Monthly Archives: February 2018

Catweazle 2.12 – The Magic Circle

Today’s episode really felt like marking time before they wrap up the series. They reintroduce the fact that Lord and Lady Collingford aren’t as wealthy as they appear, and that there’s meant to be hidden treasure on their property somewhere. Catweazle learns that something is trapping him in 1971, and he can’t use water to travel through time. And all the family catches a glimpse of the wizard for the first time. Since I haven’t used a photo to illustrate the supporting cast for this series, here they are!

Our son was so looking forward to this morning’s episode that he started humming the theme tune in anticipation. I wasn’t all that taken with this one, but he completely adored it. Part of the shenanigans involves a huge mob of cyclists racing around the village and everybody else on bikes chasing each other getting caught up in their lanes. I think that when you’re a kid, the sight of Peter Butterworth on a bicycle in his long johns swatting people with his hat because they won’t let him turn around is bound to be much, much funnier. And that’s fine, this is a children’s show and I’m so happy that he loves it.

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MacGyver 1.22 – The Assassin

We had a conference with our son’s teacher this week. He’s doing well in everything, but his reading comprehension is needing some work. It occurred to me that if we can get him to narrow down the plot of what we’ve just watched into a couple of sentences, that would probably help him understand what he should be doing with chapter books as well.

He had something of a grasp on “The Assassin,” written by James Schmerer, but an important part of it eluded him. He thought that this was about a group of “assassinators,” because the dude, shown above escaping from custody in a scene that seems oddly like the later escape of Dr. Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, wears different disguises, like all good assassinators do. I enjoyed this more than the last few episodes we’ve watched, especially the terrific fistfight in a watchmakers’ shop, and our son thought it was mostly good, even if the number of bad guys had him stumped.

Tonight’s episode was a quick substitution. I’d intended to watch “A Prisoner of Conscience” because it has Marvin Kaplan and Jane Merrow in it, but I accidentally noticed the plot description on the DVD. It’s about MacGyver trying to escape from a mental institution, apparently, and we weren’t happy about showing our son that. “The Assassin” does have another familiar face, Corinne Bohrer, who has guest starred in everything but is probably best known as Veronica Mars’s mother, Lianne. Bohrer was back on TV last month as the Trickster’s sidekick, the wannabe villain Prank, in The Flash. I run hot and cold on the CW’s superhero shows, but I do adore their sense of history. Bohrer had played Prank alongside Mark Hamill’s original Trickster on the 1990-91 version of The Flash as well.

That’s all from MacGyver for now, but we’ve already picked out some highlights from season two and will be watching those in April, so stay tuned!

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A Close Shave (1995)

I saw A Close Shave not too long after it was released and I never looked at it again until tonight. See, there’s this one bit that’s really, really funny. You know how nothing’s funny anymore when you watch it to death? I didn’t want that to happen here. I’d be fine forgetting absolutely everything about this story, which I did, just to preserve that laugh.

I’m not exaggerating. There’s not one thing about this movie that I remembered at all, beyond that there is a parody of the various Thunderbirds launch sequences and that there are some sheep in it.

When I first saw Wallace getting loaded into his motorcycle as the music swelled in a beautiful pastiche of Barry Gray’s orchestra, I almost passed out from laughing. So for almost two decades, I could say with honesty that was the funniest thing I’d ever seen. Sadly, it was finally eclipsed in late 2015, when – and I’m not kidding – I genuinely did black out watching Patton Oswalt do a bit about Lean Cuisine frozen dinners. Brain shut down from lack of oxygen I guess and I just went flumpf. Scared the heck out of my wife, that did.

Anyway, our son certainly enjoyed the launch sequence as well. He thought the whole film was terrific and was on his feet hooting and guffawing during the climax. He did not, however, connect the launch sequence as a Thunderbirds parody! I don’t quite understand how the six year-old mind works. He has seen Scott and Virgil Tracy launch Thunderbirds 1 and 2, across two series, conservatively, 200 times apiece over the last three years. He rewatched the most recent six episodes of Thunderbirds are Go just three days ago. He didn’t see the connection. He just thought it was the funniest motorcycle launch sequence ever.

I haven’t shown him Superthunderstingcar yet. Now there’s something I’ve watched to death and isn’t funny anymore.

I guess A Close Shave is a pretty good movie to stand on its own like that. He says it’s his favorite of the three. I’m still a Wrong Trousers man myself. I’ll check back in 2038 and see what I think.

