Saturday, May 21, 2016

Old-timey film review: The Bishop Misbehaves

Before Ted Turner bought up the MGM library, and before the networks bought up all the local TV stations, local stations would show films from the '30s on their late late movie.

In the early '80s, I was working the overnight shift at a self-service gas station and had a little TV to entertain myself in the long hours of the shift. After the local news, after Johnny Carson, after the Hawaii Five-O rerun, after Letterman (the Philadelphia NBC affiliate had no faith in this new show from the quirky standup so instead of showing it after Johnny, they showed it an hour later after Hawaii Five-O … before this they didn't carry it at all, until Letterman fans complained), the station had a late movie which featured these classic films.

Some 30 years later I vaguely remember watching this film, but when it showed up on TCM I had to watch it. I must have only watched the first 15 minutes because that's all I remembered.

This is as cozy as they come, there's crime, there's men with guns, but at no point does the viewer feel anyone's in danger. And it's as British as they come (even though it was probably filmed at MGM), there's a vicarage, old-fashioned pubs full of Brits with thick accents, and foggy backstreets.

The first third is the young couple plotting a heist. See, the young woman (Maureen O'Sullivan) says her dad was cheated out of a patent and wants to rob the villain who stole the McGuffin. Her new, American boyfriend (a concession to American audiences?) readily agrees and they recruit some British felons to assist.

This is Colombo-esque, the first half hour is the crime, then the detective shows up to start picking apart the perfect crime. The detective here is a great Edmund Gwenn, a mystery loving bishop delighted to stumble upon a crime. He finds little clues at the crime scene, but for the rest of the film his attention to detail is kind of forgotten.

There are a few laughs but it's not so much a mystery as a caper unfolding and derailing. It was based on a play and it's all very stagey as the Bishop talks to the characters in a couple of settings (the pub, the vicarage). But instead of a  real cat and mouse game it's more like, "I have a gun… wait, who turned off the lights?" "Now, I have the gun…" or "I have the incriminating papers … " (punch!)  "Now, I have the incriminating papers."

Some good jokes seem to fall flat due to the unevenness, it should have been all screwball instead of the occasional screwy moment.

The real disappointment comes at the end when the villain is shamed into doing the right thing.

That's it? No actual mystery-solving, or last-minute twist?

Just when I thought, well maybe a sequel could make things better, the last minutes of the film show Gwen throwing his collection of mystery books in a fireplace swearing to never solve a mystery again.

So, not all old timey movies are classics, but they'll do in a pinch on a late, lonely overnight gas station shift.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Listen to me!

I'm the guest panelist on a pop culture podcast, you can listen to it here.

It's me and two co-workers discuss Star Wars: A New Hope, and one of us never saw it before until now.

Missing Midnight Movies

Flipping through the channels at 1:30 this morning I came across "Heavy Metal" the 1981 animated film based on the magazine of the same name. (and they blurred out the boobs! This is silly because it was 1:30 in the morning, and the point of the whole movie was the boobs!)

Watching the film so late at night made me think of something that's not there anymore: Midnight Movies.

For you kids too young to remember, in the 70s and early 80s, on Friday and Saturday nights movie theaters would show cult films at midnight. The most famous of these was of course "Rocky Horror Picture Show," but there were others.

This was before VCRs, and these showings were pretty much your only chance to see some notorious films you heard about, but were never shown on TV.

What better way to show your maturity and independence as a teen than watching an X-Rated film at midnight with your friends, then coming home at 3 am?

If you weren't there, here's what you missed:

Rocky Horror: There's been terrabytes written about this film, so I'm sure you know all about it and more than likely have seen it. I will say this: It had a great rock and roll score, and it bothered me that we're supposed to feel sympathy for the main character even after he kills Eddie in cold blood.

Heavy Metal: A fairly true adaptation of the magazine; it really didn't need the McGuffin as a linking device, why link the stories at all? Sex and boobs and sword and sorcery, probably better as a midnight movie than watching it on TV.

Fantastic Animation Festival: When they advertised it, they stressed the Pink Floyd segment. Unfortunately, you have to sit through a lot of avant-garde stuff before this segment, and the audience of teen stoners I saw this with were getting pretty impatient.

