SMASH wrapped up its run last month after a lively second season (first season reviewed here) that had both the creative team and the cast of Bombshell splitting up and some of them moving to an off-off-Broadway production, Hit List. Which then by the magic of backstage musicals becomes Bombshell‘s big rival at the Tony’s. This was actually a pretty clever move, as we have someone to root for on both sides in the final episode, which also wraps up most of the romantic plots, though leaving a fair amount of challenges if there’d been a third season. The big drawback to that is that assuming Derek and Ivy will work out looks like an awfully optimistic dream given what a tool he is (I imagine that would have been explored next season). Still, it was a fun run. “He may be in the closet, but his upper arms are so gay!”
I also finished the first season of the 1960s’ THE MONKEES last week, and lord, it amazes me that such a giddy, loopy show didn’t seem at all weird (IIRC) to my childhood mind. For those who don’t know, the show concerns the four members of the title rock group, struggling to break into show business while also coping with spies, cops, gangsters, kiddie-show hosts royal conspiracies and beautiful girls, plus such really oddball ideas as occasionally turning into the caped MonkeeMen in one or two episodes. All of it delivered with sight gags, illogic, music and breaking the Fourth Wall (“Peter, you can’t expect the writers to think of everything.”). Probably not to everyone’s taste, but certainly to mine. . “I used to be a has-been—now I’m back to being an am-is.”
More Alfred Hitchcock: SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943) has “Merry Widow” serial killer Joseph Cotton hole up in a small town with his sister, only to have niece and namesake Teresa Wright begin to realize just how far this apple has fallen from the family tree (this vaguely hints at brain damage as the cause of his evil). This is small-town America a la Hitchcock, who does a remarkable job of creating an entire community around the family, with little bits such as Wright’s bookish younger sister and her father’s mystery novel-obsessed buddy (Hume Cronyn). Reminiscent of Fargo in emphasizing the gulf between decent people and the evildoers, particularly in the endbit where Wright and cop swain MacDonald Carey reject Cotton’s worldview. “You know what you do with animals when they’re too old and too fat to live, don’t you?.”
REAR WINDOW (1954) has photographer Jimmy Stewart bide his time recovering from a broken leg by watching the community around him (ballerina, sculptor, salesman, lonely woman, dog lover, etc.) while fending off socialite Grace Kelly’s push to make their relationship serious. Then Stewart gets the crazy idea salesman Raymond Burr has murdered his wife and when the police won’t listen, Stewart, Kelly and nurse Thelma Ritter decide to take matters into their own hands. While just as effective at evoking a community, this one here is watched voyeuristically at a distance (when one neighbor contemplates suicide, Stewart observes, but doesn’t try to intervene). Very good; the quasi-remake Disturbia would be a good double-feature. “If he talked long distance with his wife after she arrived, why did she send a postcard saying she’d arrived safely?””
Courtesy of a Hitchcock film festival at the Carolina Theatre, TYG and I got to see NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) on the big screen. A classic thriller in which an unfortunate fluke leaves Cary Grant looking like the secret agent infiltrating James Mason’s spy ring, forcing Grant to go on the run until he can figure out what’s really happening. What’s striking rewatching this is how leisurely it is compared to so many modern movies—long scenes without rapid cuts, very little in physical action (Grant does not show hitherto untapped abilities to perform like James Bond) and a lack of constant danger, but without ever being boring. With Leo G. Carroll as a spymaster, Eva Marie Saint as a pretty stranger and Martin Landau as Mason’s lackey, this has multiple memorable moments including an encounter with a crop-duster, the finalé on Mt. Rushmore and Saul Bass’s striking opening credits. Deserves every bit of its rep. “The trouble with attractive women is that I have to pretend I have no interest in making love to them.”
