Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

I’ve mentioned how our son tends to quietly babble and talk during movies, despite me being one of those boring old fuddy-duddies who wishes people would shush. I’ve become quite a bit less of a stick in the mud, I think, because our son has so much more fun watching movies than pretty much anybody else. So when the Nova Corps and the Ravagers have a ridiculously gorgeous mid-air shootout with all the gunships of Ronan the Accuser, who could grouse when the kid bellowed “THIS IS EPIC!!” Or a little while later, when Star-Lord starts his dance-off with Ronan and our kid shouted “What the– what the what?” Who could complain?

Guardians of the Galaxy may not be my pick for the best Marvel movie, but it’s certainly one of the most fun. Our son immediately and unsurprisingly hailed this one as his favorite. He liked Rocket best, of course, but he liked all of the heroic characters and he laughed all the way through the film.

As I’m a little short on time now, I’ll just breeze through and note that Guardians of the Galaxy, the tenth Marvel Universe film, was directed by James Gunn and introduced a mob of new characters and locations. It stars the incredibly likable Chris Pratt as the barely likable Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana as the assassin Gamora, and Dave Bautista as the hyper-literal Drax the Destroyer. They’re joined by former Doctor Who companion Karen Gillan as the cyborg Nebula, Glenn Close as an alien politician, the great character actor and comedian John C. Reilly as an overworked space cop, and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel as the show-stealing Rocket and Groot. It’s huge fun, the music is mostly great, and that dance-off moment is fabulous.

Quibble: Seth Green does the voice of Howard the Duck in a post-credit moment. Howard’s creator, the great Steve Gerber, always said that Howard should sound like Burgess Meredith. That said, now that Wally Sidney owns Howard, is it absolutely necessary for him to continue wearing trousers?

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Doctor Who: Earthshock (part four)

In 1966, over the course of a legendary twelve-part serial, two of Doctor Who‘s companions were killed. They were both created to die; Katarina and Sara were only around for five weeks and eight weeks respectively. Adric’s death was quite different. And the fallout, in the next episode, is one of just a couple of things about that story I enjoy. Is that enough foreshadowing for you readers?

As kids, we were glad to see Adric go. As a character and as a performance, Matthew Waterhouse’s look and costume, and his often petulant portrayal, all seem almost specifically designed to annoy male teenagers. There are probably essays about why viewers of that age disliked Adric so intensely. I’ve written in the past about how I watched Who in a vacuum in the seventh grade. By the time the Peter Davison years started showing on our PBS station, I was in the eighth grade, with a different set of classmates. Not only was my older pal Blake watching, but so were four or five of us in Pod 8A in late 1984. We were all about thirteen and we all detested Adric. The feeling, I learned, was widespread. Eighteen months later, Peter Davison was at a convention in Atlanta and explained by way of an explosion noise into a microphone what he thought Adric’s best moment was and the whole room applauded.

But as for the viewers in the seven year-old age bracket, the one in our house was incredibly surprised and taken aback. His older brother and sister were also in elementary school when they saw this story and were also stunned. Smaller kids like Adric. He’s not the awkward, oily-haired kid in the school A/V club to them but a young hero to look up to.

As a grownup – assuming I can be called a grownup – of course I’ve come to like Adric more and more, especially seeing him through my kids’ eyes. It’s true that Matthew Waterhouse’s performance and line delivery often take me out of the fiction, to say it mildly, and I do like the way that Adric doesn’t even get to die heroically. He’s at least granted a stoic finale, and the music is subtle and perfectly in tone with the moment. For the only time in the show’s history, the credits of part four roll silently. The camera lingers over Adric’s broken gold star badge while the program gives one of its main characters a moment of silence, and I think it’s done extremely well.

It’s certainly the best in-the-show death any companion’s probably ever going to get. I’m never pleased when they undermine the drama of a death with a get-out clause a week or two later, as Steven Moffat did as often as possible. This was done right, and I really enjoyed it. Adric may or may not have been a great character, but he got a terrific ending.

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Doctor Who: Earthshock (parts two and three)

Well, what I was going to say last night, before our son went and stole my thunder, is that “Earthshock” is a very popular and very entertaining story written by Eric Saward and directed, with incredible tension and a frantic pace that Who rarely employed as effectively as here, by Peter Grimwade. It featured the return of the Cybermen after seven years away from the program.

