Category Archives: TV

It’s the season for some more of those “Christmas Carol things”

As I’ve written before, A Christmas Carol works on multiple levels: a story of regret when Scrooge sees all he’s lost, a man cut off from humanity learning to reconnect, a reminder that business works better when the people in charge aren’t shitty human beings. That’s not to say all screen adaptations work, however.

GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST (2021) is a name-only rom-com (it would double-bill well with the superior Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) in which a fortuneteller warns a young woman at the office Christmas party that unless she makes it up to all those guys she ghosted on, she will never find true love. This is not a bad principle but as most of the guys she dumped were only at the tentative-online-contact stage of relationships, it doesn’t feel she has that much to atone for (as someone who’s been ghosted that way, it’s frustrating but not that big a deal). “Ghosting is a really strong word with harsh connotations.”

By contrast SCROOGE (1970) is a solid adaptation of Dickens (though my friend Ross is a Christmas Carol buff and can’t get into this one) that boasts the star power of Albert Finney’s covetous, joyless moneylender, Michael Crawford’s Cratchitt, Dame Edith Evans’ Past, Kenneth Moore’s Present and Alec Guinness’ Marley. I don’t normally listen to the overture (taken from the stage show) on the DVD but reading recently about how those became a thing on Broadway in the 1950s (a sign of musicals taking themselves as serious theater), I did (it samples from all the musical highlights). I’d say this shows how Scrooge’s intense emotional swings from isolation to joy fit well with a musical format … but keep reading. “To be visited by a ghost at one o’clock int he morning is hardly conducive to my welfare.”

Netflix remade SCROOGE (2022) for animation this year and it does not improve, or even compare, to its predecessor (most Christmas adaptations can wring tears out of me; this one always missed it). This replaces much of the score and rock concert-izes the numbers that survive, which doesn’t work at all for me; what works even less is giving the arch-miser (underwhelmingly voiced by Luke Evans) a dog — seriously, if Scrooge had a dog he’d be as mean to it as the Grinch is to Max. They do a better job giving Scrooge an origin — Dad lost the family fortune, Scrooge worked through childhood to support them, so he’s obsessed with financial security — but throw in that one of his early foreclosure gigs was on toddler Bob Cratchitt’s family, something that never pays off (other than being the point that Isobel realizes he’s not the mans he wants). Outside of making it clear that Tiny Tim is really ill (most versions don’t do that) this brings zero to the table. “Look friend, there really is no great secret to any of this.”

Speaking of the Grinch, HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS gives us Ebenezer’s rival as Christmas grouch, the Boris Karloff-voiced (Thurl Ravenstone provides the singing) recluse who, as we all know, conceives a scheme to deny those annoyingly perky Whos their loudly happy Christmas celebration. Chuck Jones does an amazing job bringing Dr. Seuss’s poem and sketches to animated life, making this a Christmas perennial for me for around half a century now. “And then the true meaning of Christmas shone through/And the Grinch found the strength of ten grinches plus two!”

WKRP IN CINCINNATTI‘s “Bah Humbug” episode isn’t as well known as the infamous turkey drop, probably because it has no one scene or lines as memorable as “The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement.” It is, nevertheless, excellent in its own right as Carlson (Gordon Jump) decides to stiff the station staff on Chrstimas bonuses (he’s going to spend the money on new equipment to impress his mother) but after he eats one of Johnny Fever’s (Howard Hesseman) brownies, he finds himself trapped in one of those “Christmas Carol things” and learns the true meaning of Christmas. A favorite of mine. “We can’t forget that Carlson has Genghis Khan for a mother.”

GHOSTBUSTERS: X-Mas Marks the Spot has the animated version of the team stumble through time, save some old Victorian man from three ghosts on Christmas Eve, then return home to find that Scrooge’s classic book A Christmas Humbug has discredited the Christmas spirit forever. Can they put right what they once put wrong? Well, of course, but it’s fun watching them struggle to do it. “No, Scrooge, don’t touch the magic window!”