LEVERAGE wrapped up its final season as Timothy Hutton and his crew continue bringing justice to those beyond the reach of the law by employing classic scams and cons against them. The finalé reveals why Hutton shifted his team to Portland and what happens to the team after everything wraps up. This was a fun series, and I’ll miss it. “Justice or order—one day you’re going to have to make a choice.”
ELEMENTARY gives us a second present-day Sherlock Holmes series; where the BBC version present Holmes at his coldest and most calculating, Johnny Lee Hooker’s Sherlock is a drug addict on a self-destructive spiral since the death of his beloved Irene Adler. Enter Joan Watson (Lucy Liu), an ex-surgeon turned “sober companion” for recovering addicts (by the end of the series, she’s graduated to apprentice detective). Further from Doyle than the BBC version, but very entertaining in its own right. “Over the course of my career, I’ve plotted at least seven murders that took place in crowded restaurants.”
BIG BANG THEORY‘s latest season doesn’t change much (despite Leonard and Penny now being a definite couple)—they’ve got a formula set and they follow it faithfully. Whether the humor makes up for the sexism is a matter of taste—I still watch, even though I’m wincing often enough at the sexism (both toward the women and toward Raj for being, in the eyes of the writer, suspiciously girly). “I’ll keep that in mind, unnamed crew member in a red shirt.”
LORD PETER VIEWS THE BODY was the first of Dorothy Sayers’ two short-story collections in the series, and I must say, she doesn’t have the knack she does with longer works. At short-length, Wimsey’s silly-ass babble and eccentricities dominate things to the point the plot is buried, and they aren’t entertaining enough in their own right to make the stories work. Disappointing.
As a fan of Patricia McKillip’s, I was equally disappointed in her third novel, STEPPING FROM THE SHADOWS (I should mention I liked her first and second). This is her only mainstream work and her poetic style feels decidedly “off” here; a bigger problem is that it’s a coming-of-age novel (following a nervous pre-teen all the way through to adulthood) and I rarely find those interesting. Nor did it help that most reviews and the back cover present it as a magical realist fantasy, when it’s a perfectly mundane books (the supernatural elements are metaphorical and imaginary) and I really hate that.
Filed under Movies, Reading, TV
Redemption is a powerful source for story material. The fallen hero who tries to stop her fall, the villain attempting to rise, the tyrant or fiend who sees the light. It’s also damn tricky.
Redemption actually involves several inter-related things: Can you earn forgiveness from someone you’ve wronged? Can you prove to society that you deserve to be forgiven? And can you truly become a better human being?
Case in point: It’s a tenet of Christianity (subject to multiple interpretations and sectarian disputes of course) that if you sincerely repent your sins and turn to Jesus, you’re saved. Which is unsettling: It’s nice to know I can’t do anything so horrible God won’t take me back, but if someone murdered my family, I’d probably hate the thought the killer can get into Heaven.
Salvation in this case doesn’t have anything to do with secular, society forgiveness. Being saved doesn’t and shouldn’t get you out of prison, or community service or whatever it is that you’ve done. God’s justice and our are separate things (even if we all agreed on what God’s justice was, or if it exists)
This leads us to Return of the Jedi. Orson Scott Card was quite PO’d that merely by saving Luke, Darth Veder gets to join Obiwan on the light side of the force. And Card has a point, particularly after seeing Anakin’s massive bloodshed in Ep3. On the other hand, if Vader had repented and turned to Jesus, Card would presumably have to concede that he gets a free pass (or doesn’t that hold in the LDS?).
My point is that for a redemption arc to work as drama, it can’t be too easy. Even in a Christian context, you need someone to seriously face up to the fact they’ve been a complete shit before they make the change. And then they have to prove it. Dramatically speaking, we need works as well as faith.
In a non-religious context, we have Thunderbolts #9 as an example (cover by Mark Bagley, all rights to current holder) Kurt Busiek looks back at the second Avengers team, which included former “evil mutants” Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch and ex-criminal Hawkeye. In the original stories, their transition to heroes was smooth; here Busiek shows the public much less willing to let them off the hook. Mark Waid’s Incorruptible series (covered in some of my book review posts) does a good job by taking Max Damage’s past crimes seriously: He has lots to atone for, and Waid doesn’t make it easy.
