Monthly Archives: September 2019

Doctor Who 1.1 – Rose

“Breaking news!” announced our son. “There is a headless Auton with paddle hands destroying a restaurant! His paddle hands can be used to smash tables and also as cutting boards!” But that was after the episode. He was really amusing to watch as the episode played out. For those of you who have never seen Doctor Who‘s re-debut episode from 2005, the story starts out with mannequins coming to life, and plastic trash cans swallowing people with belches, and duplicating hapless twentysomethings and giving them weird plastic smiles. And while our son enjoyed everything that went on – especially, of course, the belch – he wasn’t quite willing to definitively declare these strange monsters to be Autons.

But toward the end of the adventure, a whole shopping mall full of mannequins comes to life. And then one raises its hand in a vintage 1970-71 gesture and its fingers fall away, and, magically, because the new showrunner, Russell T. Davies, is enough of a fanboy to get this right, we hear the classic sound effect of an Auton handgun. And our kid shouted “I knew it! They’re Autons!” I mean, a living plastic mannequin could be anybody. Only an Auton makes that kind of noise when it shoots somebody.

So I was intending to watch this tomorrow night, but when I put The Hardy Boys back on the shelf and pulled out Christopher Eccleston’s run of Who, the kid bounced off the ceiling and he’s been waiting very, very impatiently. And, ah, heck, I wanted to see it again too. Eccleston is joined by Billie Piper, Noel Clarke, and Camille Coduri for his first adventure, and it’s a great reintroduction to the show.

A few weeks ago, we talked about the 1996 movie and how it worked under the assumption that anybody who tuned in already knew Doctor Who inside and out. I told him tonight to watch how this story works as though nobody in the audience had ever seen the program. I like it a lot. I like its speed and its pace, and I really like Eccleston. I’m a little less on Rose’s side, but she’ll have a moment or two.

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The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

Fathom Events usually has three screenings of the Studio Ghibli films that they present: the first and last are dubbed and the middle one is subtitled. We always go to a dubbed showing because our son reads very slowly. But this time, they made a mistake and started the subtitled edition of 2010’s The Secret World of Arrietty. We shrugged; just have to deal with it. About eight minutes in, somebody had alerted somebody to the mistake, and after a short pause, they started over with the right print.

Our kid grinned. Within those first eight minutes, we get to see a big, fat, lazy cat chase off a pestering crow and charge, unsuccessfully, at our tiny young heroine, a teenage “borrower” who is just a couple of inches tall and lives under a house. He leaned over and quietly said “Good! I wanted to see that cat twice!”

The film is an adaptation of Mary Norton’s novel for children The Borrowers. It’s been adapted before, but live-action versions can’t linger on the beauty of gigantic green gardens that look like jungles, with rain drops forming huge crystalline globes that catch the light. It’s a world where some insects are menaces and pests, and some, like roly-poly pillbugs, are just little distractions that you bounce on your knee.

Borrowers are tiny little people who try to live by a creed to only take what they need from the world of human beans. Arrietty lives with her parents Pod and Homily inside an old house in the country with just one elderly caretaker. There have been stories about little people in the walls and under the floor for many years, but nobody really believed them. Arrietty has turned fourteen and it’s time for her to make her first borrowing expedition, but there’s a strange new complication: a teenage boy with a heart condition has come to recuperate at the house for a week, and he doesn’t seem to follow any of the borrowers’ expectations about human beans.

Arrietty was the first film directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who’s since made a couple of other movies that I’d quite like to see. It was a big hit when it was released, though I confess I wasn’t paying much attention to the genre in the early 2010s and its impact missed me entirely. It’s a beautifully animated film with some fun characters and big surprises. All three of us enjoyed it very much, and I probably need to pick up a copy for the shelf sometime.

Image credits: Entropy Mag.

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The New Avengers 2.6 – Trap

I’m predisposed to like anything with Stuart Damon – he’s here wearing a very Burt Reynolds mustache for one scene – and Ferdy Mayne – he’s one of the villains – but I don’t think I can find anything nice to say about Brian Clemens’ “Trap,” which at least had our son really worried for Gambit for a few minutes.

