Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Tribute: Bob Hoskins (1942 - 2014)

The press is now reporting the passing of actor Bob Hoskins at the age of 71 years old. The great and beloved actor apparently passed away due to complications from pneumonia.

Mr. Hoskins had a long and distinguished film and TV career in both the United States and Great Britain. 

He starred in such classics as The Long Good Friday (1980) and Mona Lisa (1987), and also in notable movies such as Pink Floyd The Wall (1982), Lassiter (1984), and The Cotton Club (1984). He played J. Edgar Hoover in Oliver Stone's Nixon (1995), as well.

In the genre, Mr. Hoskins delivered many unforgettable performances. He starred in Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985), Steven Spielberg's Hook (1991) and Super Marios Bros. (1993). His most recent genre appearance was in 2012's Snow White and the Huntsman.

For my generation, however, Mr. Hoskins is widely remembered -- and adored -- for the role of gumshoe Eddie Valiant in 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a fantasy film that blended 1940s film noir with animated "Toons" or cartoon characters.  

The breadth of the titles above reveals quite ably Mr. Hoskins' versatility as an actor.  He could play hero or villain, supporting character or lead protagonist with equal aplomb. He was especially good, in my opinion, playing the man with a tough or gruff exterior, but a warm heart. One always sensed in his performances an interior life and light, sometimes one distinctly at odds with his pugnacious physicality and exterior mannerisms.

Mr. Hoskin's performances will be admired and remembered for years to come, and today I offer my sincerest condolences to his family and loved ones in this difficult hour. 

The Dark Crystal Read-along-Adventure

The Dark Crystal Magical Card Game (Milton Bradley; 1982)

The Dark Crystal Miniature Collection (Pinnacle Products; 1982)

The Dark Crystal View Master

Pop Art: The Dark Crystal (Marvel; 1982)

Trading Card of the Week: The Dark Crystal (Donruss; 1982)

Lunch Box of the Week: The Dark Crystal (Aladdin; 1982)

Board Game of the Week: The Dark Crystal (Milton Bradley; 1982)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Late Night Blogging: Space:1999 Compilation Movie Editions

The Visitors are Coming: V: The Series: "The Sanction" (November 16, 1984)

In “The Sanction,” a deadly Visitor assassin and instructor in a fighting philosophy called “Ravak” is brought to Earth by Diana (Jane Badler) to train the Visitor Youth, including Sean Donovan (Nick Katt).  

The evil Klaus (Thomas Callaway) becomes a surrogate father-figure for the brainwashed human, even Mike (Marc Singer) grows ever more determined to free his son from Diana’s grip.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth (Jennifer Cooke) and Robin (Blair Tefkin) are finally reunited through a mutual friend, Kyle Bates (Jeff Yagher).

If I had to pick an early point indicative of real slippage in the quality of V: The Series (1984 – 1985), I would likely point to “The Sanction.”  

The episode sets up the evil Klaus -- dressed in black and equipped with removable hands and whip attachments – as a real alien bad ass, only to have Mike Donovan easily defeat him twice. 

Then, adding insult to injury, Mike’s teenage son manages, in one move, to incapacitate Ham Tyler (Michael Ironside). 

Accordingly, there’s just not a lot of “reality” to the fights in this episode, and as a consequence Klaus never emerges as a genuine or very menacing threat.

I also really dislike the fact that Tyler is caught off-guard and knocked unconscious by Sean.  I find it highly unlikely that Tyler would be unprepared for Sean’s behavior.  He’s a professional soldier who thinks out the consequences of every action, and certainly he would have played out the permutations in his mind.  He would have been ready for a brainwashed Sean.  Just look back at the second mini-series, and how wary he was of Julie after her conversion.

If you think about it, it’s a bit of a crazy dynamic. Mike -- a photographer -- outfights a professional Visitor soldier in hand-to-hand combat.  And then his son, a mere teenager in training, incapacitates a professional human soldier, Ham.  In both cases the untrained, non-professional comes out victorious.

