Saturday, February 21, 2015

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Secrets of Isis: "Lucky"

In the Secrets of Isis episode “Lucky,” Isis (Joanna Cameron) helps a young boy, Randy (John Doran) deal with the untimely death of his beloved ten year old dog, Lucy. 

In grief and mourning over the pet’s loss, Randy wanders into a restricted industrial zone about to be flooded with tons of water…

Say what you will about the relentless moralizing of Filmation’s Saturday morning catalog, but Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott were up front -- and courageous, even -- about handling issues that were relevant and significant to children.

The subject of “Lucky,” of course, is the death of a beloved pet and friend named Lucky.  A pet’s death had been handled before by Filmation, in Dorothy Fontana’s “Yesteryear” on Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973 – 1974).  But Isis handles the same subject with sensitivity and grace.

Losing a pet is such a difficult experience, and my eight year old boy, Joel, went through it last year when we lost Lila, our beloved fourteen year old cat.  Joel and I still talk about Lila, and occasionally visit her grave in our backyard. Joel picked the grave-stone for Lila (which has an image of Rainbow Bridge on it), and drew colorful pictures to go in her casket, as well as a note.  To this day, he loves to hear stories about Lila when she was a kitten. I think I have probably found Lila’s loss as upsetting as Joel, frankly, but this is the third cat friend I’ve lost over the years, and his first. It never gets easier, but you come to accept, as you grow older, that death is part of life. 

The only place where “Lucky” goes wrong, I think, is in its final notation that Randy gets a new puppy, and all is well. I firmly believe that committing to a new pet is the right thing to do for a family. But I also think that the family needs some time to grieve the loss before jumping in with a new animal.  You don’t “replace” a pet.  You deal with your loss and -- because you loved that pet -- you move on and show the same love and devotion to another animal.  This spring it’ll be a year since Lila passed, and we are thinking of getting Joel a kitten.  It seems like the right time to act, but I don’t think any of us could have handled a new kitten right on top of Lila’s passing.

Maybe it’s just a personal decision.

What’s so nice about “Lucky” is that Isis shows such humanity and kindness to Randy. She speaks more sincerely and at greater length than we have heard her speak in any episode yet, and introduces Randy to the cycle of life by pointing out the life and death of a beautiful flower.  When Randy asks Isis to bring Lucky back, she notes that “no one has the power” to accomplish that, and “there is a time to live and a time to die.” But, she adds hopefully, death is part of the cycle of life, and in death, “life is passed on.”

In exploring this complex and beautiful idea, “Lucky” is a lovely, emotional episode of The Secrets of Isis.

The episode also provides us with an example of yet another Isis power. She can stop water from running, holding it frozen (not like ice, but rather in a bubble of time, apparently).

Next week: “Bigfoot.”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Korg, 70,000 B.C.: "Ree and the Wolf."

In “Ree and the Wolf,” Ree (Janelle Pransky) discovers an injured wolf, separated from its pack, trapped under a rock, and nurses it back to health. She feeds it and tends to it in secret, fearful that Korg (Jim Malinda) will order it killed…to be eaten.

Ree keeps the wolf a secret, all while nurturing a friendship with it. When Neanderthal invaders enter the territory and hunt without permission, Korg and Bok (Bill Ewing) order them to leave. They do so, but return looking for a fight.

The wolf comes to the family’s rescue, driving off the invaders, and Korg tells Ree she can keep the pet for a day, before sending it off to rejoin its pack.

The final episode of Korg, 70,000 B.C. is the only one that really centers on the character of Ree, Korg’s young daughter. It’s a good episode that examines the bond between human (or Neanderthal) and animal, and is all about friendship. The wolf protects Ree, and Ree protects the wolf.  Her friendship with the wolf  -- which is forbidden by the rules of her tribe -- is the very thing that saves the tribe when villainous hunters invade the territory.

Probably the most heart-warming episode of the series, “Ree and the Wolf” is a good one to go out on. The episode relates a complete narrative, and leaves the family intact to brave the prehistoric world.

I review many Saturday morning series here on the blog. I’ve gone through the entire runs of Star Trek (1973), Return to the Planet of the Apes (1975), Monster Squad (1976), Ark II (1976) and many others here.  I must confess that Korg, 70,000 B.C. has been among the least painful to watch on a regular basis, and a series that gives me a lot of material to discuss and consider.

