Cowboy Bebop (2021)

cowboy1Considering what seems to be prevailing opinion, I appreciate I’m in the minority when I state I really quite enjoyed Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop show. I’m a big fan of the original anime (had it on R1 DVD, then Blu-ray, have all the soundtracks etc) and couldn’t believe anyone would ever think a live-action remake or spin-off could ever be a Good Idea– in just the same way as a live-action Akira or Neon Genesis Evangelion, two other projects which are mooted now and again. The anime are what they are. They don’t need remakes or live-action versions.

So I approached this new Netflix edition with severe caution. But I liked it. Maybe it was a case of low expectations, but as I gave the show time it started to grow on me. Of course, most of my initial enjoyment stemmed from it using the original Yoko Kanno music -such an intrinsic part of the Bebop experience- but as the show progressed, I realised there was so much to enjoy. The cast is surprisingly spot-on (even the departures from the anime make sense, but at any rate, John Cho is brilliant), the sets and art direction feel authentically Bebop, the stories had that irreverent, off-kilter style that runs through the anime… I just came to the opinion that the good outweighed the bad.

I’ll qualify this point by adding that one of the things I loved about the original anime is how much it reminded me, back when it was a blind-buy of volumes on R1 DVD import long ago, of my beloved 2000AD comics of the late 1970s/early-1980s, in particular some of my favourite strips (Robo-Hunter and Ace Trucking Co.): it’s clearly something unintended but, in just the same way as Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets feels like a Heavy Metal strip thrown onto a cinema screen (no matter its actual faults as a film), the Cowboy Bebop anime always felt like an early 2000AD strip, back in that comics black and white, pulp paper, wild, new-wave, punk heyday. Its just a particular vibe I loved and I think this is carried through to the Netflix show- its like watching a 2000AD strip on Netflix.

I also loved -absolutely LOVED- how deftly it seemed to capture the cheesy, slightly daft feel of a 1960s or 1970s genre show: it was a little like The Champions or Blakes 7, not in content exactly, but there was just this vibe of a vintage genre show, like whenever I watch The Prisoner. It doesn’t feel contemporary, somehow, it seems like television from another decade. Which might be horrifying to most, but I rather like it. Right from the title sequence, the slightly skewed camera angles, the unsophisticated almost bizarrely cheesy sets. Its a whole lot of fun. Some of it felt like a Gerry Anderson puppet show turned to live-action.

Now clearly many fans of the anime are appalled by the live-action version and they may have many valid reasons: mostly I suspect that its because it just isn’t the Cowboy Bebop they adore.  Faye isn’t sexy enough, Spike isn’t tall or dark enough or… well I’m certain there are myriad reasons. But I wasn’t expecting it to be Cowboy Bebop; I’m enjoying the departures and the changes. Why, after all, should one expect the anime to be transferred whole to live-action? I suppose the flipside is the Blade Runner: Black Lotus show (which I haven’t seen and may not ever), where the reverse is the case; the live-action Blade Runner universe transferred into an anime series. If I ever do watch it, I’ll have to be open to liberties being taken, simply because of the change of format etc. Its missing the point to criticise something for what it isn’t. Or maybe I’m indeed missing the point, maybe it should be wholly faithful and authentic.

cowboy2I suspect a lot of the current Internet rage regards this show is just video-bloggers hating an easy target or blowing expectations to the high winds: YouTube bloggers don’t get hits from scoring something a ‘5’ they get the hits from the extremes of ‘1’ or ’10’, its just how things are now, and why so many obsess over Star Wars or Marvel shows on Disney+. Films or television shows are either terrible shit or excellent, there’s no in-between for the influencers or those with huge followings, and yes geeks can be vehemently passionate regards their favourite franchises. For the curious, I’d score Netflix’s Bebop incarnation a cheeky ‘7’, which is probably one or two points too many but I was just so fond of how each joint felt out of time (forgive me a pointless spin on PHD’s Time Out of Joint). Why can’t a sci-fi show be pleasantly silly, why do they have to be dark and serious? I love my BSG reboot or Babylon 5, but not everything has to be epic and self-consumed with meaning: sometimes an episode of the Adam West Batman tv show can hit the spot, even for those of us who enjoy Affleck’s Batman or Nolan’s Dark Knight films.

I figure the Netflix show did something right, though because my wife Claire sat through it all with me and enjoyed it too- and she absolutely hates anything anime. She was reluctant to watch it but came around after the first few episodes, gradually falling for the fun weirdness of it. Maybe Claire enjoying it is exactly reflective of so many Bebop anime fans disliking/hating it passionately, and how Netflix is obviously trying to attach this Bebop to a new audience (how successfully they have done it without alienating the anime fans too much is debatable, mind). I suppose those fans can go back to their DVD and Blu-Ray sets, which will always be there, and pretend the Netflix show never happened, in just the same way as I can sometimes watch Alien pretending that Prometheus never happened. But maybe they should also just have an open mind and enjoy this show for what it is.

I very much hope we get a season two, because where this first season ends, the show is evidently departing ever further from the anime, hopefully becoming something wholly different, leaving the anime well behind and clearly being its own thing. Colour me excited, and relatively hopeful, considering some of the travesties which Netflix do greenlight (the second season of Another Life in particular).