When a series’ writing reaches this level of hard-to-believe antics, it’s generally a danger sign.  The same story could have been told, for certain, but in a way that didn’t require so much suspension of disbelief.  Perhaps Ham could have revealed that he allowed himself to be knocked unconscious, so he could then surreptitiously follow Sean’s movements.

Kyle Bates’ behavior also doesn’t bear close scrutiny.  In one scene, he realizes -- out of the blue -- that Elizabeth is the Star Child. Kyle shows surprise at her appearance because she is only “eight” years old, in his words.  But then, by the end of the scene, he is passionately kissing her.

But, yuck, she’s still essentially an eight-year old girl, right?

It’s poor writing to have Kyle acknowledge her extreme youth -- and child-like nature -- in the same exact scene that he makes a sexual move on her. Again, a quick, easy re-write would have solved the problem. There is no reason to call viewer attention to the fact, in this particular scene, that Elizabeth is only eight years old. That line should have been deleted.

“The Sanction” also opens with a scene cribbed from my favorite Bond film, From Russia with Love (1963).  In the pre-title sequence of that 007 movie, a deadly assassin, Red Grant, hunts Bond in a garden, and kills him.  But then the corpse’s face is ripped off, and we see that it isn’t Bond at all, but a man in a mask. We breathe a sigh of relief…

“The Sanction” opens with a recreation of that very sequence, with Klaus hunting and killing Diana, only to reveal that the victim isn’t Diana at all, but another Visitor.  Yet the derivative nature of the sequence isn’t the problem so much as Diana’s behavior. 

She appears scared and diffident, thus tipping off audiences that things aren’t what they seem.  Diana -- even when under the gun -- doesn’t evidence such overt fear or terror. We saw her in real jeopardy in “Liberation Day,” for instance, and Diana’s veneer of total authority almost never cracked at all.  She had a moment of uncertainty in reckoning with Bates, but quickly recovered her composure.

Unfortunately, the moments of a “scared” Diana moving down a dark hallway, stalked, have been exported from this episode into the series’ weekly opening credits…as if the victim here really is Diana.  Yet her behavior is totally out-of-character and tonally wrong…and this is our introduction to Diana every week as a new episode commences.

Sean is also a problematic character simply in terms of audience expectations.  We know that Mike can’t win and retrieve Sean, because then he would be saddled constantly with a teenage son, and that is simply something that would never happen in an action series of the 1980s.  So, there’s a certain level of predictability about Sean’s behavior and decisions.  That fact established, the moment in which he sides with Diana is quite powerful. We know the poor boy must be really turned-around to choose the evil Diana – who points a weapon at him – over his own loving father.

Finally, “The Sanction” also features one of my all-time favorite Diana lines.  She tells Julie to convey a message to Mike for her: “When I go fishing, I eat what I catch.”


That’s either a threat or a promise, depending on Diana’s mood.

Next week, Sybil Danning guest stars in a slightly better episode: “Visitor’s Choice”

Movie Trailer: Monsters (2010)

Monday, April 28, 2014

Ask JKM a Question: Monsters (2010)?


Regular reader Jess writes:

"My husband and I absolutely love your reviews!  We often watch a movie and then immediately read your review.  It really inspires our discussion!  A lot of times, you are able to verbalize what we are thinking, but can't articulate.

We recently watched Gareth Edwards' 2010 film Monsters. We were both very impressed with the movie (we had very low expectations).  We were surprised to see that you haven't reviewed this film, and are interested to see what you think! You should definitely consider this movie for one of your upcoming reviews.  We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!!"

Jess, I want to thank you so much for your kind words about my writing and my review.  They mean a lot to me.  And on a related note, I always love it when readers direct me to films I missed, or new films that deserve a look.

For some reason that I can't fathom, I never saw Monsters! But I am rectifying that problem immediately.  

I will be doing a "Godzilla Week" May 14 - 18 here on the blog to celebrate the release of Gareth Edwards' new take on the Big Green Guy, so it makes sense that I should familiarize myself with the director's earlier work.

That said, I will review Monsters tomorrow at 6:00 am.  Look for the review, and thank you again for the question.  And say hi to your husband for me, as well!

