Monthly Archives: December 2018

Doctor Who: Warriors of the Deep (parts one and two)

Our son tells us “there are two adjectives to describe this story: exciting and creepy!” That’s very generous of him. I’d have gone with “embarrassing and idiotic” myself.

“Warriors of the Deep” is the third and last serial for Doctor Who written by Johnny Byrne. It features the return of director Pennant Roberts, who never could stage a gunfight and, as we see here, still can’t. It also sort of features the return of the Silurians and the Sea Devils, only they’ve both been redesigned to look stupider and more fake than they did in the seventies, and the actors inside the ungainly costumes have been given instructions to move and talk as slowly as possible. I mean, the Silurians of 1970 moved and shouted like they were incredibly angry and frightened. These Silurians move and talk like they are drunk and the walls won’t stop moving.

Into all this mess, we’ve got a TARDIS that can get blasted out of orbit by a 21st-century satellite, a Doctor who is acting absolutely unhinged and decides to overload a nuclear reactor as a distraction, and returning villains scripted by a writer whose research went no further than a paragraph summary of the earlier stories in a Jean-Marc Lofficier guidebook. And there’s Ingrid Pitt and a pantomime horse.

Six weeks before this was shown, Doctor Who celebrated its twentieth anniversary, leading some bean counters and muckity-mucks at the BBC to ask, not unreasonably, why in heaven they’d let this silly show run for twenty years. Maybe twenty years was long enough, some of them said. Then this gets on the air.

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MacGyver 5.16 – Jenny’s Chance

We concluded our look at MacGyver tonight with another one of its occasional Mission: Impossible-style sting operations. This one brings back Jack Dalton as one of the “field operatives” and features a pair of pretty notable guest stars: Vic Tayback and Linda Blair. Tayback plays a local crime boss, which wasn’t unusual for him in this period, and Blair plays the daughter of yet another old friend of Jack and MacGyver’s, who gets killed by Tayback’s character in the opening scene.

Richard Dean Anderson gets to play a different role in this story. He poses as a Steve Urkel-like TV nerd called Dexter who whines within earshot of the bad guy’s goons about the impossibility of building the same device the boss already uses to fix horse races, thus starting the sting in operation. It’s a little unlikely, but all done with style and fun, and I was genuinely surprised by the ending. Our son needed a little clarification about what fixing horse races and laundering money means, but he had a good time with it as well.

That’s all for MacGyver at our blog, but there will be more RDA in the future. We’ll watch Legend, his short-lived Western from the short-lived UPN network, in about a year, after we watch a couple of other Westerns, so stick around!

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Captain America: Civil War (2016)

When I started this blog a couple of years ago, I had this silly idea to tag actors and continue tagging them into every appearance they make in anything we watch. Then we get to 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, which would have something like two dozen tags if I named everybody. So never mind.

A couple of months before the movie was released, I got a little petulantly annoyed with the Marvel PR team for revealing that Tom Holland would make his debut as Spider-Man in it. I still think that would have been the greatest wha-huh?! in the movies to have the audience slowly realize that Tony Stark was visiting Peter Parker and his Aunt May, but I forgave them immediately when Scott Lang debuted his Giant-Man shtick. That’s probably been the most agreeable surprise any of these movies have hit me with.

Our kid still tunes out a little when people are talking – unless they’re like Holland’s Spider-Man and they just flat out steal the middle of the movie with their constant banter – but I think we helped him focus a little more this time. When Cap, Falcon, and Sharon Carter are figuring out that they’ve been set up, it’s a truly great little moment. I do love the way realization slowly makes its way across Emily VanCamp’s face. That’s terrific acting.

The other thing I really love is the introduction of Black Panther’s universe, including the very low-key first appearance of Florence Kasumba as Ayo. She’s a minor character among the people of Wakanda, and isn’t even named in this movie, but her instruction to Black Widow to move is just about my favorite threat in a movie full of people giving each other strong warnings. The Panther had always been one of those characters that other people enjoyed more than me until Chadwick Boseman took the part. In Boseman’s hands, he is one of my favorite Marvel heroes.

