Category Archives: TV

Doctor Who: Jodie Whittaker has lived before!

Fair warning, this post on the 2020 season of Doctor Who contains massive spoilers for the main story arc of Jodie Whittaker’s second season. It has a great twist midway through but culminates in a reveal that fails to satisfy.The series opens with the two-part story Skyfall, in which Prime Minister Stephen Frye and spymaster O (Sacha Dawan) ask the Doctor and her companions to stop an alien threat involving a tech entrepreneur and his search engine. With UNIT and Torchwood gone, they’ve got nobody else; the British government has also stopped believing alien invasions are even real, which makes no sense (even in the new series, we’ve had several). Fighting the uninspired threat (we’re way past the point where Big Tech violating our privacy is a shcoking reveal), the Doctor discovers O is the latest regeneration of the Master, a smirking, mocking psycho reminiscent of John Simms’s Master from a few seasons back. The Master reveals everything the Doctor knows about Gallifrey is wrong (never a good sign for me) and that their world is built on the lie of … the Timeless Child! What does that mean? Stay tuned.

Orphan 55 has the TARDIS gang relax on the eponymous paradise planet, which like all SF resorts turns out to be more dangerous than it appears. The real secret here worked for me even though it’s corny as hell, and this was an enjoyable, fast-moving run-from-the-monsters story, though the character arcs for the guest cast were lacking. Next came Nikolai Tesla’s Night of Terror in which the cast become embroiled in a struggle between Tesla and alien invaders, with Edison kibbitzing, This one was competent, but very heavy on the Tesla-idolatry.

Then comes the twist. In Fugitive of the Judoon, the alien rhino-men show up in Gloucester hunting for someone. Local tour-guide Ruth (Jo Martin) has a husband who looks a little suspicious but it turns out she’s the target for some reason. The Doctor figures it out when they travel to Ruth’s family home and in her parents’ grave find … a Tardis. Not just a Tardis, but the Tardis. The Doctor’s target. Yet neither Ruth nor the Doctor remembers an incarnation as the other, so how is that possible? We end the episode without an answer. Oh, it also includes the return of John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness, warning the Doctor that the Lone Cyberman is coming. Under no circumstances should he get what he wants!

Then comes another competent one, Praxeus; heavy on the environmental preaching but I like the supporting cast. Can You Hear Me? was very good, with some good backstory on Yaz and an entity from the same race as the First Doctor’s Celestial Toymaker. The Haunting of Villa Diodati has the Tardis team crash the night in Italy Mary Shelley came up with Frankenstein, only to discover the night is not proceeding as it’s supposed to. Then the Lone Cyberman shows up, seeking the cyberium, a liquid metal supercomputer hidden in one of the bodies there. It embodies all the strategic knowledge of the Cybermen; in his time they’re defeated but now, things will turn around. I enjoyed this one but the Lone Cyberman’s visuals — he’s only partially converted — make him less intimidating despite his ruthlessness. And the Doctor’s Vulcan mind-meld powers here annoy me, though previous incarnations have shown equally implausible powers.

As the Doctor gives up the cyberium, she then has to travel to the future to stop The Ascension of the Cybermen, though the cyberium doesn’t really make much difference — it’s not as if the Lone Cybermen becomes a better strategist than previous iterations of his kind. Interspersed with this is a strange story about an Irish police officer who discovers he’s unkillable, then has his superiors wipe his memory (““Thank you for your service — a shame you won’t remember it.”). The Master shows up again, striking a deal with the Cybermen, even while mocking them (“You’re driven by hate and loathing for everything that you are — talk about your internal conflicts!”). His pitch: take the floating battleship stuffed with Cybermen to now-dead Gallifrey where they can rebuild themselves with immortal Time Lord bodies and conquer the universe. Quite aside from technical issues (the Cybermen accomplish the changeover impossibly fast) this doesn’t work anywhere near as well as it might, partly because the Master apparently has no agenda other than trolling the Doctor (Roger Delgado’s Master would be embarrassed).

