Category Archives: TV

A double agent, a rocker and a regicide: movies and TV

The last two seasons of BLIND SPOT both left me frustrated with the story arc’s finish. This year, not a problem.

The season opened with Jane (Jaimie Alexander) having had a memory glitch due to the drugs in her system, leaving her convinced she’s still an agent for the Sandstorm terrorist network. She doesn’t quite remember how she infiltrated an FBI strike force, but she’s ready to destroy them from within. Meanwhile new big bad Madeline Burke (Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio) launches a mysterious scheme of her own, using former team member Zapata (Audrey Esparza) as her chief enforcer.

Normally the master villain’s plan is a let down; this time they pulled it off as Burke takes over the FBI, the entire team is forced on the run and Jane sees everyone apparently blown to bits by a drone strike (the solution to that detail is pretty obvious). With next season the finish, it looks like they’ll be pulling out all the stops. “We wouldn’t be in this boat if you hadn’t married a terrorist.”

I wound up using SCHOOL OF ROCK (2003) as a talking lamp, partly because of time constraints, partly because Jack Black’s character starts out as such a selfish, entitled jerk I couldn’t really stomach him. Neither can his rock band, who kick him out in an early scene; frustrated, Black uses his best friend’s name to become a substitute teacher (he needs the cash), turns his elementary school class into a new band for an upcoming contest, then slowly begins to see them and uptight principal Joan Cusack as more than just means to an end. So not without its charms, but I still found Black too hard to take; it doesn’t help that when Sarah Silverman (the best friend’s girlfriend) suggests Black actually pay rent for crashing on their couch, she’s the one we’re supposed to hate (a good example of the woman as buzzkill cliche). “Excuse me, excuse me, I’ve just been informed that all your children are missing.”

MACBETH (1971) was Roman Polanski’s adaptation of The Scottish Play with Jon Finch as the Scottish nobleman who would be king, Francesca Annis as his ambitious wife (she mentions in one of the special features that this is the only time she’s been completely nude on screen) and Martin Shaw as the doomed Banquo. Polanski is a rapist and possibly a serial rapist, but he’s an excellent filmmaker. This is good-looking, well-acted, vividly violent and with some striking scenes; when the soldiers arrive to kill MacDuff’s family, they take the time to relish their power.

The special features are interesting if you want more background detail, though none are particularly stand-out. It is striking, however, how much the murder of Polanski’s wife Sharon Tate by the Manson family came up repeatedly (one interviewee says an extra bludgeoned to death in a fight scene was a dead ringer for Manson). Though discussions in a 2014 documentary of how people can now watch the film without Polanski’s personal life shaping their reaction felt like they were ducking the elephant in the room.. “Be bloody, bold and resolute — for none of woman born may harm Macbeth!”

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From the Wild West to Ireland and Beyond: Movies and TV

The third season of WILD WILD WEST dropped in quality from S2, probably due to the death of series creator and producer Michael Garrison. Without him, this really seemed to lack spark, with too many episodes that weren’t much beyond a stock Western (it doesn’t help that health issues kept Michael Dunn from making more than one appearance).  The show still boasted some good episodes, including the strange, elaborate trap in The Night of the Death-Masks, the horror episode Night of the Undead and Night of the Simian Terror and Ed Asner’s understated turn as a mass murderer in Night of the Amnesiac. Overall, though, not up to the first two years.

THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE (2009) is an excellent indie drama alternating between Robin Wright Penn, who’s cracking from her role as Alan Arkin’s Perfect Wife and younger self Blake Lively who runs wild after fleeing her speed-freak mother Maria Bello. The cast includes Julianne Moore as a kinkster, Winona Ryder as Penn’s bestie, Monica Belluci as Arkin’s ex and Keanu Reaves as the younger man who sparks something in Penn; I’d suggest doubling with All That Heaven Allows for another film about a woman falling for a younger man as she pushes back against her staid existence. “You’ve been burying me for years — I can feel the dirt in my mouth.”

