Category Archives: TV

Twilight Zone aesthetics: shabby chic? (#SFWApro)

I just finished rewatching the second season of THE TWILIGHT ZONE and it holds up just as well as the first (all rights to image remain with current holder).

There are some real turkeys, such as the Three Wishes story “Man in the Bottle” and the recycled urban legend “Twenty Two.” But the good ones far outnumber them.

“Shadow Play,” in which Dennis Weaver tries to convince the court sentencing him to death that the whole thing is Weaver’s dream.

Agnes Moorehead is a farmwife who has to battle “The Invaders” in what’s effectively a one-woman show.

“Nervous Man in a Four-Dollar Room” is close to a one-man show, as a petty hood has an unexpected conversation with the man in the mirror.

“The Odyssey of Flight 33,” in which the cockpit crew of a passenger jet realize they’ve slipped through time.

And “The Trouble With Templeton” in which Serling shows that despite his fondness for nostalgic stories about people trying to recapture the past, he knows nostalgia can be a trap too.

As I mentioned reviewing the first season, Serling has a fascination with losers, the lonely, the down-and-out. Giving them a second chance, or sometimes taking away their last chance (as in the first season’s “The Big Tall Wish.”). Watching S2, I wonder if the set design doesn’t reflect this.

It’s common for characters on TV who have next to no money to still have huge, attractive apartments. Not in The Twilight Zone. Here cheap rooms look like cheap rooms, flophouses look floppy, a decayed boarding house looks rundown. Struggling small-town diners look small and struggling. It’s most noticeable in “Penny for Your Thoughts,” in which Ace, a compulsive gambler, discovers his best friend Jimbo (Buddy Ebsen) has TK, which he doesn’t use for anything but little everyday tasks. Ace badgers Jimbo into using his powers to cheat at the craps table and they have a brief shot at the big time before Ace ends up broke but wiser.

The thing is, even when they go to a casino to play, it doesn’t look at all glamorous. It’s a little hole-in-the-wall motel/casino somewhere in Nevada, a big step up for Ace but still small time. And it looks it. Ace never even gets close to glamor.

The cheap look wasn’t budget or a lack of vision. The series has no trouble portraying a nice, middle-class lifestyle as in the prosecutor’s house in “Shadow Play.” So was it a conscious decision to drive home that these stories are about the down-and-outers of the world?

Or is it that with everything in color, these just look even shabbier than they originally were? Or maybe this was the norm for 1950s TV, before things got glossy, and it’s just that Twilight Zone is the only 1950s stuff I watch regularly?

I don’t have an answer but I do find it an interesting question.

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Projectionists, fantastic beasts, lost girls and brothers: movies and TV (#SFWApro

Chuck McCann is THE PROJECTIONIST (1971) at Rodney Dangerfield’s revival house, who constantly fantasizes about himself as film superhero Captain Flash, as a Bogartesque PI or romancing Ina Balin (the movie uses scenes from old movies to build its fantasies). This indie didn’t work for me at all, because McCann’s fantasies seemed less like daydreams than a bunch of movie clips randomly strung together — Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid might be a good double-bill. “Did you notice my fingernails were immaculate?”

The film I actually picked to double-bill with it though was the excellent SHERLOCK JUNIOR (1924), a silent starring Buster Keaton as another daydreaming projectionist After his romantic rival frames Keaton as a thief, Keaton fantasizes about being the legendary detective in the film he’s screening, leading to both metafictional jokes (one attempt to sit down gets thwarted as the scene keeps changing) and to Keaton’s distinctive brand of slapstick. Extremely funny.“The master mind had solved everything, except the location of the pearls and the name of the thief.”

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (2016) is set in 1920s in the Harry Potter universe as a collector of magical animals arrives in New York to release a Thunderbird into the wild (I should note Rowling’s use of Native American myth has been heavily criticized). This entangles him with a muggle baker, an anti-witch crusader, an obscurial (a creature born of repressed magic power) and scheming auror Colin Farrell. This is pleasant enough but relies too much on cool visuals and pretty animal pictures and not enough on plot — the subplot involving publisher Jon Voight and his politically ambitious son goes absolutely nowhere. And as one evil mage points out, why are they so scared of the muggles (or as Yank wizards call them in the film n0n-majjs) when all the power is on the wizarding side? “We need an insect, any kind of insect—and a tea pot!”

The third season of LOST GIRL was only so-so, as I didn’t find Bo’s quest to pass a fae ritual terribly compelling and that’s one of the major arcs of the season. The second arc, involving Lauren going to work for a scientist with a sinister agenda, worked better, and threw in some twists I didn’t expect. And despite the season’s flaws, the last episode of the season made for a good, action-packed cliffhanger. “It’s like my birthday combined with the St. Valentine’s Day massacre!”