Long-running series pose their own problems. In comics, as several creators have said, redemption comes about simply because some characters have been around for years and in trying to find new angles, it’s natural to start seeing things from their sides. This can create an interesting development (Magneto’s off-and-on stints as hero, Catwoman’s moving from villain to anti-hero). But it’s to let past crimes slide (one Marvel editor suppposedly vetoed a Venom series on the grounds he was just too murderous).
In TV, charming, attractive actors can make it easy to see characters as more sympathetic than they are. Syler, the murderous power-stealer of Heroes‘ first season became implausibly sympathetic as the series went on; I can’t but suspect some of that was because pre-Spock Zachary Quinto had a female fan base.
Regina in Once Upon a Time frequently comes off as tragic. She’s lonely and desperate for love and Lana Parilla conveys her pain very well. That doesn’t change the fact she was a coldblooded killer who devastated a kingdom from her hatred for Snow White and near the end of this past season was willing to kill the entire cast provided she and her son could escape. She starts out the year trying to be good but when it turns out people still don’t trust her, she turns—and I can’t help feeling the show wants us to sympathize with her more than she deserves (after all she’s done, assuming she’s still a killer is hardly unreasonable).
Likewise, Vader’s turn to the light worked for me because it’s such a powerful dramatic moment. It might be a lot harder to buy if I’d read it on the printed page.
Finishing up some series—THE AMERICANS was FX’s take on the sleeper-agent concept (which I wrote about a lot in Screen Enemies of the American Way): It’s the early 1980s and Keri Russell is one half of a Soviet couple who’ve been posing as married Americans for the past 20 years. With Reagan heating up the Cold War, their jobs have never been more crucial, especially with the administration working on a missile defense program that could render Soviet missiles useless (it’s a few years too early for that to be an issue, but as my friend Ross says, it makes such a good McGuffin). This is a solidly entertaining show (though right-winger Jonah Goldberg claims I should hate it because it undercuts my liberal beliefs. Umm, no) where everyone on both sides is constantly surrounded by mistrust and deceit and forced to do stuff they shouldn’t. Looking forward to season two.
ONCE UPON A TIME‘s second season is set, like the first, in a town in our world to which Snow White’s evil stepmother Regina (Lana Parilla) banished all the fairytale characters so that they’d never know a happy ending again. Only at the end of last season, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) broke the curse: magic works in the town, everyone knows who they are and very few of them are happy with what Regina did. I found this season thoroughly enjoyable, though given Regina’s history as a murderous tyrant, they seem awfully soft on her at times (something I’ll discuss in depth soon).
ARROW is the CW’s adaptation of DC’s Green Arrow (whose strange history I’ve covered before). As in the comics, Oliver Queen is a shallow playboy transformed by several years on a desert island (though a much livelier one than the print version). Returning home, he carries out his father’s wishes to root out the corrupt businessmen strangling Starling City, not hesitating to murder if it comes to it. However, millionaire Merlyn (John Barrowman) has a plan, and the skills to carry it out without letting “the Hood” (as the press have labeled Ollie’s alter ego) get in his way (curious trivia point: The comic-book archer Merlyn was never really a Green Arrow adversary, just someone who engaged in an archery contest with him once and later crossed paths in a couple of JLA adventures, the first of which is shown here. Art by Neal Adams, rights with whoever currently holds them). It ain’t great art, but it’s a fun show.
