Category Archives: Movies

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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Christmas means misers, liars and thieves: movies

First the misers, starting with MR. MAGOO’S CHRISTMAS CAROL an animated adaptation in which Jim Backus’ Mr. Magoo performs as Scrooge on Broadway (the character’s notorious nearsightedness doesn’t figure in the Christmas Carol plot, but does make the director’s life complicated). A good adaptation with some great songs; I’d add them to my Christmas iTunes playlist if I could find them. “A hand for each hand is the way it was planned/Why won’t my fingers reach?/A millions of grains of sand in the world/Why such a lonely beach?”

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951) remains the king of Scrooges (though next year perhaps I’ll check out Stewart and Scott versions again) as Alastair Sim discover Michael Horden’s Marley is not a delusion brought on by food poisoning, Patrick Macnee and George Cole as young Marley and Scrooge sign on with the “vested interests,” the Cratchitts listen to the pudding sing and human vultures loot Scrooge’s death scene. Always a pleasure. “The boy is ignorance, the girl is want. Beware them both, but most of all, beware this boy!”

The Bah, Humbug! episode of WKRP IN CINCINNATI doesn’t get as much attention as that sitcom’s Thanksgiving episode, but it’s a really funny send-up. The station manager having decided to skimp on bonuses this year, he’s visited by the usual ghosts, giving us a look back at the station’s early years and at its bleak future (“Les Nessman — minority whip in the U.S. Senate!”). “Yes, Scrooge was able to wake up — but Scrooge didn’t eat one of Johnny’s brownies.”

And then we have the Chuck Jones-animated, Boris Karloff-narrated HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (the Grinch isn’t a miser, but he’s sure a Scrooge) which I imagine needs no recap from anyone reading this. A Christmas perennial for me; this year I learned how the Grinch became green. “He puzzled and puzzed/Till his puzzler was sore/Then the Grinch thought of something/He hadn’t before.”

Then the liars and thieves!
CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945) starts with Barbara Stanwyck as a homemaker/columnist who can’t cook and doesn’t have the family she writes about; by the end of the film she’s apparently cheating on her non-existent husband, sailor Dennis Morgan is cheating on his fiancee, Sidney Greenstreet crashes the party and Una O’Connor and S.Z. Sakall debate goulash vs. Irish stew. Easily Stanwyck’s sweetest role (even in rom-coms, she’s usually tougher). “When the bag lets out the cat, someone gets scratched!”

Case in point, REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940) stars Stanwyck as a shoplifter (expensive jewelry, not trinkets) facing Christmas in jail after her trial gets delayed. Prosecutor Fred MacMurray winds up taking her home instead, melting her heart even as she gets inside his, but can love possibly bridge across the crook/law enforcement divide? Preston Sturges’ script starts out as smart-ass as most of his work, but softens considerably by the end; still, it works for me. “No, you’re not a kleptomaniac if you sell stuff after you steal it — you lose your amateur standing.”

WE’RE NO ANGELS (1955) has escaped Devil’s Island convicts Humphrey Bogart (swindler/forger), Peter Ustinov (safecracker) and Aldo Ray (murderer and probable sexual assailant — that part hasn’t aged as well) becoming the guardian angels for Leo G. Carroll’s goodhearted family when covetous relative Basil Rathbone shows up. A fun film with a great cast. “We’re gonna cave their heads in, gouge their eyes out, cut their throats — just as soon as we wash the dishes.”

KLAUS (2019) is an Origin of Santa animated film in which a postmaster assigned to a dead-end gig in a feuding town (the only letter anyone’s likely to get is a letter bomb) cons the local kids into sending letters to the eponymous toymaker — if he generates enough business, he can leave town for somewhere better. This not only turns the miserable place around but helps the guy’s own heart grow three sizes, and in the process births most of the legend (“A magic sleigh pulled by flying reindeer? Seriously?”). The best of the new Christmas movies I’ve caught this year. “I’m sure it’s nothing that could fester and become a source of regret.”

Departing from the Misers And Liars theme, LET IT SNOW (2019) is a rom-com anthology like Christmas Eve or Office Christmas Party with a bunch of different Y/A subplots woven together: a dying woman’s daughter meets up with a rock star, a lesbian wonders why her great date from last night doesn’t seem to know her, a guy struggles to speak his love to his female best friend (a shtick I could have done without) and eccentric tow-truck operator Joan Cusack (“She thinks she’s a burrito and the Earth is a giant microwave.”) dispenses advice. Surprisingly fun. “The universe always has the answer — you just have to subscribe to her newsletter.”

As usual, TYG and I watched A CHRISTMAS STORY (1984) after unwrapping the presents and enjoyed little Ralphie dealing with the vicissitudes of visits to Santa, soap-induced blindness, Scott Farkus (“He had yellow eyes — yellow eyes!”) and a bunny suit. “Only I didn’t say fudge.”

And I can’t forget SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN with Rankin-Bass’s Origin of Santa in the story of a young toymaker defying the Winter Warlock and Burgomeister Meisterburger to deliver toys to children. Not the greatest of Christmas specials, but pleasant comfort food. “All the magic I have left is some stupid corn that makes reindeer fly.”

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Crisis in the Arrowverse: Mid-Season reviews

If you follow this blog, you know I’m a huge fan of DC Comics’ superheroes, and of the Arrowverse. So as we’ve now reached the mid-season break point partway through the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover, I thought I’d review the first half-seasons. Every show but Black Lightning was shaped by the looming crossover and predictions Flash and Green Arrow would both die.