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Catweazle 2.11 – The Battle of the Giants

This one was incredibly funny! We all really enjoyed it. It turns out that Lord Collingford and Groome have been competing with each other for years at a harvest festival to see who can grow the largest marrow. (We eat a lot of zucchini ourselves. Had no idea it’s the same vegetable.) On the day of the festival, both men are intolerable, and that’s before Catweazle unwittingly drops into the middle of things. There’s a ridiculous moment where identical buckets contain Groome’s fertilizer and Catweazle’s disgusting medicine, which seems pretty par for the course, but we weren’t expecting what would happen when the vegetables get a dose of medicine.

Arthur Lovegrove has a small part as the fellow who runs the local nursery and judges the vegetable competition. His character is called Archie Goodwin, and that strikes me as a little silly. Everybody knows the only plants that Archie Goodwin is qualified to judge are orchids.

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MacGyver 1.17 – To Be a Man

This show was pretty tedious to begin with. Since Terry Nation’s name vanished from the opening credits around episode 13, it’s been a chore. Sid Haig and Persis Khambatta are in this one, and Haig dies twenty minutes into it. There are some explosions in this one. Our son was happy. Maybe the next one will be better.

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Doctor Who: Revenge of the Cybermen (part four)

In a very nice turn of events, our son completely loved the final episode of this story. He was especially impressed with the destruction of the Cybermen’s ship. Afterward, he told us “that’s the biggest bang I ever saw in the whole history of Doctor Who!” He loved that so much that – for now – he’s actually claiming this is his very favorite story that he’s seen. Come on, nobody thinks that!

Although, honestly, it’s better than I remembered. It has a good script, and I love how David Collings plays Vorus at maximum volume, absolutely furious in every scene he’s in. It’s still flawed in the execution in a few places, of course. There’s a particularly weird – and phony, but mainly weird – special effect when they nearly crash into the planet, and if I’ve been picking on MacGyver for all it’s repurposed film footage, then the use of an Apollo rocket launch to substitute for the Vogans’ missile can’t go without comment. The same blasted clip gets reused the following season. They might have picked film of a rocket that didn’t say “United States” on the side.

I’m particularly disappointed in the Cybermen’s leader. It’s not just that they all sound much more like humans talking through a funny voice-changer when they speak instead of the computerized buzz of the sixties Cybermen, it’s that their leader acts like a human. Maybe Robert Holmes meant to explain that the leader actually still has some emotions in him and ran out of space and time, but the other Cybermen speak simply and logically, and the leader speaks like a cartoon supervillain, and uses words like “excellent” when he hears good news, keeps his hands on his hips, and finds a thesaurus of extra verbs to describe how Voga will be destroyed, vaporized, etc. The dude needed about a quarter as many lines as he has.

Producer Philip Hinchcliffe would only do one more story with a returning villain, and the next producer, Graham Williams, would only bring back two across three years. With the show looking forward more than it had in a long time, there wasn’t room in the series for the Cybermen, and they wouldn’t be seen again for seven years. Unfortunately, this story seems to have served as the template for their appearances in the 1980s, with Cyberleaders emoting too much and saying “excellent,” and everybody worried about gold.

One final note: “Revenge of the Cybermen” was the first story that the BBC issued on home video, in an insanely overpriced 50-minute compilation. Well, everything on VHS was insanely overpriced, but £39.95 for a tape with half the story edited out really was ridiculous. With that in mind, the DVD is the perfect place for a completely wonderful documentary feature called “Cheques, Lies and Videotape,” which looks at the world of bootleg and pirate Doctor Who tape trading in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the wild lengths that fans in the UK had to go to collect episodes of the series.

Of course, at the time of writing, the Region 1 DVD of “Revenge” is out of print and Amazon wants $123 for a copy, so some things never change. It’s still better than the £300 one of the fans in the documentary paid for a washed-out nth generation copy of “Doctor Who and the Silurians,” though!

We’ll take a short break from Doctor Who to watch something else, but stay tuned! Season thirteen begins next month!

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Doctor Who: Revenge of the Cybermen (part three)

Our son is very, very clear that he doesn’t enjoy this story at all. We recapped the adventures in season twelve tonight, and he’s found something to like about every one of them, especially “Robot” and “Genesis.” Sadly, in a sign of future smart-aleckness to come, the thing that he liked most about “The Sontaran Experiment” was that it was only two episodes long, ba-dum-tish.

“Revenge,” however, is very scary for him. This is another case where the villains absolutely have the upper hand. He doesn’t like how they’ve been physically violent toward the Doctor, and he doesn’t like how powerless everyone seems to be. He did enjoy the very good gunfight between the Cybermen and one faction of Vogans, but he absolutely hated the cliffhanger, where a rockfall kills Jeremy Wilkin’s character and knocks the Doctor unconscious. The episode ends with Harry, who isn’t aware that the Doctor’s got explosives strapped to him, trying to unlatch a buckle that will blow up and kill them all. No, our kid can’t wait for this nightmare to be over.