And then there’s the reveal. It turns out that long before the era of the Time Lords, a Gallifreyan woman adopted an alien child, then discovered he regenerated every time he died. Studying him, she discovered how this worked and incorporated it into Gallifreyan DNA, though limiting the potentially infinite regenerations to twelve. The “timeless child” (why the episode is called Timeless Children I know not) then goes into service for Gallifrey’s intelligence division; upon retirement he gets a mindwipe to conceal some of the secrets he’s learned. And years later, he becomes William Hartnell, steals a Type 40 Tardis and a legend is born. Yep. The Doctor herself is the source of Gallifreyan immortality. And she has god knows how many incarnations she no longer remembers.

This is certainly a shocker in terms of the Doctor’s personal history, but in terms of a Dark Gallifrey Secret it’s not actually as Dark as the buildup indicated. It’s also confusing — is Ruth an incarnation post-Hartnell or did he have the Tardis all along and his memories are fake? For a lot of people, the reveal the Doctor has undisclosed incarnations wasn’t the problem but the reveal she is not just a Time Lord but the most special, most remarkable of all Time Lords. I have some sympathy for that view; I didn’t hate it that much but I didn’t care for it much either. The hook with Ruth intrigued me; the reveal fell flat.

But of course, I’ll be back whenever the pandemic lets us have more.

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A queen, time travel and absurdity: movies and TV

So after reading The Wives of Henry VIII I rewatched 1969’s ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS (I saw it back when I was a kid) with Genevieve Bujold as Anne Boleyn and Richard Burton as Henry. Anne’s stubborn refusal to become a disposable mistress like her sister Mary eventually impresses Henry enough to make her queen, even at the cost of breaking England from the Catholic Church; what follows of course is heartbreak when Anne fails to deliver the promised son, then accusations of adultery that send her to the headsman (to sweeten the bitter ending the film has Anne improbably realize her daughter Elizabeth will be the greatest monarch England has ever known). Overlong, and I don’t see the point of blaming Anne for Henry’s worst excesses (the most brutal part of his crackdown on the church is meant to suppress opposition to Elizabeth becoming heir) but the lead performances make up for a lot. With John Colicos as the conniving Thomas Cromwell (Colicos’ face was made to play opportunistic weasels) and Antony Quayle as Cardinal Wolsey. “I will marry Anne if it breaks the Earth in two and flings the pieces into the void!”I gave up on AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. a couple of years ago, but their final season this year sounded interesting enough I decided to catch it. The early episodes have them bouncing through time battling against the Chronacoms, an alien android race plotting to destroy SHIELD before it even exists. This leads to a 1930s ganster-movie type episode, a 1950s hardboiled yarn and adventures in the 1970s and 1980s, all fun if occasionally the details gnawed at me (stories where nobody in the past smokes — FDR doesn’t even have his cigarette holder — are as ridiculous as those old SF stories where everyone in 3,000 or whenever is still puffing on tobacco). It got a little less interesting as the time jumping stopped, but ultimately I’m glad I came back in time to see them go. “It doesn’t matter — whatever the percentages, these people always beat the odds.”

MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS hit me and pretty much everyone I knew like a mind-bomb when it started showing up on PBS in the early 1970s. I’ve no idea if a millennial audience would have the same reaction, but rewatching the first season on Netflix I was blown away as much as ever by the batshit absurdity of everything. Alexander the Great is exposed as an Attila the Hun impersonator, blancmanges from space conspire to win Wimbledon, a bicycle repairman saves Superman and a dead parrot pines for the fiords. The shots of British streets and buildings sometimes fill me with an odd nostalgia too, but the hysterical laughter remains a bigger draw. “Quite frankly, I’m against people who give vent to their loquacity by extraneous bombastic circumlocation.”

