse, Charlotte Rampling, Barbara Perkins and Herbert Lom, after which Powell thinks he’s identified the doctor — but has he? All the Amicus anthologies interwove the stories with the framing sequence, but the frame here is the best; Peter Cushing and Brett Eklund are among the cast. “Run — hide from the truth like the idiot downstairs.”

AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS (1973) was a rare Amicus period piece, set in 1795 as newlyweds Stephanie Beacham and Ian Ogilvie arrive at the latter’s country mansion. The idyllic honeymoon soon goes south as a homicidal hand and an eyeless ghost keep appearing to Beacham, despite which everyone insists there is absolutely nothing to worry about (the hand deals with those who try to tell the truth). This starts slow but gets more effective as it goes along, and it’s well cast (Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom and Patrick Magee round out the cast). However it unpleasantly embodies the woman-as-property attitude toward rape: Ogilvie’s grandfather raped one man’s virgin bride so Beacham must be violated in retribution. “That’s twice you’ve raised your hand to me today — I’ll see to it that it doesn’t happen again.”

Amicus billed THE BEAST MUST DIE (1974) as a horror murder mystery with a thirty-second break before the climax for us to guess who among the cast is a werewolf. I don’t think that’s actually such a startling idea, as lots of horror movies have a mystery element (both Howling V and Doctor X have a list of suspects who could be the movie’s monster), but it works here: Calvin Lockhart plays a millionaire game hunter who’s decided tracking and killing a werewolf would be the ultimate challenge (“A creature no hunter has ever faced before.”), so he’s invited a number of individuals linked to suspicious killings, including lycanthropy expert Peter Cushing. Fun, even though there’s no real way to deduce who the wolf turns out to be. “Tonight, the beast must die — and it will.”

This seemed like a good week to rewatch another of their Bloch anthologies THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1970), which studio co-head Max Rosenberg says was their second most successful film ever, which he credits to his choice of title (the director’s preference was Death and the Maiden). Investigating the disappearance of horror star Jon Pertwee from his country estate, a cop learns that the house has a history of unpleasant incidents: thriller author Denholm Elliott becoming convinced his latest villain has come to life, Peter Cushing and Joss Ackland becoming obsessed with a waxwork figure of Salome (as you can see from the poster, Cushing quite loses his head over her) and Christopher Lee warning governess Nyree Dawn Porter that there’s a reason he’s so abusive to his little daughter. And then there’s Pertwee’s fate … TYG bought this for me while we were dating, and found 1970s fashion (“Purple paisley shirts, nooooo!”) scarier than anything else in the movie, but it’s actually quite entertaining. “There is little I don’t know about the subject of the supernatural.”

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The Rise of Skywalker and the Redemption of Sith Lords

Fair warning, this post will have slight spoilers for THE RISE OF SKYWALKER.

Some years back, Orson Scott Card, in a review of one of the Star Wars films, complained about Darth Vader’s appearance as a “force ghost” alongside Obiwan and Yoda at the climax of Return of the Jedi. By what logic has Darth Vader redeemed himself when all he did was turn on his master and trusted friend, Palpatine? Did that one moment of heroism when he saved Luke in Return‘s climax?

The same point could be made about Kylo: he chose his dark side, loyally served the First Order, murdered his father. Do his actions after Rey leads him back to the light really justify his redemption?

I wrote about this some years back and I don’t disagree with what I said then. But since I saw Rise of Skywalker I’ve been thinking about redemption in terms of Rabbi Danya Rutenberg’s breakdown: God absolves us of sin if we ask, the victim forgives us if they chose and we do the work of our own redemption.

To put that into a Star Wars context, as I said in my previous post on redemption I accept that despite all the horrible things Anakin and Kylo did (let’s not forget Anakin’s body count in the prequel trilogy is high), absolution for sin is possible. In a Christian context, there’s nobody so evil that they can’t attain redemption by turning to God. I can buy that something equivalent applies with Force ghosts.