But in the end, the movie is about the awful end to Tony and Steve’s friendship, their truce shattered when we learn that Bucky had, twenty-five years earlier, murdered Tony’s parents while under Hydra’s control. The fight at the airport is wonderful and hilarious, but the climax, with Tony, Steve, and Bucky beating each other with more blood and pain and bruises than these movies typically give us, is horrible and heartbreaking. It’s a terrific end to a really excellent movie, but it kind of demands that the next few stories are a little different and more lighthearted…

Seven movies between us and the release of Captain Marvel. Can we do it in time to see the film in a theater? Stay tuned!

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Young Indiana Jones 3.13 – Hollywood, 1920 (part one)

You might make the case that with only four last TV movies budgeted, George Lucas might have been better off not spending one of them on another lightweight comedy. Young Indiana Jones and the Hollywood Follies was the first of the four TV movies shown on The Family Channel from 1994-95, and chronologically, it’s the final adventure made for our hero. What comes next is a fifteen year gap before the events of Temple of Doom. So we never get to meet Abner and Marion Ravenwood or René Belloq or Marcus Brody. But we do get to meet John Ford, without whom…

…but I’m getting ahead of myself. In the first hour of this adventure, John Ford only appears in a couple of short scenes. It opens in New York, just a couple of days after the finale of the previous adventure. As feared, Gloria has had Indy fired from Scandals of 1920 and he only has about a month to cobble his next semester’s tuition together. So George White points him toward a job at Universal that will pay $600: shut down production of Erich von Stroheim’s runaway motion picture Foolish Wives, which has already cost the studio a million dollars and shows no signs of wrapping.

Allied with his latest girlfriend Claire, played by future Spy Game star Allison Smith, and mogul-in-waiting Irving Thalberg, played by Bill Cusack, Indy tries every trick he can to sabotage or put an end to von Stroheim’s excesses. There’s kidnapping, horse tranquilizers, and marbles all over a tile floor. It’s funny, and a little silly, but it’s not the most essential hour of the series!

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The Goodies 9.2 – Robot

Last month, we watched the first episode of the final series of The Goodies and I hoped that the other installments that year would be a little more entertaining. Happily, “Robot” is a lot funnier, but unhappily, it’s also full of inappropriate-for-a-seven-year-old gags about Swedish au pairs and their kinky turn-ons. Ours didn’t know what any of that meant, but I think this one’s going back on the shelf for a couple of decades.

For those of you without kids in the household, Graeme and Tim and their computer decide to replace Bill with automation, but then end up accidentally rehiring him, disguised as an au pair, to care for his replacement: a robot that grows from an oil-guzzling baby into a surly teenager voiced by David Rappaport. There’s the usual location-filmed slapstick gags, this time involving unsafe playgrounds and angry, sentient fridges and gas ovens. Our kid howled with laughter, and maybe a couple of decades from now, he’ll have another chance to giggle at this.

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Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

How nice, it seemed, in a world of dreary and utterly unnecessary remakes, for Disney to actually make a sequel to an old film. Except this isn’t a sequel. Mary Poppins Returns is actually a remake of the original, every plot beat completely familiar and done with modern gloss. It follows the template and order of the original’s moments so precisely that the only thing that’s different is the casting and subtle changes to professions. Here we meet the oddball relative who was played by Ed Wynn last time and by Meryl Streep this time, and then we’ll visit the bank, and then we’ll have the great showstopping dance routine that was performed by chimney sweeps last time and by lamplighters this time. Even the mother figure is the same. Last time, she was a suffragette and this time, she’s organizing labor.

That said, while I wished desperately for some moments that would veer wildly away from the original’s format, it certainly succeeded with our favorite seven year-old critic, who remembers the original, but not particularly well. And if I hadn’t seen the original eight or nine times previously, I suppose the only real complaint I’d have is that the villain has no reason whatever to be a villain. Seriously, why is Colin Firth being villainous in this movie? Why does he compound his villainy by pretending to be sympathetic? Is there buried treasure under the Banks house or something and the movie just forgot to tell us?