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Farewell, Dame Diana

So as you’ve probably heard, Dame Diana Rigg passed away last week. Which got me reflecting how much I insanely, madly crushed on Emma Peel in The Avengers as a kid.

Emma Peel was awesome. Intelligent (one episode established she had a higher IQ than Steed). Fearless. Able to take down the toughest foe with her bare hands. And gorgeous — even before I met TYG, I liked dark-haired beautiful women. I’m quite sure my crush was based mostly on her looks, but I don’t think it would have been so intense — certainly not as long-lasting — if she’d been a bimbo or simply Steed’s girlfriend. She was also an excellent actor, playing a chillingly ruthless Regan to Laurence Olivier’s Lear in a 1983 TV-movie. She’s delightful (and yes, beautiful) as a female reporter and early 20th century reporter in The Assassination Bureau and Vincent Price’s deadly daughter in Theatre of Blood. She was funny in an early 1970s sitcom, Diana — British professional working in the U.S. — though the series didn’t last.

She was also a big influence on X-Men, via an episode A Touch of Brimstone slugged in the UK’s TV Times as “Steed joins the Hellfire Club and Emma becomes a queen of sin.” I was too sick to stay up and watch when it originally aired but even at eight years old I knew “queen of sin” sounded awfully er, interesting. And yes, it was.Still is (I did see it eventually). And this episode had a huge influence on the Hellfire Club arc in the Chris Claremont/John Byrne era of X-Men, particularly how Byrne drew Jean Grey during her brief time as the Club’s Black Queen:Jason Wyngarde whom you see in that scene was modeled on Peter Wyngarde, the Hellfire Club’s leader in the Avengers episode.

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A shining star and early noir: this week’s viewing

Unlike so many CW series, STARGIRL wrapped up its first season without leaving us on a cliffhanger (though the finish planted a lot of seeds for S2, whenever that comes to pass). It’s based on DC’s Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. comic by Geoff Johns, who created Stargirl as a tribute to his sister, who died in the Lockerbee terrorist plane bombing. Overall, I like the TV show better than I did the comics.

Brec Bessinger plays Courtney Whitmore, less than thrilled that mom Barbara (Amy Smart) and new step-dad Pat Dugan (Luke Wilson) have dragged her to Barb’s hometown of Blue Valley to settle down. Things get more interesting when she learns the reason: Pat is secretly the former Stripesy, sidekick to the superhero Starman, who died along with the Justice Society in a battle with the Injustice Society of America. The ISA is hiding in Blue Valley, plotting something big, and Pat’s out to put a stop to it. When Courtney discovers Starman’s cosmic staff (which appears to be sentient) she takes action against the ISA herself, as Stargirl. Despite Pat’s objections, she also recruits a new Justice Society, turning her friends into the new Wildcat, Dr. Midnite and Hourman. But they’re fifteen-year-olds and they’re up against some of the deadliest villains on Earth …

I was pessimistic after the first episode that this would be way too heavy into teenage angst and outcast-ness, but it isn’t. Bessinger is an appealing protagonist, the action is good, and there are several details I liked such as how well her mother takes learning about this. There are also some things I didn’t like: If you’re going to use the Gambler as a villain, it doesn’t make much sense to turn him into a generic super-hacker (I’d figured they’d give him luck powers like the comic-book villain’s granddaughter, Hazard, but no). And while I like Icicle’s big plan, I honestly don’t see why the rest of the Society would be with him on this. Overall, though, thumbs up. “The staff didn’t choose you because you’re Starman’s daughter, it chose you because it believed in you.”

I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1942) is an early noir film in which promoter Victor Mature turns hash-slinger Carole Landis into a celebrity, only to lose her to Hollywood — but could that have been enough reason for him to kill her? Detective Laird Creegar, who had a stalkery obsession with the victim, thinks so, but Landis’ sister Betty Grable (her first non-musical role, though she did sing in one deleted scene) refuses to believe Mature’s a bad guy. Stylish and absorbing, with solid performances by the leads, plus Elisha Cook Jr. as a hotel clerk and Alan Mowbray as an actor. “Did you ever read The Sex Life of Butterflies by Faber?”