The Coen Brothers’ neo-noir THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (2001) has a lot of similarities with Fargo in that like William Macey in the earlier film, barber Billy Bob Thornton is fed up with working for his in-laws and determined to change his life by financing a business opportunity through crime (blackmailing wife Frances McDormand’s employer/lover James Gandolfini)—which, of course, spirals into Horribly Wrong territory almost at once (reminding me of wrter John Roger’s view that the underlying theme of neo-noir is that you’re not as smart as you think). Unfortunately instead of Macey’s desperate, frantic schemer, Thornton is far too phlegmatic: He may not like his life, but he’s resigned to his fate and never struggles more than he absolutely has to. Despite the striking black-and-white photography, that makes this ultimately too uninvolving to hold me. With John Polito as an entrepreneur, Tony Shalhoub as a fast-talking lawyer and Scarlett Johanssen as a young pianist. “That helps—not that she didn’t do it, but that she hasn’t confessed.”
IRON MAN III (2013) has Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) PTSDed by his experiences in Avengers (“Gods, aliens—I’m just a guy in a can.”) which leads to some bad decisions when tackling a terrorist campaign by the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) in alliance with scheming CEO Guy Pearce (“I control both terrorism and counter-terrorism.”). They obviously decided Robert Downey Jr. was way more interesting out of costume as he stays as Tony almost all of the film; Kingsley turns in a terrific performance though I’ll be saying more about the yellowface aspects in my next post. “Jarvis, it’s time for the house party.”
AMERICAN WEDDING (2003) is the third installment wherein Jason Biggs pops the question to Alyson Hannigan, resulting in the usual problems of wedding jitters, wedding-party romances, obnoxious relatives and various leftover elements from the previous movies. Surprisingly charming; with Fred Willard as Hannigan’s dad and January Jones as a cute bridesmaid. “I need help with my wedding vows, not my period.”
Filed under Comics, Movies, TV
“Jeffty is Five” was Harlan Ellison’s contribution to the Year’s Finest Fantasy, which I reviewed a couple of weeks back. What struck me rereading it was how much my reaction differed from the first reading.
The narrator is a thirty something guy nostalgic for the movie serials, pulp magazines and radio adventure shows of his youth. Jeffty was his childhood friend, and now still a child, a five-year-old boy who refuses to age.
Which turns out quite cool for the narrator because whatever magic Jeffty invokes affects the media as well: when he’s around Jeffty he can go the movies and see new Humphrey Bogart films, read new Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom stories, listen to new adventures of Captain Midnight on the radio (eventually things go horribly wrong). When I was in college, I really loved the whole idea, and the execution. Rereading it, not so much. Not that I spot some hideous flaw in the story, it just didn’t move me.
As someone who rereads a lot of stuff (as you know if you follow this blog regularly), I’m often intrigued by how we don’t cross the same river twice. So I started thinking about what it was that didn’t work for me this time.
One obvious possibility is that I’m simply not as attached to reading (or watching movies, or TV or comics) as I was 35 years or so ago. I was shy, a little withdrawn and so a lot of my passion channeled itself into reading/watching fiction. I came alive with the characters, fell in love with them, felt my pulse race, etc., etc.
That hasn’t been true for a while. I still love fiction in all its forms, but it’s not my emotional center any more. I’ve learned to connect with people, even long before I met TYG. So where I could identify with the narrator’s yearning for all those fantastic tales he remembered, I don’t feel it now.
Which leads to a second point, there’s much less need for nostalgia now. If it was on TV or in the movies, it’s almost certainly on DVD or at least videotape (not always, but usually). The most obscure of comic-books, once unattainable, turn up in hardback collector’s editions or trade paperbacks. Internet used-book services make it possible to find pretty much anything. I don’t have to sit here wishing Mission: Impossible were still on; I have three seasons on DVD and I can stream the rest on Netflix. If I want movie serials, I can (and have) catch them on DVD too.
Of course, the “Jeffty” narrator isn’t just nostalgic: He’s quite clear that he doesn’t want to rewatch old stuff or listen to tapes of old shows, or watch cheap modern imitations—he wants new material done just as well as the old stuff, and in just the same style (reminding me of one column from the 1980s where Ellison complained about radical new changes to old comics characters, but also grumbled about Marvel’s New Universe competing with the company’s Silver Age line). And here we really part company.
