Category Archives: TV

New Screen Rant column: 18 things you didn’t know about the Daleks (#SFWApro)

As my new Screen Rant column explains:

Daleks can climb stairs!

An appearance in Looney Tunes: Back in Action almost kept the Daleks from appearing in the new Doctor Who series.

There’s actually a Christmas song about Daleks.

And more quirky trivia from the nastiest of TV’s aliens. Go read right now or — “Ex-ter-min-ate!”

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Angry Martians, a disappointing black film, TV and a play: reviews (#SFWApro)

THE ANGRY RED PLANET (1960) is by the same creators as the tedious The Time Travelers and equally uninteresting, except for one truly memorable monster, the absurd bat-rat-spider. An expedition to Mars encounters various Martian horrors before the Martians send them home and tell them not to come back, the end. Very, very talky in the drawing-room SF vein (even though most of the talk takes place in labs or on the ship). “Nothing I’ve seen contradicts the theory that basic matter is the same everywhere in the universe.”

A PIECE OF THE ACTION (1976) was Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier’s third and final big-screen team-up (the first being Uptown Saturday Night) and easily the worst. Instead of blue-collar buddies, they’re now master criminals (safe cracker and conman respectively) blackmailed by retired cop James Earl Jones into serving as mentors at a job center for troubled inner-city youth. I loved this the first time I saw it, but now I recognize how many shopworn tropes are in it — this could as easily have been Welcome Back Kotter or one of Warner Brothers’ 1930s dramas about slum kids, coupled with the time-honored plot of Guy Becomes Teacher, Blossoms Into Decent Human Being and lots of stuff about how all the kids need is Confidence and a Good Attitude. Another problem is that there are two main plots, the crime drama (will the vengeful mobsters catch up with them?) and the kid stuff, and the film doesn’t mesh them smoothly. “That’s your first lesson — nobody gives you something for nothing.”

DC LEGENDS OF TOMORROW had a much better season than its first, replacing Vandal Savage with the Legion of Doom (“I got the name from this cartoon I watched as a kid.”), a trio of established villains who very much want to rewrite history to put wrong what once went right. This was just a really fun show and the final episode of the season was spectacular. “Why would a relic from the Crusades turn up in the Galapagos during the Reagan era?”

I recently discovered that the one nonsyndicated episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, The Encounter, was online at YouTube and so thought I’d give it a look. This story of Nisei George Takei and WW II veteran Neville Brand locking horns with each other is superbly acted — given it’s a two-man show, they picked two great guys. Unfortunately the racial overtones are (as they say) problematic, staring with the Big Reveal that Takei’s father was a Japanese spy working with the attackers at Pearl Harbor (there was no Japanese fifth column at Pearl Harbor). The rest of the arc seems to imply that Takei has something to atone for equivalent to Brand murdering a Japanese officer, or that he’s still somehow a threat just because of his sinister Japanese-ness or something, which probably explains why it’s not in syndication or on DVD.THE GRAND DUKE was Gilbert and Sullivan’s last production and I wasn’t optimistic about it given Utopia Limited and Princess Ida (the preceding creations) were hardly their A-game. Surprisingly this was very entertaining: a troupe of actors plotting to take over a small German principality get a lucky break due to an arcane rule of law that allows one of their number to legally assume the Grand Duke’s role. However it turns out that includes the Grand Duke’s responsibilities, such as marriage — or engagements — and it turns out the Duke’s been kind of free with his proposals. Great fun, good looking and well performed; the duke is somewhat modeled on Trump, but that works fine.. “Be a violet — a crushed, despairing violet.”

