The 2021 List: April

So there goes April. and I watched all of eight ‘new’ films/TV shows. Yeah, I’m still re-watching ‘old’ stuff, but my general apathy/weariness continues.

Books are good. I’m currently reading J W Rinzler’s excellent ‘The Making of Planet of the Apes’, which I bought from Amazon for £18 a week or so ago- at that price its almost giving it away, considering what magazines cost these days. With its on-set photographs and old-fashioned (pre-2001/Star Wars) pre-production paintings/storyboards, its really evocative of the 1960s and something of an escape to the myth of simpler times. I’ve really enjoyed the fascinating story of its long gestation period. I’d never really appreciated what a hard sell it was in the early 1960s to sell a film project featuring talking apes. In hindsight it seems a perfectly natural premise for a series of films but when one considers it in an time pre-Star Trek, even, its quite remarkable the film ever got made. Great book- its a lovely reminder of those retrospective articles in Cinefantastique, Fantastic Films and Starburst that I enjoyed reading (albeit with its 300 pages, this book is much more detailed, Cinefantastique‘s in-depth articles notwithstanding).

Hey, we had the Oscars this month. More nauseating than ever. Privileged and pampered millionaires preaching some more. I’m not sure they ‘get it’, after the year so many of us have had. I suppose its all true that the rich just get richer and the poor poorer because looking at their expensive gowns and suits and haircuts the pandemic and its economic woes doesn’t seem to have affected them very much. Instead I rather think it has put into sharp focus just how much of another country/planet Hollywood really is, and how increasingly distant it is. Those Planet Hollywood restaurants have a very apt name indeed, indicative of a truth I didn’t really appreciate. 

Or maybe I’m just getting old, and tired of the game.

Television

46) The Flight Attendant

Film

41) Chelsley Bonestell: A Brush With The Future (2018)

42) Secret Behind the Door (1947)

43) The Tunnel (Tunnelen) (2019)

44) Anti-Life (2020)

45) Stowaway (2021)

47) Voyage of Time (2016)

48) The Heist (2013)

Anybody else rewatching UFO?

ufo3I have very fond memories from my childhood of late Sunday nights, when my Dad would come up to check if I was asleep, and if I owned up that I wasn’t (what kid ever slept easy on a school night?), he’d let me downstairs to catch an episode of Gerry Anderson’s remarkable series.  As I remember it being on Sunday nights they must have been repeats late in the evening, probably around 11 pm, because my Dad would have been out for a few hours and gotten back in about then, and popped upstairs to check on my brother and I. It would have been around 1972 or 1973, something like that so I’d have been about six or seven. Dad knew I loved space stuff so knew it would be a great treat: just like with Dr Who of that era, I’d be scared witless at the same time as being excited by all the futuristic hardware. UFO wasn’t really a kids show, at least not like the 1960s puppetry shows that Anderson produced previously- as I’ve gotten older and returned to UFO over the years on DVD and now Blu-ray, I’m endlessly surprised that while its officially a family show its really pretty dark and bleak. I mean, aliens abducting humans to steal organs and body parts? Yikes. I can’t imagine there’s any kids out there who didn’t get freaked out by the scary end-title sequence with Barry Gray’s creepy ambient music.

UFO is one of those shows that seems way ahead of its time while also inevitably dated as times have moved on (remember it was filmed in 1969/1970). Its decidedly non-PC, with sexist jokes and scantily-dressed women, clearly an indication of the times it was made in. Early in the pilot episode sequences of a character clearly ogling a female Shadow operative, while played for laughs, feels rather uncomfortable viewing now. And of course scenes feature characters endlessly smoking and drinking. There is something quite refreshing though regards UFOs non-PC credentials, a strange source of charm I suppose, but the show was ahead of its time, too, with black actors in fairly prominent roles of authority, with consideration of race relations and a mixed-race relationship featured in an early episode that feels very positive and forward-thinking. 

sherrytrekMarch seems to be a month for looking back; the lure of nostalgia seems irresistible while stuck in lockdown for so long now… maybe lockdown and Covid have nothing to do with it and its just the endless siren-call of old favourites. Maybe settling down to the first five episodes of UFO is a reaction to seeing a few episodes of Starsky and Hutch on the past few Saturday nights. Speaking of the latter, I was surprised to see a fairly young M. Emmet Walsh appear in an episode last weekend, and Sherry Jackson in an episode the week prior (Sherry having a particularly memorable role in a Star Trek episode that I’m sure left its mark on many a young fan).