There are big ideas at work here. A key theme, as I have highlighted, is superstition and religion. Another involves the struggle to survive, and what it means for a family to move from familiar territory to someplace new.

After blogging all sixteen episodes of Korg 70,000 B.C., I’m sorry to see this stretch come to an end.  

Although nothing beats Land of the Lost (1974 – 1977) for good science fiction storytelling in the Saturday morning format, Korg,70,000 B.C. is one of the rare Saturday morning series’ that is still entertaining decades later, and still feels relevant.

Next week, I begin checking out the (available) episodes of Bigfoot and Wildboy!

Friday, February 20, 2015

At Flashbak: Culture of Fear? Six Times that Fear was a Deadly Weapon on Sci-Fi TV

My new article at Flashbak remembers the cult-TV series that featured "fear" as a weapon.

"According to an online article in Wired Magazine published on August 24, 2012, Darpa -- the advanced research division of the Pentagon -- was developing the idea of fear “as a weapon” in future wars or other military conflicts. 

But science fiction TV was way ahead of reality in this particular case.

Fear had been used as a potent weapon by TV villains as far back as the year 1964.

With that fact in mind, here are six occasions in cult-TV history when “fear” was weaponized to harm the innocent."

Cult Movie Review: Starry Eyes (2015)

Starry Eyes (2015) is one half a great horror movie.

The film -- which originated from a successful Kickstarter campaign -- is set in Hollywood and follows a struggling actress, Sarah, as she attempts to find fame and fortune at any price. 

The first half of Starry Eyes proves absolutely remarkable as the directors, Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, mine this material for all its social and entertainment value. 

As audience members we are forced to reckon with the underbelly of Tinsel Town, one character’s relentless quest for fame, and the indignities she willingly suffers in its name.

I should add, too, that the actress who undertakes this journey as our protagonist, Alexandra Essoe, is remarkable. 

Essoe does a convincing and sympathetic job playing Sarah, and we ache for the character, and the choice she makes. The film’s great gift is that, at one point, Sarah realizes that she is already prostituting herself by working a humiliating minimum wage job. So why not prostitute herself for what she really wants…an acting career? 

Her logic is inescapable, if icy. In the same situation, would we choose any differently?

But, finally, Starry Eyes (2015) descends into a series of gory murders and becomes an all-too familiar body horror type film. Sarah makes a deal with devil worshipers and in doing so, sacrifices her “body" for her career (if not her art).

Sarah’s horrific and sustained physical disintegration reminds me a great deal of another independent horror film I reviewed last year, Contracted (2013).

Basically, in both movies, we watch a female character we like physically disintegrate and suffer for the last half-hour of the film, in substitution of a resolution that would clarify the plot, or illuminate further the character’s journey. 

Instead, we we see characters peeling off their finger-nails and bleeding through their underpants.  

They fall apart before our eyes, at great duration, as gore substitutes for a third act.

So Starry Eyes is, finally, a bit of a falling star. The first hour is terrific: pointed, smart, and caustic. 

The last half-hour is formulaic and familiar, crashing to Earth with a thud, effects substituting for inspiration and ideas.

“Why do you pull your beautiful hair out?”

In Hollywood, an aspiring -- but desperate -- young actress, Sarah (Essoe) works a day job at a Big Taters restaurant while hoping to audition for a significant part, one that could propel her to stardom. 

Worse, she must compete with friends ike Erin (Fabianne Therese), who is rooting for Sarah to fail, so she can succeed in her place.

One day, Sarah lands an audition for an Astraeus Production, a horror movie called The Silver Scream. Sarah bombs her first audition in front of two cruel casting agents, and proceeds to have a fit in a nearby rest-room stall. She pulls her hair out and screams, and the agents -- tantalized by her actions -- agree to see her again. 

Sarah is asked to strip naked and “let go” in her next audition.  

She does.

Then, Sarah is called to meet the producer (Louis Dezseran) of the film, a creepy old man who makes a sexual advance. Sarah refuses his overture and leaves the meeting, but comes to wish she had gone along.