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Movies from Halloween to Christmas

HALLOWEEN ENDS (2022) has an aging Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) fretting that even with Michael Myers dead and gone, years of dealing with his attacks have warped her hometown of Haddonfield into a paranoid, fearful mess. Case in point, everyone’s convinced that a local guy whose babysitting charge died accidentally, years ago, killed the kid and got off; that leaves him enough of an outcast to bond with Laurie’s granddaughter but also with the ghost (I think) of Michael Myers …

Despite the film’s efforts to show Michael has joined the choir invisible, gone to meet his maker, become an ex-parrot etc., the implication he can possess others leaves them a path to Halloween: A New Beginning if they want to take it. That aside, this is a mixed bag for me. Curtis gives an amazing performance (“Did you really think I’d kill myself?”) but the babysitter’s arc doesn’t quite work. Still, getting me to watch another movie in this franchise (my last was Season of the Witch) is no small accomplishment. “Did Michael Meyers let you live — or did you escape?”

A SNOW WHITE CHRISTMAS (2018) kicks off my annual deluge of Christmas treacle with a mediocrity in which heiress Bianca’s scheming stepmother using hypnosis to erase the young woman’s memory, thereby ensuring she won’t remember to claim her inheritance before the stepmom gets it. The actors are weirdly self-conscious and mannered, like they couldn’t get into the story, not that I blame them. “It’ll be alright, Bianca — I have a hunter to help me.”

HAUL OUT THE HOLLY (2022) has a recently dumped woman stay in her parents’ home over Christmas while they’re in Florida, only to fall afoul of the homeowners’ association’s Christmas rules which penalize people for not getting Christmassy enough. And which are, of course, enforced by the Most Obnoxious, Most Irritating Man She’s Ever Met. Talking lamp material. “The first thing you do is think of tigers.”

CHRISTMAS ON REPEAT (2022) was more fun, even though it recycles cliches from all the other Christmas time-loop films I’ve seen, such as the protagonist playing matchmaker for her elderly neighbors. The protagonist hopes that if the time-loop keeps repeating she can meet the demands of both her boss and her family and make everything perfect — but is perfection what she really needs? I’ll give them a point for not having her simply choose family over job, though I’m also reminded of the complaint that showing the conflict as Love Vs. High Powered, High-Paying Job ignores that people often end up working 60 hours a week at very low-powered job. Still, this was pretty fun. “If you were up all night, why are you so perky?”The sixth and penultimate season of YOUNGER was enjoyable but feels a lot like shuffling pieces around the board. Last season Liza’s (Sutton Foster) relationship with Charles (Peter Hermann) firmed up but he wound up stepping away from the publishing company, leaving it in Kelsey’s (Hilary Duff) hands. This season has Charles launch his own company before finally returning to Empirical, after which Kelsey leaves, then comes back. And Josh (Nico Tortorella) just wanders around pointlessly now that he and Liza are no longer together. The most interesting element was Charles’ ex freaking out when she learns Liza’s not a twentysomething (losing your husband to a younger woman is one thing but a woman your own age?) and exposes the truth. Overall, it’s probably a good thing there’s only one season left. “Ladies, there are bulging crotches in your face — please focus.”

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Doctor Who in Flux! Jodie Whittaker’s final season (with spoilers)

The thirteenth Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, wraps things up with the six part Flux serial and three specials. I’m inclined to agree with most of the online commentary that Chris Chibnall’s farewell, like most of his run, didn’t quite work.It doesn’t help that Flux — the season-long story arc, a la The Invasion of Time —  follows on the big reveal of the previous season, that the Doctor had dozens of regenerations before the supposed First Doctor, all of which he spent in service to Division, a black ops organization on Gallifrey. The Doctor had the ability to regenerate before the Time Lords — indeed it was her foster mother’s research on the Doctor’s DNA that made it possible for other Gallifreyans to do it. I didn’t like this idea but I didn’t hate it as much as many fans did. However, this season makes it worse.