Brendan Gleeson is THE GUARD (2011), a foulmouthed, sharp-tongued cop investigating a murder in Ireland’s Gaeltach when he finds himself reluctantly forced to ally with FBI agent Don Cheadle, who’s crossed the Atlantic in pursuit of the drug-dealers now operating out of Gleeson’s patch. A mix of character study and buddy cop film, very well played by the leads. “You’re just reeling off movie titles with numbers in them — I could do that!”

Reading Hollywood’s Copyright Wars got me interested in checking out SCORPIO RISING (1964), which was an inspiration to Martin Scorsese and others. The avant-garde half-hour short shows a couple of bikers getting ready for a wild night, using clips of comic books and background music built of copyrighted songs. This convinced Scorsese that “fair use” allowed for much more music than he’d thought, something that influenced his own films — even though it wasn’t true, the director having paid for the rights to all the music. Other than historical interest, this didn’t do anything for me.

I’ve never really cared for THE INCREDIBLES (2004) as a superhero spoof, mostly because the “clever” ideas (how do superhero suits work? Superheroes getting sued! What happens to ordinary people in superhero battles?) were the kind of thing Marvel was doing four decades earlier. As a somewhat oddball superhero adventure, though, it holds up well as mild-mannered claims adjuster (Craig Nelson) and his stay-at-home wife (Holly Hunter) find themselves forced back into the game by former wannabe sidekick Syndrome (Jason Lee) who claims to represent the triumph of the ordinary person (as one acquaintance put it, it’s hard to see such a Luthor-class genius as “ordinary”).

The film also got some flack because it was seen as a kind of Ayn Randian endorsement of the elite, exceptional individual not to be dragged down by society’s rules — why should the Incredible family have to pretend to be ordinary? I always thought it was more “why try to fit in when you were born to stand out?” (in the words of What A Girl Wants), the time-honored movie message that you should never be afraid to be yourself. Though that said, Dash at the end winning a race with superpowers raised my eyebrows (is that fair when no ordinary human has a chance against him?). Overall, though, fun. “These bad guys aren’t like the ones on those shows you watch Saturday mornings.”

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The most sensational news you’ll read today! Or at least in this post.

So McFarland, which publishes my four movie books and dozens of others, is having a 40th anniversary sale. Everything 25 percent off, including my four movie books. It’s a great opportunity to buy one, two or collect the entire set! It’s always cool to have the entire set, right?

My books are:

Cyborgs, Santa Claus and Satan, a book on made for TV specfic films of the 20th century.

The Wizard of Oz Catalog, an encyclopedic look at Oz books, movies, TV shows, radio shows and stage plays. A lot of oddball material such as a 1930s women’s college film and a sales-training video, The Wizard of Sales.

Screen Enemies of the American Way looks at American fears of the enemy within — subversion by Nazis, Japanese, Commies, pod people, Stepford Wives and extraterrestrials.

Now And Then We Time Travel lists and reviews time-travel television and film stories from around the world.

The sale runs through the end of the month. I’ll be buying a couple of books (maybe more) myself, though I haven’t completely settled on which ones yet. Prime contenders are one on The Saint in his many fictional forms and a book on witches in films and TV, Bell, Book and Camera.

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Superheroes on big and small screens (with spoilers)

I finally found the time to catch AVENGERS: End-Game (2019) and while I think it could have been trimmed from its three hour length (and I don’t know it’s worth the big box office take), I don’t think it actually sagged at any point. We open with the Avengers and Captain Marvel hunting down Thanos only to discover he’s destroyed the Infinity Stones to secure his triumph. Five years later, however, Ant-Man emerges from the quantum realm where time flows differently — while they can’t change the past, could they take the stones temporarily from various points in time, then use them to restore all the dead?

This is a better concept than just using the timestone to fix things, which a lot of people expected (unfortunately we never get an answer for why Dr. Strange gave Thanos the stone in Infinity War) and it allows us a last look at several characters (Ancient One, Peggy Carter, Howard Stark, Happy Hogan). Good, though not flawless (e.g., Jim C. Hines’ thoughts on Thor’s character arc). “It’s never been personal for me, but destroying your infuriating little mudball — I’m going to take pleasure in it.”

