Saturday, July 07, 2018

Sigmund and the Sea Monsters: "The Nasty Nephew" (November 3, 1973)

In "The Nasty Nephew," Zelda (Mary Wickes) brings over her nephew, Leroy (Stephen Ciccarelli) to play with the boys for the weekend. Unfortunately, Leroy is a sour-puss, and not easily impressed. He hates surfing and doesn't want to play.

When Zelda suggests that Johnny (Johnny Whitaker) and Scott (Scott Kolden) show Leroy the Club House, they realize they will have to hide Sigmund from the interloper. They offer to induct Leroy into "The Octopus Club," but even that doesn't impress the boy.

While hiding from Leroy, Sigmund is captured by his family, and the boys must rescue him. Leroy gets trapped in the cave, and also requires rescuing by Scott and Johnny. In the end, however, Leroy meets Sigmund, and agrees to keep his secret.

In "The Nasty Nephew," a familiar plot is regurgitated, with Sigmund once more captured, and requiring a rescue from his human buddies. This is the plot every week, with an interlude to the cave, and a visit to the sea monster family.

This episode ends with a song, "Keeping a Secret," which sees Johnny dating a new girlfriend (not Pamelyn Ferdin's Peggy, alas.)  This ending montage has nothing to do with the rest of the episode, save for Leroy's agreement to keep Sigmund's secret.

The sea monster-sub-plot this week sees Big Daddy visited by an auditor from the government (a new sea monster suit!) who accuses him of tax evasion. Apparently, Big Daddy claimed Sigmund as one of his deductions, and now that Sigmund has left the cave, there is no proof Big Daddy cares for him. "You let my tax deduction get away!" Big Daddy yells at his other sons. 

Next week: "Monster Rock Festival."

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Kolchak Blogging: "The Devil's Platform" (November 15, 1974)

In "The Devil's Platform," Kolchak (Darren McGavin) follows with great interest a senatorial election in Illinois. 

A candidate named Robert Palmer (Tom Skerritt), has risen from obscurity to challenge the incumbent, Senator Talbot. On the day of Kolchak's interview with the rising star, one of his campaign officials dies in a freak elevator accident. A fierce canine is spotted at the scene.

That's not the end of the election season body count, either. Soon, Talbot dies in a car crash, and the canine is also witnessed there.  Talbot's death makes Palmer's rise to the senate all-but-guaranteed. 

Kolchak soon learns why these deaths have occurred: Senator Palmer, with his wife's (Ellen Weston) knowledge, has made a blood pact with Satan, the Prince of Darkness. The Devil has gifted him with the power to turn into a canine (hell hound?) to help him rise to power.

Palmer attempts to tempt Kolchak into a similar pact with the Devil, promising him a Pulitzer, and cushy job in New York.

"Politics makes strange bedfellows," Kolchak reports (in a line probably adapted from Shakespeare's The Tempest) at the start of "The Devil's Platform."  

That observation (and warning...) makes for a wicked and fun episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker that connects contemporary partisan politics to pure evil. 

Again, one must remember that the series aired at the time of the Watergate Scandal in American politics, so it is likely no coincidence that this episode ties the supernatural to political scandal.  Even in the mainstream press, journalists were likening Nixon's White House to a horror film, suggesting that the first family's domicile needed an exorcism to rid it of the evil inhabiting it. This episode treads more deeply into the politics/supernatural evil conceit popular at the time.

Tom Skerritt, later a star of Alien (1979) and Picket Fences (1992 - 1996) is the face of evil in this tale, a man who has sacrificed his immortal soul for power on this mortal coil. One of the most fascinating scenes in the episode finds Palmer and his wife debating about whether he can undo the deal, since it doesn't seem to be going well for him.  

Alas, deals with the devil don't typically feature an escape clause.

The droll nature of this episode makes "The Devil's Platform" feel a bit smarter and mature than some other episodes of this nearly forty-five year old series. All the jokes take on a deeper meaning if one possesses any cynicism whatsoever about American politics. When some extreme candidates win their races, the only rational explanation seems, even today, that the politician in question has made a deal with the Devil.  

The episode also seems aware of the pitfalls of populism. Kolchak calls Palmer the "great white hope of the blue collar" voter,  and in real life we know too well especially today, the pitfalls of that kind of populism.

This episode also succeeds because of its brief but powerful insights into Kolchak's "insatiable desires."  It seems that our beloved Kolchak dreams of winning a Pulitzer Prize, and getting a job in New York with a big, well-established paper (likely The New York Times). He doesn't want wealth, or power. He wants a bigger audience.  This is perfect. Kolchak wants respectability and to tell his stories, with less impediments.

Of course, in the end, Kolchak is not tempted to make a deal with the Devil to see his dreams come true.

Next week: "Bad Medicine."