Sarah returns to the producer’s house and begs for a second chance.  He readily agrees, and Sarah takes part in a strange sex ritual with devil worshipers.  

Afterwards, she grows terminally ill, and her body begins to fall apart.  The producer assures Sarah that this is all part of the process of being re-born as a “star…”

“I will do whatever it takes for this role.”

There’s a moment of blunt, matter-of-fact logic and honesty in Starry Eyes. Working at Big Taters in a skin-tight outfit, under the thumb of a lascivious, demanding boss, Sarah realizes she has already sold out. 

I kind of feel like I’m selling my soul already,” she reports to her friends. “Why not do it for something I love?”

In other words, why not submit to casting couch tactics and sex with the producer, if such activity makes Sarah a star? 

She’s already selling her soul for a low-paying, humiliating job. She sells out every single day. Yet to society at large, this is absolutely acceptable.

Still, the film depicts the business owner at Big Tater as a total asshole, one who gets his jollies from controlling Sarah and eyeing her up in skin-tight pants. And he's not offering her a big payday, just a life-time of subjugation and hard work. In a way he's even asking for her soul too. She should appreciate him, he demands. He has a great vision for the restaurant, and he's letting her be a part of it!

It’s rare that any movie makes a point like this -- one that questions the very basis of society and the value of certain types of work -- yet it is completely valid in terms of Starry Eyes, if not, ultimately, a good plan for Sarah. 

For the producer turns out to be not just a pervert, but a demonic pervert, and I suppose that makes all the difference. 

Sarah is asked not merely to prostitute herself, but literally to sell her soul for fame. For a lot of aspiring talents in Hollywood -- in-front of and behind-the-camera -- this is how such temptation feels: a devil's bargain.

Why not do just one little thing (like perform oral sex) to get what you want?  To escape forever the drudgery and part-time, low-paying jobs? 

Do it once, and you're done. You never have to do it again.

That's the devil whispering in your ear, though!  

Who's to say what happens after the first time? 

What do you do the second time you're up for a big or important role?  If you sell out once, what's to prevent you from selling out again?  

The producer's pitch seems logical, reasonable even given the fast food alternative. But there are no happy endings here. 

Once you de-value yourself, there's no going back.

Of course, the demon producer makes this scenario all the worse for Sarah. He reminds Sarah what a “great opportunity” she is being given.  He defines her as a “do-er” and notes that the “world is about do-ers.”  

Basically, Sarah gets to the point that she thinks maybe it is “worth it” just to cave and give the producer a blow-job.

While Starry Eyes charts moral dilemmas like this one, especially in such a sympathetic and well-considered way, it really works well. It has significant impact.

We share Sarah’s sense of desperation, especially in light of the fact that all her friends are vultures, waiting to swoop in and steal any crumbs she leaves on the table. They claim to be “joking” when they are mean to her, and make her feel shame for considering the producer’s officer.  

You don’t wish that you did it, do you?” a roommate asks.

Hell yes, Sarah should say.  

And they're just all jealous they weren't in the room to get the same opportunity.

Starry Eyes also does a sterling job of showcasing what a meat market Hollywood can be.  

The casting agents face a room of hopeful, optimistic young women, knowing that they have total and complete power over them.  There are, literally, millions of them. They are...cattle.  

I’m not a million other girls,” Sarah notes at one point, but that is a distinction no one else sees…at least at first; at least until her penchant for self-abuse and self-degradation registers with Astraeus.

For its first hour, Starry Eyes convincingly suggests that to succeed in Hollywood you have to sell your soul, or at least your body. 

For the first hour, it is masterful in the way that it utilizes horror tropes (like demon worshipers) to make its point. 

The last half-hour of the film could be interpreted as a continuation of that idea. Sarah becomes super , hyper anorexic to get a role, I guess you could argue, willing to destroy her body for fame.  

This too is something that performers go through to get just the right look, or to be at exactly the right weight in time for shooting. But as Sarah’s body falls apart and she turns murderous, the movie also falls apart.

Here's the point: I believe that these demon worshipers may be able to assure Sarah fame and fortune for the cost of her soul. That’s not difficult, since this is a horror movie.  It’s more difficult to believe, however, that she can commit bloody murder after bloody murder without leaving evidence that would lead police straight to her, thus destroying her career as a starlet.  