But I digress. I started this post writing about UFO. It just occurred to me, watching it… all the smoking and drinking, it began to dawn on me that its possibly just a matter of simple direction back then. For instance, there are many scenes with Alec Freeman (George Sewell) and Ed Straker (Ed Bishop) in Straker’s office in Shadow HQ, mostly dialogue-based scenes which are expositional and moving the plot forwards. Its just two guys talking, so it seems likely that the smoking and drinking was just a crux for the actors, something for them to do physically while talking. So they are just using props to make the scenes interesting, visually- moving to the drinks dispenser, pouring a whiskey, drinking it, or taking a cigarette, lighting and smoking it, or thumbing through a document file etc. The drinking and smoking feels incongruous now, of course, as its obviously unhealthy and looked at differently now than back then, but my initial thoughts that it was a reflection of the time or a way of ‘selling’ tobacco or booze to viewers were eventually dispelled as I considered what the director might have felt necessary when spacing out a scene in rehearsals to try keep mostly dialogue-scenes interesting for viewers. Maybe I’m wrong. But they even feature characters smoking while relaxing on Moonbase (can you imagine that, NASA letting astronauts smoke after what happened with Apollo 1?) which looks wrong, even though when I think about it, characters smoked on the Nostromo in Alien. I’m reminded of references to the great Peter Cushing, who was considered a master at using props when on-set (something I often have a keen eye on when I watch him performing in films). 

ufo5Network’s Blu-ray of UFO looks pretty stellar- the series looks so much better now than it did back when I was a kid on my folk’s black and white television. I last watched the series on DVD several years back, and difference in the HD upgrade is really noticeable, its a great restoration, akin to that served The Prisoner and Space:1999 Blu-ray releases. Indeed its really quite extraordinary and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.  Its also something of a testament to the quality of the film-making I guess, and I do wonder what Gerry Anderson might have thought about the restoration. I bought my set when it first came out, so its accompanied by a 600-page book that serves as a great reference when watching the episodes. I expect later sets that were minus the book were better served by the disc-holders though- this set has a digipack featuring some of the most horrible clasps holding the discs that I have ever had the misfortune to encounter, truly horrendous packaging which is the sets weakest point. Such a shame the episodes had such TLC and the packaging (obviously well-intentioned) came so short. The box is gorgeous and the book is heavenly but the digipack is the work of aliens: still, its the show itself that counts (once you can pry a disc out of the bloody evil digipack). 

 

The Terror (2018)

terrormThis was the stuff of nightmares, but in a good way, you understand- this 2018 (how have I never heard of this?) miniseries currently airing here in the UK on BBC2 (and available to watch in its entirety on iPlayer) is absolutely terrific stuff. Its a claustrophobic, moody, tense and incredibly disturbing period horror which spins a supernatural take on a real historic tragedy. I devoured the whole thing over three days and while its not perfect (it slides downhill slightly over the last two episodes) it remains superior drama in my eyes. Absolutely recommended, albeit I must admit, it cast a disturbing shadow on some of my dreams for a few nights- perhaps bingeing the show wasn’t such a good idea after all. Its not often a tv show can give me nightmares, but this actually did. Its not that the series is especially terrifying but it is genuinely, absolutely relentless in how its dark mood and feeling of horror gradually gnaws at you. This is horror with a capital ‘H’.

The cast in particular is top-notch: Jared Harris, Tobias Menzies, Ciarán Hinds, Clive Russell… these are some of my favourite actors and they are are on very fine form in this- perhaps inspired by the remarkable premise, the performances form a solid foundation for the series and aided by the excellent production design its all very convincing: so much so that any miss-steps in the script are easily forgiven and quickly forgotten. 