The Flux is a cosmic force that breaks into the universe, destroying everything. One alien race is trying to protect Earth from the damage; the Sontarans hope to exploit it and conquer whatever survives. A sadistic creature called Swarm wants to destroy the Doctor for imprisoning Swarm back in the Division era.

The Weeping Angels show up hunting the Doctor and Yaz (the other Whittaker companions have gone) but it turns out they’re working for the Doctor’s foster mum, the head of Division. That organization now encompasses multiple races and worlds, and Mom wants the Doctor to come back to them. They’ve relocated outside time-space so whatever damage destroys the universe, they can shift to another. Or the Doctor can stay behind and die.

The series carries over the conceit of the previous season that the Doctor is not only the star of the show but the star of the universe: even the Apocalypse is about destroying the Doctor. Division apparently has no interests other than the Doctor (we’re told they’re Big, Big, Big but we don’t see it). It’s as absurd as The Trouble With Girls but that comic-book series knew it was absurd; Chibnall’s Doctor Who doesn’t. “I approach everything with caution — or abandon, one of the two.”

The follow-up to thwarting Swarm, Division and Flux was three specials, with a fourth to come introducing the new Doctor (though it looks like Whittaker’s gone at the end of the third). Eve of the Daleks has the Doctor, Yaz, some bystandards, and some Daleks trapped in a time loop on New Year’s Eve. While the Doctor and Yaz remember everything from previous loops so do the Daleks, so there’s no advantage; can the Doctor break out of the loop before everyone dies? “The Doctor will not save you. The Doctor will never save you.”

The Legend of the Sea Devils was fun, but stuffed with enough elements it would have worked better as a four part serial in the old days.  In ancient China the Sea Devils are hunting down a priceless McGuffin, opposed by the Doctor and Chinese pirate queen Mrs. Chang. It’s fun, but not well structured. It does acknowledge Yaz and the Doctor have feelings for each other but the Doctor doesn’t want to act on them, knowing no Companion ever lasts. “That’s the trouble with history, it’s never like the books — sort of like Stephen King movies.”

The same can be said of what’s apparently Whittaker’s farewell, The Power of the Doctor. We have the Master posing as Rasputin, classic paintings getting transformed (so the Mona Lisa and The Scream show the Master’s face), mysterious volcanic eruptions, a cyber-planet appearing over pre-Revolutionary Russia and the Master regenerating the Doctor into a clone of himself, enabling him, he hopes, to blacken her reputation.

What makes it work is that along with Yaz and the Doctor we get Ace (Sophie Aldred), the seventh Doctor’s companion, and Tegan (Janet Fielding) from the Peter Davison era. Ace is as amazing as she was in the old show — informed that she needs to climb down inside a live volcano, penetrate a Dalek base and stop them blowing up the world, she grabs up an aluminum baseball bat — “I”ll show you how I smashed Daleks in ’63!” (a reference to Remembrance of the Daleks). And the ending, after Whittaker has an initial, temporary regeneration (into David Tennant — I’d sooner have Matt Smith or Christopher Eccleston), shows a Companions support group including Bonnie (sixth doctor), Jo and the First Doctor’s Ian (William Russell, still alive). And yes, a few of the surviving Doctors put in an appearance too (Ace seeing Seven again was a great touch). The nostalgia factor made me love this one despite its flaws. “I could call this The Master’s Dalek Plan — but I think I’ll just call it the day I finally killed you.”

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Only murderers on the road to Bali — it’s a gas!

I finally wrapped up the second season of ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING last weekend and it’s just as fun as the first season.After cracking last season’s murder, Charles, Oliver and Mabel are riding high, with their success reviving all their careers. Unfortunately there’s the awkward problem of Mabel found over the bleeding body of Arconia co-op president Bunny Folger (Jayne Houdyshell) while holding the apparent murder weapon — because if they’ve gone from murders in the building to murderers in the building their careers are likely to tank as fast as they rose.