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

July 4th Blogging (on July 3rd): Star Trek: "The Omega Glory"

Stardate: Unknown

The U.S.S Enterprise discovers the missing starship Exeter in orbit of remote planet Omega IV. A landing party beams over to the vessel and finds that the crew has died as a result of a mysterious illness, ostensibly exposure to contaminants on the planet.

A recorded message from the ship’s chief medical officer reports that anyone boarding the ship will also become infected, and that the only antidote rests on the planet.

Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and his landing party leave the Exeter and beam to the surface, hoping to buy survival time from the infection.  Kirk and the others find that Exeter’s Captain Ron Tracey (Morgan Woodward) is alive, and has, quite possibly, violated the Prime Directive in order to save the planet’s peaceful humanoid villagers, Kohms, from the wild hordes nearby, known as Yangs.

Tracey has taken this action because he believes that the Kohms have discovered the secret of eternal life, or the Fountain of Youth.  As Dr. McCoy (De Forest Kelley) investigates this possibility, Kirk weighs his responsibilities, vis-à-vis Tracey’s violation of General Order One. Meanwhile, Tracey wants the Enterprise to beam down more phasers, and more phaser packs to help him in his quest to defeat the Yangs.

When the Yangs invade the Kohm village, however, retaking lands they held long ago, Kirk realizes that a kind of parallel to Earth’s history is playing out. 

The Kohms were once “communists.”  The Yangs were…Yankees….

“The Omega Glory,” is a strange, strange episode of Star Trek, though a perfect one to revisit on July 4th, or Independence Day.

The narrative begins with a strange disease killing a starship crew, moves into a meditation on the Prime Directive, and ends with Kirk nodding, knowingly and approvingly at a (parallel) version of Old Glory, our American flag.  Our Stars and Stripes will not only live on in the memory of the greatest starship captain of the 23rd century, "The Omega Glory" tells us, but will restore freedom on a parallel planet.

Despite the wide-ranging subjects covered by "The Omega Glory," the episode is never less than “fascinating,” to echo Mr. Spock’s famous exclamation.  In part, this is because the scenarios are memorably realized in visual terms, and buttressed by a soundtrack that underscores the weird, and discomforting nature of the tale.

I have long found “The Omega Glory” to be a pleasure to watch because of the imagery.  The episode begins with pure eeriness, as Kirk’s landing party discovers Exeter’s dead crew.  There are no traditional corpses, however.  Only uniforms and chunks of white chemical compound are left behind.  This is a remarkable and original visualization, and one that is terrifying.  Basically, the crew decomposed to these chunks of chemical residue.  The uniforms -- and the remnants -- are draped over stations, positioned in chairs, suggesting a truly alien condition, and a terrifying danger in the final frontier.

Later, the episode focuses on intense close-ups of Spock’s magnetic, slightly devilish eyes, and cuts to literary images of a Vulcan-like interpretation of the devil making quite explicit the comparison between Spock’s nature and the Devil’s. If Kirk is “The Evil One,” as the Yangs believe, Spock is his dark minion. The views we get of Spock in this episode -- especially as he hypnotizes Sirrah – support this notion visually.

By the time we get to the image of a ratty, torn relic of American flag -- introduced with a dissonant, creepy, alternate version of The Star Spangled Banner -- the episode has demonstrated a visual and aural ingenuity that sets “The Omega Glory” apart.

Another key strength of the episode is Morgan Woodward’s performance as Ron Tracey. Woodward is a charismatic personality, one who projects physical strength and mental toughness.  Indeed, if you look at the original series “captains” -- Kirk, Decker, and Tracey, specifically -- one detects some commonalities.  These are all men of uncommon will and constitution.  Decker is undone by a tragedy not his fault.  Tracey too deals with tragedy (though in a way we may not approve of) but both men represents lessons, in a way, for Kirk to learn from.

Of course, however, “The Omega Glory’s” plot of a parallel Earth is often criticized by fans and scholars. When Spock notes that the parallel of Yangs/Yanks and Kohms/Communists is almost “too close” to be believed, there are many who will agree with his assessment. 

And yet, let us remember that the key analogy between Star Trek and our reality of the late 1960s is undoubtedly the Cold War.  In most cases, Klingons sub for the Soviets, and the UFP stands in for the USA.  Here, Kirk and company stumble across a world that fought a World War over the ideologies of these two forces, and destroyed themselves. 

So, at least in a sense, “The Omega Glory” remains true to the underlying conceits of the Roddenberry series, even if in this case, the comparison may be very “on the nose.”  Also, it’s clear, given Kirk’s reverence for the United States flag and the U.S. Constitution that this episode revels in national patriotism.