I absolutely adored the convincing sense of time and place, a tangible sensation of being in that place, that moment. The atmosphere of growing doom and characters being caught in something out of their control – and knowing that the whole thing is based upon real events (ignoring the supernatural element that is perfectly fine albeit actually superfluous, as it turns out), I don’t think I’ve quite enjoyed a drama as much as this since Chernobyl. I was actually familiar with the historical events that the series is based upon and I was pleasantly surprised by how the series was true to most of the historically-accepted events, how sincere and respectful it was, how authentic it seemed. It could have spun the real-life tragedy into a trashy exploitation yarn, but its much more than that. Its very, very good indeed. Barring that finale it could have been a masterpiece- as it is, its not far off.

Everything Jared Harris touches in television seems to turn to gold, doesn’t it. A phenomenal actor, is there anything he cannot do? I think he’d be enthralling just reading a shopping list.

The Past Blasts Back

I revisited my childhood on Saturday. Well, part of it anyway. Its amazing how many old series are being used to fill the schedules now- some channels, that’s all they do. They never advertise them as “some more old shite” but… well, they have to wrap them up in some cosmetic gloss: ‘Saturday Showcase’ seems to be the latest way of making it seem all shiny: two hours of Hart to Hart, two hours of Charlies Angels, two hours of T J Hooker, three hours of Starsky & Hutch. I defy anyone to get through that lot and maintain their sanity. How bored does one have to be in order to sit through all that?

Me, I treated it with the respect that it deserved: an episode of T J Hooker from its first season in 1982, and then two episodes from early in the first season of Starsky & Hutch from 1975 (well, 1976 here in the UK). To be quite honest, it was a taste of Saturdays of old. I suppose local variances may differ regards T J Hooker (it was in a Saturday tea-time slot in my area) but Starsky & Hutch was a network transmission on BBC on Saturday evenings, 9 pm, so both shows are Ghosts of Saturday Past.

TJ1Turns out Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. Case in point: the episode I watched of T J Hooker, which to my great surprise  featured Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul’s Jonathan Banks as its guest villain Danny Scott, who even manages a curious nod to the The Shining when he hacks through a target’s bedroom door. His partner in crime Cal Jastrow is played by none other than Babylon 5‘s Michael O’Hare. Of course, watching them in a show made from 1982, its not easy to pick them out, the nagging familiarity driving one to distraction until the penny finally drops. The entertainment industry is such a small world, sometimes.

Watching old tv shows like that, its obvious that there was a clearer distinction between television and cinema back then. Its much narrower now, if it even exists at all. That being said, in all fairness, back then network shows had about 22 episodes a year, a huge production workload really (its obvious why HBO etc elect for eight or ten-episode seasons).

Was the world ever safer then than now, were things really so clear, so black and white, so predictable? It felt that way, but of course I was a kid. It does seem watching old shows like this, that they are from a safer age, when television was intended to comfort and reassure and entertain without requiring very much effort from the viewer. The good guys were Good with a capital G, and the bad guys were bad and always got caught. Most of the time, they were CLEARLY bad too, all the various shows casting a veritable Villain’s League of regular shady-looking actors who probably couldn’t catch a break getting any other role. There’s no doubts about the crooks in T J Hooker, nor any doubts about old Hooker himself.: if Shatner’s Kirk could handle Klingons and other Galactic menaces, a bunch of dumb thugs ain’t going to trouble his LA cop. This is all back in the era of old-fashioned episodic television: the close of the episode depicts Hooker going out to romance and bed the latest beautiful distressed citizen that he’s saved this week (Allison, played by TV perennial Lisa Hartman) , but next week the magic reset will ensure she’s gone and forgotten and Hooker available for the next babe. Perhaps its just as well: Lisa Hartman was 25 years younger than Shatner and it clearly shows. I’m not so sure they’d get away with stuff like that now. Or maybe I’m fooling myself. I will just say this though- back then I could never get my head round Captain Kirk wearing a police uniform or even civvies. 

