Monthly Archives: July 2018

Young Indiana Jones 2.7 – Africa, 1916

We’re back, in time for one of the most bleak and thought-provoking stories that they did for Young Indiana Jones. This time, Indy gets a promotion to captain and then a horrible assignment. Under the command of Major Boucher, they have to lead a company across about two thousand miles to retrieve some badly needed machine guns after the boat ran aground on Africa’s west coast. Yellow fever and smallpox are rampant, and many, many people die.

An actor from Côte d’Ivoire, Isaach de Bankolé, has the key guest part of Sergeant Barthélèmy. Indy is spouting the lines about how once Germany gets kicked off the continent, then the Africans can begin their own rule, but Barthélèmy’s not buying it. This is a white man’s war. Things reach boiling point when the sergeant disobeys orders and brings along a small child, the lone survivor from a village where everyone has died of plague. The major can’t quell the brewing mutiny, and when Indy actually puts a gun to his superior officer’s head, you can cut the tension with a knife.

This and the next episode were written by Frank Darabont, and they were chosen to close the original six-week run of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles on ABC. I remember watching this part of the story in my dorm room just amazed that something so good, and so bleak, was on TV. It also probably explained to about nine million people what that line about “Belgians in the Congo” in that aggravating Billy Joel song meant. The spread of this war, the white man’s war, to Africa just isn’t known very widely here. This is why so many people have reacted so strongly and so positively to the depiction of Wakanda in Black Panther, which, incidentally, also featured de Bankolé in a very small role. When you see in stories as vivid as this just how monstrous and how pointless the history of colonizing was, it’s no wonder Panther found such acclaim. We certainly had a lot to talk about with our son tonight.

Leave a comment

Filed under young indiana jones

Shadows 1.6 – Dutch Schlitz’s Shoes

Before we take a summer vacation here at Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time, an odd curiosity. Three years after Ace of Wands was unceremoniously cancelled by Thames, the show’s creator Trevor Preston brought back one of the villains for a one-off case. Russell Hunter had starred as the evil magician Mr. Stabs in a 1971 storyline, and he reprised his role in this oddball little adventure called “Dutch Schlitz’s Shoes.” (Say it aloud. It’s as ridiculous as those albums by the 6ths, Wasps’ Nests and Hyacinths and Thistles.)

Shadows was a low-budget anthology of supernatural-themed stories for younger viewers. The first series, made in 1975, was produced by Pamela Lonsdale, who had worked on Ace of Wands and a few other programs for families, like the 1967 Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and the long-running Rainbow. I’m not surprised that she’d have phoned Trevor Preston looking for a contribution, since they’d worked together at least twice before.

I was surprised, however, that this was a lot more humorous than I was expecting. There’s more slapstick and oddball plot twists than Ace of Wands displayed in the stories we could see. Mr. Stabs and his servant have fallen on hard times and his magical hand is losing its power. He can get a recharge from a magical glove in an old country house museum, but he gets greedy and also pilfers the shoes that belonged to a mobster from the 1920s. Except the mobster isn’t as dead and buried as everybody thinks he is…

You have to grade on a curve, because this wasn’t intended for overly critical grownups. The story’s honestly not bad, but the no-budget production really was a distraction for me. There isn’t any incidental music in it, and when actors are going for physical humor, there needs to be some kind of ooomph. Imagine an episode of another 1975 videotape series, The Ghost Busters, without either music or a laugh track. That’s precisely what this feels like. John Abineri shows up as a police inspector who can’t get his witnesses to agree whether the villain they’re looking for is called Stabs or Schlitz. You can feel the actors going for gags, although not particularly good ones, and the soundtrack just doesn’t punctuate what they’re trying to do.

In short, it was very nice to finally meet this lost TV villain, and of course it’s always nice to see Russell Hunter in anything, but I wondered whether I might be tempted to order some more episodes of Shadows to sample. Not on the strength of this, I’m afraid! But we’ll see Mr. Stabs one more time, a few weeks down the road…

Stay tuned, friends and fans! We’ll be back next Monday!

1 Comment

Filed under ace of wands

The Twilight Zone 5.25 – The Masks

Sometimes, it’s fair to say that Rod Serling’s prose could get very purple. In “The Masks,” he never uses two words when ten would do. Almost all of the story’s weight is placed on the shoulders of the family patriarch, played by Robert Keith in his final screen role. He died almost three years after this first aired in March of 1964. The story is structured so that almost all of the exchanges are variations on Keith telling his awful family “You’re all terrible people,” and the ungrateful kin politely replying “Please don’t say such awful things.” They have to be polite. They’re in this for his money.

