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The Twilight Zone 1.15 – Monsters! / A Small Talent for War / A Matter of Minutes

The larger stories on either side of the very small gag in the middle were both entertaining, but they also really lacked any kind of twist or oomph at the end. So this wasn’t an entirely satisfying hour of The Twilight Zone, but it had a few entertaining moments for the grownups. Our son was pretty indifferent to the show, honestly. He sort of shrugged about all three.

Since the meatier stories kind of fumbled with the payoffs, the gag story might be the best of the three. It’s co-written by Alan Brennert and Carter Scholz and features John Glover as an alien ambassador disillusioned by our planet’s capacity for war. “Monsters!” features Ralph Bellamy as an old vampire who doesn’t exhibit any of the traits or weaknesses of vampires that the stories claim, much to the confusion of a kid who loves horror movies. “A Matter of Minutes,” written by Rockne S. O’Bannon from a story by Theodore Sturgeon, suggests that time works in a very weird way: each individual minute is a separate space entirely, and it’s constantly being built by crews of silent blue-clad workmen in anticipation of the humans who will populate it that space for all of sixty seconds.

Despite some fantastic visuals, and a terrific explanation of what causes people to lose their keys every so often, “A Matter of Minutes” acts like it has a threat at its core and a malevolent reason why a young couple played by Adam Arkin and Karen Austin can never go back to real time after skipping ahead four hours. But there’s no payoff, and consequently no reason why the orange-clad crew boss should be concerned about what they’ve seen. Maybe they ran out of time. *grin

“Monsters!” fumbled its ending even worse, but I decided to quibble more about the horror trivia. First, that kid is way too young to have seen EVERY Hammer films even once, let alone six times. Not because there are so many, but because that must be the most irresponsible dad on the planet to show a middle schooler Demons of the Mind and To the Devil… a Daughter. And honestly, if you’re going to get that nerdy about the release date of The Crawling Eye, you should call it The Trollenberg Terror!

(That film is awesome, by the way. I’ve always loved it.)

Today’s feature was a gift from Marie’s brother Karl and we really appreciate it! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!

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The Twilight Zone 1.13 – Night of the Meek / But Can She Type? / The Star

So last time, we looked at a remake of an episode that we hadn’t watched, and this time, we looked at a remake of a story that we really enjoyed. The ’80s version of Rod Serling’s “Night of the Meek” was scripted by Rockne S. O’Bannon and it’s… okay. The problem with remaking something that’s really well known and really, really good is that it’s always going to suffer by comparison. Richard Mulligan is fine as Henry Corwin, if tactfully less pathetic than Art Carney’s original, but poor William Atherton seems to have been cast specifically to replay his needlessly obstinate antagonist character from Ghostbusters. On the other hand, the scale of the production is a little larger and there’s a real sense of redemption when the grouchy department store owner finds a little happiness on Christmas Eve. Our son loved it.

He was a little baffled by the second segment, “But Can She Type?”. The first problem was that title. Obviously, to older viewers, this one’s about a secretary, but he asked “But why was it called that?!” Pam Dawber plays a mistreated and unhappy secretary in this segment, but with a little magic from a gigantic office photocopier – the comic that I used to draw when I lived in Athens was mostly printed on a beast this size – she can visit another world where secretaries are held in awe and esteem. For a comedy segment, it’s not bad, and it was fun to see Jonathan Frakes play a dude so out of his league that he can’t even talk to a secretary without spilling his drink.

“The Star” is based on Arthur C. Clarke’s story and it’s a really short segment, just about ten minutes long. Writer Alan Brennert hit the plot beats as quickly as the running time would allow, and Fritz Weaver and Donald Moffat, who passed away a couple of weeks ago, are very watchable as two old friends learning a surprise about the universe that sparks a crisis of faith. Our son had no idea at all what this one was about, though, because we’re not Sunday school types, you see. It’s a heck of a good premise for a story, and we explained what the revelation implied to general disinterest and shrugs. So this was an hour that he enjoyed a little less as it went on, basically!

Today’s feature was a gift from Marie’s brother Karl and we really appreciate it! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!

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The Twilight Zone 1.9 – Dead Woman’s Shoes / Wong’s Lost and Found Emporium

I had been planning to look at a couple of the remakes that they did in the eighties Twilight Zone, though I confess that I completely forgot to check out Charles Beaumont’s original “Dead Man’s Shoes” production before watching its 1985 rewrite. So I have no idea how “Dead Woman’s Shoes” compares to the original, but it’s extremely entertaining! Helen Mirren is completely wonderful as an evasive, shy woman who works in a Los Angeles thrift store and gets possessed by the spirit of a murdered woman when she tries on her donated shoes.