starsky1But the irony is, shows like Starsky & Hutch, as innocent as they seem now, were quite heavily edited here in the UK and some episodes skipped entirely. Were the British public so easily outraged? Starsky & Hutch  was my favourite as a kid. It was hugely successful back in its day, a cultural pop icon which, thanks to the dominance back then of just three network channels, seemed much more a part of public discourse and attention, with the national audience split between just those three (and no distractions like videogames or home video etc), audience numbers could be huge. The show started airing over here in the UK in early 1976, and that summer was all Starsky & Hutch, Adam West Batman re-runs… and those American comic books like Howard the Duck and Captain America celebrating the Bicentennial while we basked in a long summer drought. It was good to be a kid back then. Yeah, there’s that Nostalgia again: just listening to that Lalo Schifrin main title music for season one is enough to give me such a thrill (the music was changed from season two onwards in favour of something more upbeat, and just as successful/and iconic, but there’s something REAL about that first season music). And of course there was that car. That car, oh man, that was the 1976 cop-show equivalent of the Millennium Falcon, right there. I only intended to watch the one Starsky & Hutch episode, but couldn’t resist sticking around for the second Maybe these channels showing all these old tv shows are onto something after all.

The last laugh is maybe on me though, regards Starsky & Hutch, anyway- I had to put up with all those too-frequent commercial breaks- I’ve got seasons one and two on DVD somewhere, if only I had them at hand. Maintaining the 1970s vibe, maybe I should find my UFO and Space:1999 Blu-rays while I’m digging those Starsky discs out. What? T J Hooker boxsets? Get out of here, I was never THAT kind of fool!

The 2021 List: January

I’m back. Well, I’ve not really been away, just side-lined by work and life. I’m sure anyone reading this appreciates just how strange life is getting, and how we’re getting worn down. Its really quite relentless, and most nights now I’m so tired in the evenings I don’t have energy to concentrate enough to even watch a film, let alone write about it. Maybe I just need a holiday (ha, ha) – ain’t that the truth/sick joke (delete as appropriate). Its been  more than two years since my last holiday anywhere, and my booked holiday in May (which was deferred from May last year, for reasons obvious to everyone) is looking as unlikely as Vangelis releasing an anthology of his unreleased soundtracks headlined by a complete Blade Runner. Or him ever releasing that Juno to Jupiter album.

So what have I been watching? Not included on the list waiting for your perusal below as its not finished until next Wednesday, is Season Five of The Expanse, which has been quite brilliant. As someone who championed this series way back when I had to import the Blu-rays to watch it, its great to see the show having some critical success before it ends next year. Amazon saving The Expanse from its third-season cancellation is the rescue Farscape deserved but never got. Anyway, more on that next week/month/when I get to write about it.

toastJanuary is a hell of a bleak month, and Lockdown is just making it all the bleaker. I’ve been retreating to sitcoms, mostly Toast of London, a show from a few years back that I vaguely recall noticing but never watching. Finally watching it thanks to the Netflix algorithm bringing it back to my attention,  its quite funny and quirky and I enjoyed it enough to binge all three seasons of it, but not enough to write a post about it. There’s that energy-sapping thing again. I don’t know. There was a feeling of biding time watching it; I knew I should be watching something more worthwhile but it was low-effort, making little demand of me. I’ve just moved on to another feast courtesy of the Netflix algorithm, an American sitcom titled Superstore, currently watching season one. There’s five seasons of this show and I never knew it even existed until I started watching it last week. I think this is what’s called Sitcom Hell. I need to find some escape.

Television

Most ill-conceived reboot of the month:

2. Black Narcissus (BBC Miniseries)

Sitcom ‘comfort food of the month’ (lockdown special):

6) Toast of London Season One

7) Toast of London Season Two

11) Toast of London Season Three

Sexed-up Downton Abbey of the month:

15) Bridgerton Season One

Female Space Messiah Award:

9) Star Trek: Discovery Season Three 

Films:

The Good, and the even Better:

3) Proxima (2019)

4. Hidden Figures (2016)

5) The Garment Jungle

8) The Lineup (1958)

16) The Wages of Fear (1953)

The Distinctly Average:

10) The Gentlemen (2019)

12) Sputnik (2020)

14) The Wackiest Ship in the Navy (1961)

The Utterly Woeful:

1) The Midnight Sky (2020)

13) Outside the Wire (2021)

So that’s sixteen titles, split between six seasons of TV shows and ten films. Regards re-watching stuff, apart from the fantastic Millennium Actress that I did actually post about, I did re-watch The Two Towers, the second film of the LOTR trilogy, part of the 4K UHD boxset that came out late last year and which I seem to be struggling to get to actually watch, never mind actually writing about. I watched The Fellowship of the Ring over the Christmas period, and while its proving a struggle, strangely, to get around to watching all three films (possibly its because they are the extended versions which makes it awkward to schedule, in all honesty, with everything else going on) its been very interesting, returning to what is quite possibly the last genuinely great blockbuster trilogy ever made, and seeing how well they have aged (or not).  I intend to possibly expand upon this in a future post once I’ve managed to watch The Return of the King, which, on my apparently monthly schedule will happen in February. Some people managed marathons of the LOTR in a single day, or over three consecutive days- I haven’t even managed it over three weekends.

It has occurred to me that the sheer bravura of shooting all three films back-to-back might be something we never see again, considering the state of theatrical exhibition in this Covid World. We are in a situation now in which traditional blockbusters are not economically viable and are being delayed one or even two years waiting for some kind of stability regards exhibition. Where this leaves Villenueve’s Dune and its ‘will-they-won’t-they’ second film completing its story is anyone’s guess. At some point if things don’t change, more of these films will end up relegated to streaming premieres such as those Warner have announced for HBO Max in America, and what that means for studios cutting their losses and plans for 2023, 2024 etc is really a concern.

So anyway, that’s January. Looking towards February, well, its anyone’s guess how that month will likely turn out. Indicator’s second Columbia Noir set is due out so I look forward to getting into that, having so enjoyed the first set. And I have a pile of unwatched films on the Tivo etc and waiting on Netflix and Amazon, if I can ever muster the enthusiasm to watch any of it. Or indeed the time, due to working at home proving particularly problematic of late. We’ll just have to see. Oh, and its possibly going to include my biggest non-event of a birthday in all my 55 revolutions of the sun. That should be curious, although as a bonus it sees me jump up a group on the Vaccination schedule. Life. Is. So. Strange. Now.

COVID-Vac-priority-tiers

It’s dead, Jim

michaelbThe Michael Burnham Show aka Star Trek: Discovery completed its third season this past week and I’m still rather speechless. I don’t know what kind of deranged minds are behind this show but frack me it must surely be the worst sci fi show I have ever seen (at least until season four arrives next year). I suppose I should commend them for having the audacity to make a show about a psychopath with a God Complex infecting the galaxy with her psychosis.  Its pure Philip K Dick really, and quite fitting for our times: an Insanity Pandemic infecting the universe, 3188: A Messianic Odyssey in fact. 

How else to explain anything that happens in this show? I have no idea how many or how few are actually watching it, but I’m sure it has its fans: I’m sure its endless fascination with Wish Fulfilment is just wonderful for them: its all something of a Dream. We all like to think we are special, and the fantasy of The Chosen One is quite seductive; part of the appeal of the Matrix movies is the idea of being Neo, of being The One. Of being the subject of prophecy. The Michael Burnham Show is that fantasy writ large, in the guise of what we fans used to call Star Trek.

But Star Trek is dead. Its been dead for awhile, but if that wasn’t confirmed by the reboot movies from JJ Abrams or by last year’s Star Trek: Picard, then it surely is now. In fact, The Michael Burnham Show has surely kicked its corpse into the gutter. Maybe Star Wars got away lightly after all.

Michael Burnham is never wrong, and even when she is, it turns out she’s right in the end. When she ignores protocol or even direct orders, when she abandons her post to go off on one of her own far more important errands, and when she is subsequently demoted for such, its only a purely token gesture. Her voice and opinion will always still be desired, and when the push comes to shove, the Command Chair will always be vacated for her to take over and save the day. Its obvious everybody, even the head of Star Fleet, and certainly her fellow crew of the Discovery, are vastly inferior to her and will always defer to her. 