And it features Beryl Reid, interestingly, as one of the main guest stars. Reid is one of those names in British entertainment largely unknown to Americans, but I’m assured that she’s a very curious choice. It strikes me as part of the same spirit of season nineteen, where we’ve seen more prominent “guest stars” better known for starring comedy roles than ever before, rather than returning to the usual bench of character actors. I mean, sure, you want somebody to play the chief constable in a quiet English village in 1925, you go to Moray Watson (or you phone Glyn Houston if Watson turns it down), but I like seeing people like Reid, Nerys Hughes, and Michael Robbins in parts like these.

(I’ve also been oddball-casting what this season of Who would have looked like as an American show in 1982 to drive home just how strange these choices are. I figure Karl Malden as Monarch, Penny Marshall as Dr. Todd, and John Ritter as Richard Mace. I can’t quite decide between Betty White or Jean Stapleton as Captain Briggs.)

Anyway, in the nineties, fandom started turning on “Earthshock” because it’s full of tough men with guns trying to be macho. There’s more of this to come in the Eric Saward years, which is a disappointment to people who only want Doctor Who to be about Tom Baker trading witty insults with Julian Glover. That said, I’m not looking all that forward to a couple of upcoming adventures which don’t have the great bonus of Peter Grimwade’s direction. Considering the severe limitations of videotaping gun battles “as live” in a studio, the shootouts in “Earthshock” rank among the best in the whole program.

And they had our kid on the edge of his seat, up off his seat, hiding behind the sofa, and having a complete blast. He says that he totally loves the action in this story, but he’s also simultaneously protesting that the Cybermen are too scary. “I like action, but the Cybermen are about domination, not action!” That, and their thumbs are mean, we mustn’t forget.

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Doctor Who: Earthshock (part one)

“Oh, come on! Come on!”

Was that a cool cliffhanger, Little Dude?

“No! It was NOT a cool cliffhanger!”

Really? Don’t you want to see what happens next?

“Duh, yeah!”

Well, a cool cliffhanger makes you want to see what happens next. So…

“But it’s the Cybermen! And they’re TOO MEAN!”

They’re too mean?

“The Cybermen are mean! They are TOTALLY mean! Even their thumbs are mean! They’re even meaner than the Daleks! The Daleks are only HALF-mean and the Cybermen are all mean. They want to take over EVERYTHING!”

Millions of opinions about Doctor Who have been voiced in fifty-five years. I think I like this one best of all.

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Young Indiana Jones 3.6 – South Pacific, 1919

There is so much to love about the second half of “Treasure of the Peacock’s Eye.” It gets the rollercoaster treasure hunt over and done with surprisingly quickly, and our son absolutely loved it when our heroes get chased off one island and escape with their lives. It then settles into a long, almost meditative groove as this kid we’ve been watching becomes Indiana Jones. It’s a fantastic performance by Sean Patrick Flanery.

I feel this is a good companion piece to the “Congo” story, where Indy met Albert Schweitzer. I like the way that Indy occasionally meets these thoughtful father figures who quietly show him the love and the heart that his own father never did. Here, Indy and Remy spend a few days in the company of a tribe in the South Seas, and go with them on an important cultural exchange to another island. There, they meet Bronislaw Malinowski, the father of participant observation anthropology, who is living with the second tribe. Malinowski is played by Tom Courtenay, who has a huge part in Indy’s life. He’s the one who simply and logically convinces Indy it’s time to go home and pursue his own dreams at last.

Remy doesn’t take this very well. They have another clue to the location of the diamond, and Remy is perfectly content to spend the rest of his life searching for it. This brings their story to a bittersweet end. But that’s not quite the last we’ll see or hear of the Peacock’s Eye…

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Doctor Who: Black Orchid (parts one and two)

“Black Orchid” is another story that I could talk about all day. It’s certainly got a flaw or ten, but it’s just so incredibly likable and charming that it doesn’t really matter too much to me. The cricket and the silliness and the fancy dress party at the big country house are enough to paper over most of the story’s problems. Plus I absolutely love Tegan boozing up and dancing the Charleston with Moray Watson. Until there’s a murder, I choose to think this is the sort of thing that usually happens to our heroes when there’s not a disaster: they gatecrash parties, eat well, play some cricket and leave before their cover’s blown. Maybe do some shopping or see a museum.