Does that obligate Leia to forgive Anakin after his death? No, it doesn’t. She might — saving Luke and helping defeat Palpatine certainly counts for something — but Darth Vader still tortured her and blew up Alderan, her homeworld. If she doesn’t want to forgive him, or to forgive Kylo for killing Han, she’s within her rights. Getting into Heaven or Force Heaven doesn’t mean your crimes didn’t happen.

Did Kylo and Anakin redeem themselves by their actions? If they’d survived their final battles should the good guys treat them as trustworthy? Put them on trial for crimes against humanity? Suspected them of shifting alliances for their own ends?

All of these are possible options, depending how the writer shapes the story and stacks the deck. I’d be inclined to say that yes, they still have a lot of work to do: the Rebellion would be perfectly justified putting Darth Vader on trial for his crimes, though considering his final actions as a factor in sentencing. Or if there’s no actual punishment, Darth goes off and finds some way to balance the scales.

This is not a deal-breaker for me. I’m okay with both movies settling for one simple act of heroism to fix anything: movies are a dramatic medium so using a single moment as a turning point works for me dramatically. But if this were something longer form (TV, print, comics) where the creators can take their time, I think it would work better if they did.

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From the Red Forest to Eternia, from 2007 to now: TV viewed

Hulu finally streamed the last season of SyFy’s 12 MONKEYS and it was worth waiting for (I binged while all my regular shows are on Christmas break). As someone who’s seen a lot of time travel stuff — hey, I wrote the book on it — it’s hard to impress me any more, but the show did.

At the end of S3, we learned that the murderous Olivia (Alison Down) of the Army of the 12 Monkeys was also the Witness, the antichrist figure who would destroy time and bring about the Red Forest, a timeless world in which we’d all experience our most perfect moment, without end — but without change or growth. As Cole (Aaron Stanford) says, “we can have forever or we can have now” but not both.

Learning there’s a weapon to stop the Red Forest, Cole and the rest of the cast hunt through time to recover it. But when they do, it appears even if they make it work, the solution will erase Cole from reality (as the first person to time travel, erasing him restores causality). What results is a grim race against time to save time, with several surprises and some paradoxes from earlier seasons resolved. The ending shouldn’t have worked for me: the twist of “we must restore the original timeline … but we’ll change just this little bit so it ends happy” normally doesn’t work but they pulled it off. And the cast remains great, particularly Emily Hampshire as Jennifer. “Save Hitler? That’s not what you do with a time machine!”

I also binged the fourth season of SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER and damn, that was good.  As Katra and the Horde increase the pressure on the Princess Alliance, friendships start to fracture, abetted by the conniving shapeshifter Double Trouble. This mirrors what happens in the Horde, as Katra’s arrogance and ambition alienate even the people close to her, such as Scorpia. And Adora learns there are secrets about She-Ra that she has no idea of yet … It’s good both as action/adventure and at the personal drama level. “That’s why nobody comes to games night any more.”

As I bought TYG the WILD PALMS DVD set, we naturally watched it last month, and I was started to realize this 1993 miniseries took place in the near-future of 2007. Fortunately we live in the real world where we don’t have to worry about authoritarian extremists using the threat of terrorism to chip away at our freedom —oh, wait.

Jim Belushi plays Harry, an attorney swept in a mysterious conspiracy when his former lover Paige (Kim Cattrall) asks for help, though it turns out he’s been unwittingly entangled in things for years. What is the “Go” chip? Why is there a rhinoceros in the swimming pool? Who is Harry’s son really? Solidly cast with Dana Delaney as Harry’s troubled wife, Angie Dickinson as her vicious mother, Robert Loggia as an evil senator and David Warner as a scientist. Despite being 13 years in our past, it holds up well. “Death to the new realism!”