The Ralph Bakshi Ouvre: Wizards, another adult sword and sorcery/science fiction epic, lots of fun; Fritz the Cat, cartoon animals having sex. Once again, films that would never be shown on commercial television.

The animated films I've mentioned all contain sex. In the 70s the only animation around was Disney animation, so when producers started making animated films it was as if they were intentionally trying to get as far away from Disney wholesomeness as possible. Cartoon characters having sex though, doesn't necessarily lend itself to good storytelling.

I look at "Futurama" as a happy medium. It's for kids, it's for grownups and it can get blue without actual sex for the sake of sex.

House of Wax: Every once in a while they'd throw in a horror movie. Usually this and "Creature From the Black Lagoon," both in 3D and both better on the big screen where you can feel the audience jump in their seats.

Amazon Women on the Moon: Probably made specifically for the midnight movie crowd. A cinematic brother to  Kentucky Fried Movie and TunnelVision, all of them episodic trippy comedies.

Paul McCartney: Rockshow: A recurring theme with midnight movies was  rock and roll. "Woodstock," "Quadrophenia" and "The Kids Are Allright," were staples.

Now, if we want to watch  a cult movie, we can stream it or watch it on one of 300 cable channels. What do teenagers do for fun now?

Monday, March 7, 2016

Overdue Gravity Falls finale review

Wow, what a great show. It would often go to the very edge of creepy or scary, then someone would say a joke to reel you back in.

But here's the real reason why the Weirdmageddon finale was great: The series was obviously inspired by the X-Files and Twin Peaks, but unlike those shows, Gravity Falls tied up its loose ends! They knew the ending from the beginning. They weren't making stuff up as they went along.

Serial mysteries like X-Files, Twin Peaks, Lost and 24 would throw in weird left turns and the viewer would think, "wow, that's incredible, how are they going to explain that?" And they never did!

Gravity Falls, being a limited series (a long limited series at that) threw us curveballs, confident in the knowledge that they would be explained.

Either way, really a great show equally intriguing and funny for kids and adults.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (spoilers ahead)

The bad news which isn't too bad: Ultimately, it's a remake of Star Wars: A New Hope. It opens with a person under attack planting a message in a robot, then sending the robot off. A loner in the desert finds the robot, and the loner turns out to be much more important than initially thought.
And it ends with an attack on a Death Star that has a fatal design flaw ...again...

..and all kinds of familiar plot elements in the middle.

If you ignore these swipes (and more), you'll have a good time at the movies. It's often exciting, the new characters are great. It's easily better than the prequels. And you have Harrison Ford who is worth every penny of the $20 million he reportedly got.

There's a couple nice surprises: The turncoat stormtrooper, Kylo Ren's parentage.

Some quibbles: It took Luke Skywalker three movies to learn to do things with the Force that Rey learns in one afternoon.

For never handling a light saber before, Finn and Rey are really good with it.

But if you just forget the past, you'll have a good time at the movies.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Star Trek Again

Just as "Star Trek: The Next Generation" broke ground for syndicated television, and "Star Trek: Voyager" was the flagship of the new UPN network, it was announced a new Trek would be the big draw for CBS All Access. (Kind of like Netflix or Hulu but with CBS reruns).

My friends who know of my fondness for Trek asked if I were excited.

No, I'm not.

I know the Internet was invented so Star Trek geeks could debate who is the better captain, Kirk or Picard, and a gazillion gigabytes of data on the Internet are about Star Trek. But, if you can just put up with a few kilobytes more, here's why:

I never recovered from the disappointment that was "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
I had come late to the party, watching the reruns of TOS throughout the '70s. What a great show. It blended science fiction and adventure, and it was written by smart people for smart people. So imagine my excitement when I heard there would be a new Trek. It would be a whole new crew, but us Trekkies were open-minded.

My big moment of disappointment came about the second or third episode. A new alien species was establishing itself. A Ferengi showed up on the viewscreen of the bridge of the Enterprise. And Whorf, feeling threatened, points his phaser at the viewscreen.

Let me repeat that: Whorf, feeling threatened, points his phaser at the viewscreen.