UMBRELLA ACADEMY is Netflix’s adaptation of Gerard Way’s bizarro superhero series, as the dysfunctional foster children of a British eccentric reunite after years apart when their father dies. And the timing is good because the apocalypse is looming — but can the combined talents of Spaceboy, Seance, Kraken, Rumor and Number Five turn the tide? Not as weird as the comic book series, but gloriously weird even so, with some excellent performances, particularly Ellen Page as the tragic violinist Vanya (though the climax of her arc did get a little too Dark Phoenix). “If the benchmark is ‘extraordinary,’ what do you do when you’re not?”

The fourth season of DC’S LEGENDS OF TOMORROW had a disappointing finish — a bit too comedic, and too much mutie-hating (or a reasonable facsimile). That said, it was overall a gloriously oddball season as the Legends join forces with John Constantine, battle the Fairy Godmother of Salem and Gary’s hypnotic nipple and Sarah and Ava work out their relationship in the Ikea store of the damned.  Not to mention the mid-season cliffhanger, which gave us multiple alt.versions of the team (Ava, Gideon and Sarah as the Sirens of Space Time!). Uneven but still worth the time.

I had no particular interest in the CHARMED reboot on the CW but when I gave it a try, I found it still worked, and improved as it went along. This time the sisters are Latinas Maggie and Mel Vaughn (Mel is a lesbian, happy and out) and their half-sister Macy, who’s black. Their adventures are much in the urban fantasy vein of the original, but with some flashes of feminism (the demon in the opener is a sexually harassing professor) and a season finish that went in different directions than I expected. Looks like I’ve added another series to my Keep Watching list. “I need this job — it’s not like being a necromancer pays the bills, you know.”

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Doctor Who again: the (first female) Doctor is in!

I’m delighted the thirteenth Doctor on Doctor Who is a woman, and I’m also impressed the showrunners took a gamble that guaranteed lots of blowback. I’ve seen plenty of articles arguing this is just plain wrong (some good discussion of that here); if the new Doctor hadn’t gone over well (and not everyone likes every Doctor), the blowback would have gotten worse.

Happily, we got Jodie Whittaker, and she’s terrific. I wasn’t sure during the first episode, in which see seemed to be imitating Capaldi, but the first episode after regeneration is not a good guide what they’ll be like. She soon firmed up into her own Doctor, talking like a scatterbrained but thinking like well, the Doctor.

The first episode, The Woman Who Fell to Earth, introduces her new set of companions: Graham (fiftysomething bus driver), his step son Ryan, a young black man with dyspraxia (I gather it’s like dyslexia but physical), and Yaz, a Pakistani police woman who’s an old friend of Ryan’s. Ryan’s mum appears, but dies at the end of the first episode. All of them come from Sheffield, which has a bigger role in the background than most real-world settings — the Doctor loses her sonic screwdriver, so she cobbles together a new one out of Sheffield steel, for instance.

The season doesn’t have an overall story arc or a season long big bad, though the same alien killer shows up in the first and last episodes (I am not impressed with him, so I’m glad he wasn’t the archfoe of the season). However, some of the discussion at Camestros Felapton’s blog suggested that the running theme is humanity as the real monster. A white supremacist in Rosa (about Rosa Parks); a politically ambitious millionaire in Arachnids in the UK; the designers who set a doomsday bomb as a failsafe in The Tsurunga Conundrum; the religious hostilities during the India/Pakistan partition (Demons of the Punjab); and the anti-tech activist in Kerblam!

The stories were uneven. Arachnids was the weakest, a classic monster story with too many mixed elements that never gelled together. I think I’m in a minority, but I didn’t much fancy The Witchfinders, partly just because I know too much about the subject (the “witchfinder general” did not outrank other witchfinders). Kerblam! was much better, but suffered from a muddled moral and an AI I was supposed to sympathize with but didn’t (it kills one character just to make a point).