It’s not just that I have no huge desire to see a couple more seasons of I Spy or the Addams Family or a few more albums of Beatles work (that might be cool, but even so I’m not moved by the prospect). It’s that I don’t see myself looking back at my childhood and teenage years and thinking everything was so vastly superior. I have nostalgia for my teen entertainments, but I can’t fool myself that it’s based on some immense difference in quality. Maybe the fact that entertainment hasn’t change that much (not compared to the death of radio drama and movie serials), or maybe I’ve just outgrown nostalgia in some way. When I saw the play Is There Life After High School in my early thirties, I was quite moved; when I saw it in my late forties, I wasn’t. The production was good, but looking back at high school just didn’t impact me so much. I think I’m supposed to grow more nostalgic as I age, but perhaps I’m doing it wrong.
Filed under Movies, Personal, TV
BONES has wrapped up its latest season, and even more annoyingly than it did last year: arch-foe Pelant’s ability to hack into any computer, anywhere and make it sit up and do tricks would be fine if he were taking on Batman, but for a nominally real-world show, it’s laughable (I’m fully aware the use of computers on the show has all kinds of absurdities but this goes way beyond that). Thus his mind-game plan at the end really left me out of sorts; up until that point, a fun season as Booth and Bones struggle with their domesticity status-quo.
DOCTOR WHO: The Gunfighters has the Doctor, Steven and Dodo arrive in Tombstone,Arizona, right before the OK Corral for a supposedly whimsical four-parter story in which the Doctor gets mistaken for Doc Holliday and Steven and Dodo have to sing for their supper before the big showdown. A very poor one—the cowboys’ English accents are obvious and by the end I was heartily sick of the song “Last Chance Saloon” (there are singing-cowboy movies without this much music).“You are embracing every cliché of the so-called Old West.”
MATEWAN (1987) is John Sayles’ stunning drama about a brutal 1920s mining strike, with Chris Cooper as the union man rallying the eponymous West Virginia town against the mine owners, though the miners see him as almost as much a manipulative outsider as management. On top of that, Cooper has to convince them they’ll do better with James Earl Jones and other black miners in the union than out of it. With Mary McDonnell as a miner’s wife and David Straitharn as a straight-shooting sheriff, this would double bill well with a variety of labor dramas, including Salt of the Earth and Black Lung. Dark at the ending, leaving it ambiguous whether the long battle accomplished anything. “There’s only two sides in this world—those who work and those who don’t. You work. They don’t.”
Abbott and Costello are IN SOCIETY (1944) when the usual series of improbable events result in them crashing a weekend house party, with complications including an art thief and a similarly misplaced female cabbie’s romance. This is weaker than Hit the Ice because the romance plot (and the related musical interludes) eat up a lot of time (ironic since the subplot was intended to punch up the script). The final fire-truck chase is fun and the old burlesque routine “Fluegel Street” (which includes some of the cast of the duo’s radio show) is hysterical. Still Animal Crackers did much better setting a comic team in high society. “He wouldn’t have died when that safe fell 15 stories onto his head if he’d only been wearing a good hat!”
SEPTEMBER (1987) is the kind of movie people used to say Woody Allen should go back to making funny movies instead of (even though that cliché started several years earlier) as Mia Farrow (like other female leads in Allen’s films, her character is an intelligent woman unable to focus her talents), Elaine Stich, Jack Warden, Sam Waterston, Dianne Wiest and Denholm Elliott sit around either proclaiming their love to each other or explaining why it can never be, mostly in as mopey a fashion as possible. This lacks any of the warmth or humor of Hannah and Her Sisters and also any real plot (the obvious advantage of stretching the earlier movie’s timeline over 12 months is that the romances have an actual arc). Avoid. “God’s testing us and I intend to be prepared—where’s the vodka?”