Seeing that prompted me to check out STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (1940) which the book Film Noir identifies as the first noir film. A reporter’s  testimony puts Elisha Cook Jr. on death row, but when the reporter’s neighbor turns up dead the newshound discovers how easy it is for circumstantial evidence to jail an innocent man. And nobody believes he saw Peter Lorre sneaking around the boarding house, or that Lorre might also have committed the murder Cook was blamed for. Strongly influenced by German expressionist films (the stylized dream sequence has amazing visuals) this also has a lot in common with Hitchcock’s Innocent Man Accused stories.  “They’re not listening to me — your honor, please make them listen!”#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Star Trek: A bite of the Apple

When I reviewed the first season of Star Trek I mentioned that I could spot many of the tropes the show would run into the ground in later seasons. While I’ll cover most of that in the review of S2 after I wrap it up, I’ll focus on one episode, The Apple, as an example of how not to do it.

The Enterprise is checking out a beautiful, newly discovered planet that looks like a garden of Eden. Until a flowering plant launches thorns at one of the red shirts and kills him. Another gets blasted by an unstable, explosive stone. A third is killed by disintegrating lightning — seriously, it’s almost like a self-parody of the red shirts trope. And now a force on the planet is now draining energy from the Enterprise.

In contrast to the environment, the inhabitants of the planet are peaceful, gentle souls; when Kirk strikes one of them for spying on the away team, the guy is so shocked he cries. The population makes up a small village that serves as votaries to the god Vaal, who lives in a cave with a dragon/serpent mouth. Spock figures out that Vaal is a supercomputer buried deep in the planet with the cave as an access point. Vaal keeps his acolytes in ageless perfect health and prelapsarian innocence, with no children or sex (though one young couple starts to figure it out from watching Chekhov and a yeoman make out); this being the era when married couples on TV were shown sleeping in twin beds, the efforts to tackle the topic are painfully euphemistic.

McCoy and Spock debate the merits of this system: the inhabitants are comfortable, cared for and healthy but they’re little better than Vaal’s slaves. Spock argues they’re content and should be left alone; McCoy advocates for freeing them from the shackles they don’t know they’re wearing (I’ll come back to this topic in another post). But as often happens with the Prime Directive, it’s a moot point: Vaal’s out to destroy the intruders so they have to destroy him first. Eventually by cutting off his food supply (the rocks, though that isn’t clear) and blasting him with phasers, the burn the computer out. The natives will have the chance to develop as a culture naturally and having babies instead of being preserved in amber, though a dubious Spock compares this afterwards to casting Adam and Eve out of the garden. Kirk points out that out of everyone on the ship, Spock looks the most like Satan … and we end.

This was the second world-controlling computer (more will follow the Enterprise encountered after Return of the Archons but there we got enough backstory to make sense of things: Landru, the great leader, programmed the computer to carry on after he was gone and keep society from breaking down (if you haven’t seen the episode, suffice to say things didn’t work as planned). Here I have no idea where Vaal came from; did the village’s ancestors build it and the computer took over? There’s no indication other than Vaal they’ve ever been that advanced. Why is the planet so full of booby-traps? Is it naturally deadly, because the villagers don’t seem to find it so, or is it set up by Vaal, in which case why? Does it see that many visitors? And if one of the natives falls on the exploding rocks or triggers a thorn-flower, do they then have sex to restore the population? The Enterprise crew brings that up but in all the hemming and hawing about discussing S-E-X, they never get an answer. Maybe because an answer would probably require the innocent natives having had sex.

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, “cool worldbuilding” is not something that makes me want to grab a book and read it. But if you’re building a world, it does have to make sense. If I have questions afterwards they should be in the category of “I want to see more!” not “how the heck can that make sense?” The Apple, unfortunately, falls into the second category.