At its core, “Trap” is awful because of its flippant, disinterested racism. There’s a criminal named Soo Choy who is trying to impress three other international drug dealers, but all the trappings – sorry – of his lifestyle and operation are chunks of random Asian-nation stereotypes thrown into a blender. As written, he appears to be a Chinese man with a crew in Red Army fatigues, but he’s also all about samurai swords and bonsai trees and saving face. (Disagreeably, there was a lot of this going around in our culture in the late seventies. Just try to read the lyrics to Siouxsie and the Banshees’ first single, “Hong Kong Garden.” without cringing.)

Making things even weirder, Soo Choy is played by an English actor, Terry Wood, but rather than speaking in the sort of me-so-solly voice you’d expect from something thoughtless from 1977, Wood speaks in a deep-voiced RP rasp. And he doesn’t shut up. The storytelling in The New Avengers is frequently unclear, especially where the passage of time is concerned, but I really think we missed a scene somewhere in this episode. I think “Soo Choy” must be some British criminal who just decided he’s in love with all things Asia and started calling his less obsessed buddies “gaijin,” and his syndicate pals are just forced to deal with him and his otaku ways. That doesn’t make the production any less cringeworthy, but maybe it explains what the idiot’s deal is.

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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.22 – Campus Terror

Every once in a while, we look back at some old TV and – even though “old TV” is mainly what we watch – we’re surprised by the changes in society over the last forty years. In the second season finale, one of Joe’s old girlfriends, played by Valerie Bertinelli taking a break from the successful sitcom One Day at a Time, phones our heroes for help because three girls have been abducted from the small college she attends over the course of a week. This college doesn’t even have a computer in the registrar’s office to provide a printout of the current roster of students and professors; there’s one behavioral scientist who’s got a room-filling machine that can do that.

So how weirdly dated is this? These kidnappings are not the biggest news story on the planet, which they sure would be today. There’s not even a single reporter in sight. Obviously a similar story made today would have to do things radically differently. But what blew my mind was the way everybody treats this as no big deal. Students are still walking alone on campus at night, and classrooms that were crime scenes the night before are cleaned up for lab work the next day. Then Frank and Joe find some evidence and withhold it from the police so they can confront somebody themselves. Good grief!

A weird coincidence: one month before this aired, NBC showed an episode of Columbo called “How to Dial a Murder,” which was also made by Universal and which also had some Dobermans trained by a behavioral scientist. I wonder whether they were the same dogs.

That’s all from The Hardy Boys for now! But stick around, because we’ll check out the third season in November. Stay tuned!

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Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.4 – The Vampire

The first three episodes of this show were pretty good, but also a little uneven. “The Vampire” is completely excellent, though, and I’m especially glad that our son enjoyed it, because the last several things we’ve watched over the past week have misfired with him. He says that he really liked it and it was really frightening, although he was confused by how a vampire reacts to the touch of a cross when it’s placed across the beast’s back.

We got a later start this evening and so it was straight to bed for our favorite eight year-old critic, and once tucked in, he allowed that he was honestly a little freaked out. Fortunately, in her box of keepsakes, Marie kept a small cross that we were gifted when the boy was much, much smaller. She offered to bring the cross up to his bedroom for the night and he very graciously accepted.

Looking ahead to Sunday night, we do not, however, have any silver bullets handy.

Anyway, this episode was written by David Chase and it’s a sequel to the original Night Stalker film. Larry Storch has a tiny cameo as an old pal of Carl and Tony’s who stops by Chicago on his way to a TV anchorman job in Cincinnati and calmly offers a tip about some odd murders between Vegas and Los Angeles. There’s lots of beautiful location filming in the city and the hills and some interesting real estate prices. You could get an amazing eight bedroom mansion, big enough for a guru and his retinue, for under 600k in 1974.