Also, nobody seems to react very much when they see Sarah’s deteriorating physical condition. And that condition gets worse over a period of days, not hours. 

The movie lingers on the nasty physical side-effects of Sarah’s membership/possession, but not on the details that make the narrative seem convincing or plausible.  

In short, I just never found it credible here that Sarah could go through this whole process, leaving a trail of dead bodies, and still get what she wants out of the deal. Too many people know where she lives, and who she is friends with. 

As soon as she is famous, TMZ will be all over her past, and it won’t be long before everything comes crashing down around her.

Finally, the effects take center stage in Starry Eyes.  Fortunately, they are good.  Bloody good, in fact. 

But ultimately they are no substitute for the film’s through-line about fame and fortune, and the “ugliness of the human spirit,” especially in regards to Sarah.  She is faced with her own ugliness; that she would kill friends and sell her soul to be successful.

Not talented. Not a great actress. Successful.

So Starry Eyes is brilliant in its first half, and repetitive and dull, if viscerally bloody, in its final act.  

Like Sarah, it could have left a “lasting impression” in its choice to go, eyes open, against a dog-eat-dog industry that is often exploitative.

Instead, it took the easy way out: story resolution by blood and guts. 

Talk about selling your soul...

Movie Trailer: Starry Eyes (2015)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Films of 1989: Back to the Future Part II

Back to the Future Part II (1989) is the franchise’s own The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and therefore the finest film in the Zemeckis trilogy.

This rousing middle chapter of the saga transforms the cheerful triumph of the 1985 picture into personal tragedy, thus taking Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) to his lowest ebb. The sequel also elevates Biff (Thomas Wilson) from school yard bully to Evil Incarnate, a kind of grotesque “lounge lizard” variation of Donald Trump only with a murderous streak, not merely bad hair.

This sequel also proves brawnier in terms of visual imagination and sense of humor than its critically-appreciated predecessor was, and includes some nice, amusing nods towards 1980s nostalgia.

In fact, Back to the Future Part II even lives up to its featured Jaws 19 holomax tag line:

This time, it’s really, really personal.

What that means, specifically, is that our hero, Marty, has not overcome the seeds of his own downfall, and, therefore, the future could still turn out quite badly for him. The black pick-up truck -- the first film’s valedictory symbol of his promising, successful (and yes, yuppie…) future -- becomes, instead, the vehicle of his ultimate destruction.

This 1989 sequel has been in the news a lot lately, since we entered the year 2015 in fact, for both those things it gets right and those things it gets wrong about our current epoch.

But just because everyone seems to be talking about Back to the Future II doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth discussing at length here on the blog. On the contrary, this dark middle chapter forms the emotional heart of the Back to the Future trilogy by forecasting the darkness in Marty, and increasing, by degrees, the trilogy’s narrative and intellectual complexity. 

For example, Back to the Future Part II’s remarkable final act not only goes back to 1955 and the events of the original film, it actually travels "inside" those events, and inside the frames and compositions of the previous entry. It inhabits that same milieu (and the Enchantment under the Sea Dance) with remarkable technological wizardry (forecasting Forrest Gump [1994]) and ratchets up the suspense, as events we think we know take new twists and turns.

If Doc Brown created the time machine to examine the “pitfalls and possibilities” inherent in human nature, Back to the Future Part II also serves that mission ably. The first film concerns how, via time travel, we can understand and appreciate our parents as people who were young once too...not just weird old folks.  The second film, uniquely, pursues that same end, but reveals that the faults that plague us as teenagers have the power to totally destroy us as adults.  Life -- and time -- can be quite cruel.

Paradoxically, time has been anything but cruel to Back to the Future Part II. It was once critically-hated by the establishment, but now seems to be the film in the BTTF trilogy that everyone absolutely adores.

Better late than never...

“No one should know too much about their own destiny."

Immediately following his return to 1985 (from 1955), Marty (Fox) is confronted by Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), who warns him that something terrible will happen to his children in the future, in the year 2015.  

Accordingly, Marty, Jennifer (Elisabeth Shue) and Brown time travel thirty years to a brave new world, to a Hill Valley of flying cars, hover boards, holomax movies and 1980s nostalgia.