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Immortal women, bee girls and a woman with tattoos: this week’s viewing

THE OLD GUARD (2020) stars Charlize Theron as Andromeda, the leader of a quartet of ageless, unkillable trouble-shooters (“We fight for whatever cause seems right to us.”) startled that for the first time in more than a century, a new immortal’s been born (a black female Marine thoroughly unsettled by all this). Making matters worse, Andromeda’s body is beginning to run down (it happens eventually) and a Pharma CEO wants to capture them all to monetize the secret of their healing factor (I can’t believe not one person in the film made a Wolverine joke). A franchise launch — the ending sets up for a sequel or a series to follow — but a fun one. “Three hundred years at the bottom of the ocean would make anyone insane.”

Written by Nicholas Meyer, INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS (1973) has scientists in a small Southwestern research facility turning up dead due to heart attacks from intense sex, which brings federal agent William Smith to investigate. Could it have anything to do with researcher Victoria Vetri (a former Playboy centerfold totally rocking the Hot Librarian look)? Or maybe sexy entomologist Anitra Ford? Unraveling the mystery involves batshit Weird Science (“If they replaced the androgen and estrogen with androgynous hormones they could reshape the cellular structure!”) the kind of warnings against casual sex that would be standard a decade later (if this had been released 15 years later it would have looked like an AIDS allegory), and lots of hot, scantily clad bisexual women (plus, unfortunately, an ugly attempted rape sequence). The queen bee’s motive is unknown (nor do they explain why unlike the others she can turn her multifaceted eyes normal), which makes me wonder if the subtext is the old antifeminist bogeyman of a ruthless feminazi lesbian cabal reducing men to slaves. In any case, great fun for someone with my taste. “Keep me company in my time of … need.”

The fourth season of BLIND SPOT ended on a great cliffhanger: Burke (Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio) in control of the FBI, Jane Doe’s (Jaimie Alexander) team framed as fugitives, Burke’s Big and Evil Plan underway and the team apparently killed (admittedly the escape was so obvious, I was more surprised that one person did buy it). This season Jane, Kurt and the others fight back trying to stop Burke’s scheme (which involves weaponizing the amnesia drug used on Jane in the past) and clear their names; while I was disappointed with the finish for S2 and S3, I was confident this season and the series would go out on a win.

And it almost did, until they decided to get clever with the ending. First we see Jaimie, Kurt and their friends, happy in their post-FBI lives; then Jane starts seeing visions of herself dying in Times Square seconds after saving the day and getting stuffed into a body bag (mirroring the opening of S1). Is it a dark thought of how it could all have finished or is the happy ending just a dying hallucination (most online critics think the latter, though I believe the evidence shows Happy Is Real). That’s the kind of arty finish I could have done without — and dammit, I wanted a happy ending!  That aside, it was an impressive final episode that squeezed in more than 100 cameos from seasons post. “That’s probably the last time you’ll say ‘let’s focus’ when trying to defuse a bomb.”

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Bad drama, bad horror, mediocre TV but some good TV too

Adapted from Isabel Allende’s novel, HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS (1993) was one TYG watched but I just used as a talking lamp and never felt I missed anything. The three-generation story of family and politics in Chile didn’t seem to catch fire despite a cast that includes Antonio Banderas, Winona Ryder, Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, and Meryl Streep.

VIVARIUM (2020) starts well as a creepy realtor shows a couple what he assures them is their forever home in a new development — and it turns out he’s right, because no matter which way they drive, they end up back at the same house. Unfortunately the weirdness takes second place to becoming foster parents of the Kid From Hell, and it became less interesting and as meaningless as Aronofsky’s Mother. Jesse Eisenberg as one half the couple isn’t as annoying as he was in Dawn of Justice but I’m still not impressed. “Silly mother — you are home.”