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Books

A book is a collection of pages -- and a work of art to boot -- collected between two covers. A book is constructed of paper and ink, and includes, often, hundreds of pages, a cover, and perhaps a dust-jacket.

Science fiction and horror are literary forms, in a very real sense, and so it is not a surprise, perhaps, that books have been featured prominently in cult-television history.  

Rod Serling's anthology The Twilight Zone (1959 - 1964) features at least two episodes that concern, explicitly, books.  

The first "Time Enough at Last," is about a man, Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith) who desires nothing more than time to read. After he survives a sudden nuclear war (camping out for lunch a bank vault...), Bemis gets his wish.  He goes to the ruins of the library and picks out every book he would like to read, but then the tragic happens: his reading glasses shatter.

Based on a short story by Marilyn Venable, "Time Enough at Last" is a brilliant episode of the classic science-fiction series, and yet it is one of the few Twilight Zone episodes in which the punishment does not fit the crime.  Mr. Bemis is a gentle soul, one who does not deserve so terrible a fate. 

Another episode featuring a book, "To Serve Man," is similarly ironic. Alien Kanamits arrive on Earth promising a future of peace and prosperity for mankind. These extra-terrestrials seem to abide by the dictates of a book with the title "To Serve Man."  As the human race soon realizes, however, "To Serve Man" is a cook book...

A vision of the 23rd century, Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek (1966 - 1969) promised a future in which, even with advancing technology, books would not disappear. The first season episode "Court Martial," for instance, featured an attorney, Samuel Cogley (Elisha Cook Jr.) who keeps books in his office for purposes of research, and used them to help him win his cases.

Similarly, Star Trek: The Next Generation, set a century later, suggested that books would go to the stars along with man.  

One second season episode, "The Royale," involved a dime-store novel that was converted into reality by a kindly alien race that had inadvertently harmed an astronaut and his crew, and sought to make reparations.  

Meanwhile, throughout the series, Captain Picard's (Patrick Stewart) volume of Shakespearean plays was often seen in his ready room.  In "Hide and Q," Q (John De Lancie) even read lines from Hamlet.

In both the live-action Planet of the Apes (1974) and animated series, Return to the Planet of the Apes (1975), books played a crucial role too.  Books written by man were direct, incontrovertible evidence that simians had not always ruled the planet.

In Chris Carter's The X-Files (1993 - 2002) and Millennium (1996 - 1999), pop writer and cynic Jose Chung (Charles Nelson Reilly) was featured. In "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," the ironic writer investigated a teenager's questionable claims of alien abduction.  And in "Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense," he exposed the strange cult of Selfosophy.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 - 2003) also featured books by the shelf. Buffy's watcher, Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) was a librarian, and the first gathering space for the Scooby Gang was his library in the high school.  Every week on the program, old occult books were brought down from the stacks so Buffy, Willow and Xander could research the monster of the week.   

One episode in the third season, "Gingerbread" explicitly concerned book-burning, and the (horrible...) idea that books should be destroyed so as to protect (or shield...) the minds of the young.

Over and over, throughout the years, books have appeared in many such cult-tv episodes.  A book called Futility appeared in an episode of One Step Beyond (1959 - 1961), about the sinking of the Titanic.  

And a book also found its way into the hands of technician Anton Zoref in the Space:1999 story "Force of Life," even though he was stationed on Moonbase Alpha. 

More recently than either of those two examples, Damon Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder) was seen reading the vampire novel Twilight in the first episode of The Vampire Diaries (2009 - ). 

The Cult-TV Faces of: Books

Identified by Hugh: The Twilight Zone: "Time Enough at Last."

Identified by Hugh: the Twilight Zone: "To Serve Man."

Identified by Brian: Star Trek: "Court Martial."

Identified by Brian: Batman: "The Bookworm Turns" (with Roddy McDowall).

Identified by Hugh: Return to the Planet of the Apes.

Not Identified: Planet of the Apes.

Identified by SGB: Space:1999: "Force of Life."

Not Identified: V: The Final Battle.

Identified by Brian: Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Hide and Q."

