Category Archives: TV

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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Superheroes and a rain of food: TV and movies

Like Manifest, the second season of BLACK LIGHTNING only ran sixteen episodes, but they were better episodes. In the aftermath of S1, Jeff gets demoted to a teacher at Freeland High while a possibly bigoted white takes over the principal’s office; Tobias Whale launches a scheme involving the Green Light metas introduced last season; and Jennifer and Anissa begin grappling with their roles as superheroes.

The family and racial dynamics are the strongest part of the series (besides the acting, which is consistently solid). Rather than treat meta-hating as a thing itself, it’s interwoven with race issues: the Green Light kids are black, so as one preacher puts it, their powers are just another excuse to gun down blacks. Jeff and Lynn’s efforts to deal with Jennifer’s powers run headlong into her teenage rebellion. While Tobias remains the running foe throughout the season, they break things up with shorter arcs, such as Jennifer and Painkiller going on the run, or Jeff and Anissa battling the white supremacist meta Looker (named for a former teammate of Jeff’s in The Outsiders — they use a lot of Outsider elements this season, probably because there’s a lot more to work with than the short run of Black Lightning).

The ending, while satisfying felt a little rushed. We wrap up way too many things too fast (the supposedly terrifying Masters of Disasters go down too quickly), clearing the board for what’s coming next season. Jeff’s clash with the new principal isn’t resolved well and Anissa’s pursuit of her girlfriend Grace seems to build to something but doesn’t. Of course there’s S3, but still. Overall, though, an excellent season. “I’ll say one thing for those child-snatching bastards, they got great taste in watches.”

As I’m giving a presentation on the 1960s Batman TV show (I’ll talk about that next week), I rewatched the film sibling BATMAN (1966), in which Adam West’s Caped Crusader takes on the United Underworld of Joker, Riddler, Penguin and Catwoman (Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin, Burgess Meredith and Lee Meriwether, stepping because series Catwoman Julie Newmar couldn’t fit it into her schedule). The film had been planned as a lead in to the series but as The Batman Filmography says, that changed when ABC decided to launch the series as a mid-season January ’66 replacement rather than wait until fall (I think they may have rewritten the film because of that — the opening clearly assumes we’ll know who Batman is). While the camp approach hasn’t worked for me since I was sixteen, the villain casting is excellent (Meriwether makes a tougher Catwoman than I remembered) and despite the camp the show does capture some of the Silver Age comic-book feel. And as the Filmography noted, the Bruce/Selina relationship gets a lot closer to horizontal here than it could in the show. At times, though, the writing falls short: the Dynamic Duo deduce which villains they’re facing, then make the same deduction in a later scene, and they defeat two villainous attacks with the same trick (it felt canned the second time). And even by camp standards, the ending’s always struck me as dumb. Still, this rewatched better than I expected. “I’ve rarely met a girl with such a potent argument in favor of — international relations.”

Like Into the Spider-Verse, the Lonely Nerd opening of CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS (2009) felt cliched to me. Happily the film picked up as it went along, as the nerd grows into a well-meaning mad scientist whose new invention turning rain into food may save his dying little fishery town … until overuse threatens to drown the world in a food-pocalypse of giant edibles. Visually cool and some good voice casting including Anna Faris as a closeted nerd, Mr. T as a cop and Bruce Campbell as the town’s weaselly mayor. “There’s a Venus de Milo that has your face, next to a Michelangelo’s David that also has your face!”

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Doctor Who’s Horror Era: Fourth Doctor, Second Season

One of the reasons so many Doctor Who fans remember the Fourth Doctor’s era fondly is seasons like this one. S13 was quite unlike anything I’d seen before, borrowing plot elements from classic SF and even more from horror, a trend that runs through Image of the Fendahl a couple of seasons later. It’s surprisingly grim at times: A character in Seeds of Doom dies in a giant composting machine (not as funny as it sounds). In Pyramids of Mars the Doctor shows Sarah what the present will look like if they give up fighting the alien Sutekh and just go home: a dead, lifeless Earth of ash and dust (one of the series’ best scenes).

The series kicks off with Terror of the Zygons, a well-exected Invasion of the Bodysnatchers thriller. The alien Zygons are scheming in the vicinity of Loch Ness; said scheme involves replacing humans with Zygon infiltrators. That’s a stock set-up (it could as easily have been The Faceless Ones from the Hartnell era) but it’s effectively executed, and the Zygons are bizarre-looking enough to be memorable.

Planet of Evil surprised me because I’d confused it with Leela’s debut (coming up next season), Face of Evil. The Doctor and Sarah (and having them off on their own away from UNIT and Harry shows what a good team they were) arrive on Zeta Minor, the planet at the far edge of the universe (the jungle sets are surprisingly effective). Unfortunately it’s actually on the border of this universe and an anti-matter one; a mining expedition tampering with anti-matter rocks is unleashing very unpleasant consequences and a lot of deaths. Where Zygons was an alien invasion story, this one is pure SF horror, much of it taking place in small spaces.