Catching up on two weeks of stuff—SHARPE’S JUSTICE is a fabricate sequel to Sharpe’s Revenge in which Napoleon’s defeat frees Sharpe to journey to England to settle things with his self-serving wife Jane and her lover Rossendale (Alexis Denisof). Rossendale, however, gets him assigned to a garrison in Yorkshire where Sharpe meets childhood friends (in the novels, he’s a bastard from the rookeries of London, which makes me wonder if they made the change to match Sean Bean’s accent), locks horns with workers challenging the local mill owners and discovers one of the owners is a black-died bastard indeed. Quite good, particularly for one not based on the original books. “Is it a bill to help the poor? No … it’s a wine bill.”
I Netflixed a DVD of the RAMBO cartoon from the late 1980s and found just as forgettable as prior episodes I’d caught. This is a GI Joe knockoff in which Rambo leads the “Force of Freedom” against the terrorist cartel S.A.V.A.G.E., but the force only includes two members (Turbo the tech guy and Cat, the mistress of disguise), which limits the character interactions that could make the Joes fun. It is, however, interesting to see what a collection of late-20th century boogeymen work for SAVAGE: Arab terrorists, ninjas, street punks with mohawks, leftover Nazis … I am surprised they didn’t throw in any Commie presence, though.
O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (2000) is the Coen brothers’ picaresque mash-up of Sullivan’s Travels and The Odyssey as George Clooney leads an escape from a chain gang (John Turturro is one of the other inmates) in hopes of stopping ex-wife Holly Hunter from remarrying. This leads to encounters with siren Musetta Vander, cyclops John Goodman, conniving politico Charles Durning and Baby-Face Nelson. Clooney’s quest gives this the narrative spine The Big Lebowski needed, plus it has better musical numbers. The ending showdown with the law is also a good example of a well set-up eucatastrophe. “Even if it did put you right with the Lord, the state of Mississippi is a little more hard-nosed.”
I rewarded myself for meeting my writing goals in April by buying a set of Abbott and Costello movies—HIT THE ICE (1943) stars Bud and Lou as aspiring newspaper photographers who accidentally wind up capturing Sheldon Leonard’s bank robbery on camera. Determined to cover up the facts, Leonard arranges for them and another witness to join him at a winter resort until he can recover the film and rub them out. Like a lot of A&C scripts, this is weak stuff (there’s no reason Bud and Lou really have to worry about being blamed for the robbery) and with too many musical interludes, but the duo’s talent with a gag makes it watchable. “You’re as useless as sour cream in an outboard motor.”
KISS ME KATE (1953) adapts the stage musical of that name to tell how actors and ex-spouses Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson reunite professionally for a musical adaptation while feuding backstage before inevitably reconciling (I don’t think this will come as a spoiler to anyone). A lot of fun (and fitting nicely into The American Film Musical‘s analysis of the Backstage Musical) with great Cole Porter songs including “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” “Tom, Dick and Harry,” “Always True to You Darling in My Fashion,” ably danced by Ann Miller, Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore (choreography by the great Hermes Pan). Originally in 3D, which explains Keel’s fondness for throwing things at the audience. “So what do you do/when it’s quarter-to-two/and only a shrew to kiss?”
It’s a DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975) when Jim Cazale and Al Pacino attempt a quick bank robbery so that Pacino’s boyfriend Chris Sarandon can get a sex change, only to discover there’s no money in the bank, cop Charles Durning is on them like white on rice and the whole thing has turned into a media circus. The kind of film that makes so many people speak fondly of seventies movies—off-the-wall and very cinema verité in style, director Sidney Lumet believing that the strange story would only work if it was as naturalistic as possible. The fact homosexuality is so much more main stream than thirty-plus years ago reduces the wildness of the tale, but still worth seeing; with Carol Kane as a bank teller and Lance Henrikson as a cop. “We’re Vietnam veterans so killing don’t mean anything to us, understand?”