Two things went through my mind: The writers are imbeciles...or ...hey wait a minute ... the writers think the viewers are imbeciles.

Either way at that point, the show had to win me back, and it never did, nor did any of the following series.

TNG in fact got worse:

The psychic never told the audience anything it didn't already know.
Someone had to explain the plot to Wesley every week.
Every time Whorf got in a fight he got his ass kicked
Ryker was just redundant, Picard would say, "Warp factor 1," and Ryker would just repeat him. He was supposed to be the guy who went planet-side to keep the captain safe. This never happened.

On and on, by the third time Picard surrendered I kind of gave up.

Oh and the "something went horribly wrong in the Holodeck!" schtick I think they did every episode.

Deep Space 9's Tribble episode did something TNG was never able to do, have an actually funny episode. DS9 had its own mythology based on TNG's, but not really about TOS's idea of exploration and science. I lost interest pretty quickly.

I gave Voyager about a season. The point of the ship being lost gave it an excuse to ignore the prime directive to whose slavish devotion made TNG so boring. Once again, a concept they gave up immediately. They always followed the prime directive .. the path to most boringness.

I gave up on Voyager after Capt. Janeway gave a race of aliens who had killed her crew and stole their organs a stern scolding to never do that again. (Jerri Ryan pumped a lot of life in that show though).

I didn't see enough episodes of Enterprise to give a fair review, but that it only lasted 4 seasons might tell you something.

So, I might give it a chance when it premiers for free on CBS in 2017, but after 50 years of disappointment, I'm not sure I'd give it more than that.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: Supergirl (pilot)

OK, it's the pilot, even the best TV shows started off with clunky, exposition-laden pilots.

Some points:

They borrowed a lot from the first Superman film: First rescue that of being a loved one on an aircraft, the scene where everyone gets chewed out by the boss who says: Get me an interview!, the villain using high frequency radio signals to contact the hero. But, fine, the airplane rescue was worth the price of admission. (I love the part where she's flying upside down, carrying the plane and she sees an approaching bridge, and grumbles, "Oh come on!" The pilot needed more moments like that.

It's what  happened after the rescue when things got dodgy: Her sister comes to scold her for saving her life, and to not do it anymore? It's explained later the sister is part of a top-secret alien-hunting task force, which makes it only slightly less hard to swallow. And the sister's boss scolds her too, telling her to knock it off. There's a lot of scolding going on.

She's as powerful as the sun, and no one thinks she's capable???!! A big stretch.

It needs to be a little more like the Flash, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, their support teams like the hero .. and furthermore are a lot of fun to hang out with. There was little fun with this crowd.

Especially Jimmy Olsen whose job it is is to be dreamy looking and tell her what her cousin would say if he were here. Do we need that? If it were so important let him tell her himself!

This was a problem with the Supergirl film, also. They always talked about Superman in reverent tones, but unless he actually shows up, who cares? That's what I liked about Power Girl, when she was introduced she wanted to distance herself from her cousin. (They borrowed the Kara-getting delayed-for-decades-on-her-way-to-earth conceit from Power Girl, which was a good thing, as well as the concept of Kara being tasked with being Kal-El's babysitter. Great idea.) Not such a great idea: Pep talks from hologram mom.

I'm not sure we need Calista Flockhart. The outright theft from "The Devil Wears Prada," is too incompatible with the long-underwear aspects of the show. Jackie Cooper was probably the best at being the unhinged boss.

The overall concept: We got lots of intergalactic prison escapees! That could work in a Buffy-in-the-Hellmouth way. I'm not sure about their leader being her aunt. Why?

I'm sure we'll see more of Dean Cain and Helen Slater as her earth parents. In the comics, Superman just dropped Kara off at an orphanage. That Superman is cold!

Bottom line: This could be a lot of fun, like the Flash, if they could tone the scolding down a little.

Addendum: As my 8-year-old pointed out: "National City? That's not even in the DC Universe. And he's right, I was thinking such an unusual name for a city, especially one made up for a TV show that is not in the original DC Comics. Then later I realized my answer was in the question: National was DC's name through the 40s to late 70s. Doh! Very clever Supergirl producers!