Category Archives: TV

Is Sherlock Holmes — Powerless? Movie/TV reviews (#SFWApro)

Due to my wildly social weekend, not much watched:

SHERLOCK HOLMES IN NEW YORK (1976) was a delayed double-bill to last week’s Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, as the Rathbone movie clearly influenced the opening of this one. Once again, Moriarty vows to destroy Holmes’ legend by pulling off the crime of the century (“This past century and all the centuries to come.”) right in front of him. This time though his method is to blackmail Holmes into helplessness by kidnapping his son by Irene Adler (“Do you remember that night ten years ago in Montenegro?”). Roger Moore is much more a conventional leading man than most Holmes, but he makes it work; John Huston is marvelously malevolent as Moriarty; Rampling manages to infuse Irene with considerable presence given she’s a pure damsel in distress. Patrick Macnee is the weak spot, playing Watson as a thickheaded Nigel Bruce type. Well worth watching; as Moriarty’s scheme involves an impossible gold robbery, Goldfinger might be another good double-bill (all rights to image remain with current holder). “Do you now see the genius, the artistry of this Napoleon of Crime?”

POWERLESS was a series I initially didn’t care for but which slowly won me over (though I’m clearly a minority). The premise is that perky Emily (Vanessa Hudgens) goes to work for a Wayne Industries subsidiary run by Bruce’s idiot cousin Van (Alan Tudyk) that works on security products for non-super people in a world where metahuman battles, wormholes and mad science pose a constant threat. At its worst, this was a generic workplace comedy; at its best it got the feel of Astro City or Damage Control (I do hope Powerless hasn’t killed the chances for a Damage Control series) of showing life in a comic-book universe (“No, I’m not from Atlanta, I’m from Atlantis.”). The last episode probably wouldn’t have aired except Adam West’s death gave his “gratuitous cameo” some extra cachet. “Everyone knows Flash got super-speed from a radioactive cheetah.”

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Cyborgs, Santa Claus and Satan: Looking Back (#SFWApro)

So while doing research on one of my Screen Rant articles, I realized I’d forgotten a lot of the movies I’d watched and reviewed for my first film book, Cyborgs, Santa Claus And Satan, on made-for-TV specfic films. So I trotted the book out and reread it. Which makes me appreciate why some actors say they can never watch themselves on film.

Okay, not that bad. And seeing as it’s 17 years old, I should be fairly critical of my past work. The biggest criticism is my sentence structure. Writing nonfiction I have an odd resistance to short sentences. In my most recent books I have that under control. Here, I didn’t. So there are lots and lots of parentheses, and lots and lots of sentences with semicolons instead of periods. Bad me!

Besides that, the writing is … variable. Some of the entries read smoothly, if not quite nicely. Others turn out to be just jumbles of names thrown at the reader to the point it must have been confusing for people who didn’t see the movie (that’s something else I’m better at now).

Writing flaws aside, I’m quite pleased with the book. It’s not complete — I later stumbled across several movies I’d missed — but overall I did a damn good job, in a field that simply wasn’t covered by anyone else (this was, of course, when the Internet was in its infancy). SF movie books tended to dismiss TV movies; actor filmographies did the same.  And I think I did a good job positioning the films in both how they relate to the print SF world and the recurring tropes and shticks of specifically TV specfic:

•Robot/android goes on the run when it turns out the government wants to use him as an assassin.

•Human cop pairs with robot/android.

•Human cop pairs with a psychic.

•Endless knockoffs of The Fugitive, the 1960s series (basis for the Harrison Ford film) in which the protagonist wanders endlessly across America getting involved in people’s lives as he struggles to escape a murder charge. The Immortal, The Phoenix, the Visitor, The Incredible Hulk, Dr. Franken, the list of Fugitives is huge.

So while I wince at my stylistic weaknesses, I still feel happy I wrote the book.

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I’m curious to see the reactions to this Screen Rant post (#SFWApro)

It’s on TV comics adaptations that changed everything. Which is a very subjective judgment. The Incredible Hulk TV show for instance, caught the character of Bruce Banner (even if it renamed him David) as a tormented loner, endlessly wandering and seeking freedom from his curse. In that sense, the show is true to its roots. But the Hulk comic books are at least as much about Hulk Will Smash!! followed by massive amounts of property damage, which didn’t translate to the show. I didn’t include it in the list, but it’s on the borderline. I did include The Incredible Hulk Returns for its variant version of Thor (all rights to image remain with current holders).

Read the article. Enjoy!

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Blue Jasmine, death, giant ants and super-hero girls: movies viewed (#SFWApro)

Cate Blanchett is awesome as the protagonist of Woody Allen’s BLUE JASMINE (2013), the selfish, snobbish, shallow wife of Wall Street wizard Alec Baldwin, now divorced, broke and forced to live with her sister in a blue-collar West Coast milieu (including Andrew Dice Clay giving a surprisingly good performance as Blanchett’s brother-in-law). Unfortunately the movie itself displays a vicious streak out of proportion to Jasmine’s failures — I kept wanting her to learn her lesson rather than just keep suffering. It doesn’t help that her fatal misstep was calling the cops on her husband’s financial scams when she learned he was in love with their sixteen-year-old au pair — it feels like Allen’s getting back at Mia Farrow by showing how unreasonable she was not to step aside when he fell for her daughter. “Have you ever gotten high on nitrous oxide?”