Demons of the Punjab was a good look at a conflict that looms large in Yaz’s family history; It Takes You Away was an interesting story about a strange parallel universe; and the New Year’s (rather than Christmas) special Resolution was really great. I suspect it’s broadening the background cast for next season, which annoyingly won’t be until 2020.

As far as I’m concerned, the thirteenth Doctor (please note I am not taking the number thirteen as set up for a joke) is a solid success.

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Piranhas and Prospero, Dad’s Army and Darlene Love: movies and TV

The smash success of Jaws lead to countless killer-sea creature knockoffs such as Mako, Orca, Tentacles and Jaws 2 (to say nothing of Jaws 3D) but the best was far and away PIRANHA (1978). Bradford Dillman and Heather Menzies are hunting two disappeared (and eaten) teens when they unwittingly stumble on Operation Razorteeth, Kevin McCarthy’s leftover Vietnam War-era experiment in breeding piranhas that can adapt to cold water (they’d have been dumped in North Vietnam’s rivers but the war ended first). Now the piranhas are heading downstream and there’s a summer camp and a resort in their line of biting …

According to the DVD commentary by director Joe Dante and producer Jon Davison, they were convinced this was a turkey of epic proportions. Instead, it’s a winner, which I think is partly because John Sayles’ script makes it less about a Jaws-style killer animal and more in the school of a 1950s monster movie (“If they reach the ocean, they can attack every river system in America!”) though with more gore — I’d forgotten kids actually get eaten in this one. It’s more generally a good script with better characterization and humor than a low-budget knockoff has the right to expect, and good direction by Dante. With Barbara Steele as a sinister scientist, Bruce Gordon as a general, Paul Bartel as an officious summer-camp counselor and Richard Deacon in a cameo.  “People eat fish — fish don’t eat people.”

Julie Taymor’s THE TEMPEST (2010) lacks any of the magic she brought to Titus, despite the presence of Helen Mirren as Prospera, conniving to destroy her enemies and regain her dukedom with the help of Caliban (Djimon Hounsou) and Ariel (Ben Whishaw). The cast are good but the film spends too much time indulging in special effects. And I think Hounsou’s casting raises problems — for example his lusting for Felicity Jones’ Miranda evokes old racist tropes (for me anyway) about blacks hungry for white women. “As wicked a dew as ‘ere my mother brushed with raven’s feather from unwholesome fen, drop on you both!”

As a kid I caught glimpses of DAD’S ARMY on British TV, which made me curious to catch it when I found it on Netflix. It turns out to be a sitcom about the British Home Guard preparing for a possible German invasion during WW II, focusing on one small town where the defenders are, shall we say, not the A-list (pompous squad leader, conniving wheeler-dealer, elderly veteran, etc.). Very funny (it’s ranked as one of the Great British Sitcoms). “I was going to bring it up but then the girl started taking off her clothes.”

20 FEET FROM STARDOM (2013) is a documentary on backup singers, their contributions to famous songs and acts, the appeal of their subordinate role and the challenges of breaking out into an act of your own, which some have tried with varying levels of success. Darlene Love (pictured) gets a spotlight as someone stifled by Phil Spector so she found solo success much later than she deserved.). Like so many professions, the interviewees express concern their field may be fading in the 21st century due to tech alternatives and indy acts getting by on the cheap (“They just use their family as backup singers.”). Very interesting. “The record companies figured they already had Aretha, so they didn’t need her. That was just how they thought.”