Just to underline the fact, none of the Discovery crew have any opportunity to compete with her on any level. Most of them don’t even have names, or at least names that matter or are memorable, and they surely don’t have any lines to speak, or any personality to inject into the proceedings. Arguably the co-star of the show, Ensign Tully -sorry, Tilly (the characters are so bland that even the nominal co-star has a name I find hard to remember)- is a prime example of a non-achiever, more suited perhaps to operating the sick-bay radio channel or the canteen, she is inexplicably promoted to be Number One in Burnham’s stead, if only to prove how most excellent Burnham was in comparison: I think its within thirty minutes of taking the Comm that Tilly manages to lose the Discovery to an alien aggressor (the Green Woman and her Motorbike Helmet goons) who board and take control of the ship and imprison the crew. Tilly can bluff and bluster like a ginger Boris Johnson- but typical of the show, there’s no substance to her, and after she escapes from confinement her attempt to retake the ship ends with her and her team asphyxiating in a corridor. Never mind Tilly, Michael’s here to save the day/save the galaxy/save the universe.

Its all fairly obnoxious and really insulting. I’ve never witnessed such stupidity in writing. The writers inject some 3188 tech – personal transporters in the uniform lapel badges- which, when they are tapped by the wearer’s fingers instantly teleports them anywhere they want to be. No coordinates, no voice commands, just tap the badge and this magic shit reads your mind or something. Now, you give all the crew this magic badge and hey presto, you’ll have empty corridors from then on because everyone just teleports everywhere, right? Canteen? The loo? Who even needs doors anymore? Tap the button and in a flash you’re there. And yet, and yet, in each subsequent episode we still see crew walking around pretending to look busy. I mean, they even have a gag in the episode in which they have the new tech in which an alien crewmember keeps on teleporting into scenes by mistake, and yet next episode nobody’s using them. These writers can’t even manage their own internal logic, even in the very same episode- in the finale the crew set off a bomb to wreck one of the nacelles and pull the ship out of warp, and then scarcely fifteen minutes later its magically all fixed and the ship is whole again and fully operational. I mean, wtf? 

I could go on. I think when I realised that Burnham’s God Complex psychosis is infecting everyone around her was when the show started to make sense to me, as regards how stupid it was and how crazy every character was behaving. It certainly explains how the show can shit all over established canon by suggesting Spock had a half-sister never mentioned in all the decades of the various incarnations of the franchise. Its obvious now that Spock never had a sister until she appeared, like one of Lovecraft’s Elder Gods from some deep sleep, her psychosis infecting Spock into accepting her, her sudden existence affecting the fabric of reality and the mythology of the show. I half-expect the psychosis to infect our own reality, so that people will start re-reading their Star Trek paperbacks from the 1980s and 1990s and suddenly be reading, indeed, of Spock having a half-sister called Michael. Its fiction infecting reality like in John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness. God help us all. 

Never mind. Michael will save us.

2021 Babylon 5

b5I’ve already written regards this blog next year looking back as much as reviewing/commenting on ‘new’ films and television. Oddly, recent news from various quarters seems to have reinforced that, with a strange sense of synchronicity. Two of my favourite anime, the wonderful Satoshi Kon film Millennium Actress and the tv series Planetes, are being released early next year by All the Anime,  Millennium Actress on 4K UHD and Planetes on Blu-ray, each firsts for the UK.  I’m really enthused regards revisiting them, and shall hopefully be able to write about how wonderful they still are having not seen them for years: one of my fears of revisiting old favourites next year is in discovering they aren’t as great as I used to think they were, but you know, sometimes things just look even better in hindsight, so the opposite might be just as true.