A CERTAIN KIND OF DEATH (2003) is a good documentary about what happens to people who die without next-of-kin, from cremains found in a funeral home with no identifying tag to a derelict dead in his hotel room. This looks at both the legal and practical problems, and covers them well. “The last thing you want on your machine is ‘I’m Lt. Neff from the coroner’s office, please call me.’”

THEM (1954) was  the ur-Giant Insect film wherein James Whitmore and James Arness discover the reason for a string of brutal assaults is the gigantic ants created by the atom bomb tests, now swarming across the landscape for food and killing everyone in their path. Shows how good a 1950s giant insect film can be, a lesson unfortunately lost on pretty much all the ones that followed. With Edmund Gwenn as an ant expert. “Are you suggesting that we put the lives of all the people in this city at risk for the sake of two children who in all probability are already dead?”

DC SUPERHERO GIRLS: Hero of the Year (2016) has the Super Hero High students preparing for the annual Hero of the Year festival along with Principal Waller and Vice-Principal Grodd (“Waller got him out of prison for some kind of community service squad.”) only to have Eclipso and Dark Opal steal a set of McGuffins that will give them Power Absolute. Cute, and as always, interesting to see what carries over from other versions — Starfire and Beast Boy are very much modeled on their Teen Titans Go! characterizations, for instance. “I never wanted to be a world conqueror — I wanted to be a theater major!”

(All rights to poster image remain with current holder.)

THE NIGHT MANAGER was a British miniseries based on the John Le Carré book, which Hugh Laurie as the amoral munitions dealer and Tom Hiddleston as the man who infiltrates his organization to take it down from inside. Despite the talents of the cast, this didn’t click with me — and as in the original book, the main romance didn’t work well at all. I quit midway through. “If you cross Roper, I’m going to cut it off—and I don’t mean your fingers.”

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Yellowface martial artists, Sherlock Holmes and the Addams Family: TV seasons wrapping up (#SFWApro)

KUNG FU caused a sensation when it aired on TV in 197x. David Carradine plays a half-American Shaolin monk who kills the Emperor’s son (after the latter killed Caine’s beloved teacher) and so flees to America, where he seeks to find his half brother Danny Caine. Traveling across the West, sharing Eastern philosophy and doling out kung fu kicks when necessary, it was like no Western (or TV show) ever seen (including dealing with racism in the Old West more frankly than most sixties westerns did). And it went a long way to broadening American interest in the martial arts (it was after this series that Marvel put out Master of Kung Fu for instance).

Of course 40 years later I’m aware that it’s yellowface casting (David Carradine was thoroughly Caucasian) and with its share of Asian stereotypes. Nevertheless, having just watched the first season on DVD (I picked up the set a while ago), it still works for me. All rights to image remain with current holder.

Netflix’s IRON FIST, on the other hand, didn’t work at all. Carradine was good in his role; I can’t think of anything Netflix gained by putting largely forgettable Finn Jones in the lead role as Danny Rand, who’s returned to New York and the company his father built years after vanishing in the mysterious East, supposedly dead. Almost nobody believes he’s the Iron Fist, a mystical martial arts champion chosen as the adversary of the Hand, those ninjas from Daredevil — and the people who do believe, Danny comes to wish did not. Danny in the comics is a white guy, so it’s not yellowface, but I can understand why a number of Chinese Americans would have liked someone Chinese or Eurasian in the role (it’s not as if the story requires Danny to be white, it was just that in the Bronze Age that was still the default for characters). Admittedly I’d be more forgiving if the series was good, but it wasn’t: it spends an astonishing amount of time on Danny’s legal and boardroom maneuvers as he struggles to get the company back and direct it more effectively.  A flop all the way around.

Then again, it’s still superior to the BBC/s 1965 SHERLOCK HOLMES series. Despite adapting Doyle’s stories well, this tanks due to Douglas Wilmer’s portrayal of Sherlock — with his plummy, uppercrust accent, Wilmer comes off as a very pompous, stuffy kind of Sherlock. And neither of those attributes should ever apply to the great detective.

The second season of ADDAMS FAMILY has been a pleasure to rewatch. The cast are amazing (there’s a great spotlight episode for Ted Cassidy as a love-smitten Lurch) and even though the shticks and tropes don’t change from show to show, it’s goofy and over the top enough to work. And the Addams are still so outside the mainstream that even years later, the show hasn’t become dated. It’s easy to see why it’s had so many spinoffs (cartoons, the two movies, and recently a film-to-Broadway musical).

