Category Archives: Movies

Movies and TV: Librarians to Come (#SFWApro)

thingstocome1024x768-220x162THINGS TO COME (1936) is a classic adaptation of H.G. Wells, opening in 1940 with Raymond Massey as a visionary horrified that Europe is rushing toward war (like a number of pre-WW II movies I’ve seen, it views the coming of another Great War as hell on Earth). When it comes, it’s bad, sending England (and presumably the rest of the world) back to the dark ages, but scientists and aviators unite in a brotherhood to put an end to the dark times. Decades later, Raymond Massey is getting ready to launch the world’s first moonshot, but even in the 21st century, some people are determined to stop progress. A really great-looking film with good effects, and if some details don’t age well (buildings don’t have windows because who needs inefficient glass in the walls with good indoor light?), the movie’s vision still works for me. With Cedric Hardwicke as a local warlord. “Our revolution didn’t eliminate death and danger, it just made death and danger worthwhile.”

The second season of THE LIBRARIANS was almost as much fun as the first, as the agents of the magical library battle the usual array of magical foes and the season’s big bad, a mysteriously brought-to-life Prospero (and his sidekick Moriarty).  Most of the run was just as good as S1, particularly a Northern Exposure parody, but I thought the ending was weak, making me wonder why they even used Moriarty. And I wish they’d given more of the final episode of the season to the junior librarians rather than nominal star Noah Wylie — they’re actually more fun. “Special Agent Ezekiel Jones is a rule-breaking maverick, but he gets results!”

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The end of the world, an arranged marriage and a Communist steel horse! Movies (#SFWApro)

Azalea Films was an obscure company whose main claim to fame is ripping off several of Roger Corman’s AIP films for their even lower-budgeted, lower-quality company. IN THE YEAR 2889 (1968) was a knockoff of Corman’s superior The Day the World Ended, only showing that Corman could make a cheap quickie much better than most people could. In this leaden drama, the Bomb Has Dropped, so a scientist and his daughter are holed up in their country home to see if they can last out until the fallout dies down. Only they hadn’t prepared for the arrival of a Nice Guy and his irradiated brother, a drunken Latino, a thug and his stripper mistress (Quinn O’Hara), or the mutates lurking in the hills in very bad monster makeup … Forgettable except for the name, which makes no sense. It does show how generic, in a way, this kind of apocalypse is, as the cast could just as easily have been hiding out from the Walking Dead. “Once I got my motor running, I didn’t hear nothing but the sound of their breathing.”

220px-jump_tomorrowJUMP TOMORROW (2001) is a charming rom-com of a type familiar to most of us. The protagonist, George (Tunde Adebimpe), is a rather uptight Nigerian American heading to Niagara to meet his Arranged Match (“My parents arranged this, my uncle arranged this — she and I helped a little I think.”). Along the way he finds a traveling buddy in a lovesick, suicidal Frenchman who insists George pursue Alicia (Natalia Verbeke), a young woman he felt an instant connection with … but who’s heading to Canada with her oh-so-perfect boyfriend. Very winning.“It’s very scenic—lots of trees.”

EARTH (1930) is the classic example of the “boy meets tractor” Soviet drama, showing how a tractor enables the protagonist to overthrow the power of his village’s rich farmers, collectivize and feed the people! We see our hero drive the tractor past his father, scything away in the field, then show him how much easier it will be to thresh the wheat with a tractor. Women bind the sheaves with smiles as if they were achieving orgasm, bread rolls out of the village ovens and someone exults that “a communist steel horse has overthrown the thousand-year-old forces!” An interesting, if old-fashioned film, despite its propagandist intentions. “We’ll get tractors and take the earth away from them.”

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More time travel films that don’t get recommended a lot (#SFWApro)

As I mentioned the last time I posted on this topic, Best Time Travel Film lists simply recycle the same selections over and over. So as a new-made expert, I’m broadening the list a little.