Pyramids of Mars is a classic. Returning from Zeta Minor, the TARDIS lands at UNIT HQ back when it was a mansion. Scarman, the Egyptologist who owns it is now under the spell of Sutekh, the alien Osirian who provided the Egyptians with the model for Set. Scarman is working to free his master (an army of robot mummies helps), at which point Sutekh will destroy Earth and as much of the rest of the universe as he can find ( “Where I tread, I leave nothing but dust and darkness — I find that good.”). As noted above, we get to see what happens if the Doctor doesn’t win, and it looks very much as if he won’t.

The Android Invasion is another alien infiltrator story, though that doesn’t become obvious immediately. The Doctor and Sarah return to Earth but the village they arrive seems a little off, and a little sinister. It turns out to be a mock-up rehearsing alien androids to pass as human, with the real invasion to follow.  This one works better than it could have, but it has some big flaws (why does the deadly virus intended to wipe out humanity only kill one person?).

Back to horror with The Brain of Morbius; the Doctor and Sarah land on a creepy planet, seek shelter from a storm in an isolated mansion and discover Solon (Philip Madoc), a mad scientist cast out from the scientific community for his transplant experiments. What they’ve also found, though they don’t know it yet, is the Time Lord Morbius, now reduced to a brain in a life-support tank as the Frankensteinian Solon prepares him a body from the planet’s occasional visitors. It’s effective and spooky but suffers badly from disability cliches, and peters out at the end (it’s a classic horror finish, but it didn’t quite work for me).

We wrap up with Seeds of Doom, in which scientists discover the eponymous pods of the alien Krynoid, a sentient plant that devours animal life. And wouldn’t you know it, the pods fall into the hands of Chase, a millionaire botanist who’s way more interested in studying the ET plant than worrying about whether it will end all animal life on Earth. Tony Beckley as Chase is a delight, managing to make even his rants about bonsai (the sadistic practice of mutilating innocent plants for human pleasure!) sound natural; when he sides with the Krynoid against humanity, it’s not at all surprising. The rest of the guest cast works just as well. The only drawback is that again, the ending is flat, with UNIT defeating the Krynoid through brute force rather than any sort of cleverness (a Doctor Who story needs a better end than blowing shit up real good).

It was a real pleasure to watch this season again. #SFWApro, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Satan, the British Empire, a strange plane flight and Galileo: movies, TV and a play

The original BEDAZZLED (1967) stars Dudley Moore as a short-order cook desperately in love with waitress Eleanor Bron to the point he sells his soul to Satan (Peter Cook, Moore’s colleague in Beyond the Fringe) in return for seven wishes he can use to make her his. Moore’s Stanley makes a much better schlub than Brendan Fraser in the remake, and Peter Cook’s Satan is just awesome — no Miltonian grandeur here, as he himself admits his role in God’s design forces him to engage in petty, spiteful stunts, and he’s blithely willing to stab Stanley in the back. I also like that Bron is quite average-looking, which it makes it feel more like love than just looks. Then again, Stanley’s comfortable with having his dream girl mindwiped and personality changed with the multiple wishes, which is creepier than I found it first run; there’s also an amazingly gratuitous rape joke mid movie. I still like the film a lot, but YMMV. “What rotten sins I’ve got working for me — I suppose it’s the wages.”

Reading David Cannadine’s Ornamentalism prompted me to watch ISLAND IN THE SUN (1957) in which the island colony’s British administrators and white planter ruling class struggle to adapt to a black majority that wants a seat at the table (it’s interesting that even with the Empire in decline, the issue is representation in the island parliament rather than independence). The politics, however, takes a back seat to the colorful Caribbean settings and the soap opera plots, most of which involve race mingling: Can salesclerk Dorothy Dandridge and a white author forge a lasting love? Will black activist Harry Belafonte succumb to wealthy Joan Fontaine? Can planter’s kids Joan Collins and James Mason deal with learning they’re Tragic Mulattoes? I have an odd fondness for this kind of 1950s soaper, but I wouldn’t say it was any good — and I could have done without Mason’s casual spousal rape (which is promptly forgotten about as it’s no big deal). Michael Rennie plays a womanizing veteran. “Have you ever heard of a book called Crime and Punishment?”

I didn’t realize MANIFEST wrapped up its season with sixteen episodes or I’d have reviewed it sooner. The premise is that Flight 828 disappeared five years ago, then miraculously showed up, with no awareness of the time gap. What happened? What are the mysterious “callings” guiding them to help others? Can they pick up their lives when everyone they knew has moved on? And what is the government’s interest in 828?