Identified by SGB: Land of the Lost (1991 -1992): "Sorceress's Apprentice"

Identified by Hugh: The X-Files: "Jose Chung's From Outer Space."

Identified by Hugh: Millennium: "Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense."

Identified by Hugh: Buffy the Vampire Slayer 

Not identified: Smallville

Identified by Hugh: Doctor Who: "Human Nature."

Identified by Hugh: The Vampire Diaries: "Pilot" (Damon is reading Twilight...)

Identified by Hugh: True Blood.

Television and Cinema Verities

"The idea for The Dark Crystal was that the entire film would be full of these characters and they would interact with each other on the real stage – and how many other puppeteers we would have to have to make them work would be what would be required. In most cases, of the big characters, it was three, sometimes four. When you had lots of big characters on the screen at the same time, like the scenes with the Skekses and the UrRu together, there were 14 characters on the stage – and that meant, like, 21 puppeteers hiding somewhere."

- Producer Gary Kurtz discusses the making of The Dark Crystal (1982) at IGN.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Advert Artwork #14

The Six Million Dollar Man: "The Secret of Bigfoot" (February 6, 1976)

I watched The Six Million Dollar Man religiously – and I mean religiously – as a six year-old boy. But truth be told, I never much cared for the espionage stories, the ones with Steve going undercover to topple a foreign dictator or help an Eastern Bloc scientist defect to the West.

No, the stories I loved were the ones in which the bionic Colonel Austin (Lee Majors) battled nemeses that more than matched his unusual strength and power. 

Prime among such villains was the Bionic Bigfoot, first introduced in this two-part episode, “The Secret of Bigfoot.” 

As I’ve written before, the 1970s for some reason saw a Bigfoot or Sasquatch Craze on TV (In Search Of, Bigfoot and Wild Boy, etc.) and at the movies too.  But no depictions of Bigfoot were more fun, in my opinion, than The Six Million Dollar Man’s. 

It’s one thing to contemplate the existence of the Sasquatch.  It’s another to mark him as an extra-terrestrial. 
And then, of course, to make him a cyborg (like Steve) is a stroke of wacky brilliance.

In “The Secret of Bigfoot,” Steve and his boss at the OSI, Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson) are assigned to the forests of the Pacific Northwest to provide security for two friendly seismologists testing classified earthquake sensors.  While deploying these new sensors, the scientists are attacked by a creature that appears to be the mythical Sasquatch (Andre the Giant).

Steve tracks the beast’s footprints, and comes face to face with the inhuman monster.  After Steve rips off one of the beast’s arms in a (slow-motion…) scuffle, he realizes the truth: Sasquatch is a bionic robot!  Steve follows the injured machine back into a mountainside, and falls unconscious in a strange, glowing tunnel.

When Steve awakens, he finds himself the guests of an alien community, led by Battle for the Planet of the Ape’s Severn Darden (as Apploy). Steve promptly becomes friends with the colony’s physician, the lovely Shalon (Stefanie Powers).  He learns that Sasquatch is the creation of these aliens, and that the beast serves as the Colony’s “protector and defender.”  Austin also learns that each scientist is equipped with a device called a “TLC” which allows people to disappear from sight, and move at speeds undetectable by the human eye. 

While spending time with the E.T.’s Steven comes across another unique discovery: Time for the alien explorers passes more slowly than it does for humans, so while legends of Bigfoot go back some two centuries or more, the aliens have only been on Earth conducting their studies for a few years, their time.

The aliens sent out Bigfoot to sabotage the sensor equipment in the first place because they did not want to be discovered by mankind.  But this fear of discovery diminishes compared to another problem. Oscar plans to detonate a small underground nuclear device in the forest to forestall an upcoming earthquake. Unfortunately, the aliens’ mountain base will be buried, unless Steve and the Sasquatch can work together to prevent the apocalypse.

“The Secret of Bigfoot aired in early February 1976, and -- no exaggeration -- it was the TV event of the season for the primary school set. As a six-year old, I enjoyed every aspect of the two-hour program, from the camping to the aliens, to Bigfoot, to the bionic brawls.  As an adult, what I enjoy most about the episode is the fact that there really aren’t any overt bad guys or evil-doers.  Sasquatch is only a tool of the aliens and not malicious, and Oscar’s nuke plan -- though foolhardy -- is not intended to kill anyone.