There, Marty must save his son from a future in jail, a future caused by Biff’s son, Griff (Wilson).  

After the future is restored, Marty purchases a Sports Almanac from the Café 80s, realizing that it features all the winning teams circa 1950–2000, and he can get rich gambling on them. 

Brown stops Marty from taking this road of greed and cheating, but elderly Biff has overheard the plan, and takes the DeLorean back in time to 1955, so his younger self can execute it.

Meanwhile, Jennifer visits her home with Marty in Hilldale in 2015, and learns that Marty was injured in accident thirty years earlier, primarily because because he couldn’t tolerate being called chicken. 

Worse, his boss in 2015, Needles (Flea), wants to engage Marty in an illegal activity, calling him chicken if he doesn’t comply. Marty succumbs, and is promptly fired from his job.

Marty, Doc and Jennifer return to 1985 in the returned De Lorean, only to learn that elderly Biff has changed everything.

George McFly is long dead, murdered by Biff, and Lorraine (Lea Thompson) is married to the scoundrel.  Biff controls the police force, and has turned Hill Valley into a den of gambling and sin.  

Doc and Marty realize what has happened, and determine they must travel back to 1955 again, this time to prevent Biff from using the Sports Almanac that has altered the past, and can change everybody’s future.

 “Be careful in the future.”

Back to the Future Part II’s three act narrative structure is also, significantly, a three age or three epoch structure. 

The film goes from the adventure in 2015 to the dark passage involving Biff-World in 1985, to the tense and ultimately despairing span in 1955. 

Thus, in a subversive way, the film plays like Back to the Future in reverse, with every new challenge being met with a greater challenge, and any sense of closure or triumph proving, finally, impossible to least until the next sequel.

Specifically, Marty succeeds in saving his son and daughter in 2015, but his avaricious plan with the Sports Almanac is adopted by Elderly Biff, and rewrites Marty’s present. 

When Marty and Doc arrive at that present, in 1985, they are unable to beat it or over-turn the nightmare -- one depicted in endless night-time shots and punctuated by images of grave-stones, cemeteries and obituaries -- without traveling again, this time to 1955.  

And in 1955, crucially, the events that made Marty’s future “happen” (his folks’ first kiss at the Enchantment under the Sea dance) are intruded upon by a "new" version of Marty, whose object this time is not to assure or cement a high-school romance, but to steal back the item that has made Biff’s frightening ascent possible: the almanac. Marty is back in 1955 for business, not love. He must not only succeed in his quest, he must avoid being spotted by his Mom and Dad to be, and also by the version of him we met in Back to the Future.

In the final act, Marty attempts, again and again, to re-acquire the aforementioned sports almanac, but is vexed at every turn.  He thinks he gets it at one point, for example, but finds that it is just the dust jacket hiding a girly magazine. The second time Marty gets it, he loses it because Biff calls him chicken....and he can't let it stand.

And when he finally gets the almanac and burns it, Doc is zapped by lightning out of 1955, along with the DeLorean, trapping Marty thirty years out of his time, with his own future on the line.

And that future doesn’t look good, because we know that even if Marty sets the time line straight, he will be in a car accident, one caused by his constant and continuous inability not to take the bait when called “chicken.”

So where Marty went back in time and succeeded in his mission in Back to the Future, this sequel takes him from failure to failure, with no triumph or victory in sight, and personal injury and failure looming in his future.  

In both circumstances, importantly, Marty is to blame.  Using the Sports Almanac is his idea in the first place.  And the psychological foible involving being called a coward is also his own cross to bear.

Yep, this time it is really, really personal indeed.  Marty’s life is being erased because of himself, and his own failings. He may escape 2015 and Biff World, but can he escape his own nature?

This sly creative structure purposely subverts what we know about the Back to the Future saga up to this point.  As I noted in the introduction to this piece, the black pick-up truck -- a symbol of success -- becomes instead a symbol of Marty’s failures.  

Furthermore, the triumph at the Enchantment under the Sea Dance from the first film gets re-written as a tense action scene with the ultimate kicker being not that Biff knocks out Marty and takes the almanac, but that one version of Marty knocks out the other Marty.  