I watched the first episode of Netflix’ urban fantasy WARRIOR NUN (based on a comic of the same name) but unlike several of my friends, felt no need to watch any further. A Buffy variant, the opening episode has quadriplegic Ava (Alba Baptista) dying, then coming back to life fully abled due to having a chunk of the magic element divinium embedded in her, thereby making her the latest Slayer (so to speak). Part of my problem was that it felt really slow (too much Origin and not enough action). A bigger problem is that other than one scene where Ava’s dancing on the beach and glorying in being able to move, her backstory doesn’t seem to matter — Ava’s your standard-issue snarky, pop-culture referencing teen hero and not as interesting a one as Buffy or Dead Like Me‘s George. “What if I told you the forces of evil are real?”

On the plus side, I wrapped up Apple TV’s DOLLLFACE (on Hulu) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Kat Dennings (best known to me as Jane Foster’s sidekick in Thor) plays Jules, whose boyfriend has been her entire world the past five years, but he just dumped her for someone else. On the advice of an old cat lady (literally, she has a cat head) Jules tries to reconnect with her former besties, perfect Madison, sexy Stella and neurotic Izzy. What follows is whimsical and oddball (Ally McBeal was a big influence) but also frequently funny and with some great lines —

“Every experience is a birth. Except birth.”

“Thank you for bringing your dope goddess energy into this space.”

“The answers were inside you all along … sorry, that only works if you really do have the answer.”

The focus of the show is the women and their friendship, so I was glad that’s what became the heart of the final arc: Jules discovers Madison’s supposedly divorced older boyfriend is her boss’s non-divorced husband, so how does she tell Madison? And what happens when it looks like Jules is blowing her buddies off for a man again? It’s a shame S2 has been kicked back to 2021 like so many other shows. “Maybe we should navigate by the stars — I’m an Aquarius, if that helps.”

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The eighth wonder of the world, plus teenagers; movies and TV viewed

Rewatching KING KONG (1933) for the first time in more than 20 years (a digitally cleaned up DVD print including and the infamous censored scenes), it hit me afresh was an amazing movie it is (TYG was quite impressed too).

Part of what makes it great is that it takes its time; despite being half the length of Jackson’s 21st century remake, it’s very leisurely about setting up its characters and premise, not getting to Skull Island until halfway through. We open with Denham (Robert Armstrong) explaining that before he leaves NYC to start work on his new film he has to find a female lead; his previous films have been “swell” but the distributors and theater owners keep complaining that there’s no love interest. This time he’s going to find one. When Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) passes out in a breadline, Denham buys her dinner and pitches her on signing up (he assures her there’s no casting couch involved). On the voyage to Skull Island, Ann and crewman Jack (Bruce Cabot) fall for each other, which of course amps up the tension when the local savages kidnap her as the bride of — Kong!

I’m guessing you probably know the rest of the story; I do, but it’s still amazing to watch. That the cast shows no sympathy for Kong (in contrast to the two remakes) only makes it stronger — by the end of the film, who isn’t rooting for the big ape to get away somehow. And the ending on top of the Empire State Building remains one of the iconic screen moments, one I recognized years before I saw the film (the 1976 film’s decision to use the World Trade Center was just dumbass). Imitated and remade, but never matched. “We came here to get a moving picture — and we found something worth more than all the movies in the world!”

I loved the 1982-3 TV series SQUARE PEGS so when I found a cheap DVD on sale at the library, I snapped it up. The premise is that Weemawee High School freshmen Patty and Lauren (Sarah Jessica Parker — yes, later of Sex and the City — and Amy Linker) are determined to become popular and get in with the cool kids; the cool kids aren’t having it, so the girls wind up hanging out with New Wave space cadet Johnny Slash (Merritt Butrick) and smart ass would-be funny guy Marshall (John Femia). It’s a simple premise but with a capable cast to act it out, it works well.