RADIO DAYS (1987) is Woody Allen’s nostalgic look back at his childhood (with Seth Green as the Young Woody), a world framed by family and radio: Green’s efforts to get a Masked Avenger ring, aunt Dianne Wiest’s perpetual hard-luck romantic stories, Mia Farrow breaking into showbiz, parents Michael Tucker and Julie Kavner’s perpetual dickering and panic induced by Orson Welles’ War of the World. As there’s no real story arc beyond nostalgia, this comes off much like Allen’s early sketch-comic work; charming, but the family stuff is way too sitcomish. This would double-bill well with Neil Simon’s nostalgic look at the era in Brighton Beach Memoirs. “For some strange reason it’s a wonderful feeling having a schoolteacher we’ve seen dance naked in front of a mirror.”
Moving to TV … YES,MINISTER is the early-1980s Britcom in which a somewhat fuddle-headed British politician hopes to do great things and create sweeping reforms as minister, only to run headlong into his department’s permanent secretary, who’s determined that nothing should change, ever. Somewhat reminiscent of Dilbert in its portrayal of insanely dysfunctional organizations, and quite funny.
THE ADDAMS FAMILY Volume One doesn’t collect the complete first season of the series, but covers most of the tale of the creepy, kookie eccentrics who can’t quite understand why everyone seems so freaked out around them (one of the best episodes is when Gomez gets amnesia, making him the one freaking out). Their unshakeable belief in their own normality and their general enthusiasm for life, love and family—for the era, Gomez and Morticia (John Astin and Carolyn Jones are astonishingly passionate to each other—is what gives this its charm. Well worth catching if you’ve never seen the original.
WITCHFINDER: In the Service of Angels by Mike Mignola and Ben Stenbeck tells the adventures of Edward Grey, a 19th-century occultist who serves as Queen Victoria’s witchfinder, first introduced as a ghost in Hellboy. In this TPB, he investigates an archeologist’s fear that in unearthing strange nonhuman bones in a lost city, his expedition has raised something that followed them back to civilization … This is a very good, very fast-moving adventure, with lots of references to “later” Hellboy continuity (and some I don’t believe have been followed up on yet, like the occultist Gilfryd’s mysterious mentor).
WITCHFINDER: Lost and Gone Forever by Mignola, John Arcudi and John Severin is a less satisfying tale in which Grey journeys out to the Wild West where he encounters’ a witch’s scheme to lead a combined Native American/zombie force against local settlers. This is pretty entertaining, and well-drawn, but not as tight or gripping as the original (the creators wanted to do a Western adventure but the setting just doesn’t work as well as London).
Skipping several “lost” adventures my next Who-tale is DOCTOR WHO: The Ark, a good adventure in which the Doctor, Steven and new companion Dodo arrive on a generation ship carrying humanity and the alien Monoids to a distant planet; the ship is human-built and the Monoids are space refugees allowed aboard as a slave class. In the first two episodes, the Doctor fights a plague unleashed on the germ-free ship by Dodo’s cold; in the second two, the TARDIS returns to the Ark to discover the Monoids have risen up, enslaved the humans and now plot to wipe them out once the ship lands. This was a good, clever one, though Dodo lacks Vicki’s personality and brains (being a contemporary young woman is pretty much her only noteworthy trait). “You have given too many orders and delivered them unwisely.”
The second season of SAPPHIRE AND STEEL worked much better than the first (which I thought I’d reviewed earlier but apparently I didn’t) as an aging ghost-hunter finds David McCallum’s Steel and Joanna Lumley’s Sapphire showing up at an abandoned radio station—just in time to witness a growing number of dead soldiers assembling. This is much more eerie and unsettling than the first but the ending is very awkward—while it’s ruthless enough to drive home these two protagonists play hardball, I’m not sure how it solves the problem of this sinister force. Still, I’ll be watching more. “They didn’t try to kill us—they encouraged us to die.”