Who did the killing? How does someone keep sneaking into their apartments? Will rival podcaster Cynda Canning (Tina Fey) destroy their reputations? Who can they trust? And what does a valuable painting of Charles’ father have to do with anything? If you liked the first season, I think you’ll have fun finding out. S3 will be out some time next year. “My legs haven’t hurt like this since I directed one of Suzanne Sommers’ Thighmaster informercials.”

It says something that I’d have sworned I never caught THE ROAD TO BALI (1952) but checking this blog shows I watched it in 2011. The “Road” movies cast Bob Hope and Bing Crosby as traveling entertainers constantly stumbling into peril and comedy, but this was the tail end of the series (the final film would come a decade later) and the formula is definitely worn down. That said, there are lots of amusing bits in this story of traveling entertainers coping with sexy Indonesian princess Dorothy Lamour and sinister prince Murvyn Vye (there’s a lot of brownface makeup, so be warned) but the plot is too flimsy to support them. “What else can we fight over when we don’t have any money (that’s for Washington)?”

GAS! or It Became Necessary to Destroy the World In Order to Save It (1970) — also known as just plain Gas-s-s! — was the B side of the Wild in the Streets DVD I watched recently, but it’s a much less successful youthsploitation movie. An experimental WMD goes off, wiping out everyone over 25; the hippy protagonists wander around the country encountering a variety of weirdos and dealing with their own wacky issues.

This Roger Corman film isn’t as funny or freewheeling as it tries to be, but it has its interesting points. The developing local cultures they run into — footballers, golfers, car thieves — comes off now like a dry run for TV’s Genesis II or the comics’ Kamandi. It’s also one of several stories that involves an apocalypse without physical destruction, often wiping out only a particular subcategory of humanity — adults over 25 here, men in Y: The Last Man and true godly Christians in Left Behind and other Rapture-based stories. “Now that you are sole heir to our world you will have every opportunity to achieve wickedness.”

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Doctor Who, Season Twenty: The Return of Just About Everyone!

I liked Peter Davison’s first season of DOCTOR WHO but the second season as the Fifth Doctor topped it.

In the opening serial, Arc of Infinity, Adric is dead, Tegan has apparently quit as companion so it’s the Doctor and Nyssa alone in the TARDIS. As she starts to instruct him in all the repairs the ship needs, the Time Lords bring the Doctor whom and put him on trial, part of a scheme by a mystery villain. Meanwhile, Tegan goes looking for her brother who’s encountered something awful while visiting Amsterdam. Why yes, these plot threads do tie together — and behind them is Omega, the villain from The Three Doctors. The story ends, of course, with Omega defeated and Tegan back on board, but it’s fun getting there. Future Doctor Colin Baker has a supporting role as a Gallifreyan guard. “Think of me as a friend … who holds your continued existence in the palm of his hand.”

In Snakedance, the Doctor once again battles the Mara from the previous season’s Kinda. Once again the Mara take possession of Tegan (who gives an excellent Evil Tegan performance) as part of a scheme to obtain a mystical McGuffin that will let them materialize physically. It’s a good episode though the script reduces Nyssa to an exposition excuse. “What matters isn’t what you saw but that you saw anything at all.”

Mawdryn Undead introduces Mark Strickson as Turlough, an apparent schoolboy who’s actually an alien trapped on Earth (we don’t get any explanation how this came about — the Doctor and the women don’t even evince much curiosity). As he and the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney, making the first of several return appearances) become involved with an alien scientist the Black Guardian (Valentine Dyall) congratulates Turlough on becoming the agent he will use to destroy the Doctor (avenging his defeat in the Key of Time arc) — or else. Turlough is the same kind of unreliable companion the show tried with Adric but Strickson’s a better actor. In thirty years of soldiering I have never seen as much destructive power as demonstrated here, by the British schoolboy.”