Kirk’s argument that the worship words of the Constitution are for all the people, Yangs and Kohms is rousing, indeed, and meaningful, in this context.  The words must apply to all people, he says, or they are rendered meaningless.  The underlying idea here is that words, over time, and through crises, can lose their meaning, if not read closely; if not read carefully; if not remembered.  The Yangs want their country back, but have lost the meaning of the words they supposedly revere. Kirk puts meaning back in those ideals with his dramatic reading of the worship words.

Of course, a key problem here is that it takes two to tango, and though the episode advises mercy for the Kohms (the words of worship are for everyone!), no commentary is given to the fact that if two ideological forces go beyond the brink, to nuclear war, both ideologies and both nations bear the responsibility. The “glory” of “Errand of Mercy,” for instance, was Kirk’s realization, forced by the Organians, that he was part of the problem too; hungering for a conflict with the (admittedly aggressive) Klingons.  There’s no such even-handedness here.

As a Prime Directive episode, “The Omega Glory” is also highly intriguing.  Tracey loses his whole crew, and then sees peaceful people being massacred by wild men, and so intervenes to protect them. It is not at all impossible to see Kirk doing the same thing in the same situation. Would you stand by and let the last apparent refuge of civilization fall on Omega IV?

But Tracey goes further, believing that he can somehow redeem himself and his actions by bringing a (mythical) Fountain of Youth to the Federation. He goes from interfering to save lives, for interfering to acquire something for his own people.  I would argue that this is his great violation of the Prime Directive, his vainglorious desire to be seen, perhaps, as a savior to his own people; an act which would mitigate the loss of his ship and his crew.

Some fans have judged “The Omega Glory” corny, both for the reverence to the American flag in a 23rd century context, and for Shatner’s impassioned reading of the “worship words.” I understand that, and yet feel the episode remains visually fascinating, and conceptually unusual.  One thing is for certain: the episode is never less than entertaining.

And, on July 4th, it is never a bad thing to remember that the Constitution applies to all the people of America, not just some people.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Guest Post: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

"The Dinosaurs Still Have Some Bite Left in them."

By Jonas Schwartz

Director J.A. Bayona has infused fresh blood into the Jurassic Park saga.  Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom won't be on anyone's top ten list this year, but compared to the last film, in which Steven Spielberg appeared to be spoofing the franchise with stale dialogue and countless sequences of Bryce Dallas Howard beating Jesse Owen's Olympic record running in high heels, the latest contains believable performances, heart-racing sequences, and some exquisite shots.

Three years have passed since the events in the Spielberg reboot. The dinosaurs roam free on the isolated amusement park but are now facing a catastrophic event. A volcano threatens to wipe out the species for the second time. Claire Dearing (Howard) has become an advocate for protecting the animals and fights Congress to remove the creatures, both herbivores and deadly carnivores, to a protected shelter. Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell, Babe), who originally partnered with Richard Attenborough's character John Hammond on the dinosaur's creation, has decided to fund the removal and salvation of his creatures. His protégé, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall, Shaun Of The Dead), hires Dearing and raptor-whisperer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to return to the island on a rescue mission. Because they're lead by a mercenary (Ted Levine, acting more callous and inhuman than as Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs), Dearing and Grady quickly realize that the mission has a nefarious goal.

Writers Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, who created the charming sci-fi comedy Safety Not Guaranteed, have written a cookie cutter sequel with heroes brimming with gold and villains dripping with drool. The bad guys are so repugnant, the audience can't wait for them to be dino-chow. They even TWICE rely on the Jurassic cliché of one deadly beast attacking another to save our protagonists.

Bayona raises the level with tightly shot horror sequences and memorable visual images. Known for both compelling horror (The Orphanage), fairy tales (A Monster Calls) and disaster dramas (The Impossible), Bayona brings suspense and a necessary tragedy to the monsters who are too large for this world. His shots of the island reveal cervices that tie the home to the inhabitants. There's a gorgeously poignant shot of a brontosaurus engulfed in a cloud of volcanic ash, and one where a glass wall separates a little girl from a vicious monster. We see her head and a reflection of the dinosaur's teeth encompassing her face.

Pratt and Howard appear to be having a blast in their roles. As imitation Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, they never wink at the audience, infusing pathos to their interactions with the creatures. As the villains Spall, Levine and Toby Jones eat enough scenery that the Nexium bottles must have been flowing on the crafts table. In a small role, esteemed actress Geraldine Chaplin (Charlie's daughter) brings elegance to the proceedings. Young newcomer Isabella Sermon is never cloying in the youth-in-danger role so audiences genuinely want her to remain safe. And the film opens and ends with the prosaic warnings from Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm, grinning with an “I told you so” smirk.

Bayona ambitiously goes for broke with the ending, launching a full apocalypse now, which takes a 
C-level film and raises it a whole grade. It's ballsy for a popcorn film, and succeeds. The juxtapositions of ancient and modern world are hair raising and leave audiences desperate for Jurassic World 3.

Check out Jonas's other reviews at 

The Cult-TV Faces of: Fireworks