CRUSADE (2006) has a frustrated young man use his mother’s experimental time machine to travel back to the Children’s Crusade (which also figured in the anime Sins of the Sisters). He tries to save lives as he travels with them (using his knowledge of basic first aid, quarantine, etc.) though he’s worried that by keeping the crusade going, more kids will end up dying or enslaved (it didn’t end well). The protagonist’s pragmatic approach — no worries about time-tampering, just helping people when they’re in trouble — gave this a different feel than most time journeys.

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TOMORROW I’LL GET UP AND SCALD MYSELF WITH TEA (1977) is a delightfully goofy Czech comedy in which aging Nazis in a utopian future conspire with a time-travel pilot to go back and give Hitler a suitcase nuke to turn the tide of the war. Only everything goes wrong, starting with the pilot dying and getting replaced by his identical twin … I love this one, which is available subtitled on YouTube (all rights to image reside with current holder).

THE GRAND TOUR (1992) has Jeff Daniels coming to realize the strangers staying at his hotel are bored time travelers visiting the present for the thrill of watching one of the great disasters of history—which is obviously very bad news for his small town. A TV movie based on CL Moore’s Vintage Seasons, this is an ingenious tale with a good character in Daniels’ inn-keeper

TIMESHIFTERS (1999) also has a time-tourism premise but it’s more about action than character. Casper van Dien averts the disasters one tourist is here to watch, changing the future. To restabilize it and restore her time-erased child security agent Theresa Saldana must make sure the next disaster happens without a hitch; as it’s going to kill van Dien’s son, he’s not okay with this. A surprisingly well-done time adventure from the TBS cable channel.

5 DAYS TO MIDNIGHT (2004) was a SyFy (I think it was still SciFi then) miniseries in which someone sends Timothy Hutton a 40 year old briefcase containing a case file about his murder, five days in the future. Can he identify his future killer when so many people around him turn out to have a motive?

SOURCE CODE (2011) has Jake Gyllenhaal waking up on a train as someone he knows isn’t himself … and eight minutes later the train blows up. It turns out that a government counter-terrorist project has projected his mind into the memories of one of the victims so that he can identify the killer by time looping the events — but is it just a memory, or could it be a new reality? I like this, though I should note that both this and the Czech film have a happy ending where the guys pair off with a woman who thinks they’re someone else — for some people that’s creepy rather than romantic (they have a point, but it’s not a point that bothers me if I like the film).

STAR TREK IV: The Voyage Home (1986) is the “save the whales” film in which an alien probe is destroying Earth in its efforts to communicate with the now extinct humpback whales. The Enterprise crew head back to the past to bring back some whales, but find San Francisco in the 1980s takes a lot of getting used to. The most light-hearted of all the films, with the cast playing characters they know well and lots of cross-time humor.

More film recommendations at a future date.

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Woody Allen, a twenties reporter and Archie Andrews: movies and TV (#SFWApro)

If Woody Allen’s Anything Else remade Annie Hall, WHATEVER WORKS (2009) similarly remakes Manhattan with its December/May romance. Here it’s dour intellectual Larry David in the Woody Allen role reluctantly taking in Southern runaway Evan Rachel Wood, then winding up married to her. Given David isn’t much younger than Allen (in contrast to Jason Beggs in Anything Else or Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris) I wonder why Allen didn’t play the role himself. I’d probably have preferred it: Allen’s own ineffective persona would have softened the character’s constant lectures on the Meaning of Life and reminders of how brilliant he is (not that you can tell from the lectures), whereas David’s just overbearing. Wood, though, is spot on as a Southerner; Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr. play her parents, who get implausible happy endings. “If you throw me out and I wind up an Asian prostitute, it’s going to be on your conscience.”
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(All rights to poster image reside with current holder)

MAN OF THE CENTURY (1999) is an oddball comedy about Johnny Twenties, who speaks, dresses and acts like a crack reporter from the roaring twenties — or at least the kind of reporter you’d see in a movie from that era — to the bemusement of everyone around him and the sexual frustration of his girlfriend, who can’t understand why the furthest Johnny will go is a peck on the chief. This should have flopped as badly as an expanded Saturday Night Live sketch comedy, but in its own goofy way it completely worked for me. “Theodore Dreiser—he was Dr. Seuss, right?”