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A sheriff, a Victorian damsel and a Harlem hero: Movies and TV (#SFWApro)

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF (1969) stars James Garner as a drifter (“Just so you understand, I’m on my way to Australia.”) who becomes the sheriff of a small gold-rush town struggling with local landowner Walter Brennan’s stranglehold on the community (the only way to ship anything in or out is over his property). This is more of a conventional Western than the sequel, Support Your Local Gunfighter — where Garner in the second film is just a conman, here he really is a supremely fast gun — but it’s still very funny. Both films make use of Harry Morgan, Henry Jones and Jack Elam (“He’s the town character.”), plus this one has Joan Hackett as a feisty hoyden and Bruce Dern as a gunslinging bully. Well worth catching.“It’s an Arizona trick, but I’ve seen it as far north as Montana.”
Much as I loved Mia Wasikowska’s Alice in Wonderland, ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (2016) wastes Wasikowska and my time. After life events take away everything Alice gained at the end of the first film, she’s called back to Wonderland where the Mad Hatter has gone completely mad due to his tragic backstory — can Alice go back in time and change things? I enjoyed the first film reworking Carroll, but this just has too little source material (and for obvious reasons, the time travel aspect was depressingly familiar) and way too much retconning — did we really need the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter to have a single determining incident explaining them? Wasikowka’s still great, but the film is sub-par.  “I need to find her immediately, but there’s no hurry.”
The first season of Netflix’s LUKE CAGE, as one critic said, is remarkable for how much it embraces it’s blackness: overwhelmingly black cast, references to black authors such as Chester Hymes [edited to get the name right], Harlem setting and more. The story has ex-con Cage (previously in Netflix’ Jessica Jones) reluctantly becoming Harlem’s hero in residence to stop a scheming politician, the crimelord Cottonmouth and the even more vicious Diamondback. I liked it all the way through, more than either of its predecessor series, but it seems a lot of people found it wearing out its welcome. So YMMV. “I don’t go past — I go through!”

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Goodbye Jo, Goodbye Jackanapes: Doctor Who, Season Ten (#SFWApro)

As I don’t have enough material for a book-review post this week, how about Doctor Who? Season Ten was noteworthy for writing out Jo Grant and for losing the Master (afterRoger Delgado died in a car accident, nobody wanted to replace such a fan favorite write away).

The season kicks off in high style with The Three Doctors (all rights to image remain with current holder) in which the renegade Time Lord Omega threatens all time and space; when the Third Doctor fails to stop him, the Time Lords send in the Second and the First (though Hartnell’s health issues left him only an image on the TARDIS monitor). This was an outstanding one, though slightly undercut by the low budget — Omega’s monster servants look like they’re spackled with gumdrops. Noteworthy also in that ends with the Doctor regaining his freedom to travel the time stream. “If I exist only by my will, then my will is to destroy!”

In Carnival of Monsters, the TARDIS’ first test flight appears to land the Doctor and Jo on a cruise ship in 1937, only it seems time is repeating over and over … because the ship is actually trapped in a time-space viewer an alien huckster is using to entertain another planet. Oh, and the monsters from some of the other time-space snapshots are breaking out … This gets a bit too crowded — the issue of the aliens overthrowing their despotic leader gets very short shrift — but it’s not bad. “They’ve no sense of responsibility. Give them a hygiene chamber and they store fossil fuel in it.”

In trying to return from that adventure, the TARDIS materializes on a space freighter plying THE FRONTIER IN SPACE. That doesn’t go well as Earth is convinced the alien Draconians are preying upon Earth shipping; the Draconians, conversely, are convinced Earth is responsible. Hmm, could someone be setting the two sides against each other? This starts stiffly with the guest cast clench-jawed in intensity, but it picks up as it goes along. And I really like that Jo gets some great moments, such as blocking the Master’s hypnosis (not easily done). This included the Master, the Ogrons (their last appearance — surprisingly the new series has yet to revive them) and the Daleks; the ending sets up a battle between the Master and the Daleks but Delgado’s death nixed that (as the ending is primarily a segue into Planet of the Daleks it’s a little awkward anyway. “Allow me to congratulate you—you have the most closed mind I have ever encountered.”