My reason for watching the Bonita Granville and Emma Roberts Nancy Drew movies was that I’ve become hooked on the CW’s NANCY DREW series. Much like Riverdale, sex plays a larger role than in the original books: Nancy and Ned sleeping together, Bess is gay and George was having an affair with a married man. The story arc for the first half-season concerns the murder of said married man’s wife, with Nancy and her friends all looking like suspects. Further complicating things is the ghost of “Dead Lucy,” a beauty queen from Nancy’s father’s generation who died mysteriously and wants Nancy to investigate. How does it fit together? We get an answer at the mid-season break, but I’m confident it’s not the real one. I’m glad CW picked this up for a full season. “I just banished a spirit from the mortal world, now I’m summoning an Uber.”

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Ali Baba, Nancy Drew, Emperor Palpatine and other movie people viewed

Note: there are spoilers for Rise of Skywalker below.

ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES (1944) was one of the first sword-and-sandal swashbucklers wherein Prince Ali (Jon Hall) escapes the Mongol conquest of Baghdad and rallies the Forty Thieves and their leader “Old Baba” to fight for the oppressed people (“As I am Old Baba, we shall call you — Ali Baba.”). Their Robin Hood-style campaign of taking from the rich and giving to the poor hits a snag when Ali’s childhood sweetheart shows up as the stunning (but not terribly talented) Maria Montez, bride to the Mongol leader. Now Ali has extra reason to fight the tyrants, alongside Turhan Bey as a knife-throwing slave and Andy Devine as a blustering loudmouth (surprisingly he gets to kill the Mongol leader rather than Hall). Not an A-list swashbuckler, but fun enough. “I am the sword that hangs over your head.”

STAR WARS: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) drove me nuts in the first third as it couldn’t seem to keep still: Rey & Co. are constantly bouncing from planet to planet, goal to goal, subplot to subplot. After that it starts to stabilize and we get the core plot: Emperor Palpatine has somehow resurrected himself and is preparing an all-out war from the lost planet of the Sith — can the good guys find it in time?

TYG and I enjoyed this, but it’s definitely flawed, pushing Rose into the background and adding way too many new characters. The big twist that Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter didn’t work for me at all (it has none of the dramatic heft that “Luke — I am your father” did) and it isn’t necessary for the plot (he plans to possess her body, which I imagine he could do to her even if she wasn’t kin). Kylo Ren’s redemption is not great but didn’t really bother me (I’ll have more to say about it later though). Not as good as Last Jedi but better than The Force Awakens. “I saw the thrones of the Sith — and I saw who sat on them.”

NANCY DREW (2007) stars Emma Roberts as a Nancy Drew who seems to have stepped out of the 1950s, which makes her an odd fit when she’s stuck at a hip LA high school while her dad’s doing business in the City of Angels. Fortunately the house she lives in has a mystery (what happened to a long-dead movie star?) and despite her promise to Dad to stop sleuthing, she just can’t help snooping … Roberts doesn’t work in the lead: she looks about 12 and doesn’t seem happy even when she’s cracking a mystery. Not recommended. “Oh, did I mention there’s a strange caretaker?”

ALCHEMY (2005) stars Tom Cavanagh (best known to me as the various Harrison Wells on Flash) as a college computer prof whose solution to a Publish or Perish ultimatum is to test whether his AI can win Sarah Chalke’s heart faster than a smooth-talking ladies man, with the outcome to be published in a woman’s magazine. This is bland, and the ladies man feels odd, more like a parody of a romantic charmer. Ileana Douglas plays Cavanagh’s coworkers and Celeste Holme plays his grandma. “Love is like when you turn lead into gold — what’s the word for that?”

KNIVES OUT (2019) is a lively, twisty mystery in which mystery novelist Christopher Plummer turns up with his throat slit in what appears to be suicide — but then who hired ace PI Daniel Craig to investigate the death? And what exactly was Plummer’s devoted nurse doing while he was dying? This was well done, with some effective jabs at Nice People Who Are Not At All Racist; the cast includes Chris Evans, Don Johnson, K Callan and Jamie Lee Curtis as members of Plummer’s family. “Don’t you see, it’s not a hole — it’s a smaller donut with a hole of its own in the middle!”

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