RIVERDALE is the latest attempt to incarnate Archie Andrews and his gang for TV (quite aside from various cartoons, there’s a 1990 movie, To Riverdale and Back Again) but it didn’t work for me. The template is Pretty Little Liars or Twin Peaks (depending on your POV, I guess) with Riverdale a town riven by secrets and scandal (the classic soap Peyton Place wouldn’t be far off the mark either): Cheryl Blossom’s brother Jason died mysteriously, Archie spent last summer getting it on with Mrs. Grundy (younger and hotter than the comics), Veronica’s father is caught up in a criminal trial that might ruin him, etc. Not to my taste, which is not to say that it isn’t good, or might not click with the rest of the audience; given that Josie and the Pussycats are at Riverdale High, I wonder if Sabrina’s going to turn up, which would be more interesting (answer: yes). “Jason was captain of the football team,  but how will he be remembered?”

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Two women cops, a psycho family and the Death Star:TV and movies (#SFWApro)

FREQUENCY was one of two series not to receive full-season orders from the CW this year (a rare event), and I’m not surprised. Riffing off the terrific 2000 movie, this has present-day cop Raimy Sulliven (Peyton List) saving her dad’s life in 1996 through a ham-radio that talks across time. But further changes ripple out: Raimy never met her fiancee, and her mother died at the hands of the Nightingale Killer, a serial-murdering monster who was never caught. Can Raimy and father (Riley Smith) work to change things back?

This started well, but I lost interest fairly fast. The trouble is it’s 90 percent a straight cop show: Raimy’s dad is an undercover cop so we have lots about the dangers and moral compromises and wear and tear on his family life — if I wanted that, I’d see Chicago Blue or something. Nor is the time changing particularly clever, nor does the time difference bring much to the table — the 1990s just aren’t different enough in fashion or tech to give them a different feel (though Hindsight managed it). I will give them credit for a genuinely happy ending, but if this doesn’t come back (it’s speculated that if it does well streaming on Netflix, it’ll be renewed) I won’t weep any tears. “I washed them in holy water!”

I used the first season of  QUANTICO mostly as background while I worked on other stuff (I thought I’d reviewed it earlier in the season but can’t find the post, so maybe not). Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra) is an FBI rookie who’s been framed for a terrorist attack by a mysterious conspiracy. In the present, the struggles to clear her name and expose the mastermind behind it; in flashback, we follow her through training at Quantico, with the added hook that one of the people she met their is the real villain. I watched mostly because Chopra is hot, and while the show is otherwise watchable, it’s not worth making an effort to do so. And lord, they gush over how awesome the FBI is, what a bulwark against injustice it is (COINTELPRO? Never heard of it), and how incredible FBI training is (Efram Zimbalist Jr.’s old FBI series couldn’t be any more reverential). It’s probably telling that when someone raises questions about the FBI’s history of abuses, it’s the bad guy (I don’t think we’re supposed to take them seriously). So I won’t be back for S2. “You love America and you think it loves you back—but it never did.”

GIRLY (1970) is an oddball horror cum black comedy in which the deranged title family (“Mad? No, we’re very happy!”) kidnaps men and traps them into a world of bizarre rituals and games — only in this case, “The New Friend in Two” manages to work on the women and turn them against each other. Reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s The Beguiled for a similar premise, but nowhere near as good. “When she’s dead/boil her head/turn her into gingerbread!”

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ROGUE ONE (2016) is, of course, the prequel wherein the discovery of a new imperial weapon (“He said it was a planet killer.”) forces a team of rebels to discover the Death Star’s one weakness(“I made myself indispensable so that I could incorporate a way to destroy it.”) and transmit it to the Rebel Alliance against all odds (I will say the final shot of Leia [all rights to image reside with current holder] at the end made me tear up a little). In the tradition of war films where the heroes may not make it out but they advance the war just the same.  With Alan Tudyk as a robot voice, Mads Mikkelson as the protagonist’s father, James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader and Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher resurrected digitally. “The Force always gathers darkly around a creature about to kill.”