This works best dealing with the personal drama (the cast is good) and the mystery, less well on the government conspiracy and not at all on the crazy “Xers” who want to kill them all as muties or witches or something. While the payoff may not be worth it, I do hope the show returns. “Right, why wouldn’t I look for them using a crayon drawing?”

Playmakers Theatre did a spectacular job staging Bertold Brecht’s LIFE OF GALILEO and the cast was certainly solid. Unfortunately the play has nothing to say about freedom of thought or Religion vs. Reason that I haven’t heard a hundred times before, and I know how Galileo’s struggle with the church turns out so this really did nothing for us. “To hell with the pearl — I want a healthy oyster!”

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Standout SF from the 1950s: movies and TV

FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) is a frustrating film. It is definitely one of the SF classics, but that makes the flaws more frustrating. Some are due to execution (bad comic relief, and the acting is mostly average), some due to MGM. According to Keep Watching the Skies, MGM was so nervous about releasing an SF film as something other than a B-movie that it arranged a sneak preview. Fans were so blown away, MGM didn’t see any reason to wait for the edits to finish.

The story is set several centuries ahead, a Star Trek-like future in which Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen) leads a spaceship crew heading out to find what happened to the colony on Altair IV since it stopped communicating with Earth. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) tells them he and his daughter Alta (Anne Francis) are the sole survivors of a mysterious force that wiped out the other colonists just as they were about to return home (over his objections). Morbius wants to be left alone but Alta is intrigued by the first strangers she’s seen since childhood (““The lieutenant and I were just trying to get a little healthy stimulation from hugging and kissing.”), particularly Adams. “Robbie” the Robot is a little something Morbius has put together, despite not being a robotics expert. As she and Adams get closer, the invisible force awakens, and it’s angry …

The film was something radical for its day, a movie that took SF as seriously as the best print stories did (despite the gratuitous presence of comic-relief Earl Holliman as the ship’s cook). As it didn’t make much money, it didn’t have much influence on subsequent films, but the film can’t be blamed for that. We have the casual use of tech as just a part of the characters’ world and the mind-blowing machinery of the Krell, the planet’s former inhabitants. Robbie was the most memorable robot of the era’s films, possibly the most memorable until Star Wars.

But the acting is pretty routine, though Anne Francis is charming in her role; Pidgeon, as Morbius, seems to be coasting on his sonorous voice rather than putting anything into the role (the amount of exposition he has to give doesn’t help). And I wish they’d kept some of the deleted scenes, such as one where the ship’s scientist explains how Alta is able to pacify the wildlife. It’s also slow in the first hour, which wouldn’t have bothered me as much when it came out, I suspect; they’re showing off the technology and the science and back then it would have been like nothing filmgoers had seen before.

Despite the flaws, it’s well worth watching. The DVD I got includes deleted scenes, Pidgeon promoting the show on ABC’s MGM Parade show, and Robbie appearing in an episode of TV’s The Thin Man (an uninspired spinoff of the classic films).

Another great bit of 1950s SF is the TV series QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (the source of the same-name film). As in the film, Quatermass is struggling against the government militarizing his rocket research when a downed spaceship turns up buried below a London street. Quatermass discovers it’s a Martian ship and that humanity itself has been genengineered by the aliens. And they’re not done with us yet … Despite adding more than an hour to the film’s running time, this isn’t at all draggy or slow, and Andre Morrell makes a great Professor Quatermass, as steely as Andrew Keir in the movie but hiding it more in an affable velvet glove. This explains some things that the movie had to just touch on, such as the Martians’ agenda on Earth and what causes the final outburst of violence; I still love the movie, but I like this version a lot too. “A funny word, Martian — we wore it out before anyone turned up to claim it.”
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Runaways S2: Good, but not great (spoilers included)

The second streaming season of Hulu’s RUNAWAYS was a mixed bag; mostly very good, but after the death of Jonah, it ran out of steam until picking up at the end.

The first season established the premise: the six LA adults running the Pride charitable foundation are actually murdering runaway teens to sustain the life force of Jonah, their mysterious ET leader (comatose at the time). When the kids find this out and try to do something about it, the parents frame them as the killers so that the Pride’s corrupt cops can collect them and keep them silent. The kids become runaways themselves accompanied by Gert’s genetically engineered dinosaur pet, Old Lace (Jo Chen captures them on a comics cover).

In the comics the Pride represented all the MU’s strands of supervillain: mutant, time-traveler, mad scientist, ET, sorcerer and human crook. The TV series simplifies everyone down to either human villain or super-scientist, which worked fine (though I do love the Arrowverse for embracing the full range of comics’ insanity), but it does foreshadow why I had a problem with the season. In the comics the Pride are servants of the Gibborim, dark gods plotting to wipe the Earth clean of life. Originally six of the Pride were to be chosen as the immortal founders of a new race of humanity to serve the Gibborim; after they had kids, they decided the children would get the immortality. “Every teenager thinks their parents are evil — but these kids are right,” as the tagline went.