PLANET OF THE DALEKS comes off as a remake of the series’ second serial, The Daleks: once again the Doctor and the Thals (the other inhabitants of Skaro) join forces to attack a Dalek citadel (where several thousand Dalek warriors are in suspended animation waiting for reactivation). Of course by this point there were lots of fans who’d never seen the original (I hadn’t) — but by the same token, I wouldn’t have gotten any kick out of the return of the Thals (“Who?”). This does have a great turn by Katy Manning, as Jo’s virtually a solo act for half the first episode. “Earth doesn’t exist — it’s a name out of old legends.”

Last and least we have THE GREEN DEATH, in which Jo gets involved in a protest against a polluting corporation, then discovers (along with the Doctor) that its pollution is breeding Giant Killer Maggots, oh plus there’s an evil computer in charge plotting to take over the world. The elements are there for a good one, but they never pull together — while the idea the maggots result from the computer’s neglect rather than intentional evil is interesting, it never gelled (it’s like The War Machines just happened to be rolling through London at the same time as the Doctor fought WOTAN). Add in heavy-handed ecological preachment (even though I’m sympathetic to the sentiments) and Jo become much more dimwitted so the Professor (whom she goes off with) can demonstrate his braininess makes him worthy to claim her affections from the Doctor. However I do highly recommend Global Conspiracy, a short mockumentary in which a reporter tries digging up the incredible truth of what exactly happened during the serial (or is it just an urban legend, like “stories of lizards in vests attacking seamen?”). It’s pitch-perfect, and hysterical. “A shame we didn’t arrange for an orchestra to play a symphony at my ascension.”

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Timeless Women Welcome the Bizarro Justice League: Movies and TV (#SFWApro)

When TIMELESS started out last fall, I wrote it off as a Time Tunnel ripoff with the protagonists jumping to various times to stop the diabolical Flynn from unmaking American history. It started getting interesting when the heroes learned Flynn’s goal was to destroy the sinister Rittenhouse conspiracy that had been manipulating America since 1776, and if tearing down history was what it took … Despite sinister conspiracies being old hat too (I should know, I wrote the book on them), it turned out to be an intriguing, well-executed show. I hope it returns for a second season. “I’m sorry, let me look up on Wikipedia what happens if you take too many people through a black hole!”

I watched WELCOME (2009) under the impression it was a wacky rom-com but figured out fairly fast it was actually a sober drama about a Kurdish refugee in Normandy determined to reach his true love in England; when conventional methods of sneaking don’t cut it, he sets out to swim the distance with the help of a swim coach coping with his own personal crisis. Good, though not great. “They picked him up in England—he washed up on the shore.”

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(Illustration from Movie Web, all rights reside with current holder).

JUSTICE LEAGUE VERSUS BIZARRO LEAGUE (2015) is a Lego follow-up to BATMAN: BE-LEAGUERED in which Superman strands Bizarro on an alien world, getting rid of his imperfect duplicate for good — until Darkseid’s attack forces the JLA and the Bizarro League to join forces. Fun, and deftly skewers how paranoid Batman comes off at times in the comics (“The only place I could trust Superman would be on a reversed planet like this.”). “I swear to you, great Darkseid, they didn’t hear about our plan from me—unless my mother said something.”

THE WOMEN (2008) reworks the classic film to tell how seemingly happy Supermom Meg Ryan discover her husband is cheating on her with perfume salesgirl Eva Mendez; while the updating isn’t smooth (Annette Bening’s efforts to transform women’s magazines feel about 30 years behind the times) it boasts some great lines (“I avoid forming close friendships — that way I don’t have to take people to the airport.”) and a first-rate cast. Candice Bergen plays Ryan’s mom, Jada Pinkett Smith is a lesbian author, Debra Messing is a baby machine and Cloris Leachman is a domestic confusing Status and Contract (“You got involved!”). “I’m going to stop talking because I’m exhausted and I need this baby to come out of me now!”

THE BERLIN WALL (2009) was a short film on the same disc about a grieving elderly widower who finds solace in taking his and his late wife’s treasured piece of the Wall and building a new wall out of it, which provokes assorted responses among the neighbors (“He’s not the only one tired of them mooching off our taxes!”). Not bad, but probably worked better for the original audience.

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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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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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