So I was pleased that our son was able to follow along no matter how florid the language became, and he laughed at the insults. It helped that the rotten children and grandchildren were so obviously rotten, drawn in absurdly broad strokes to make the twist work. I think this one could have benefited from being made in the previous season as an hour-long episode. With more time available, the characterization could have been more subtle and the twist more delicious. At least these jerks deserved their fate, which isn’t always the case in this show. As with many other stories we’ve watched, this one got a pronouncement of “creepy!” I think our kid enjoyed it more than he has many others.

I was interested to see that “The Masks” was directed by Ida Lupino, who had starred in the memorable Zone installment “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine” back in season one. She was doing lots of television directing in the mid-sixties, on shows as disparate as The Fugitive, Gilligan’s Island, and Honey West, when she wasn’t acting.

1 Comment

Filed under twilight zone

Iron Man 3 (2013)

2013 was less than a great year around these waters, and we didn’t get out to the theater to see the Marvel movies as we had. So I decided later on to hold off and see this one, and the second Thor film, with our son when he was old enough. It’s kind of nice to slot in these last few blocks.

That said, I’m just going to note the bare minimum here because I’m ill today and should be in bed. We all enjoyed Iron Man 3 very much, though the best parts were the ones dealing with the security guards that AIM has employed. I really liked seeing Tony Stark rely on wits and improvisation to succeed. The sequence where he gets away from the Extremis soldier posing as Homeland Security was fabulous.

I also really enjoyed Gwyneth Paltrow’s character of Pepper Potts getting to enjoy some of the scrapping this time out, and not serve the plot strictly as somebody for Tony to argue with. Don Cheadle has a lot more to do as Rhodes in this movie, too. Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley are the villains, and they came up with a brilliantly imaginative take on the Mandarin. Miguel Ferrer has a small part in this one as well. As always, the casting is terrific.

And our kid was of course completely thrilled. He even says that the final fight, in which Tony activates “House Party Protocol” and fills the sky with dozens of empty suits, acting as drones, to fight the Extremis soldiers, was better than the one in The Avengers. This was a very expensive few days for Tony Stark, even by his standards!

One minor note on plausibility: the town of Rose Hill TN does not actually exist, but it’s very briefly shown on a map in Tony’s lab as being in west Tennessee. However, the Christmas beauty pageant is covered by a news crew from Chattanooga. While I honestly don’t know the local news stations here all that well, I’ll believe a man can fly a nuclear warhead through a wormhole in space before I believe the news stations in Chattanooga would send a van within fifty miles of that spot on the map!

Leave a comment

Filed under marvel universe, movies

Young Indiana Jones 2.6 – German East Africa, 1916 (part two)

This is such a fun story! “The Phantom Train of Doom” might just be the best of all the Young Indy adventures. There are still some very good ones coming up, but this just runs rings around almost every other story that they made. It’s just a classic Indiana Jones adventure, with our hero getting caught up in escalating nonsense and a story that requires fast thinking, improvisation, and, of course, a blatant disregard for the laws of physics.

It follows the first part of the story quite closely, with all of the same cast. The “Old and the Bold” gang returns to the British lines and are immediately given a new assignment: to kidnap a German colonel. They agree to escort Indy and Remy back to the Belgian lines with a formal explanation for their absence and an apology from the British general. They just don’t tell Indy and Remy about their new mission. Everything that can possibly go wrong does, hilariously, and before long, Indy, Remy, and their prisoner are making their way across the veldt on foot.

The colonel is played by Tom Bell, who I remember seeing in Prime Suspect as DS Otley. I spent all of the nineties hoping that when Doctor Who ever did get resurrected, they’d cast Bell as the Master. There’s a parallel universe where he enjoyed some good scraps with Paul McGann’s Doctor, I’m sure.

Leave a comment

Filed under young indiana jones

Agent Carter 1.8 – Valediction

Well, this was just tremendously entertaining! I’m so impressed by how much plot they cram into these forty minute episodes, and I really enjoyed the villains. We’ve been watching one character who goes by the unlikely name “Dottie Underwood” and who is a product of the same program that would later develop the Black Widow. Her cover identity is that of an all-American sweetheart of a girl with big blue eyes and a line in “gee golly gosh, officer, was I speeding?” dialogue. She’s played by Bridget Regan, who has starred in several American dramas of the last decade, including a fantasy series called Legend of the Seeker and TNT’s The Last Ship.

“Dottie” finally gets a great climactic fight scene with Agent Carter in this episode, and I’m afraid that it ends in what I’m seeing lately is a Hollywood-approved way to end these sorts of scraps: by having the villainous female miscalculate a lunge and crash through a window. This made a little sense in, say, an eighties show like MacGyver, because it just wouldn’t do to have Richard Dean Anderson exchange punches with the female villain of the week, so he needs to stand in front of a window and let her screw up her way to death. That shouldn’t happen in this program, though. Happily, “Dottie” loses a lot of blood from the fall, but she gets away, and I suspect we’ll see her again in season two.