Again, Marty is to blame for his problems, and that moment -- with Marty #1 storming through a high school exit and knocking out Marty #2 -- is the perfect embodiment or visualization of that leitmotif.

Structurally-speaking, the middle part of any literary or film trilogy finds the hero at his or her weakest, and the forces of darkness gathering.  

The middle part is the point of highest danger, highest risk, and one can detect immediately how this is true in Back to the Future Part II. The film takes Marty to his lowest point, where Biff is strongest, but also to a place where Marty faces another nemesis: himself. What makes the film more than merely subservient to a standard formula, however, is the film’s increasing sense of complexity and despair.  

Events in the year 2015 seem to turn out well, with Marty’s son saved. But then we learn of Marty’s car accident, and his firing from his job. Then Biff rewrites the eighties. And then, finally, the moment of innocent romance and triumph we associate with the original film is broken up, spatially and event-wise -- intruded upon literally by new footage over old footage -- so that it becomes essentially, a battle-ground where paradox (and therefore the end of the universe) is possible at any moment.  

In this way, Back to the Future Part II starts out as being consistent with the mood of the 1985 film -- joyous and light -- but builds inexorably towards a sense of total catastrophe, or at least collapse.

Because Back to the Future Part II is the only film in the franchise that travels to the future, it has become the subject of articles describing what it gets wrong and what it gets right about 2015. We haven’t yet had 18 sequels to Jaws (1975), for example, but uniquely, the film gets right our march of technology in regards to entertainment. 

Today we don’t have Holo-Max, but we have I-Max, and that seems a close enough reckoning about our age, doesn't it? Consider together the Jaws name attached to a sequel, and the update of Holo-Max technology and you get an accurate comment on 2015 film-going. 

Basically, we’re seeing sequels and remakes (Star Wars VII, Mad Max IV, Jurassic Park IV) instead of new cinematic visions, but they’ll have a fresh coat of paint thanks to technology (I-Max and 3-D).  

So Back to the Future Part II gets the franchise and sequel number wrong, as well as the technological nomenclature...but it gets the idea absolutely right. The year 2015 is mired in high-tech un-originality.  In a sense, this idea is reflected, too, by the "remake" aspects of the film's first action sequence.  We get the skate-board chase in the town square of Back to the Future all over again in this sequel...but this time with hover boards (from Mattel).

And no, we don’t have self-drying clothes or hover boards in 2015, and we don’t live in houses filled with Fax machines (“You’re FIRED!”), but we do have large flat screen TVs, and Doc Brown makes an intriguing point about fashion. 

In particular, he notes that in 2015, all the kids wear their pants inside out. Again, that’s not technically accurate, but it seems like a reflection of the idea that so many folks of a certain generation where baggy pants that dip on their hips and reveal their underwear.  In other words, something that would have seemed baffling and unthinkable in 1985, perhaps, seems to have come to pass in terms of fashion in 2015.  To put it another way, the actual detail is wrong, but the idea is spot-on.

Certainly, Back to the Future Part II gets much right in terms of 1980s nostalgia; the enduring myth of St. Ronald Reagan being a prime example in 2015. It doesn’t matter that President Reagan raised taxes (several times), granted amnesty, or exploded the deficit, the myth of his conservative perfection (as opposed to practical pragmatism) persists. 

The Café 80s segment of the film -- with Reagan, Nintendo, Michael Jackson and Ayatollah Khomeini -- is one of the most amusing in the film, and aptly notes that thirty years seems to be the perfect span in which to forget a decade’s flaws, and remember only the good stuff. 

That means, in 2045, we should all be waxing nostalgic about this year. I’ll be 75 at that point…

Ultimately, how wrong or how right Back to the Future Part II is about 2015 probably doesn’t matter. The film can be judged a remarkable success for a number of reasons.  

First, it brilliantly serves its purpose of taking the trilogy from triumph to tragedy, just in time for the emotional rally in Back to the Future Part III (1990).  

Secondly, it establishes -- despite the mythic villainy of Biff -- the fact that Marty is, in fact, his own worst enemy. And for me, that idea very much plays into the franchise’s over-arching commentary on family.  How often have we seen those we love make the same mistakes?  How often have we wished that they could change?  How often do they fail to change?