Remarkably, the Sasquatch costume still holds up pretty well after all this time.  Director Alan Crosland goes out of his way not to reveal too much detail in the episode’s first acts. Instead, we are’ treated to suspense-maintaining P.O.V. shots from the Sasquatch’s perspective as he lumbers through the woods.  The episode also opens with views of the beast’s hairy legs and feet as they traverse the wild forest

Even the first big attack scene -- at about the nine minute point -- hides the creature’s face.  In a spectacular composition, Bigfoot steps out into the open in a low-angle shot, and the radiant light of the sun occludes his monstrous visage.  This saves the first full reveal for Sasquatch’s initial encounter with Steve.  We see during that sequence that the monster boasts glowing, inhuman eyes.  And to some extent, those glaring, bright eyes divert attention away from any inadequacies of the hairy costume.

The first battle between Steve and the Bionic Bigfoot is still spectacular too.  The slow-motion photography makes it seem that every punch, hit, and blow is earth-shattering, and the battle goes on and on for something like five minutes.   I noted while watching that there is virtually no dialogue at all in this lengthy interlude, just fight music, bionic sound effects, and fearsome animal grunts. 

This, my friends, is Bionic nirvana.

Another visual I remember from my childhood is the long, weird, glowing tunnel that leads into the mountainside alien base.  This tunnel was actually an attraction at Universal Studios called Glacier Avalanche, just re-purposed for the series.  In 1982, when I went to Universal Studios on a cross-country camping trip, I got to ride through this unearthly tunnel and my first thought was of The Six-Million Dollar Man.  The only disappointment in this scene is that, on DVD, it is all-too easy detect that the floor of the (spinning) tunnel is not rock, but earth-tone blankets draped across the floor.

The depiction of the aliens in “The Secret of Bigfoot” feels very 1970s today.  The aliens wear brightly-colored jump suits with bell-bottoms, and Stefanie Powers looks as though she’s crossed right over from the set of Charlie’s Angels.  Still, I appreciate the fact that the aliens aren’t malevolent in nature, and that cooperation with them is possible.

Today, perhaps the most horrifying aspect of “The Secret of Bigfoot” is the fact that OSI’s man in charge, Oscar Goldman, deploys nuclear weapons inside the continental United States as though they are just another run-of-the-mill fix-it too.  Could you imagine the PR disaster were it learned that a United States government agency were detonating nuclear bombs in an unspoiled forest?  

If “The Secret of Bigfoot” possesses any dramatic failing, it’s only that the story does not go much beyond entertaining escapism.  The Bionic Woman, by contrast, often featured overt social commentary in its tales, such as in the great two-part episode “Doomsday is Tomorrow.”

Bigfoot returned to The Six-Million Dollar Man on several more occasions, and even crossed over to Bionic Woman episodes as well.  After a while, however, the law of diminishing returns came into full effect and the great Beast (played in later incarnations by Ted Cassidy) lost some of his mystery, majesty, and menace.

But “The Secret of Bigfoot” endures -- 38 years later -- because it handles its monster with restraint, and then, delightfully with affection.  

I haven’t watched many Six Million Dollar Man episodes recently, but watching this fun two-part installment makes me want to haul out “Death Probe” (wherein Steve fights a malevolent Russian space probe) and the Bionic Woman cross-over episode involving Fembots and a scientist’s devious plans to control the weather…

Since The Six Million Dollar Man has been out of circulation so long, and wasn’t available on DVD till three years ago, I don’t know how well it translates to the younger generations.  But the action-packed bionic nirvana of “The Secret of Bigfoot” may be a good place to start the bionic journey if you’re interested. 

At the very least, you’ll be able to talk about it with your Generation X aunt and uncle next time you get together…

National Twilight Zone Day: "Come Wander with Me"

There are, perhaps, several episodes of Rod Serling's classic   The Twilight Zone  (1959-1964) more sharply-written, more morally-valuab...