The series is very much a 1980s time capsule: The Waitresses provide the theme song, Devo, Father Guido Sarducci and Bill Murray guest-star and there are plenty of references to other pop-culture notes of the era. Along with the New Wave guy we have preppy Muffy Tepperman (Jamie Gertz) and Valley Girl Jennifer (Tracy Nelson). It’s also a product of its time in having no gay characters and a black character — Jennifer’s BFF LaDonna (Claudette Wells) who rarely gets more characterization than Sassy Black Friend. And Weemawee’s use of Native American iconography for sports and such is more eye-raising now than it was at the time.

What I really like about the show on rewatching — other than that it’s still funny — is that the high school dynamic doesn’t follow the usual tropes. A typical TV/movie high school (this is a subjective impression — I haven’t attempted a deep analysis) has the Cool Kids going out of their way to torment the protagonists; even without the torment the protagonists are miserable because they’re outcasts and so life isn’t worth living. Here Muffy, Jennifer and the others (who aren’t a united clique — Jennifer and LaDonna can’t stand Muffy either) mostly just ignore Patty and Lauren; it’s the girls’ determination to crack the clique that gets them in trouble. And with Marshall and Johnny, they have a good social circle, they just don’t see it. Well, mostly Lauren doesn’t see it; Patty often seems on the brink of asking why on Earth they want to hang out with Jennifer anyway. It’s available streaming (as well as a less bare-bones DVD set) so if you get the urge … “You said you’d guard this with your life — and you’re still alive!” #SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder.

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Puppets, a princess, a puzzle and Potemkin: this week’s viewing

For British kids of my generation, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Century 21 TV was a big deal, providing SF adventure puppet shows including Supercar, Fireball XL-5, Stingray and Thunderbirds. FILMED IN SUPERMARIONATION (2014) is a documentary about the company and its creations, starting when a children’s book author hired the Andersons to adapted her Adventures of Twizzle for TV. Before long the production company was doing its own original work, with innovations including manipulating the puppets from high overhead (allowing for more elaborate backdrops) and “supermarionation,” which electronically lip-synched puppet mouths with actor voices.This era in kidvid ended with the 1960s: puppetry was out of fashion on British TV, the Andersons’ marriage was breaking up and Gerry Anderson had always wanted to do live-action (some of y’all may remember his 1970s series UFO). For a while, though, they were pretty damn cool. “I don’t know if I felt pleased, relieved or sad when it ended — probably all three.”

Century 21’s biggest hit was probably Thunderbirds (the “cast” is in the photo above): TV reports on efforts to rescue some trapped miners in Germany inspired Gerry Anderson to create International Rescue, an elite team equipped with advanced rescue vehicles that could save lives anywhere from underground to the depths of space. The show also made the leap to the big screen with THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO! (1966) in which the first American Mars mission is beset by the sinister schemes of series villain the Hood, to say nothing of the Martians turning out quite unfriendly. This reminds me how much I liked the show (I downgrade it in my memory, I think), but it’s not a success, being several only marginally related parts. First we have the fight with the Hood (put down by International Rescue’s superspy, Lady Penelope), then we have a dream sequence with a puppet Cliff Richard, then there’s the Mars flight, the battle with the Martians and the return home; we never even learn what the Hood was up to. Fun, but flawed. “Be very still doctor — there’s something wrong with your face.”

SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER wrapped up its fifth and final season this year: with Hordak’s master Horde-Prime crushing the princesses and the rebellion and plotting to seize the Heart of Etheria, can Adora, stripped of She-Ra’s power, rally the good guys? Does Katra have a shot at redemption? Can Glimmer escape Horde-Prime’s orbiting fortress? This was superbly done, and Horde-Prime is very creepy, seeking to bring the entire universe into absolute order and peace — or you know, blow it the shit up. I do hope we see more from show-runner Noelle Stevenson before long. “Why does it always have to be you who sacrifices themselves for everyone else?”