A subplot where the kids take in another teen, Topher, is a good example of the comics’ advantage. There it turns out he’s a centuries old vampire, preying on the kids’ willingness to believe the worst of his supposed parents. The Topher arc in S2 reveals he’s a troubled kid mutated by the same power source as Molly, the youngest Runaway. It’s effective enough, but nowhere near as good.

In S2 we learn the Gibborim are Jonah’s family (and himself), trapped in a buried spaceship. Getting it out will destroy much of California, but now the kids and the Pride are on the same side, uniting to stop him. After that, unfortunately, we have three or four boring episodes where the kids’ taken on the Pride’s crooked cops; we’re assured they’re tough, dangerous dirty cops, but it’s still dull (chopping the episodes might have been better). There’s also a subplot about Leslie’s father taking control of the Church of the Gibborim that doesn’t really pay off but does fill time. Alex getting a girlfriend was a better subplot but ultimately it didn’t go anywhere either.

At the finish, though, things pick up. Three of the Pride have been possessed by the Gibborim (one of the kids, too, but we don’t know which), who lead the other parents in an attack on the kids (playing considerably harder than the human parents wanted). Xavin, an ET shapeshifter who believes Carolina of the Runaways is their soulmate, has joined forces with the kids. Multiple characters are in various perils. It’s a good-enough cliffhanger to make me look forward to S3.

And the cast, as always, was excellent, despite the stories’ occasional flaws.

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Senseless death, an angel and a yellow submarine: a play, movies and TV

This month’s production from Playmakers Repertory Company was the premiere of JUMP, a drama in which two sisters and their father gather to dispose of mom’s things after her death from cancer, and knit together their frayed relationship. Only one of the sisters keeps going up to the nearby bridge and thinking what it would feel like to jump … This didn’t quite work for me, mostly because the big twist was quite obvious (though I didn’t get the details exactly right). Well executed, though, and a good looking set. “This is a strange place to vape.

JINDABYNE (2006) is an Aussie film based on one of the Raymnond Carver short stories adapted into Short Cuts, wherein Gabriel Byrne goes on a fishing trip with his buddies, only to discover an Aboriginal woman floating dead in the water. They do not, however, think that’s a reason to cut short the trip, which completely freaks out Byrne’s wife Laura Linney when she learns about it. This was better than Short Cuts but multiple distractions during the morning worked against me really getting into it (one break from the screen turned into several short breaks). It would double-bill well with River’s Edge in which a group of callous teens similarly discover a corpse. “So who appointed you the chief of political correctness?”

I was never a fan of the 1980s series HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN, in which Michael Landon played Jonathan, an angel earning his wings alongside mortal sidekick Mark (Victor French). Its particular style of heartwarming wasn’t to my taste, though I can see why some people found it satisfying comfort food; comforting enough it ran five seasons, second only to Touched by an Angel as far as angelic TV series go. I watched the sixth season episode Reunion though because a local friend, Hope Alexander Willis, has a supporting role as the wife of a PR guy. I’m not sure I’d have recognized Hope’s face, but I definitely tell it’s the same voice. The story itself involves Jonathan working to bring off Mark’s high school reunion, thereby helping leading man Lloyd Bochner accept he’s aged into character acting and recapture a lost love. However because that’s one of several happy endings at the reunion, I found this less focused than the few episodes I’ve watched before. “It just shows how things we think are unimportant at the time can matter the world to someone.”

THE YELLOW SUBMARINE (1968) was one of LeAnn’s Christmas gifts to me, wherein the malevolent Blue Meanies invade the utopian musical undersea realm of Pepperland with an army of apple bonkers, snapping-turtle Turks, killer clowns and the deadly flying glove. One man escapes in the eponymous vessel that brought the founders to Pepperland. Flying it to Liverpool, he finds a brooding Ringo (“Next to me, Eleanor Rigby lived a gay, mad life.”) and enlists the Beatles to liberate Pepperland. But can they survive their travels through the Sea of Time, the Sea of Holes and the foothills of the Headlands?

This film reminds me a lot of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away in that the designers just don’t seem to quit, constantly throwing in little visual details and touches to scenes that are already stunning. Delightful to look at, whimsical in story, it’s a thorough charmer. I’ve always been surprised the Beatles’ didn’t speak their parts (they sing, of course), as bringing them together in the studio proved impossible (on the commentary track, one of the production team says they stumbled across the voice for George one night in a bar). Definitely worth seeing, if you haven’t already. “Would you believe me if I told you I was being followed by a yellow submarine?”

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Filed under Movies, TV