I like how the closest things to villains in the story are a pair of incredibly rich toffs whose world was upturned when the son they thought had died years before turns up hideously scarred and brain damaged and they just try to keep it quiet and lock him in one of the secret chambers of their huge home. These are people who really don’t deserve our sympathy in the end – their selfishness results in the deaths of three innocent people – but the Doctor chooses to forgive them, and, in what must be a first for the show, he actually chooses to stay on Earth for several days, not leaving until after they have had a small funeral service for George, helping the family heal.

Our son was incredibly surprised that this is just a two-part adventure. “That was short!” he exclaimed. I enjoyed playing compare-and-contrast with him about the state of the big country house that we saw in Adam Adamant Lives! the other night. This story’s set in 1925, forty-one years earlier than “The Last Sacrifice,” and Cranleigh Hall is the center of its community, highlighting that between-the-wars opulence that was recapturing the imagination of British television executives in the eighties. Brideshead Revisited had been shown just a couple of months before this and Love in a Cold Climate the year before. New and reasonably high-profile TV adaptations of Christie, Bowen, Sayers, and Allingham were just around the corner.

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Buck Rogers 1.13 – Cruise Ship to the Stars

And so back to the 25th Century for the second half of Buck Rogers‘ first season. Well, I say 25th Century, but you can’t get more 1979 than this episode. It’s like they crammed The Love Boat and The Incredible Hulk in a blender. There are lots of men and women in bathing suits. Erin Gray gets to wear the ugliest wig in the galaxy and finally gets down and boogies with Buck on the disco floor, and Twiki even finds a love interest: a gold-plated robot like him called Tina. Our son really enjoyed it and was happy to get back into his comfort zone of laser blasts and strange super powers.

“Cruise Ship to the Stars” was one of the few acting appearances for Dorothy Stratten, who played the genetically perfect “Miss Cosmos,” the target of a pair of thieves. (One of them is a Jekyll-and-Hyde woman whose evil persona has super strength and fires lasers from her hands, hence the Hulk comparison.) Stratten, of course, was murdered about eight months after this episode aired. I remember reading that she was in one of these episodes but forgot which one. I can’t see her in anything without reflecting on how she was killed before her life could get started.

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Young Indiana Jones 3.5 – Egypt & Java, 1918-19

The “Treasure of the Peacock’s Eye” TV movie, which was shown in 1995 on the old Family Channel, answers the question of what Indiana Jones did for the six months between the Armistice in November 1918 and the Paris peace talks the following May. Reunited with Remy in the closing days of the war, they pull a treasure map off the body of a traitor right as the “stop shooting each other” whistles are blown, and then gallivant off in search of a whacking huge diamond.

Jule Selbo’s story is a real delight. It’s one crazy problem after another, with Adrian Edmondson playing it straight as a one-eyed villain named Zyke who’s also on the trail of the diamond. Zyke has several other fortune hunters financing his quest, and when he turns up dead in Batavia, with something important missing from his hotel room, Indy and Remy have several dangerous suspects. They’re all on a steamship bound for the South China Sea…

Our son was really pleased with this one, because it’s almost non-stop intrigue and translations and working out the meanings of ancient Greek clues that lead treasure hunters to remote Indonesian temples filled with monkeys and snakes. It starts with explosions in the trenches and it’s got a pair of terrific brawls before ending with our heroes chasing after their treasure, which some pirates have unknowingly swiped. Our kid didn’t even mind the cute flirting between Indy and guest star Jayne Ashbourne, who might be the only production letdown in this great story. Her acting is just fine, but she looks remarkably 1995 for a character who’s supposed to be around in 1919.

And speaking of acting, a round of applause for Sean Patrick Flanery for his work in this one. I’ve always enjoyed watching him in this show, but the note-perfect impersonation of Harrison Ford he pulls off here is amazing. The way he speaks more quietly, muttering a little as he stops blinking while he figures out some old translation… he still needs some courses and some instruction to go along with his field work – I don’t think he’s actually met Abner Ravenwood quite yet – but those character scenes in the Hotel du Nil, with his “Henri Defense” identity discarded and back to being Henry Jones Junior, are just fabulous.

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