The second season of THE ADVENTURES OF PETE AND PETE was where I started watching the stories of the Wrigley Brothers. IIRC “The Call” was the one that kicked it off for me: a phone in one booth has been ringing non-stop for years, but who’s on the other hand? In other stories, little Pete meets the man who inspects his underwear, Ellen drives a math teacher insane, Big Pete struggles to have a talk with his dad and the International Adult Conspiracy plots to destroy Artie, the Strongest Man in the World. Delightfully loonie — it’s a real crime the third season isn’t out on DVD. “Don Ho will not emerge from the valley of darkness.”

My friend Ross has been sending me videotapes of TEEN TITANS GO! for several years and I finally finished them. While I personally preferred the more serious Teen Titans series that preceded it, this nutty take on the team did have some wonderfully goofy moments (what happens when Batman and Trigon both show up for Thanksgiving?). And I quite like this ‘toon’s surly, snarky Raven. “If we don’t celebrate birthdays, the universe has no way to know how old we are.”

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Pets, a tiger woman, the Black Panther and more: Movies and TV (#SFWApro)

THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS (2016) has a blissfully happy dog’s world turn sour when his owner (“We’re soulmates — I wouldn’t use the word, but I can see why other people would.”) brings home a hulking new brother; before long, efforts to get rid of the big guy have them out in the city running from a pet revolutionary army and trying to get home. This feels like an unsuccessful attempt to expand a Pixar short — the scenes showing what pets are up to while we’re away are funny (and as a dog owner I identify with lots of them) but once the dogs leave home it’s formulaic enough it might as well be The Aristocats. “Maybe you have plenty of time, but for me every breath is a cliffhanger.”

THE TIGER WOMAN (1944) was a Republic movie serial starring Linda Stirling (in the photo; all rights to the image remain with current holder) as the White Jungle Goddess who has to deal with schemers plotting to steal the oil lease from the Oil Company of Good. Oh, and they also plan to obtain proof the Tiger Woman is really an American heiress, then kill her and use one of their own to obtain the fortune. This is fun if you can live with the implicit racism of this kind of Tarzan setup (I can, but no question it’s there) and Stirling gets more action than most serial women did (I think she did better in later movies) though the bad guys are both stiff. And yes, the Tiger Woman is wearing a leopard print. “Thanks for the information — you forgot you were dealing with smart people.”

FREE CINEMA was the first disc in a DVD collection of various documentaries in the “free cinema” movement of 1950s Britain. While these would be a fantastic resource if I were writing fiction set in the period (the looks, the clothes, the buildings, peoples’ expressions), they didn’t grab me enough to watch more than a couple. O Dreamland (1953) by Lindsay Anderson was the short that kicked off free cinema with a look at the title amusement park; Momma Don’t Allow (1956) focuses on teens at a dance club.

ROCKET GIBRALTAR (1994) has patriarch Burt Lancaster’s clan gathering for his 77th birthday, where the grandchildren promise to honor Lancaster’s secret fantasy to have a Viking funeral as his birthday gift. A good, low-key film that would double-bill well with Return of the Secaucus Seven (it has a similar slice-of-life feel). With Kevin Space, Bill Pullman, John Glover and Macauley Culkin among the clan.

Moving to TV, FANTASTIC FOUR: World’s Greatest Heroes was a 2006 cartoon that did a very good job with the FF but which never aired all its episodes in the original run (it’s also frustratingly hard to track down even via Netflix). The DVD I did find includes a set of episodes pitting the FF against Doom; solid, well done super-heroic fun.

I didn’t care for Reginald Hudlin’s run on Black Panther which seemed completely discontinuous with everything that went before it (it would have worked better as a Year One) Adapted to a BET network cartoon, however, BLACK PANTHER is a lot of fun and no more divergent than, say, Iron Fist (and a lot better). Djimon Hounsou plays T’Challa (with Alfre Woodard as the queen mother), who finds himself dealing with both American incursions into Wakanda and a scheme by Klaw, the man who killed T’Challa’s father, to kill the son too. Good job. “Send Klaw our best plumber!”

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Families and actors: new screen rant column (#SFWApro)

This time it isn’t comics but Hollywood: actors who don’t get along with their families. I tried to get a variety so it’s not just abuse horror stories: Reese Witherspoon (she humiliates her teenagers by (gasp!) being seen in public with them), Gary Coleman (money stolen by parents), Julia Roberts (when her brother Eric split from his partner she took the partner’s side). And Amanda Byrnes below, who — well, read the article, okay?

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The English gentry and irrational people, or did I just repeat myself? TV and movies (#SFWApro)

The second season of BLANDINGS is in much the same vein as the first: Timothy Spall’s Clarence and Jennifer Saunder’s Connie cope with Clarence’s nitwit son, the schemes of neighbor Gregory Parsloe  and the obnoxious house guests who insist on visiting Blandings, all delivered with typical P.G. Wodehouse humor (“Will you excuse me? I have to … not talk to you.”). The addition of Clarence’s brother Galahad, always my favorite member of the clan in the books, only adds to the fun. Worth viewing if you like Wodehouse. “What you want and what you get are too er, mutually extruding elephants!”