Added to those anime returning is recent news regards my old favourite tv show,  J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5 coming to Blu-ray next Spring in remastered form. Well, I say remastered, there are caveats to that, but all the same, this is frankly wonderful news. I’ve read that a new remaster of the show is now available on Apple iTunes and is apparently being set for a disc release on Blu-ray in the Spring. The show has returned back to its original transmitted 4:3 format in order to preserve some level of quality to the aged CGI visual effects shots and allow a remaster of the on-set material, essentially upscaling the show as was done with reasonable success with Farscape a few years back. While B5 was forward-thinking enough to be consciously shot ‘protected’ for widescreen, and was released as such on DVD several years back, unfortunately this was undermined by the original VFX hard-drives being lost long ago, which meant that any scenes involving VFX had to be zoomed-in from 4:3 to 16:9, just making the already dated CGI look even worse. The only way of truly remastering the show properly would be recreating all the VFX shots from scratch in 16:9 and editing them into the 16:9 live-action material, at what is apparently a far too prohibitive cost for Warner Brothers to countenance. Its frustrating, but its just how things are, so this new endeavour of remastering the show in its original 4:3 format is the best we will ever get.

As for the show itself, well, one has to remember how old B5 is now, and all the many great genre shows that came after it. I recently watched a YouTube video of the Babylon 5 cast then-and-now and it was really scary seeing just how many years have passed (and how many of the cast have been lost to us over the years), but it did have me feeling very nostalgic and swaying towards a re-watch of the show, so this remaster news is rather timely.  I think something that will help B5 stand apart is the fact that it was always distinctly old-fashioned space opera, rather than space fantasy or hard sci-fi; very much the kind of stuff one could read in the 1950s and 1960s. Hopefully the charm of that will help forgive some of its failings, and for myself I’m really curious having not seen it in years (I never really got through all those DVD boxsets, it just looked so poor). And hey, its a triple-dip! I had the show on (really expensive, all told, looking back on it) VHS tapes where they released them two episodes at a time, or something like that, and yes, bought those DVD sets. Maybe the third time will be the charm. Yes its a real pity nobody at Warners (or some millionaire fan) thought it worthy of investing in redoing those effects and bringing the show up to modern standards, but at the very least this preserves the old, authentic experience of the original transmissions back in the day. I just hope that news of Blu-ray releases holds true (apparently place-holders have been spotted with European vendors, and it makes sense for a disc release while physical is still worth something). I look forward to someday next Spring  sitting down with a strong coffee steaming from my Babylon 5 mug while I revisit that dangerous place, our last, best hope for peace… 

Charles turns to the Dark Side in The Crown Season Four

crown4The weird thing about Peter Morgan’s season four of The Crown is how Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor), portrayed as a well-intentioned, conflicted outsider in season three (so much so that it engendered even my sympathy) has changed with season four, which basically turns him into a spoilt monster, a sudden slide into the the dark side worthy of Anakin Skywalker. The story of his repeatedly thwarted romance with Camilla (Emerald Fennell) and how he is pushed/cajoled into marrying the beautiful young Diana Spencer against his will and the doom that inevitably follows may not be historically accurate but it does make a hell of a great drama, and a fine distraction from all things Covid. All the while the shadow of Edward VIII’s abdication in favour of his lover, Wallis Simpson, a storyline that weighed heavily over the first two seasons, hangs like a lesson of history now repeating. Camilla is Charles’ own Wallis, but his sense of duty sees him return to the fold and acceptable marriage, but The Crown‘s narrative seems to be that the real lessons of Edward VIII weren’t heeded at all.   

The biggest surprise of this season is that while Charles is now an absolute selfish monster the show then defies expectations with its portrayal of Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson), one of the most hated political figures in British history reimagined here as an almost sympathetic character deserved of reappraisal. While the series also perpetuates the popular myth of Diana (Emma Corrin) as a beautiful ‘peoples princess’ horribly wronged by the Royals, it also teases the alternative view of her as manipulative fame-seeking woman who foolishly/naively failed to appreciate what she was getting into.

Its perhaps inevitable that the series ultimately favours Diana’s side of things leaving Charles the role of boo-hiss villain (and Camilla his horrid accomplice), thus relegating the last few decades of the real-life rehabilitation of Charles and Camilla’s reputations largely in tatters. Naturally this has resulted in the previously well-received series coming under some fire here in the UK from Royalists horrified by its vilification of Prince Charles and perpetuation of the Diana myth popularised by anti-Royals, as if aghast at all those years of carefully scripted turning of public opinion being all for naught. Its rather sweet, the fire and brimstone being directed at The Crown when all those decades of carefully fabricated photo opportunities and vetted interviews were likely as much a fictional drama themselves. 