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But how can fantasy fiction offend people, the writer gasped

Apparently “political correctness is out of control!” is a theme in the UK as much as the US, judging by a recent article in the right-wing Spectactor magazine, “Writers Blocked: Even Fantasy Fiction is Now Offensive” (I’m not giving them clicks, but you can find it easy enough). The gist of it is that cries for diversity and worries about cultural appropriation have become a witch hunt, ruining the lives of authors for violating all these crazy new standards. For example the Twitter storm over Amelia Wen Zhao’s Blood Heir for racism and plagiarism (which Slate argues are dubious charges) and Laurie Forest’s The Black Witch (not named, but that seems to be the novel they’re describing) for racism and homophobia. Foz Meadows points out the “repentant racist” aspect of that book, does raise problems: “the big emotional reveal is seemingly predicated on the reader either learning from, being surprised by or sympathising with Elloren’s transformation, which means caring enough about her – caring more about her than those she victimises – to feel invested in the first place. And if you, as a reader, are one of those she victimises, then that’s unlikely to be a fun experience.”

The Spectator cites Lionel Shriver, who made a speech in 2016 defending herself against criticism that her books lacked diversity, and arguing that cultural appropriation criticism just translates into “don’t write anything outside personal experience.” As Meadows points out in another blog post, Shriver’s arguments don’t hold up: “By her own admission, whiteness is an identity, just as straightness is an identity, distinct from their respective alternatives and made meaningful by the difference. But this is an uncomfortable thing for Shriver to admit in those terms, because it means acknowledging that identity is neither the intrusive hallmark of political correctness nor an exotic coat to be borrowed, but a basic fact of human life that applies equally to everyone. What Shriver views as a neutral default is merely a combination of identities so common that we’ve stopped pretending they matter.

It’s quite possible that Zhao’s book was unfairly maligned (I look forward to reading it for myself to decide, now that it’s headed for publication again). And I’ve seen blog posts and Twitter comments that find white people writing PoCs to be objectionable, or casting an actor whose ethnicity doesn’t match the character exactly offensive (CW’s upcoming Batwoman has caught flak because Kate Kane is Jewish and the actor isn’t). But that’s not a sign debates over diversity and appropriation have gone too far, it’s a sign that there are a lot of opinions on these topics and some of them are wrong. Even if Zhao’s book was condemned unfairly, though, it doesn’t follow that these issues should be off the table or that we can’t criticize books for all-white casts or reducing women to sex objects for the male lead. Just like any branch of criticism, individual criticisms may be wrong without invalidating the whole branch.

And then there’s the title’s “Even Fantasy Is Now Offensive,” which implies a)that this is a new thing, and b)it’s ridiculous because it’s fantasy. I’m not sure why fantasy should be exempt from the ability to offend, and the author doesn’t say, but it isn’t. The author rolls her eyes metaphorically at Philip Pullman saying C.S. Lewis is racist, but Pullman’s hardly the first to criticize Lewis’ handling of the Arabic-ish Calormenes. Fantasy can offend just as easily as any other branch of fiction, whether it’s Merlin’s Godson‘s portrayal of Native Americans, the rape humor of “Coming of Age in Zamora” or the sexism in countless other stories.

Yossman might be clueless, but as someone who writes about pop culture (I Googled her. It’s something she does) she shouldn’t be. Perhaps she figures all that criticism is invalid, or perhaps she knows what sort of article the Spectator is more likely to want.

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The enemy is hate: Flash and Supergirl season reviews

Both FLASH and SUPERGIRL made hate a major part of their storylines this past season though in different ways.

At the end of S4, Flash smashed the Thinker’s doomsday satellite with the help of a mysterious female speedster — Nora West-Allen (Jessica Parker Kennedy), his and Iris’ daughter from the future. He died while she was very young, so she’s come back to meet him — and speed alongside him fighting the usual metahumans plus Cicada, a psycho meta-hater who cancels out powers and kills with a mysterious knife. It turns out Cicada has appeared on many Earths of the multiverse, always the same person — except Nora’s changed events by helping destroy the satellite so it’s someone different. Can they find him? Stop him? And what will Barry do when he realizes Nora’s secret mentor for her time trip is his mother’s killer, the Reverse flash (Tom Cavanaugh)?