In Terminus the TARDIS lands on a space leper colony, nominally a research station for treating Lazar’s Disease but in practice just a way for futuristic Big Pharma to extract money for isolating the contagious victims while doing as little as possible for them. It’s a weaker story but it has its moments; alas, we also lose Nyssa, as she stays behind on Terminus at the end to help research a curse. It was the last time in the classic series we’d have three Companions, unless you count Kamellion (keep reading). “Charm, the way I use it, is to disagree agreeably.”

Enlightenment forces Turlough to finally pick a side. The TARDIS is caught up in a spaceship race between Eternals, cosmically powerful but bored beings who feed off human emotion. In the chaos of the race, the Black Guardian figures Turlough can finally dispatch the Doctor — but of course, it’s not really that easy. Another good entry, shelving the Black Guardian’s threat for a long time. “You are a Time Lord? Can so small a domain as time have lords?”

The King’s Demons was a two-part wrap-up in which the Doctor arrives at the court of King John of England (the script emphasizes he’s not as black a villain as popular history paints him) to find things going very off from history — which turns out to be because the Master’s out to destabilize it as part of his newest plan. This introduced Kamellion, a shape-shifting robot, as a new Companion, but technical problems in operating him meant he’d be sidelined for the next year (hence his absence from The Five Doctors below). This story isn’t bad but it’s definitely minor. “John — he’s the one who lost things in the Wash?”

And then, between this and the next season, we got The Five Doctors. It’s an event that will never be matched given that Pertwee, Troughton, Courtney and Liz Sladen (Sarah Jane) have all passed on; while the show used Richard Hurdnall to fill in for the late William Hartnell I don’t see much point in replacing that many people.

The story: a mysterious force plucks the five Doctors out of time and brings them to the Death Zone on Gallifrey, though the Fourth Doctor and second Romana end up trapped in a time vortex instead; both declined to appear in the special so we got a brief appearance from what was then the unfinished serial Shada.The Death Zone is the Time Lords’ dark secret: long before they learned to travel in time, they found a way to pull other creatures out of time and drop them in the Death Zone pitting the universe’s deadliest creatures against each other for sport. Now someone’s dropped the Doctors and assorted companions — Susan, Sarah Jane, the Brigadier, Tegan and Turlough (a couple more companions appear briefly) — into this battlefield; if any of them die, the Doctor gets retroactively wiped out. Horrified, the Time Lords offer the Master a fresh cycle of regenerations if he’ll rescue the Doctor; he agrees, though the Doctors understandably don’t trust him when he appears (it’s Anthony Ainsley’s best performance as the Master to date). Then there’s the question of who’s behind this plot and what, exactly, they’re plotting to achieve.

That was a wonderful one to watch.

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British scientists, British censors and a wild party: TV and movies

QUATERMASS II (1955) stars John Robinson as British rocket expert Professor Quatermass in the follow-up to 1953’s The Quatermass Experiment. As the six-part serial opens, Quatermass is in despair: his nuclear-powered rocket is too dangerous to take humanity to Mars and he’s still stressed out from the nightmare experience of the previous system. Then his prospective son-in-law reports a series of strange hollow meteorites falling on England that leave strange facial marks when they crack open. And what do they have to do with a mysterious government research facility?

This is the weakest of the three serials, much inferior to Quatermass and the Pit, just as Robinson is less interesting than Andre Morrell in the role. However after three sluggish chapters it picks up steam for the second half, with screenwriter Nigel Kneale taking the story to unexpected places. “Let’s not employ sterling endurance until there’s a need for it.”