Once Mirren, possessed, gets into her old home, which she had shared with her killer, played by Jeffrey Tambor, she does herself up and looks as glamorous and beautiful as you expect Helen Mirren to look. As the cashier at the thrift store, sharing a scene with Robert Pastorelli in an amazing rockabilly haircut, she’s so introverted that she almost collapses in on herself.

After this very fun ghost story, Brian Tochi, who I remembered as Tee Gar from Space Academy even if our son didn’t, takes the lead in Alan Brennert’s “Wong’s Lost and Found Emporium.” It’s a whimsical story but a bit spiky and hard to embrace because his character has sought out this strange shop in the hope of finding his lost compassion. Other shoppers have come here to find lost time or lost respect. I found it a little hard to sympathize with a character so deliberately abrasive, but it’s a swell script for what looks like a budget-saving segment.

Our son can’t decide which of the two installments he enjoyed most. He liked the ghost story a lot, but he liked the surprises and all the odd props in the second one, too. They really got the balance right with this hour, I think.

Today’s feature was a gift from Marie’s brother Karl and we really appreciate it! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!

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The Twilight Zone 1.6 – A Message from Charity

No, I didn’t show my darling, sensitive son the Zone adaptation of “Examination Day” the week he started the gifted program at school. Geez, what kind of monster do you think I am? *grin

But we did watch the other segment in the Zone‘s sixth hour. “A Message from Charity” was one of the few segments from this season that I saw. I was a freshman in high school in 1985. I went to a few football games that season and sometimes started spending the weekends with friends that year and wasn’t often home to see this show. And I fell in love with it. I haven’t seen a frame of it since, but I remembered it quite clearly. Alan Brennert’s script was so moving that when I ran across the writer on Usenet in 1994 or so, I dropped him a line to tell him how much I loved it.

The story concerns two teens separated by 285 years: Charity in 1700 and Peter in 1985, played by Kerry Noonan and by future Star Trek: Voyager castmember Robert Duncan McNeill. They’re supported by James Cromwell and Gerald Hiken, who was always playing a villain in the eighties. Charity and Peter get linked telepathically after they each suffer a high fever. He shows her the wonderful technology of the future and she talks a little too freely about what she’s seen to friends who are obsessed with witchcraft.

The witch angle may suggest that this doesn’t do anything too surprising, but the kids’ resolution to the problem is very novel and the acting is absolutely first-class. Kerry Noonan, who retired from acting a few years after this and went on to become one of the country’s most respected folklorists, is absolutely magical as Charity, and McNeill is incredibly sympathetic as the bookish kid whose only friend died a couple of hundred years ago. It’s a great love story between two characters who never share any screen time, and if the segment’s epilogue doesn’t make you smile, your heart must be two sizes too small. Our son enjoyed it, but he also really bristled at Hiken’s evil squire character.

Also, no, it’s not just you. Like MacGyver, it would appear that the master tapes for this program were stored next to an electromagnet or something. I don’t know what it is about mid-eighties American TV, but these DVDs don’t look any better than a thirty-three year-old VHS copy would look.

Today’s feature was a gift from Marie’s brother Karl and we really appreciate it! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!

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The Twilight Zone 1.1 – Shatterday / A Little Peace and Quiet

We interrupt this blog. We control the horizontal, we control the v– oh, wait, that was the other show.

But we are going to interrupt things just a hair and do something a little different. This is Twilight Zone week at Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time, and tonight and for the next six evenings, we’re going to watch seven highlights from the first season of the 1985 revival of the series. This ran at 8 pm Friday nights in the 1985-86 season on CBS, leading more than one person to ask what in creation this show was doing on so early.

They led with their big guns. “Shatterday” stars Bruce Willis, who was on the brink of becoming one of TV’s biggest names, in a script by Alan Brennert based on a short story by Harlan Ellison. It, and the second story that made up the new Zone‘s first hour, was directed by Wes Craven. Willis, Ellison, and Craven: I’d say that’s your 1985 dream team right there. And interestingly, even though this program’s called The Twilight Zone, with its more frequent dips into the supernatural and horror and its presentation of two or three different teleplays within each hour, it sometimes feels more like a revamp of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery than new episodes of Zone.

Marie wasn’t all that taken with either of these first stories, and our son was mostly subdued by the first story, but I thought they were both terrific. “Shatterday” begins with Willis’s very, very 80s PR hack phoning a friend but dialing his own number by mistake. He hears his own voice answer. The person on the other end is him… a calmer, gentler, more thoughtful him. Can there be space in the city for both of them?