But in its favor, Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda are practically magical, if not quite perfect, and the songs are nice, and the cameos by Nackvid Keyd and Angela Lansbury, so many years since the last time these actors danced with cartoon animals, certainly made me smile. David Warner takes over as a character from the original movie, and he’s always fun to watch as he bellows and shouts.

And in the category of really big wins for this movie, I have to say that the fantastic musical hall scene built around “The Cover is Not the Book” should go down as one of the absolute best musical numbers in any Disney film, ever. Also, if this film doesn’t win an Oscar for best costumes, something is downright wrong with the world, because the strange pastel-on-porcelain garb that the characters wear on their trip into the cartoon world is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

In other words, all the elements were in place for a truly fine movie. Everything but an original story. Should Mary Poppins one day return to assist the next generation of Banks children, I hope that family is having a completely different problem for Mary to tackle in a completely different way.

Photo credit: Time.com

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The Feathered Serpent – 1.5 and 1.6

Recently, the subject of professional complainer-about-television Mary Whitehouse came up on Twitter, and I started thinking about how everybody in Britain knew who Whitehouse was, while her closest American counterpart, Peggy Charren, is largely unknown. That’s despite Charren’s far greater success in keeping American children’s television in the seventies so tame and unthreatening, while British kids were having afternoons filled with psychological horror and gore. Mary Whitehouse was so notorious for her complaints about everything from kids’ programming to sitcoms to paranormal dramas that her thoughts on any given program would get column inches in all the newspapers, but darned if she ever effected any real change or censorship.

One mammoth difference between children’s TV in our two countries: the villains. Sure, American TV for kids in the seventies was full of memorable villains. They were either played for laughs (just check out all the Krofft shows in the side menu) or they were so ineffective that they were unthreatening. Compare anybody from Saturday morning teevee’s rogues’ gallery to Iain Cuthbertson in Children of the Stones, or to Patrick Troughton in The Feathered Serpent. Troughton’s character, Nasca, would have Witchiepoo, Dr. Shrinker, the Oozes, every last one of the villains in The Ghost Busters and all thirteen members of the Legion of Doom lined up for sacrifice.

And there would be blood. Nasca engineers a shocking body count among the speaking parts in this serial. Offscreen, the army launches a surprise attack and massacres half of the Toltec force, but I’m still amazed by the number of named characters who don’t make it out of this story alive. This is brutal, wonderful stuff.

But longtime readers may recall that our son has never liked villains very much. Since Nasca spends all six episodes in charge of everything, quickly adapting his plans to counter any move the heroes make and manipulating every situation to his ends, he dominates the story in the same way that Tony Soprano or Avon Barksdale dominated their programs a quarter-century later. And our son hated him. Every time the good guys get close to turning the tables, Nasca has a new surprise.

We had to have a long talk after the show about the best way to communicate unhappiness with stories. We asked him to please ask us to pause the show so we can talk about it rather than letting his discomfort drive him to distraction. After all, the good guys would surely win eventually… kid just needed some reassuring.

On the other hand, until about fifteen minutes into episode six, even I wasn’t convinced the good guys were going to win.

That’s all for now for The Feathered Serpent. We’ll watch series two in a couple of months – I wouldn’t miss it for the world – but our poor kid needs a break from the horrors of ancient Mexico! Stay tuned for more!

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MacGyver 5.15 – The Treasure of Manco

When we started watching the third season of MacGyver, I expressed a little disappointment that they’d moved production to Vancouver, because seeing eighties L.A. in the background is just so much more interesting. But credit where it’s due: the crew trekked to some remote spot in western Canada for this afternoon’s episode that looks a whole lot more like the mountainous regions of Peru than any place the production might have visited in southern California.

So yes, this episode looks good, and it’s a pretty entertaining hour all around. Treasure Hunt MacGyver is always more satisfying than Social Conscience MacGyver. Even though there are a couple of plot “twists” that are obvious from space, this kept our son guessing and it provided a little more evidence that old cultures could build some interesting feats of engineering. His rationale between accepting the archaeological finds of this but questioning the same sort of construction in the first parts of The Feathered Serpent doesn’t make very much sense – if I understand him right, it seems to come down to a question of “how did they know it would work” versus “clearly it did” – but I’m pleased that he’s using his head.

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