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If you’re on pinterest (#SFWApro)

So am I. I’m not terribly active, but lately I’ve been putting up a board of time-travel movie posters and stills, to celebrate releasing Now and Then We Time Travel (and hopefully encouraging more people to buy it, of course). Click on the link if you’d like to check ’em out. The sample image below is from 11 Minutes Ago, which I quite liked. All rights reside with current holder.

11minutesago

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A Drowsy Chaperone, several female protagonists and a great detective: Theater and TV (#SFWApro)

drowsy-02(No movies this week due to Illogicon taking up last weekend).

My brother’s Christmas gift was a DVD of a local production of the musical THE DROWSY CHAPERONE. He plays a disgruntled fan of old musicals who puts on his record (“Yes, I said record!”) of the 1920s musical farrago The Drowsy Chaperone, a throwback to the days when characters and plots in musicals had no purpose other than to get us from one musical number to the next (a key plot point has the groom roller-skating through the garden, blindfolded). In the play-within-the-play, for instance, the wedding of an all-American guy and a Broadway star also involves mobsters posing as pastry chefs, a dumb chorine (“You’re reading your own mind!”), a Latin Lover (“These days theater fans are too sophisticated to tolerate broad racial stereotypes—we relegate them to Disney.”), the eponymous chaperone and Trix the Aviatrix (“Isn’t a pilot like the captain of a ship?”). Remarkably funny, and a tribute to those works of fiction that capture our hearts and take us away from reality. And yes, my bro did an awesome job. “You’re an accident waiting to happen/So why don’t you happen to me?”

The second season of LOST GIRL has Bo the succubus continuing to navigate among the waters of fae crime and politics (not to mention sex) with the over-riding threat of the Garuda, a malevolent entity (I believe the real Hindu myth-being of that name is benevolent) plotting to set the light and dark fae at war. Good fun if you liked the first season. “I’ll shove that arm so far up your butt you’ll be able to manipulate your own intestines.”

VIXEN‘s second season was another run of short webisodes making up a single thirty-minute show, like Season One. This time a diplomat from Mari’s African homeland turns up with one of the other magic totems, pitting the power of Fire against Vixen’s animal magic. Not the best of the CW’s version of DC (or up to Luke Cage as a black TV hero) but I enjoyed it.

The fourth season of SHERLOCK has two excellent episodes and one very crappy one. The Six Thatchers has Sherlock and Watson investigating the destruction of several Thatcher busts (a variation on Doyle’s The Six Napoleons) only to discover a dark secret from Mary Watson’s past. The fallout from this has Watson cutting all ties to Sherlock in The Lying Detective — but when Sherlock takes on a serial killer who seemingly outthinks him will Watson get back in the game in time? I thoroughly enjoyed them both, but then I had to sit through The Final Problem in which—okay, spoilers below after some white space:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

it turns out Sherlock and Mycroft had a sister, Euros, who shows up at the climax of E2. She’s even more brilliant, utterly sociopathic and evil, is kept completely isolated in a top-secret prison — oh, Silence of the Lambs called and it wants its tropes back. It doesn’t help that they’ve made her supposedly so manipulative that just by talking to people she can persuade the entire staff of the prison to serve her. As she doesn’t have Jedi mind tricks or the Master’s hypnotic power, this requires her actually saying something suitably cunning and manipulative (I’ve seen it done elswhere) … and all we get are standard serial-killer cliches. Plus other cliches such as 221B getting blown up but having the guys miraculously hurled through the window unharmed. And a complete waste of Moriarty’s return.

While it’s a relatively minor point, I was also amused that when Holmes falls off the wagon in Lying Detective, he takes drugs but never resorts to tobacco. Given how my ex-smoker friends seem to go for it reflexively in a crisis, I wonder if that says smoking is now less acceptable than other drugs?

 

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