But I love how well he’s paying attention! We know that his mind wanders during talky bits, but this time, as the Cybermen explain that they want to destroy Voga because “glitter guns” that used the planet’s gold routed them during their last military campaign, he was watching closely. Later on, as the Vogans get mowed down, he asked why they don’t use glitter guns. That’s a pretty good question, really.

Speaking of the Vogans, this serial is just packed with recognizable actors, which kind of makes it a shame that some of them are completely unrecognizable under those strange latex masks! The two lead Vogans, one of whom has worked a deal with the human traitor to lead the Cybermen into a trap, are played by Kevin Stoney and David Collings. Another is played by Michael Wisher. He’d been in the previous story as Davros and would be back two stories later without a latex mask. Wisher may be the only actor in Who to play three different speaking parts across four stories. And of course, among the humans, you’ve got William Marlowe, who we saw in “The Mind of Evil,” and Ronald Leigh-Hunt, who had been Col. Buchan in Freewheelers. Jeremy Wilkin, who passed away in December, had a tiny part in Journey to the Far Side of the Sun and was the second voice of Virgil Tracy in Thunderbirds.

But the real surprise is that the music for this story is by Carey Blyton, the fellow who tried so hard to undermine and ruin the drama of “Doctor Who and the Silurians” and “Death to the Daleks” with his inappropriate horns and kazoos… and it’s not bad at all. It’s never intrusive and never undercuts the tension. It’s at least as good as the usual job by Dudley Simpson. So while it’s a shame that our son isn’t enjoying this story, I certainly am.

Then again, I also know that part four’s going to let us down somewhat. I think he’ll enjoy some of the visuals of the climax more than the adults on the sofa will!

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The Moon-Spinners (1964)

I have to admit that every once in a while, I pick a complete flop with our son. He didn’t like Disney’s The Moon-Spinners at all. I thought it was a perfectly fine adventure film for kids, especially American kids in that early sixties sweet spot right before the Beatles exploded into pop culture.

I’ve often felt that Hayley Mills was absolutely in the right place at the right time. She had a legion of young girl fans and she was perfectly cast, often by Disney, as the engaging lead in fun movies like The Parent Trap and In Search of the Castaways, and of course she usually had dreamy boys with English accents around. You know how many of those girls who showed up to scream at the Beatles when they arrived in New York were Hayley Mills devotees? All of them.

But I guess that fifty-four years later, there’s not quite as much in a movie like this to thrill a six year-old boy. It sounded promising enough. There’s danger, intrigue, stolen jewels, and Eli Wallach and Paul Stassino as dangerous criminals. Plus there’s a terrific set of stunts when Hayley gets locked in a windmill by the baddies and everybody climbs out down the sails and blades. Honestly though, the part he liked the best was when Wallach got chased out of some ruins by feral cats.

For slightly older viewers, the story concerns Mills’ character, Nicky, and her aunt, played by Joan Greenwood, visiting a small village in Crete at the same time that a young man arrives in the hopes of finding some emeralds, stolen while under his care in London some months previously. So the young people get to have an adventure while an impressive cast of character actors, including Sheila Hancock, John Le Mesurier, Andre Morell, and George Pastell, provide support.

The lack of any of Disney’s trademark comic slapstick was perhaps one small failure in our son’s eyes, but this is a much more straightforward adventure movie than their seventies output, without a lot of levity. There is one deliciously funny moment where Mills breathlessly recounts her escapades to a millionaire played by Pola Negri, who definitely needs a drink before the recap is finished, but that’s more for the grown-ups in the crowd. I think somebody our son’s age would probably read that scene as played straight, because yes, that’s an accurate recap of the story so far. And viewers his age probably wouldn’t see the small hints to the audience in the way adult characters play certain scenes. We instantly knew that John Le Mesurier’s character wasn’t being completely honest in his explanations, but the reality of what he’s actually up to still eluded our son. And Sheila Hancock brings surprising tension to a scene in which her character gets drunk and talks too much, but all of these adult conversations just seemed like noise to him because it’s more subtle than the Hulk knocking over buildings.

So perhaps six was a little young or perhaps the movie is just a dated piece that’s going to appeal more to older viewers anyway, especially the older viewers who enjoy seeing all these great actors. Maybe we should have waited a couple of years, but I’m certainly glad of the experience and enjoyed the movie very much.

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