Also, I didn’t mention him very much before because I wasn’t sure where they were going with him, but the fellow we’ve known as Dr. Ivchenko, with the mind control powers, is actually Johann Fennhoff, a character from the comics usually called Dr. Faustus. He’s played by British actor Ralph Brown and has just been wonderfully entertaining. Another quibble, though: the heroes make their standard action program “we need to win this thing for Chief Dooley and Agent Krzemenski” speeches, referencing the characters who died in earlier installments, but they don’t spare any thoughts for poor Agent Yauch, who Fennhoff hypnotized and talked to death in episode six. I guess nobody in the office really liked him.

Unlike “Dottie,” Fennhoff is captured, thanks to an ingenious solution improvised by Daniel, and is seen at the end in a delightful tag scene – wearing his new proto-Lecter headgear to prevent him talking anybody else to death – with his new cellmate, Arnim Zola, who you might remember from the first Captain America movie. It’s a shame that the 1940s end of the Marvel Universe has such a small rogues gallery, but it was great seeing Toby Jones again. (See, there’s another reason they should have done so much more with Cap and the Howling Commandos!)

I was impressed by how well everything tied together, and impressed by the photography, lighting, and costumes, and impressed by Hayley Atwell as Peggy. She’s a really interesting character – although fun isn’t the right word for her, I’m afraid – and I was pleased by the reward that she and her friend Angie get to share in the end. She also gets to be the one to decide what will happen with the vial of Captain America’s blood. It was a very entertaining production from start to finish, and I’m curious what the producers came up with for her next story.

We’ll take a break from this show, but we will start watching season two in about three weeks. Stay tuned!

Leave a comment

Filed under agent carter, marvel universe

The Twilight Zone 5.22 – An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

Three points come to mind about tonight’s very interesting episode. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” was unlike everything else made for The Twilight Zone, as it was a short film made in France by the director Robert Enrico, based on the influential short story by Ambrose Bierce that has caused several generations of high school students to throw their textbooks at the wall because comic books had long before taught us that “gasp! it was all… a DREAM!” is a bogus ending. I don’t know very much about French new wave cinema, but I have seen seven or eight films by Truffaut, and while Enrico does not appear to be listed among the directors usually credited as part of the French new wave, this beautifully-photographed film is nevertheless just about the most early sixties French thing I’ve ever seen.

The second point is that this one didn’t resonate with our son at all, mainly because he was so baffled and intrigued by the mechanics of the hanging that he never got past it. Imagine watching this whole thing and asking “Now, why were they trying to hang him?”

The third point is that one day in the fall quarter of 1990, some publicity company or marketing crew brought a preview copy of the Adrian Lyne film Jacob’s Ladder to UGA for an advance screening. When it ended, I went “Ha! Owl Creek Bridge!” and everybody else in the theater threw their metaphorical textbooks at the walls. It remains the only time I’ve ever seen a movie and the audience boo it. I swear I was the only person in that crowd who didn’t boo it. My date booed it. Then she booed me for defending it. Jacob’s Ladder was a box office flop, in large part because everybody had either read crappy comics or watched “Attack on Cloudbase”.

For what it’s worth, though, Enrico’s gorgeous film went on to win the Best Live Action Short Film at the 1963 Oscars. It may have been dated hokum in 1963, but it looked amazing.

1 Comment

Filed under twilight zone

Young Indiana Jones 2.5 – German East Africa, 1916 (part one)

This one’s absolutely delightful. We all chuckled our way through the whole thing. Indy and Remy have been transferred to Africa, but because neither of them can read train timetables all that well, they end up hopelessly lost, at least three hundred miles from their unit in Victoria, and bump into a “battalion” of in-the-way old codgers and geezers played by character actors like Freddie Jones and Ronald Fraser.

They call themselves the 25th Frontiersman Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, and before he knows what’s hit him, the summers that Indy spent shoveling coal on a New Jersey train, and his fluent German, have him “volunteering” for an oddball mission to track down a mysterious German train with a massive cannon mounted on a flatbed car. The British general who’s asked for the group’s help promises to send a nice commendation to Indy and Remy’s commander, if they can ever get out of this mess…

This two-part story was first shown on ABC in the summer of 1993 under the title “The Phantom Train of Doom,” which is a silly and pulpy name, but this is a silly and fun story. Our son was in heaven. It’s full of explosions and secret bases and fights, and Indy doesn’t smooch even one silly girl. The first “part” doesn’t end with a cliffhanger. It’s really two separate stories with most of the same cast, including Julian Firth in his other 1916 role, as a British military intelligence officer who’s grateful for this company of the “Old and the Bold” to pull them out of the fire.

Leave a comment

Filed under young indiana jones