I gave up on the CW’s initial superhero show ARROW after its flat S6 and the uninteresting opening of S7 (Ollie in prison and a B-plot with his kids trying to save Star City in the future). However, with the Crisis looming and this season announced as the finish, I figured I’d give it a try — and I’m glad I did. With nothing left to hold back, the season has Ollie working for the Monitor to try and stave off the looming apocalypse. In the process he gets to see most of the show’s long-gone cast including Thea, Roy Harper, Nyssa al Ghul, Katana and Tommy and Malcolm Merlyn (parallel world versions who die in the first episode when their world is devoured by anti-matter). Plus the show brought the future kids William and Mia and their teammate Connor into the present, and interacting with the regular cast they became much more interesting.

FLASH‘s previous season was so-so (though as I love the character, I rated it better than perhaps it deserved) and the main plot this season was disappointing. The villain, Bloodwork, tried using dark matter to cure his lethal illness and instead became a freak who can create zombie armies by his control of blood. He’s not interesting, nor is he tragic (they try) and the big zombie battle that wrapped up was uninspired. On the plus side, Barry and Team Flash trying to deal with the Crisis and Barry’s inevitable death (spoiler: not so inevitable after all. You’ll see) was a lot more interesting. Unfortunately we’ll be back to Bloodwork next year.

SUPERGIRL also had a mixed previous season, ranging from the high of Jon Cryer’s Lex Luthor to the low of wasting Manchester Black. This season she’s been dealing with J’Onn’s evil brother M’alefic; Lena seeking revenge for what she feels is Kara’s betrayal; and Leviathan, a cabal of aliens out to preserve the Earth by mass-culling of the human population (plus the corporate takeover of CatCo). Some of this worked well, like M’alefic’s redemption, some of it not so much: while I can understand Lena having trust issues given her murderous family, it’s hard to have that much sympathy for her. Katie McGrath does her best, but as Alex points out, Lena kept her own secrets last season. But I’m more hopeful for the second half than I am with Flash.

BATWOMAN started its first season awfully slow as Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) discovers her cousin Bruce’s identity and deals with her longstanding trauma, the death of her mother and twin sister Beth in an accident that Kate survived. However things picked up fast as Kate stepped into the absent Bruce’s crimefighting shoes: Rose is good in the lead, supported by Lucius Fox’s son Luke (Camrus Johnson) and opposed by Alice (Rachel Skarsten) whom Kate becomes convinced is her missing sister, though dad (Dougray Scott) doesn’t believe it.

Skarsten’s Alice is a Joker-class lunatic and the actor nails it. I also like the sibling rivalry aspect: Kate’s stepsister Mary and Alice’s surrogate brother and partner-in-crime Mouse both resent that the twins still have a bond that rivals theirs. The pre-Crisis season ends with everything falling apart, so I look forward to what follows in 2020.

BLACK LIGHTNING ended S2 with the American Security Agency locking up the entire Pierce family. Things haven’t improved this season as the ASA places Freeland on lockdown, nominally to protect from the Markovian terrorists but just as much to control them. By the mid-season point, Jeff has given up on trying to be moderate, Blackbird’s a revolutionary, Jennifer’s doing wetwork for the ASA and the agency’s scheming Odell has Lynn addicted to the greenlight drug. It’s grim stuff, but I’m enjoying it. This show continues staying apart from the rest of the Arrowverse: Jeff appears briefly in the crossover (I’ll review that in a subsequent post) and the show’s final pre-crisis episode involves Jennifer encountering her parallel-world selves from out in the multiverse, before Black Lightning’s earth dies (don’t worry, I’m confident they’ll be back).

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Christmas movies: something old, something new

The new, alas, were not very good.

SAME TIME, NEXT CHRISTMAS (2019) has Lea Michele taking her traditional family Christmas in Hawaii, where she runs into her childhood crush; despite her last attempt at dating him going badly, she’s ready to give it another shot, but is he? This was so bland I couldn’t finish, even using it as  “talking lamp” (i.e., keeping it in the background while I did stuff online).

I did manage to finish Netflix’s THE KNIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS (2019) but only because a Christmas time-travel film is automatically more interesting than a straight romance (for obvious reasons). Unfortunately the story is just as bland as the previous film; Vanessa Hudgens worked as the sweet straight woman in the sitcom Powerless but here the sweetness works against her role as a love skeptic forced to reconsider when she meets a time-traveling knight on a quest. The male lead is worse, and the script lets both of them down: there’s no real romantic conflict nor does the quest seem to matter much. Heck, the knight doesn’t even suffer the usual time-travel culture shock, settling in after one night of binge-watching. I might suggest Lancelot: Guardian of Time as a double-bill because it has a similar romance cynic/true knight relationship, but that would be one mediocre night of viewing. “Modern technology is lit as F.”

Getting back to my perennials, SCROOGE (1971) is one of the many “all actor” (as opposed to All Star) versions, wherein misanthrope Albert Finney reconnects with humanity (a theme that matters a lot to me) thanks to the ministrations of Marley (Alec Guinness), Christmas Past (Dame Edith Evans) and Christmas Present (Kenneth More), all of which works out well for Bob Cratchitt (Michael Crawford) and his family. Shows the influence of the previous Dickens musical Oliver (particularly all the singing street urchins) but regardless of its roots, I love this one. “As for you, nephew, if you were in my will I’d disinherit you!”

WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954) amounts to a backstage musical mixed with the “let’s put on a show” plot Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland frequently used: when entertainers Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye discover their old CO Dean Jagger’s Vermont inn is at risk for going under, they decide to stage their big musical there, drawing enough of a crowd to put his finances back in the black. But how will it affect the guys’ romances with dancing sisters Vera Allen and Rosemary Clooney? I don’t think this would be half as well-regarded if it wasn’t a Christmas perennial, but with the four leads dancing and singing it’s extremely watchable. “My one love affair/Didn’t get anywhere/ from the start/To send me a joe/With winter and snow/ in his heart — wasn’t smart.”

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