Monthly Archives: July 2018

The Twilight Zone 5.19 – Night Call

And so back to The Twilight Zone for six more stories, and boy, did I ever pick a great one. I hadn’t heard of Richard Matheson’s “Night Call” before, but since we’d seen Gladys Cooper in a couple of other Zone stories, I figured we might as well enjoy the hat trick.

“Night Call” is amazing. It probably started a flaming epidemic of kids making prank calls and quietly saying “…hell….oh…?” at two in the morning back in ’63, because it’s that darn good and that creepy. It shouldn’t be this way; it just sounds like pure hokum, an old lady getting increasingly panicked by a disembodied voice on her phone at all hours, but Cooper really sells both the panic and the character’s loneliness. Nora Marlowe plays the old lady’s home health nurse, and while long-suffering isn’t quite the right term, you’d think that her charge would listen to her very sensible advice to just hang up and leave the receiver off the hook.

Our son thought it was so creepy that he was grumbling and hiding before the commercial break. And he’s right. It’s just delicious. The twist was a terrific punch in the gut… and then Cooper decides to pick up the receiver and start talking to her caller. I about died. Mom had to lie down in bed with our son for a few minutes and cuddle him. If any of the next few we’re going to watch are half this good, I’ll be satisfied.

Related: You have seen The Phone, right?

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Agent Carter 1.7 – SNAFU

Last month, as I was introducing this series, I mentioned that both Chad Michael Murray and Shea Whigham seem to specialize in playing characters that I don’t like. Since I don’t watch very much contemporary TV or movies – honestly, not out of any “good ole days” rose-tinted glasses, but because there just aren’t enough hours in our days – I don’t see very much of these actors. (For that matter, I’ve never seen Hayley Atwell in any other role than Carter, although I do note that she played Mary in a 2007 adaptation of Mansfield Park and I suppose I’ll end up seeing that one of these days. When you’re married to somebody who really, really likes Austen, this comes with the territory.)

Anyway, my point is that I’ve only seen Whigham play a couple of unbelievable jerks, and yet as things start looking increasingly bad for Chief Dooley in this episode, I still got a lump in my throat. That’s great acting, making you care about a character you don’t like. My hat’s off to the man.

Meanwhile, the Russian operatives who are about ten paces ahead of our heroes and are playing them all for suckers unveil what seems to be one of Stark’s stolen super-weapons in an incredibly grisly climax. All along, we’ve been hearing about this mysterious Battle of Finow, where a large company of Soviet soldiers were all apparently killed before the Nazi forces arrived. Our son was really captivated by the war of nerves and tense, small location story of this episode, and stunned by the horrific climax, in which the Russians set off a gas inside a movie theater, driving all of the people in the audience mad with rage. What they show isn’t too gory thanks to some fast editing, but it’s still very shocking and had him wide-eyed and stunned.

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Young Indiana Jones 2.4 – Paris, 1916

The episode where Indy has a brief romance with Mata Hari was one of my favorites from the show’s original run. ABC originally screened it in July of 1993, one of the eight they burned off that summer after canceling the program. The hour was written by Carrie Fisher and directed by Nicholas Roeg, and guest stars the unbelievably beautiful Italian actress Domiziana Giordano as Mata Hari.

Our son was largely indifferent to the episode, when he wasn’t hiding his eyes from all the smooching. Indy handles this affair very, very badly, which is not unexpected. A seventeen year-old boy isn’t going to have his first physical relationship with a woman who is twenty-three years his senior and it end well. So we found some amusing common ground in discussing how Indy’s jealousy and envy led him to act stupidly and rashly. Not that Mata treats him all that well. After all, she’s romancing various old politicians and generals when she’s not with him.

Somewhat lost in the main story is the interesting casting of the Levis, old friends of Indy’s father, who pull strings and arrange Indy and Remy’s leave. I wouldn’t say that I’m really a fan of either Ian McDiarmid or Jacqueline Pearce, but it is kind of neat to have Senator Palpatine and Supreme Commander Servalan at the same table. (Perhaps even more interesting, there’s an episode of The Zoo Gang where Pearce’s husband is played by Peter Cushing. I guess she likes the Empire…)

And also overshadowed is the interesting note that Indy’s father has sent, suggesting that he will abandon his insistence that Indy study at Princeton if he’ll just come home. This is a little quandary. There’s absolutely nothing keeping Indy from going AWOL. “Corporal Henri Defense” doesn’t exist. As soon as he takes off the uniform and the dogtags, he could just be the American Henry Jones Jr. again and catch the next steamship for New York. But he doesn’t. He has a duty and an obligation. Home is still a long way away.