The puzzle was the location of the Hardy Boys’ dad in THE HARDY BOYS NANCY DREW MYSTERIES two-parter, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Meet Dracula. Fenton Hardy disappears while investigating an art-theft ring in Europe; following him, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew end up in Transylvania where a vampire is attacking people — but that’s impossible, isn’t it (like a lot of shows from that era, they keep things mundane until the very end implies that it is possible). Pamela Sue Martin plays Nancy but much as I remember, she’s an incredibly bland actor; I used this as a talking lamp rather than really paying attention. Lorne Green and Paul Williams guest star. “This place is so old you can almost feel death!”

STEPS (1987) by Polish filmmaker Zbigniew Rybczynski is a short film in which a group of American tourists get to enter the classic Odessa Steps sequence of Sergei Eisenstein’s silent classic The Battleship Potemkin. The borders between reality and film soon thin, but I’ve seen this gimmick done better. The second short on the DVD, The Fourth Dimension was just pointlessly arty.  “There’s nothing to be afraid of, that was just a scene shift.”

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Who watches the Watchmen? Not me, it turns out

So this month Hulu began streaming HBO’s WATCHMEN free; seizing the opportunity, I caught a couple of episodes. It’s not bad the way Devs was bad, but I didn’t feel the need to go past two episodes.

The film is set in the same universe as the classic Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons comics series but years after those events. Rorschach has inspired the fanatical Seventh Army anarchists into a relentless war on authority, particularly cops; protagonist Angela Abar (Regina King), like other cops, has to operate masked, her identity secret. Dr. Manhattan is on Mars somewhere; Adrian Veidt (Jeremy Irons) is an old fart who in one scene burns a man to death in a re-enactment of Dr. Manhattan’s origin.

The cast is solid and there’s quite a bit I do like. The Tulsa massacre looms large in the backstory (Angela’s ancestors lived through it) and issues of race and resentment weave through the two episodes that I caught. So why aren’t I watching?

Well for one thing it’s the perennial problem of the modern age: there’s simply too much awesome TV.  It’s not as if skipping Watchmen means I’m stuck with Gilligan’s Island or Victorious; there are dozens of excellent shows I’m also not watching. Much as I don’t get excited about coming books these days, it’s hard to feel I must catch Watchmen or anything else. Plus, of course, quality is not the only factor: keeping up with the CW-verse or rewatching the old series Square Pegs on video appeals to me more than any number of arguably superior TV series.

Then again, with Damon Linkelof in charge of this one, I don’t know that it will be superior. I thought Lindelof’s Lost was a botched mess and I don’t want to commit to the remaining episodes of Watchmen only to discover Lindelof left as many plot arcs hanging as he did the previous series.

Then there’s the connection to Watchmen itself. Moore and Gibbons have been adamant that their series was completely self-contained: no sequels, no prequels, it said all that needed to be said. And that’s how it would have been had things happened as planned, with Moore and Gibbons regaining the rights once the collected Watchmen went out of print. But it never did (deservedly. It’s a classic that earned its praise) and so they never regained the rights. So inevitably we got a prequel series, Before Watchmen and now this sequel. That makes me a little guilty about watching it (I haven’t even bothered with Before Watchmen). More significantly, the TV series just doesn’t have enough of a connection to the series. Despite the name references, this could as easily be an unrelated dystopia with the sovereign citizens militia movement committing the killings. Much like Exit Stage Left and A Study in Honor, the connection to the source material is too tangential to work for me.

And last but not least, there’s the whole masked cop thing. Just as opening with the Tulsa bombing of a century ago has added resonance in the current policing debate, so does the idea of cops going masked and hiding their identities because of fears of anti-police violence. Trouble is, it’s resonant the wrong way: we now have masked, unidentified cops on the streets and loud complaints about cops being persecuted and I simply can’t buy a world where cops concealing their identities is a good thing.

So I will stick with the original series, thank you.

#SFWApro. Covers by Dave Gibbons, all rights remain with current holder.

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