In CENSOR (2021) the protagonist is a female censor working for the British government in the 1980s: the VHS revolution is under way and it’s her job to figure out how much cutting graphically violent “video nasties” need to become acceptable, or if any cutting will help. But she has a tragedy in her past — the death or disappearance of her sister — so the sight of an actor who looks just like the sister, grown-up, sets the censor on a desperate quest to meet her. This was well executed but ultimately felt flimsier than it was trying to be. “You lost the argument the moment you brought Shakespeare into the room.”

THE CAT’S MEOW (2001) is Peter Bogdanovich’s fictionalization of the death — or murder — of Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes) about William Randolph Hearst’s (Edward Herrmann) yacht one night in the 1920s.  The yacht’s glamorous passengers include Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies (a delightful Kirsten Dunst), novelist Eleanor Glynn (Joanna Lumley), gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly) and Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard) who wants Davies to leave her married lover and fly away with him; she attracted, but she knows damn well how unreliable Chaplin would be, in contrast to the solid support Hearst offers. Hearst, meanwhile, is increasingly aware that he may be losing his great love …

From what little I know of Davies and Hearst, their relationship is pretty accurate. I don’t care if the story is true, as it’s mostly an excuse to cover glamorous people in a glamorous time and place. Which worked for me. “I know you’re looking for a harpoon, Tom, but this one is dangerously double-edged.”

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Classic, crappy, creepy: assorted movies

After reading Hitchcock/Truffaut, I figured I’d rewatch Francois Truffaut’s films as I did Hitchcock’s. First up is Truffaut’s first feature, THE 400 BLOWS (1959, in which a restless starts out coping — barely — with domineering teachers and somewhat neglectful parents — and winds up sliding into the school-to-reform school pipeline through increasing misbehavior.

I remember liking the film a lot when I first saw it on TV but it didn’t impress me as much this time. The adult figures in his life don’t have much to commend them but I don’t find myself feeling much sympathy for the boy either. So maybe it’s just age that makes the difference.

It’s still a well-made, supposedly somewhat autobiographical film, and very different from how an America movie of that era would have done it — what I assume is the American poster makes The 400 Blows sound like a Hollwyood juvenile delinquency story and I don’t think it is. “I deface the classroom walls and defile the French language.”

THE LOST GIRLS (2022) stars writer/director Livia de Paolis as Wendy Darling’s (of Peter Pan) granddaughter, haunted by vague memories/hallucinations of her own trip to Neverland,  her mother’s mysteri0us disappearance (did Peter take her and keep her) and her daughter’s angry dismissal of her mother’s presumed delusions about some flying boy. This is a muddled mess in every way possible, from de Paolis’ distracting Italian accent to the bland look of Neverland and the murky narrative; de Paolis apparently wanted to give us a mix of Neverland fantasy and female trauma and flops both ways. Vanessa Redgrave as Wendy leaves the rest of the cast in the dust.“You disappoint me — I expected better of a Darling.”

That article on Catholic horror I read recently recommended THE DEVIL’S DOORWAY (2018) as an example of Catholic horror that deals with the Church perpetuating evil rather than just standing against it. It’s 1960s and two priests — one idealistic and young, the other old enough to be skeptical about miracles — arrive at a Magdalene Laundry to determine whether one of the statues there is genuinely weeping blood.In the 75 minutes that follow, the two priests grapple not only with supernatural manifestations but with the brutality of the institution, and the way the nuns treated unwed mothers and illegitimate children (“Would you like to know how many of the fathers were … fathers?”). Shackling and restraining a teenage mother possessed by Satan isn’t that different from what the church did to non-possessed unwed mothers. It’s the Catholic equivalent of ethnogothic horror. It’s also very good.  I normally dislike found footage films — it often feels like an easy way to keep the audience in the dark — this one works, though it does feel a little too Blair Witch Project at the finish. “You sweep it all under the rug, then leave us to hide the dirty laundry.”

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1950s computers, 1980s papergirls and modern voyeurism: movies and TV

In hindsight it would have been interesting to discuss GOG (1954) in the section of Aliens Are Here dealing with 1971’s The Andromeda Strain.