There is some currency in the interpretation of The Crown as silly pantomime, as historically accurate as Downton Abbey, but as narratives go, its very seductive and certainly great drama, and with this fourth season it may have managed its most enjoyable season yet.

The 2020 List: November

Well, a peek down the list below will reveal the big news for the month -and my year of blogging so far- which is that I have passed the ‘magic’ number of 200! Yep, that’s 200 films and television seasons that were new to me in 2020. With a month to spare, no less. 

Well, we won’t be here again- next year my blog is heading into a new direction, examining the old as much as the new, as I look at the films and television shows that mean the most to me, as well as finding the usual new discoveries. Well, that’s the intention anyway, and while 2021 seems just around the corner, it’d be perhaps foolish to ignore the fact that 2020 has a month to go and more surprises of its own (and this year of all years, that’s ominous enough in itself). 

So in the meantime, here’s my November haul. Best of the month, for a change, is actually a television series, Westworld Season Three, which was absolutely terrific, at least for its first six episodes (it stumbled considerably with the last two episodes, but not enough for it not to be my highlight of the month). Worst of the month has to be the terrible The Jesus Rolls, and lets face it, to be worse than a Nic Cage Lovecraft yarn, it has to stink something special.  

Television

189) Truth Seekers – Season One

196) Westworld Season Three

Films

186) The Lighthouse (2019)

187) The Color Out of Space (2019)

188) The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

189) Advantageous (2015)

190) The Last Seduction (1994)

191) Lucy in the Sky (2019)

192) The Jesus Rolls (2019)

193) Radioactive (2019)

194) Jojo Rabbit (2019)

195) A Hidden Life (2019)

197) Dark Waters (2019)

198) The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

199) Fanny Lye Deliver’d (2019)

200) Escape in the Fog (1945)

201) The Undercover Man (1949)

The Expanse finds its Event Horizon

exp3At the risk of seeming an intolerable geek, I was immediately dumped into a funk this morning when I looked up my news feed at Breakfast and was met by headlines that The Expanse has been cancelled at Amazon. I nearly choked on my Muesli, and that’s a hell of a way to start the day. Sure, there’s plenty more genuinely concerning and life-effecting bad news on the news every morning, we’re living in a very strange world now, but I think getting outraged by one of my favourite tv shows getting cancelled is almost reassuring, a glimpse of what used to be reality, what used to be my ‘normal’. 

It was so out of the blue that it was shocking, really. Amazon, once the exalted saviour of The Expanse, has now cancelled it. Seems that its too expensive, and even in the strange economically bizarre world of streaming, viewing figures do matter after all, and The Expanse hasn’t gotten enough, apparently. Colour me surprised by this one, though: I thought Amazon’s owner Jeff Bezos (personal net worth $181 billion and counting) was a big fan, which would pretty much guarantee us nine seasons (to match the nine original books). If the richest man on Earth can’t afford to bankroll his favourite tv show so he can watch it, then nothing makes sense. Viewing figures? Where does that get in the mix? Oh Ghost you’re such a naïve fool, I know, I hear you. Of course Bezos didn’t get so rich as he is by throwing money away… well actually, he practically did, I remember Amazon being a fiscal black hole for years. So how come he has decided to allow the show to be kicked into that Black Hole now? Did Bezos even see the memo?

The good news is that the imminent fifth season won’t be its last- Amazon have agreed to make a sixth season to allow the showrunners to give the show a decent ending. Which is pretty damned great in my book and something positive I can clutch at, in a world where ST: Discovery somehow gets renewed for another interminable season. How does a show like The Expanse gets cancelled when absolute garbage like Discovery gets made? Well, the answer is 42, my freinds, the answer is 42 (God bless you, Douglas Adams, I always turn to you in moments such as this).