For a less light-hearted look at the upper class we have the second season of UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS. As with the first, this watches the ongoing dramas of the Bellamy family, plus the lives and loves of the Downstairs folks. Has rebellious Sara finally found a man to match her? Has Elizabeth attained true love? What happens when Rose gets unfairly locked up as a suffragette? The death of King Edward marks the end of S2, with hints of WW I in the offing (much as some of the characters scoff at the possibility). I loved this as a teen, and still do now. “This is just another example of the decline in morals that’s creeping all over the world.”

THE BEST OF TIMES (1986) feels oddly familiar to me after all my work on Now and Then We Time Travel — Robin Williams obsession with re-enacting the Big Game he lost in high school could easily have led to him jumping back in time for a do-over. As this isn’t a time-travel movie, however, he’s forced into elaborate shenanigans to get both teams to repeat the game, even though quarterback Kurt Russell is terrified this will undo his own legend (“Everyone remembers me throwing six.”). With D.W. Moffat as Williams overbearing in-law, M. Emmett Walsh as a sports booster, and Kirk Cameron and Robyn Lively among the kids herein. This doesn’t work for everyone, but it definitely clicks with me.  All rights to image remain with current holder. “I was always amazed at the way you could make so much noise without doing anything.”

Woody Allen’s IRRATIONAL MAN (2015) definitely doesn’t click, though it’s still more watchable than a lot of his 21st century films. Joaquin Phoenix is a drunken, depressed professor who regains his zest for life when he decides to murder a judge on the grounds He Needs Killing (one critic speculates that like Blue Jasmine this is Allen settling an old score from past court battles), only to realize his lover, pretty student Emma Stone, Knows Too Much. With some tinkering this would have made a passable 1970s TV-movie mystery, but instead we’re stuck with pointless voice-overs (either the narration says what we already know or it mouths platitude) and the baffling question why Stone falls into Phoenix’ arms (it’s even less convincing than Magic in the Moonlight). One thing I did like was the idea that Phoenix’ genius is more sizzle than steak, but Allen doesn’t do anything with it. Parker Posey plays a cheating faculty wife; Ethan Phillips plays Stone’s dad. “This is a better existential lesson than anything in the textbook.”

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Sherlock Holmes, mutants, a Tick and a clever man: movies and TV (#SFWApro)

My first thought after watching The Hound of the Baskervilles was to watch another film about inheriting a title by murder, The List of Adrian Messenger … but it turns out I don’t have it. So I went with 1944’s THE PEARL OF DEATH, a reworking of Doyle’s The Six Napoleons in which conniving villains Miles Mander and Evelyn Ankers steal and hide a priceless pearl, then begin the hunt for it. Aiding them is “the Creeper,” a Brute Man played by Rondo Hatton, a real life acromegalic (so he looks pretty freaky) who went to play similar roles in other films (including The Spider Woman Strikes Back). Opposing them, of course, are Watson, Holmes and Dennis Hooey’s clueless Lestrade (seen between the two stars in the photo — all rights to image remain with current holder). It’s one of the better films in the series. “You haven’t robbed and killed merely for gain like any ordinary halfway decent thug. No, you’re in love with cruelty for it’s own sake.”

X-MEN: Apocalypse (2016) worked better for me than I anticipated from the reviews (that I was stuck on the couch petting Plush Dog so I couldn’t do much but watch TV may have helped, of course) as the return of the original mutant Apocalypse reunites the cast of First Class with newcomers Scott, Jean and Kurt to (what else) save the world. The weaknesses here are Magneto (even given the death of his family is comics canon, it’s stock, and leaves him once again teetering between Good and Evil), Apocalypse (I don’t like the comics version but Oscar Isaacs’ turn here is even duller) and just too much stuff and too many characters (Olivia Munn’s Psylocke gets zero characterization). But there’s no question it was the right movie for that afternoon. “I hate to break it to you but you’re not the biggest freak at this school.”

TV-wise, I watched two first episodes that managed to kill my interest in further viewing. First we have Amazon’s THE TICK (2017) which despite being written by Tick creator Ben Edlund seems to miss all the fun or the comics or the cartoon. It’s the equivalent of a grim-and-gritty reboot where Arthur’s single determining incident is the death of his father after a superhero team crash their jet on top of him because the Big Bad blinded them all with a syphilis based aerosol! I half wonder if Edlund was trying to go so over the top it’d be funny, but I don’t think so. “What’s behind your ear? That’s right — nothing!”

CLEVERMAN (2016) is an Australian specfic show that recycles the cliches of mutants/mages/Ets as discriminated minority: the “Hairies” are confined to their own part of the city, bullied by the authorities, but now the time may have come to fight for their rights. Despite getting some good reviews, I found this one way too trite to bother with.

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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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