In some sense, Back to the Future Part II is about the difficult time between teenage years and adulthood when we become set-in-our-ways, no longer pliable. Instead of bending, we break.  Instead of being willing to adjust and change, we fall back on old beliefs and behaviors instead. We might grow up, but we also grow rigid; we grow old.

Marty himself is on the verge of that point here, about to make a mistake that he will pay for later in his life.  

Back to the Future Part III brings this idea into focus, and Marty gets one last chance to escape an unpleasant destiny.  

We start to see then, in this remarkable sequel, that 1985 is Marty's pivotal year, as 1955 was George and Lorraine's pivotal year. 

In my review of the original Back to the Future, I wrote about the same events happening over and over again in Hill Valley, film to film, but to different generations. That same idea carries on in this sequel, with the torch of mid-life crisis and disaster passed on to our main protagonist.

Next Tuesday: Back to the Future Part III (1990).

Movie Trailer: Back to the Future 2 (1989)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Late Night Blogging: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Promos

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. "The Quadrapartite Affair" (October 6, 1964)

In “The Quadrapartite Affair,” a scientist in Yugoslavia, Dr. Raven, is infected with a terrible “fear gas.” His grown daughter, Marion (Jill Ireland) manages to return to the States and warn U.N.C.L.E. about the situation.

Ilya Kuryakin (David McCallum) is assigned to protect her, should the forces of THRUSH seek to capture her.  But a delivery man drops off a box of chocolates that emits the fear gas, incapacitating the agent.  

Consumed by fear, Ilya is unable to save Marion.

Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) stages a dangerous rescue mission of Marion, freeing her from imprisonment on the yacht of a deadly THRUSH operative, Gervaise Ravel (Anne Francis).  

Then, Napoleon, Marion and Ilya head to Yugoslavia to meet up with a local scoundrel who may be able to provide information about the fear gas, first developed in World War II.  

But can they trust Milan Horth (Roger C. Carmel)?

The “Quadrapartite Affair” opens with the unusual sight of our favorite U.N.C.L.E. operatives breaking the fourth wall and introducing themselves to the audience.  After a narrator reveals the HQ in an “ordinary tailor shop” (or “is it?”), Solo, Kuryakin and Waverly all tell us their names, and their positions in the organization. 

I suppose this was deemed necessary, to make certain that viewers were caught up with the details of the series, but today it nonetheless plays as a bit strange, and labored.  Imagine if, on Star Trek, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) suddenly broke the fourth wall, addressed us directly, and began discussing the details of Starfleet hierarchy.

Otherwise, this early episode of the series in notable, perhaps, for the increased role played by Kuryakin. 

The Soviet agent comes across in the episode as supremely self-confident, but also physically edgy in a way that Solo is not, really. Solo is dashing and debonair.  Kuryakin, it is clear -- especially from his flirtations with Marion -- is more direct, or more basic. There is real attraction in the air here, and that may be a result of the fact that McCallum and Ireland had been married since 1957. They starred in five episodes of Man from U.N.C.L.E. together, the last in 1967.

One extremely impressive aspect of “The Quadrapartite Affair” is the interlude aboard Gervaise’s yacht.  Solo breaks Marion out of the brig, and then must get her off the ship, which is sailing in New York Harbor.  

The chase goes up to the deck of ship, over the deck roof, back down to the deck, up and down stairways, and finally onto a waiting skiff, and is genuinely exciting.  There is no fakery or studio-bound footage here, and it looks like Vaughn and Ireland really jump onto the boat’s bow seconds before it speeds off.  This is a sustained, well-directed action set-piece, and a nice reminder who well assembled some 1960s cult-television really was.

The main threat of the episode a “fear gas,” is one that, for some reason, was extraordinarily popular in 1960s cult-television. An episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (also from 1964) called “The Fear Makers” involved fear gas.  

Similarly, an episode of Batman (1966 – 1968) saw Shame (Cliff Robertson) unleash a similar type of fear gas on the Dynamic Duo.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Special Equipment

Trading Cards of the Week: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Topps)

Pop Art: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Gold Key Edition)

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Halloween Costume (Halco)

Model Kit of the Week: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Aurora Edition)

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. GAF Viewmaster