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Agent Carter 1.6 – A Sin to Err

Tonight’s episode was pretty far above our son’s head, but I certainly enjoyed it. I do love stories where the bad guys keep consolidating their upper hand, and it turns out that somebody that our heroes brought back from Europe last time really want to be right in the thick of things, to make the situation a million times worse. It’s very satisfying watching everybody’s investigations all start to come together. Unfortunately for Peggy, that would include her fellow agent Daniel’s investigation into some of the things that she’s been trying to keep secret. I’m very impatient to see what will happen next time!

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Return to Oz (1985)

Between Child Catchers and Drashigs, Mad Hatters and Sleestak, Bigfoots and all manner of witches, especially the ones who use boiling oil, our son has seen down the most nightmare-inducing imagery that the world of movies and TV can throw at kids. He’s left the room in tears a few times, but all of these frights mean that ours is the planet’s toughest seven year-old.

This is a good thing, because anybody who shows a seven year-old Return to Oz without giving them a good education in frights beforehand is just asking for trouble. Mother of Mary! If I had seen this when I was seven, I wouldn’t have slept for a month. This is a really good movie, but but you want to know about nightmare fuel? There’s a part where we meet a character with multiple heads. We’ve been down this road often enough to know that a bit later, those heads are going to wake up and start screaming. I’m not spoiling anything, because it’s that obvious. You could set your watch by it.

And yet when those heads start screaming… well, I’m a middle-aged fat man now and yet I’m pretty sure I’m not going to sleep for a month.

I was “too old” for Return to Oz when it was released in 1985, in that horrible teenage boy period I’ve mentioned here before when we all just had no time for kids’ stuff anymore. It’s always seemed to share some cultural overlap with some of the other mid-eighties fantasies, especially Labyrinth, but it’s never really had the same kind of championing or love. If Time Bandits is a prickly film, then this is downright spiky. It’s extremely well-made, but surely nobody finds it comforting.

The story goes like this. Dorothy goes back to Oz, as she did many times in Baum’s original novels and all the zillion tie-ins and cash-ins, and finds that a Nome King, played by Nicol Williamson, has wrecked the Emerald City, turned its people to stone, and captured the Scarecrow. Played by Fairuza Balk (who, at ten, is a much more age-appropriate Dorothy than Judy Garland), Dorothy finds some new allies but gets on the wrong side of a witch called Mombi, who is played, in part, by Jean Marsh.

Design-wise, it’s a very, very eighties movie. Mombi looks like she’s ready for a night on the town with… well, with Labyrinth‘s Goblin King, actually. Her servants, the Wheelers, are (a) completely horrifying, (b) strapped into what must surely be the most uncomfortable costumes ever worn by anybody in film history, and (c) look like they reported to the set just after making music videos in New Zealand, “Manic Panic” in their hair and all. Jack Pumpkinhead, who was brought to life in part by Brian Henson, is wearing a remarkable pink shirt that would never have been sold in any other period. And there’s Claymation. Quite a lot of it!

But while I giggle at the costumes and makeup, just like I do when I watch pretty much anything from the mid-eighties these days, the sets are pretty remarkable and show a wild attention to detail. There’s a great bit where the lumbering Tik-Tok leaves footprints in a dusty floor as he stomps, and the camera sensibly ignores it, leaving the audience to suddenly ask how long it took to reset the stage between takes. Mombi’s palace is full of mirrors, emphasizing the witch’s narcissism, and then there’s the sanitorium where the movie begins.

As with MGM’s original movie, some of the actors do double-duty as characters in both Kansas and Oz. If Jean Marsh is a little garish and scene-chewing as Mombi, she’s an all-business rod-in-her-spine harridan as the head nurse in Kansas. This is where the movie starts to get under your skin. The whole experience is framed like a horror film, with the quiet squeaking of hospital gurneys and distant screams of the incarcerated making viewers uneasy as the music insists this is not a kiddie movie at all.

Our own kid will be going to sleep in about seventy minutes. Maybe he’ll let me sleep in his bed tonight if I get too scared. Pleasant dreams, everyone.

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The Goodies 4.1 – Camelot

I think that the Goodies’ 1973 Christmas special, “The Goodies and the Beanstalk”, might have been the trio’s most watched adventure at the time, but it wasn’t the first time that they worked with comedian Alfie Bass. He’d appeared in “Camelot,” the opener to their fourth series. It was filmed and taped four months ahead of “Beanstalk,” and broadcast a few weeks earlier in December 1973.

Bass plays a developer who would really like to knock down a nice castle owned by one of Tim’s loony relatives. Tim swears he’s called King Arthur, and it’s true. That’s the name on his birth certificate: King, comma, Arthur. The whole shebang is full of really awful jokes and puns, including one about a package of fish fingers that will make my head hurt for years, and medieval-themed slapstick fights with dancing bears, wild boars, jousts, swords in stones, and a fire-breathing pantomime dragon.