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More on (un)satisfying endings: Once Upon a Time, Season Six (#SFWApro)

ONCE UPON A TIME (rights to image remain with current holder) wrapped all its plotlines this season, better than Blind Spot did, but not necessarily well. Spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

The sixth season itself, for me, was largely unsuccessful, juggling several plotlines:

•Inhabitants of the realm of unfinished stories — people like Dr. Jekyll, who know their story ends badly and want to escape it — show up en masse in Storybrooke.

•Jekyll’s potion liberates Regina’s evil side to wreak havoc again (the actual split may have been at the end of last season — I honestly don’t remember).

•Emma’s powers as the savior begin to waver as she starts getting visions of her death.

•Aladdin, who fled his role as the savior of Aghrabar, reunites with Jasmine and steps up to the plate at last.

•Gideon (Rumple and Belle’s son) shows up as an adult. So does Rumple’s mother the Black Fairy, who’s forged Gideon into her weapon to destroy Emma.

The results were mixed. The unfinished stories had some potential, but outside of Jekyll/Hyde, they never did much with it, focusing primarily on Aladdin (better than the plotlines with characters from Frozen and Brave though). Wicked Regina felt like recycling plots from several seasons back, though I did like the ending (Good Regina gives up enough of her own goodness to change her dark side’s evil ways).

The plotline with Emma and the Black Fairy was the big one for the season. It suffered from ramping up the parent/child issues this show frequently deals with to a factor of 11. And the ending seemed like a cop-out. We’re told repeatedly that if Emma kills Gideon, she’ll succumb to her dark side. If he kills her, the Black Fairy wins. Before we get to the final battle we have a cliche far too many fantasy/SF TV series use — the lead character wakes up in a mental hospital, told that everything they’ve been experiencing is just a delusion of their warped brain (Smallville and Buffy have both pulled that one).

And then in the final battle Emma realizes the way out — let Gideon kill her. Her heroic sacrifice causes a big burst of pretty life which fries the Black Fairy and saves the day. Which is not a bad finish per se (I’ve seen good stories where victory hinges on refusing to hurt an innocent) but as we’ve been told repeatedly Emma Dies = Evil Wins, with absolutely no hint it could be otherwise … like I said, a cop-out.

I did like the final scenes in which everyone in Storybrooke gets their happy ending. Emma and Kilian marry, Snow and David are happy with their family, Regina now lives in a town where people like her (points for not just finding her a man at the last minute). And then at the end we meet Henry 10 years later, finding a small girl at his door offering him the Author’s book, just as he once showed it to his mom. She says she’s his daughter (like Emma, he denies it) and that only he can break the curse …

I don’t know if it’ll work. I don’t know if I’ll watch. But I think the reboot is a good idea. It’s obvious they’ve got nowhere new to go with events in Storybrooke, and this way the happy endings stay happy.

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TV superheroes taking a break (#SFWApro)

So once again I didn’t get much movie viewing in last weekend. But as it’s the end of the TV season, let’s look at the super-shows.

SUPERGIRL had an excellent second season, starting off with Tyler Hoechlin’s appearance as Superman/Clark, very much in the mode of Chris Reeve rather than the grim-and-gritty take of Man of Steel. The season that follows include Alex’s coming out (and starting a relationship with cop Maggie Sawyer), Win getting a girl, Jimmy becoming the Guardian and Kara herself getting a romance with Mon-El. I thought the final episode would suffer from being yet another alien invasion, but they did a great job, including a Superman/Supergirl fight (and as others have noted, managing to keep Supergirl the star despite her more famous cousin). Nicely done (cover by Mahmud Asrar, all rights to current holder)

FLASH‘s third season opened with a riff on the Flashpoint event, with Barry living in a changed timeline  where his parents are alive and he’s happy with that. Unfortunately changing time has consequences, and they haunt Barry even after he puts things right: the self-proclaimed god of speed, Savitar, begins reproducing the Flashpoint metahumans in the real world, leading up to his plan to kill Iris. Which a time-traveling Barry knows will already come to pass … Lively as it usually is, though I really hate Savitar’s armor.

GREEN ARROW has Oliver struggling as mayor of Star City while expanding Team Arrow to include Mr. Terrific, Wild Dog, Ragman and Artemis. Pitted against them, Prometheus, a villain out for revenge on Ollie and always two steps ahead of him. What worked best this season is the way it forced Ollie to look back at his first season and the ruthless way he killed people (I love the episode where the new team learns how Oliver was doing all the violent things he’s now telling them not to). The flashback plotline involving Russian mobsters was uninspired and the Vigilante shows up for several episodes but his plotline never goes anywhere. Overall, though, a good season with a good final episode bringing back lots of familiar faces.

AGENTS OF SHIELD has never really clicked for me, and this was another season of not-quite-clicking. It has lots of elements such as the accursed Darkhold, the Ghost Rider, and a renegade Ai, but also a lot of tedious bureaucratic struggles over SHIELD and its direction. Then in the last third of the season we plunge into a computer generated virtual reality where everyone’s living alternative lives … and that didn’t grab me at all.

Looking forward to the summer hiatus and the chance to catch up on various other shows on Netflix and Hulu.

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