Like the later movie, Gog is a film about science and scientific research; where the Crichton adaptation makes scientific drudgery fascinating, Gog is plodding, talky and dull. That’s partly because where Andromeda Strain is tense — can we stop a xenobacteria from causing a pandemic? — the research scenes in Gog have nothing to do with the main plot of the movie.The plot centers on a series of mysterious deaths in a lab working on space research, including plans for an orbiting solar mirror that could destroy any target on Earth, so clearly our satellite has to get up before any foreign power tries it (the kind of thinking The Space Children later warned against). The mysterious saboteur could prevent that.

Dull as it is, Gog does have a couple of interesting elements. Gog and Magog are the screen’s first non-humanoid robots; the foreign power’s interference with the base’s central computer amounts to an early example of hacking. That’s not enough to redeem it though. Not a maniac, Dr. Burton — we have on our staff a cold, calculating killer.”

If you read this blog regularly you know I’m a big fan of the Brian K. Vaughn/Cliff Chiang Paper Girls comics series so no surprise I watched the Amazon Prime adaptation. PAPER GIRLS is  fun with its story of four kids suddenly caught up in a time war, though I think the originals are so cinematic the various changes to the original storyline were pointless. The best change is giving us a look at adult KJ, which somehow never happened in the comics. The most understandable is that while Mac handles cigarettes a lot, she doesn’t smoke any.

The changes I like least are number one, the lack of all the neat 1980s period references. Number two, the girls in the comics are acting on their own; here they’re constantly led around by one adult authority figure or another. That feels very unsatisfying, as if someone got cold feet about the kids trying to survive on their own in such a nightmare situation. In any case it’s been canceled, though I’ve no idea if the flaws I found are tied to that. “You just told me I’m adopted and you really think I want to listen to Whitney Houston?”

THE RENTAL (2020) is a clunky horror story in which two couples spend the weekend at an isolated coastal vacation house with suspiciously cheap rates — would you believe this turns out as disastrous as seeking refuge from thunderstorms in isolated castles? However it’s very oddly structured, starting off as personal drama (did the homeowner refuse to rent to a Muslim because he’s a racist? Will two of the quartet hooking up with the wrong person ruin everything?), shifting into Voyeur of Doom territory (the entire house is wired with hidden cameras!) then has the Voyeur turn into a Masked Slasher who kills them all. Thumbs down. “I’m not saying we can’t get away with it — I’m saying I don’t want to get away with it.”

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Czech animation, comic-book based superheroes: movies and TV

JAN SVANKMAJER: THE OSSUARY AND OTHER TALES (1964) collects some of the Czech animator’s bizarre shorts (I’ve seen some of his longer works, such as Alice or Faust), not all of which work — some are just odd and pointless — but most do, including a film about a human fence and one involving a slowly assembling body (I think I caught it back on MTV’s old Liquid Television, which introduced me to Svankmajer). “Plant an engineer between two butchers.”

The 1994 cartoon of THE TICK was my introduction to Ben Edlund’s superhero parody (I found the comic book some years later) as the dumb but mighty hero, his sidekick Arthur and allies such as American Maid—— battle Dick Tracy-esque villain Chairface Chippendale, Bond-style tyrant Pineapple Pokopo, mock adventures in Pretentious Surreal Mindscapes (I hate those) and parody superheroes about as well as it’s ever been done. For some reason this set misses one episode (“The Tick vs. the Mole-Men”) but it holds up well, with the season improving as it goes along. “I’m not Stalin, I’m Stalingrad — a graduate student in Russian history who decided to become a supervillain.”

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY‘s third season follows up on the ending of the second (though I can’t find a review here for anything but S1), in which Gerard Way’s misfit comic-book heroes return home to discover they’ve been replaced by the Sparrow Academy. It turns out following S2’s changes in the timeline, Hargreaves (Colm Feore) created an entirely different team — more formidable fighters, it turns out, but shallow and selfish, exploiting their heroics to become celebrity. Can the two teams work together when the world once again faces the apocalypse?

