Gladiators, Drag Queens, Mystics and Victorian Detectives: movies and TV (#SFWApro)

ARENA (1989) was a surprisingly entertaining direct-to-video film by Danny Bilson and Paul Demio that combines the elements of an old boxing film (think Body and Soul or The Set-Up) with SF: a young man with dreams of winning the interstellar boxing game becomes humanity’s first chance to take back the championship from ETs. That displeases a crooked fight promoter, who deploys everything from drugs to dirty tricks to a seductive blonde to get the hero off his game. Fun, though the humanity vs. aliens aspect does feel uncomfortably like The Great White Hope (i.e., the fantasies whites had about someone snatching the championship away from n-word heavyweight champ Jim Johnson a century ago). With Claudia Christian as the hero’s manager and Armin Shimmerman as a weaselly ET (kind of a proto-Quark). “The second round — now we humiliate him.”

I’d vaguely believed THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT (1994) was a pulp/cliffhanger parody but in reality it’s a remarkably well-done dramedy in which Aussie drag queens Terence Stamp, Guy Pearce and Hugo Weaving head across the desert to perform in a show for Weaving’s ex-wife, running into baffled small-towners and bicurious mechanics along the way. Well done; the heavy use of Abba on the soundtrack makes me propose Mama Mia for a double bill. “Just what the center of Australia needs — a cock on a rock in a frock.”

For my Arthurian Screen Rant column I rewatched DOCTOR STRANGE (1978) in which compassionate psychiatrist Stephen Strange (Peter Hooten) learns he’s been chosen to replace John Mills’ “Dr. Lindmer” (so obviously Merlin, I wonder why they bothered with the extra “d”) to battle Morgan leFay (Jessica Walters) and her dark masters. Easily the best of Marvel’s 1970s TV efforts (Captain America, Captain America II, Spider-Man, etc.); while I’m disappointed they turn Stephen into a nice guy, they do a remarkable job, given the limited budget, duplicating Steve Ditko’s psychedelic visuals from Strange Tales.  “I’m several hundred years too hold to be alright.”

The first season of THE RIVALS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES presents various Victorian investigators and conniving criminals such as Martin Hewitt, Madame Sara, Lady Molly, Romney Pringle, Dr. Thorndyke and Dorrington. The ruthless nature of Dorrington makes his episodes the best; the others are adequate Victorian mysteries but don’t particularly stand out. “The usual story, police baffled — a sorry state of affairs I must say.”

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