Our son enjoyed the second story a lot more. In “A Little Peace and Quiet,” a frantic housewife with four needy kids and an even more needy husband unearths a medallion that can stop time and give her the chance to breathe. In retrospect, I should have seen where this one was going – they telegraphed the heck out of it – but I was so fascinated by the possibilities of where it could go, with the mom gradually using the device more and more, for increasingly selfish reasons, that I missed the writing on the wall. Craven staged a couple of completely amazing set pieces, with crowds of people frozen in time. The first of the two is done for comedy and the second one isn’t. If he’d stuck that second scene in one of his Nightmare on Elm Street movies, people would call it one of that series’ high points.

Today’s feature was a gift from Marie’s brother Karl and we really appreciate it! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!

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Buck Rogers 1.11 – Cosmic Whiz Kid

You’re not going to believe this, but I swear tonight’s episode was a million times better than I was expecting. Mind you, I was expecting the end of the world.

The sitcom Diff’rent Strokes was in its second season on NBC that year, and since I occasionally watched both programs, I was certainly aware that Gary Coleman would be guest starring on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century that week. So this is one of the few that I remember from my childhood, but I remembered it all wrong. Later, with teenage meatheadedness, came the contempt for elements of one’s past, and I don’t know about the crowd you ran around with in high school, but absolutely none of my peers were openly admitting any fondness for Strokes or any of the sixty-eleven TV movies that Coleman had cranked out for NBC when we were the target audience.

And so “Cosmic Whiz Kid” passed into infamy as just one more example of the embarrassing, pandering crap that American television was passing as worthwhile entertainment while right around the same time, kids in Britain were watching Blake’s 7 and kids in Japan were watching Mobile Suit Gundam. The fact that both countries also had more than their fair share of garbage was lost on us; we only got to know the better things and assumed everything from overseas was as good as we imagined.

The pleasant reality is that this isn’t a pandering showcase for a catchphrase-spouting child star to mug at the camera. It was written by Anne Collins and Alan Brennert, who had written the most memorable installments of the show so far, and the role of President Hieronymous Fox could have been played by any young actor. But here’s the thing: since we started this blog, I’ve seen a heck of a lot of performances by the child stars of the late seventies, and Gary Coleman, in this story, is better than every one of them I can think of, and I include Jodie Foster in that statement. He’s engaging, twinkling, fun, believable, and plays the part with subtlety and smarts.

And the other thing is that even if Fox had been played by a lesser actor, one that everybody forgot and who didn’t cause too-cool-for-school teens to mock and snort at the sound of his name, this would still have been one of the better installments of the show. Ray Walston plays the villain, and there are appearances by a telepathic alien and a weedy-looking dude from a low-gravity planet who throws Buck across a room and snaps laser blasters in half.

It’s a pretty good story, and our son really enjoyed it. Fox is clever enough to escape from danger without Buck’s help, which he loved, and he thought an ongoing subplot about the meat of “mountain lizards” being used to make 25th Century cheeseburgers and chili was a scream. I was also very amused by the show revealing that Buck had found some old music by Three Dog Night in an archive and has his Siri / Alexa playing it in his apartment. Not that I’ve ever given a flip about Three Dog Night, but yes, I can totally believe Buck Rogers spent his high school days smoking weed and thumping his dashboard along with “An Old Fashioned Love Song.” The Doobie Brothers, too.

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Buck Rogers 1.7 – The Plot to Kill a City (part two)

I’m impressed. That was a very solid story. I might quibble and grumble about the show playing it safe and not making the future seem very different from 1979, but that was every bit as entertaining as any other science fiction show could have managed in the seventies, and our son loved it. He was much more focused and still tonight than he was with the first episode.

Obviously it’s early hours, and for all I know the rest of this program is as dopey, dated, and disco as its godawful pilot was, but I didn’t dislike any of that. I don’t know about your neck of the woods, but I’ve always agreed with the generally bad reputation that Buck Rogers has, which is probably thanks to that godawful pilot. Even though nothing happens in this story that will be very unpredictable to grownup viewers, it’s done with style and talent and a lot of charm. I hope other episodes are half this good.

Actually, there is just one watched-from-the-future disappointment. Of the three main villains, two of them are killed off quite unceremoniously, and one escapes. I believe she is never seen or heard from again. That’s no way to start a rogues gallery! I like recurring enemies.

Joining the cast this week, it’s James McEachin as an engineer blackmailed into helping the villains. We’ve seen McEachin a couple of times before in this blog – in Universal shows, in fact – but I want to pause this time and note what a good actor he is, with such an expressive voice. McEachin was the star of Tenafly, one of the forgotten NBC Mystery Movies of the seventies. I’ve been aggravated for decades that only about half of those movie series, led, of course, by Columbo, ever got a second life in syndication or home video. I’d love for someone to release Tenafly, McCoy, Cool Million, Faraday & Company and the others.

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