I enjoyed the season (though as a Flash fan since childhood, I’m biased), Kennedy was good as Nora and Cavanaugh remains an outstanding villain. And Cicada didn’t annoy me as much as most mutie-hater types do, probably because everyone treats him like a psycho instead of declaring he’s the hero. However it had its problems too:

The big twist on the villains is supposed to be that the satellite crash created meta-tech rather than metahumans. They never do anything with this, though — the tech doesn’t get passed around from hand to hand, so what difference does it make (Cicada’s dagger does change hands, but it’s a special case)? And the time-changing plot at the center of Thawne’s secret agenda doesn’t make a lot of sense (I’ll avoid spoilers); there’s a point where Ralph figures out Team Flash is being played, but the points he raised might as well have been ancient Akkadian — I couldn’t follow it. Not up to S4, but fun enough for me.

Supergirl’s S4 does have a movement: Ben Lockwood, who blames his family tragedies on all the ETs now living in the US, organizes the Children of Liberty, an anti-immigrant group dismissing the aliens as “roaches.” While I can sympathize with the reflection of current politics, this is the kind of plot that X-Men made me heartily sick of.

Fortunately there’s a lot more going on. Manchester Black appears after his alien girlfriend is murdered by the bigots. He has no patience with Supergirl and J’Onn’s commitment to peace and hope — he wants revenge. Over the course of the season he gathers a copy of his comic-book team, the Elite, and takes the fight to the Children of Liberty and anyone who supports them. His militancy plays off perfectly against the Maid of Might — but instead the creators decide to play him off against J’Onn, who’s trying to walk a path of nonviolence. That didn’t work for me; J’Onn just isn’t a symbol the way Supergirl is and his commitment to peace is a new (and short-lived thing). Manchester’s arc had one great episode, but after that it just petered out.

The show did much better with Lex Luthor. Jon Cryer was an odd choice but he works, partly because they went full comics with Luthor. In his first appearance, in flashback, he’s turned the sun red just to neutralize Superman’s powers, never mind the cost in human life. After so many screen Lexes who are just crooked businessmen (or Jesse Eisenberg’s caffeinated annoyance) an old-school super-genius with murder in his heart was refreshing. He turns out to be the big bad behind everything that’s going on, including a quasi-clone of Supergirl, Red Daughter (a riff on Mark Millar’s Red Son). Melissa Benoist does a good job playing them both, and the story makes Red Daughter sympathetic, though naive (for which Lex mocks her at the climax). As a result, this got better as it went along. The assumption the power of the press could break Lockwood’s movement and Lex’s schemes is awfully optimistic — but hey, if Superman’s cousin can’t be a beacon of optimism, who can?

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A Danish prince, a princess of power and learning to drive: media views

HAMLET (1996) is the Kenneth Branagh version that adapts the entire play, so it includes scenes I’ve never seen before, such as Polonius’ instruction to Reynaldo (Gerard Depardieu) about snooping around to find out what Laertes is really doing in Paris. This boasts an impressive cast, including Julie Christie as Gertrude, Derek Jacobi as a half-tormented Claudius (he feels guilty, but not so much he won’t kill Hamlet to keep the throne), Robin Williams as the doomed Osric (I don’t think using him adds much though), Billy Crystal as the First Gravedigger, Timothy Small as Rosencrantz, Charlton Heston as the Player King (Judi Densch and John Gielgud play Hecuba and Priam) and Kate Winslett as Ophelia (this is the first film that makes it explicit she and Hamlet have been getting horizontal). Branagh himself plays what’s almost a stereotype of Hamlet, brooding and angsty and philosophical (I prefer both Kevin Kline and Mel Gibson). I don’t know if it was Branagh’s performance or Christie’s but I really got fed up with him whining — yes, it’s hair-curling that mom remarried so fast, but it’s not all about you, dude. Overall, though, this was not only interesting but enjoyable, though not the best adaptation I’ve seen.  “Would I have met my dearest foe in Heaven before I see that day.”

I never cared for the 1980s He-Man or She-Ra but knowing Noelle Stephenson of Nimona was working on Netflix’s SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER got me interested. And the interest paid off.