I like the set-up and would have loved to see the two team square off, with the Umbrellas ultimately proving their merit. The “kugelblitz” apocalypse didn’t work out as well as I expected. And the ending, leading into the final season, is more frustrating than satisfying — it may all look better once we learn Hargreaves hidden agenda in S4, but that’s really not good enough. “The best way to bring a family together is at a wedding — or a funeral. We’ve tried one, now we’ll try the other.”

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The fighting women of movies and TV

PREY (2022) is the direct-to-streaming Predator prequel set on the Great Plains in the 1700s. The protagonist is a Comanche woman healer who wants to become a hunter; when she discovers something mean and monstrous butchering the local wildlife she tries to warn her tribe, but will they believe her (in a nice touch, some of the butchery turns out to be French trappers at work)? Easily the best film since the first, which raises the question whether they’ll try more historical stories; I notice the Predator has much less armor than later versions, which fits the aesthetic of the setting well. “You see what I miss — you always have.”

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (2022) stars Michelle Yeoh as a burned-out laundromat owner facing failure on every level, only to discover that very failure makes her as potentially invincible as Jet Li in The One (because there are so many alt.timelines where she succeeded, and she can draw on her skills in all of them). This makes her the logical Player on the Other Side to an equally formidable multiversal destroyer, provided Yeoh can master her powers in time.

This is as good as I’d heard but several times more bizarre; the Ratatouille parody alone is worth the price of admission. With Jamie Lee Curtis as a stressed out IRS agent. “There’s beauty everywhere, even in that stupid universe where we have hot dogs for fingers.”

Barbara Loden directed and starred in WANDA (1970) as a housewife in a mining town who drifts into a series of one-night stands after her divorce — and wouldn’t you know, one of them’s a criminal who drags her into one of his robbery schemes. This is very well done but it’s very low-key and Wanda is almost completely passive as a character, which makes it hard to get into (there’s apparently much debate whether second wave feminism made the character instantly outdated or it reflects the way so many women in a man’s world just go along with twhat men want). “Maybe you never did anything before — but you’re going to do this.”

BLACK WIDOW (2021) is a textbook example of Hitchcock’s belief the McGuffin doesn’t matter. The McGuffin in this case is an antidote to the mind-control drugs a Russian spymaster has used to create a slave army of Black Widows all over the world but I didn’t give a crap about the drugs or his Big And Evil Plan. The point of the movie to me is the chance to watch Scarlet Johansson’s Natasha kick spectacular butt, escape near death and have a very awkward reunion with her quasi-family of Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz and David Harbour (the premise being they were a sleeper cell like The Americans but without real blood ties). The movie is a lot of fun, making it a shame Black Widow is one of the few characters who didn’t survive the war with Thanos (which I’m sure doesn’t relate to her being one of the biggest and most expensive stars in the MCU). “We’re just weapons with no face that he can throw away.”

MOTHERLAND: Fort Salem wrapped up with its third season (S2 review here) and happily they stuck the landing. At the end of last season the “Bellweather unit’ of Raelle (Taylor Hickson), Tally (Jessica Sutton) and Abby (Ashley Nicole Williams) went on the run after Vice President Silver framed them for murdering his daughter, the inciting incident to justify a literal witch hunt. Now they have to survive long enough to fight back, despite the schemes by the witch-hating Camarilla to bring back the days when witches were outcast.

To their credit, they resolved everything by going big, not only wrapping up the romantic arcs (and happily avoiding Bury Your Gays tropes) but the clash between the witches and both the Spree and Camarilla extremists. This remains one of my favorite fantasy series of recent years. “I’m not exactly sure what we did, but I’m fairly certain we changed everything.”

#SFWApro. Comics cover by Adam Hughes, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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