Our son was so pleased, and so exhausted from laughing, that he demanded to watch almost the entire show again. Almost. He didn’t quite understand the stuff in the office, where Bill’s reading a copy of the comic paper Cor!, so we played it again from the bit where we first get to Camelot, which is right next door to Dunmovin at 33 Acadia Street.

Obligatory “they’d never get away with that these days” note: there isn’t any surprise nudity in this episode, thankfully, but there are medieval minstrels. They’re only onscreen for seconds, but there’s something else I need to explain to our son.

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Young Indiana Jones 2.3 – Verdun, 1916

When ABC showed those first six weeks of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles in the spring of 1992, they got a reputation of being strange, unlike anything else on television, not even remotely as funny as the badly-edited commercials made them appear, and full of men with really thick French accents. And then there was the violence. One of those “won’t somebody please think of the children” organizations went apoplectic over this episode, which honestly is quite violent and visceral.

The previous two installments, which were written, like this one, by Jonathan Hensleigh, had some very well-staged war movie-like mayhem, with explosions and gunfire and heroic acts of bravery. But this is right in the center of the action, with slow-motion carnage, huge amounts of gore, field hospitals full of men who have had their legs blown into bloody stumps, bodies in mud-filled foxholes being savaged by rats, and the amazing sight of Indy, sent across No Man’s Land at night to spy, crawling across corpses and meeting a fatally wounded man who has been lying there alone for 36 hours just waiting for somebody to finally see him die.

Like war really is. How dare teevee depict it thus?

I wasn’t too surprised. The show’s principal detractor was the most loudmouthed of all numbskulls, that discredited psychiatrist who spent years whining about Dungeons & Dragons driving teens to suicide. Those creeps were all over the place in the seventies and eighties, and desperately tried to stay in the headlines in the nineties. Incidentally, as of July 2018, the dude I’m talking about is currently doing time for what the Pennsylvania Attorney General calls (ahem) “trading opioid addiction treatment drugs for sex.” The harder they fall, you know?

Anyway, it’s a powerful episode. Our son started out thrilled by the explosions, but the grisly and raw visuals didn’t leave him cheering like he might. He was fascinated by the gigantic howitzers that were mounted on railroad cars, and enjoyed seeing Indy, assigned to work as a motorcycle courier, speed away from a German biplane, but the politics were a stumbling block. It’s also worth noting that they hired French actors for most of the roles of officers, and some of them really did have incredibly thick accents. My wife’s language skills dwarf mine, and even she had trouble understanding what Bernard Fresson and Jean Rougerie were saying. So we quickly accepted that our son would just bide his time, eyes glazed, until Indy got on his motorcycle again.

One other thing to note this time: watching these on first broadcast was certainly a pain in the neck, but introducing us to Indy as a corporal when the last time we saw him on ABC he had only just been called up was incredibly annoying. And then there’s Remy, who we meet in the field hospital having a panic attack as he recovers from surgery. ABC didn’t air the episode where he got that injury for another six months. Then they wouldn’t air the next episode in the sequence for another ten months after that. Fortunately, we’re only going to wait three days…

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Agent Carter 1.5 – The Iron Ceiling

Going back (again) to the first Captain America movie, I was disappointed that we didn’t see nearly enough of the Howling Commandos. This afternoon’s episode goes a long way toward rectifying that, as Peggy calls on the Commandos to assist in the SSR’s raid on a facility behind the Iron Curtain. The episode features Neal McDonough as Dum Dum Dugan, who we met in the movie, but the other characters, while all from the original comics, are new to the show. When I was a kid, I enjoyed Pinky Pinkerton the most among the Commandos. Nice to see him here!

Dum Dum comes up with a new code name for Peggy, hoping to entice her to stay in Europe: “Miss Union Jack.” She flies back to New York.

The raid doesn’t find any evidence for Howard Stark being involved with Leviathan, but they do get a glimpse of something very weird going on. The audience has a big lead over our heroes in this: we can guess that this is one of the facilities where Russian intelligence services train women like the Black Widow, and learn that they’ve been doing it since at least 1937.

We paused it quite early on to make sure that our son understood the implications of that flashback, especially since a graduate of that program is active in New York in 1946. We also gave him a quick introduction to the concepts of the Iron Curtain and a glass ceiling, so he’d understand the implications of the title. Sadly, most of this was way over his head, and he probably didn’t pay much attention at all to a scene where guest star John Glover introduces some new intel about a hushed-up wartime incident. Overall, this was a pleasantly complex hour even if he wasn’t completely thrilled. Happily, there was one great gunfight to keep him interested.

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