As the story starts, Adora and her BFF Katra are warriors in the Horde, dedicated to freeing the world  of Etheria from the magic of the evil princesses who rule it. When Adora acquires a magic sword, she transforms into She-Ra, a princess in her own right, and soon discovers the Good and Evil in this battle are not where she thought they were. Can she and her new friends Bow and Glimmer unite the various princesses and fight off the Horde?

The characters are the show’s strength although not the only strength. Adora has a lot of trouble adjusting to a life away from the tightly regimented horde and keeps hoping Katra will join her on the light side. Katra is initially furious that Adora abandoned her, but before long all her resentment at being second best boils to the surface; Adora’s defection is Katra’s chance to claw her way to the top of the Horde and she won’t pass it up. And if her duties require killing her former friend well, you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs, right? I look forward to S2 (starting later this month). “I’m surprised — isn’t punching the one thing you’re supposed to be good at?”

Our last show in Playmaker’s 2018-19 season (there’s one more but we have a schedule conflict) is HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE, in which a woman recovering some property from a storage warehouse starts flashing back to how  her uncle taught her to drive … and felt her up … and got her drunk and made out with her … and offered to photograph her for Playboy … Given this came out in 1997 and the subject matter is much more familiar now, I’m impressed how much of a punch it packed. “Ever since then, I have not lived in my body below my neck.”

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An avenger, a hunter and a comedian: Movies and TV

I stumbled onto the movie ALLEY CAT (1984) while hunting unsuccessfully for Black Cat, a Chinese version of La Femme Nikita. Karin Mani plays a black belt who slaps around a couple of giggling psychos she catches swiping her tires. Their PO’d boss sends them to teach her a lesson, resulting in her grandma dead and her grandfather in hospital; when the legal system proves useless (when Mani stops the psychos raping a woman, a cop busts her as the aggressor), Mani takes justice into her own hands. This is low budget but works pretty well, except the film throws in a women’s prison subplot midway through for extra exploitation value (women showering naked! Lesbian sexual assault!) and it’s a waste of film. A minor point is that Amazon for some reason lists this as a 1969 film — it’s getting way harder than it used to be to figure out film dates, because there are so many sources and they often disagree. “It can’t be blackmail as I have asked for neither money nor a favor.”

Richard Connell’s classic short story The Most Dangerous Game is a classic in which a shipwrecked big-game hunter finds his Russian host, Count Zaroff, has taken to hunting humans to compensate for the ease with which he kills everything else. Zaroff’s the best of the best, but this time he has an adversary who might be his equal.

It’s not easy to successfully expand a short story to feature-film length, but 1932’s THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME pulls it off handily. Produced by Merian C. Cooper at the same time he was making King Kong, this has Joel McCrae as the hunter, Leslie Banks as Zaroff, and Fay Wray as an earlier castaway Zaroff has different plans for (“First the kill — then love!”)! Sharing some of King Kong‘s sets and adding some of its own (Zaroff’s isolated castle is fabulous), this is a good-looking, well-made production, well worth seeing. “If you choose to act as a leopard, I shall hunt you as a leopard.”

The second season of THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL continues in the vein of S1: Midge and Susie continue trying to build Midge’s career, despite having earned the hostility of an influential comic and Midge’s family freaking out when they learn what she’s been doing with her evenings. The season doesn’t entirely work; Abe’s (Tony Shalhoub) career woes get tedious and the family’s trip to Paris, while funny, feels like one an old TV special (season openers would often take the show to Paris or Rome or somewhere to grab extra eyeballs). A prolonged visit to the Catskills’ “borscht belt” (Jewish-friendly resorts in the days when many hotels were No Jews — it’s the same setting as Dirty Dancing, on the other hand, worked quite well. There are also subplots involving Midge’s new boyfriend and Joel trying to figure out his post-divorce life. However I do hope the final scenes of the season ender do not lead in the direction I think they might (but I’m not spoiling them).  “I feel like Sisyphus, but without the loincloth and the flowing hair.”

 

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