Continuing with my Hammer collection, THE GORGON (1964) amounts to a werewolf movie with a different monster, though it’s certainly an enjoyable film, as doctor Peter Cushing and inspector Patrick Troughton struggle to cover up the truth that a terrifying monster keep materializing under the full moon and killing the locals; after one of his friends dies, Christopher Lee begins investigating and learns the truth. Using a gorgon in a German village, though, requires more explanation than they ever give; they also confuse the names of the Gorgons with those of the Furies. “Let me ask you one more question—have you ever heard of Megaera?”
SCREAM OF FEAR (1964) has Susan Strassburg visiting her father’s mansion after a crippling accident, meeting her step-mother for the first time and trying to convince her (and doctor Christopher Lee) that she’s not just imagining her father’s corpse popping up all over the place. One of those that loses a lot of impact if you know the twist, but it’s still very well executed.
SHARPE’S REVENGE has Sharpe preparing to return home to a life of ease with Jane after the British forces fight what looks to be the last battle of the Napoleonic War. However an arrogant superior officer and a scheme by the French spymaster Ducos have Sharpe forced to hunt across France to find proof he didn’t steal Napoleon’s backup treasure (“It now belongs to our ally, the new French king!”) while Jane in London squanders his money to support her new lover, Alexis Denisof (best known from Buffy and Angel). A good one as Sharpe finally finds true love and prepares for peace, not knowing Waterloo lies ahead. “How do you divide the cheese, by merit or by rank?”
DOCTOR WHO: The Time Meddler has the Doctor, Vicki and new companion Steven arrive in 1066 on the coast of England and discover a monastery which, despite the loud chanting, contains only one monk. Who has modern technology. And is working to help the Vikings invade. As it turns out, this was the first of what’s now a staple, the historical adventure that throws in SF as well—I won’t go into detail, but I will say the third-episode cliffhanger is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It surprises me the Monk never turned up again. “Television? Yes, I’m familiar with the medium.”
THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET (1985) is John Sayles’ SF film in which mute ET Joe Morton escapes slavery, crash-lands his ship in Harlem, then wanders around interacting with the locals, trying to build a life or simply listening to people talk (like the lead in the play The Foreigner, he’s a figure around whom everyone feels free to say what’s on their mind). Despite weaknesses (when ET slavecatchers John Sayles and David Straitharn go into action, it’s like a bad music video), this is an excellent one. “I knew we shouldn’t have gone into business with you people—you just don’t see the big picture.”
One of my birthday presents via gift certificate was a Hammer Horror collection (thanks Joyce!)—THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960) stars Paul Massie as a scientist whose efforts to plumb the depths of the human mind transform him into a smirking hedonist. As such, he becomes protégé to Jekyll’s debauched friend Christoper Lee and rival with Lee for Jekyll’s adulterous wife Dawn Adams. Written by Wolf Mankiewicz (with several witty lines that would have fit perfectly into his All About Eve), this has good actors and good ideas (Hyde pursuing the less-than-pure Mrs. Jekyll for instance) but doesn’t use them well (which The Hammer Story blames on Mankieiwicz and director Terence Fisher pulling in different directions). Oliver Reed plays as a rake getting slapped around by Hyde. “I forgot that even the most honest of women have to be wooed with dishonest words.”
CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1964) stars Ronald Howard as one of the archeological team digging up a mummy despite the usual Ominous Warnings, and Fred Clark as the American huckster who turns the wrapped body into a nightclub entertainment; Terence Morgan plays a gentleman with a hidden agenda who takes an overly friendly interest in Howard’s woman (while it was obvious he had a secret, I didn’t peg what it was). More fun than most of Universal’s Mummy films, though muddled in the endgame—why does the Mummy suddenly spare Howard, for instance? “The one pain I can no longer bear is the pain of life everlasting!”