This week’s cop who’s had it up to here with Kolchak is a lieutenant played by William Daniels, and I think about the only flaw in this fabulous script is that when the two have a quiet moment to hear Carl’s crazy story about vampires, Carl doesn’t suggest that he phone Captain So-and-So in Vegas and ask him whether the name Janos Skorzeny means anything to him. This is otherwise an incredibly witty and dramatic hour with some great lines, delightful misdirection, a whole room full of reporters who don’t know Kolchak and therefore aren’t embarrassed to take his lead and ask a lot of pointed questions, and this one sleazy dude in a bar who’s wearing some kind of camouflage sports jacket. Geez, the things that people used to wear to pick up girls in bars…

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The New Avengers 2.5 – Obsession

Unfortunately, tonight’s episode was one where our son lost the plot very early on, never recovered, and ended up so confused and dispirited that he thought the bad guys had stolen a missile for the purpose of shooting down a satellite, which was a very minor plot complication that was over and done with inside ten minutes. He grumbled that it was weird and strange that they would want to destroy something that could be so valuable. We told him it was time enough to retire the words weird and strange and when he loses track of the story to tell us.

The most amusing part of “Obsession” comes right at the end, when the bad guys – played by Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins – are going their separate ways, and Collins says to Shaw, “Maybe we should work together again. We’re a good team.” About four months later, the actors would begin working together again for five series of Clemens’ successful The Professionals. Between you and me, I could do without that show and would rather they made five more series of this one.

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The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.21 – Arson and Old Lace

Credit where it’s due: I’ve occasionally teased the producers and paymasters of this show for cutting some corners to save a little cash. But whatever they saved, they put onscreen in tonight’s hour, which put a Hardy spin on a couple of seventies obsessions: The Towering Inferno and Howard Hughes. Joseph Cotten has a breathtakingly thankless role in this episode, a character who’s both insane and evil. Rathbone is a recluse who hasn’t left his penthouse for twenty-two years, and he’s started embezzling money from his companies. Then Nancy Drew – who’s the spitting image of the “Jane Russell” in Rathbone’s past – starts investigating, and he has her kidnapped.

Six months later – and when you think about it, it’s pretty surprising that any series from the period would leave one of its characters in a villain’s clutches anywhere near that long – the Hardys finally get a lead on Nancy’s investigation, just in time for a serial arsonist, who turns out to have a pretty reasonable motive, to target Rathbone’s building. This story required a lot of extras, a lot of stuntmen, and a lot of fires on the set. Sadly, our son was really excited by the clips from the show before the titles, what with all the explosions and blazes, but the story left him cold, confused, and really unsatisfied. He did enjoy Joe Hardy saving a little kid from the building with a jump from the fourth floor to the fire department’s trampoline.

I think it’s a shame that the center of the story is Nancy being a helpless prisoner for half a year, because Nancy shouldn’t be a damsel in distress in the first place, and certainly not for such a long time. Without this chasm in the plot, it’s otherwise a very entertaining production, and features a fine cast including Jack Kelly and Pernell Roberts. And being a victim for half a year is no way for Nancy Drew to exit the show. This was the final appearance of Nancy and her dad. Janet Louise Johnson and William Schallert wouldn’t be part of the next season. I wish that the characters’ final outing would have been a more positive one.

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Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.3 – They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be…

This past weekend, we took advantage of the Smithsonian’s free museum day and drove down to Huntsville, where we enjoyed several hours at the US Space & Rocket Center. There, our son picked up a fourth member of his comfort menagerie, a plush Saturn rocket that he’s named Metal Bringer.

Since we’ve returned, he’s changed his routine for the movie and the two programs we’ve watched. Since none of those were frightening, his security blanket and the three plush cuddlies all wait for him on the other couch. But now that we’re watching another episode of Kolchak, he wanted all four to hold during the scary bits. There was a brief delay while Pal # 3, the beanie named Tigey, couldn’t be found. I told him to knock it off; he was perfectly capable of handing scary TV with only one blanket, surely three out of the four would suffice.

Then the episode, Rudolph Borchert’s “They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be…,” proved to be decidedly not frightening. “Weird, but unsatisfying?” I asked him. “Yeah,” he grumbled. “Very unsatisfying.” Although the cute finger of coincidence crossed our paths again. The highlight of our trip to Huntsville was an hour enjoying a splendid show in their planetarium. That’s where tonight’s episode reaches its strange climax, as an invisible force moves the observatory around, like a lost traveller consulting a map.

For posterity, tonight’s story features return visits from the recurring players Carol Ann Susi and John Fiedler, along with guest roles for Mary Wickes and Len Lesser, and blustery James Gregory as the police captain of the week. I’m not looking ahead, but I swear I remember that one of these cops appears twice.

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