Reminiscence 4K UHD (2021)

rem1Lisa Joy’s tech-noir thriller Reminiscence is a film which, like a few this year, I unfortunately missed at the cinema, which annoyed me as it seemed right up my street – someone went and made an adult, intelligent sci-fi thriller and I didn’t get to see it, and like BR2049 it bombed spectacularly. So I was really looking forward to seeing it when it came to home video, and naturally I went the full 4K UHD route (with hindsight its a pleasant surprise it has turned up on the format at all), but it proved rather disappointing.  It turns out that, for all it does well -and it does indeed do some things very well- its badly flawed, unfortunately. It’s not bad, exactly- it just doesn’t tie together somehow, it doesn’t really work, overall, which is frustrating because some elements are very good indeed. Its a case of being clumsy where it really needed to soar, and perhaps being overly familiar.

So many films and tv shows one sees these days, if they aren’t actually remakes or reboots, they still often seem to be a combination of the ‘greatest hits’ of someone’s DVD collection. Maybe its the entertainment industry’s sincerest form of flattery, or a reminder that there really is nothing new under the sun.

Reminiscence is hitched upon the central conceit that an invention enables people to re-live some of their past experiences which can be visualised for others to see and record, and this also enables access to forgotten memories or the ability to vividly recall things otherwise only dimly remembered. The law enforcement agencies use this machine to interrogate suspects who can be prosecuted by the evidence their memories reveal – an inversion of the ‘future crime’ of Memory Report, then, but similarly projecting crimes for others to see and record for evidence, criminals being betrayed by their own memories or those of witnesses.   

The seductive aspect of reliving good memories, especially in the distinctly dystopian world which Reminiscence proposes, reminds one of another tech-noir thriller, Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days, and its device which enabled the recording of events for others to experience, itself similar to Douglas Trumbull’s Brainstorm of some years before. Some characters in Reminiscence are doomed to endlessly  return to and re-experience good times in just the same way as Ralph Fiennes’ Lenny in Strange Days, and indeed this is something mirrored by the ultimate fate of this film’s main character, Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman), who can’t let go of his muse, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) any more than Lenny can shake off his obsession over his own lost love. So Reminiscence seems to come to us now third-hand, almost, rather than be anything actually new, ironically leaking reminiscences of other films-  I don’t really mind that if its done in some new and interesting way, but this is where the film slips up.  While there is some political subtext and a crime to solve, Lisa Joy treats that as secondary to its romance woven through the narrative, and its that which doesn’t entirely convince. Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson are very good actors but they just seem a little too ‘perfect’ to convince as the flawed, haunted characters that Joy wants them to be. There is a feeling that we are always watching beautiful people merely approximating what desperate, hungry and haunted characters might be like were they a little more, well, ordinary like the rest of us. Perhaps this is always true of Hollywood product. 

There is, to be sure, a really great film in here, somewhere. Considering recent world attention on Climate Change and rising sea levels, seeing a film portraying a possible nightmare scenario spun off of that -in this case a half-submerged Miami and days so hot that everyone sleeps in the day and spend the majority of their waking hours during the night-as vividly as this film does is something timely and fascinating. And the reliance of the survivors upon the new technology to re-experience memories and experiences of better times as an avenue of escape is very interesting, and similar to how people during the pandemic have eulogised old pre-COVID traditions and pursuits like, hey, going to the cinema like we used to, or perhaps re-watching films that remind us of better times. There is perhaps a subtext there upon fantasy and escape and what catharsis films themselves provide us, and what a dead-end that may be. 

So what goes wrong exactly? I think its partly the romance that doesn’t wholly convince, and as that’s the central interest for Lisa Joy that’s a pretty fundamental failing. The crime that hangs in the background concerning a wealthy family, an illegitimate child, a bent cop and resultant murders just doesn’t interest either, really. Maybe its just too many balls to juggle in the air; I rather suspect that Lisa Joy has more success with so many narrative threads when she’s spacing them over an eight or ten-episode series on HBO rather than a two-hour movie, and films always tend to need cohesive, satisfying endings, not more mystery boxes. 

As someone who has watched quite a few film noir lately, I also think that Reminiscence could have possibly done without its narration, a noir device that doesn’t, to be honest, really work for me here. I always prefer film-makers to show me, don’t tell me, and the best noir, no matter how complex they may be, can often manage just fine without a voice explaining it all. Maybe I’m wrong and don’t appreciate that post-millennials are lazier. 

Maybe Reminiscence is just another victim of dystopian films just not appealing to audiences right now- maybe we’re swerving back to the days of post-Vietnam 1977 and audiences just want escapist fun. We’re living in a dystopian world as it is, and we know the future increasingly looks bleak; we don’t necessarily need films to remind us, or show us how bad it might get. Or maybe we just want better movies.

Remastered Babylon 5 on Amazon Prime

b5a“Faith manages” was a line Delenn used to say, and I have to wonder at the odd synchronicity in which, having posted just a few days ago regards the possible reboot/remake of Babylon 5, I learned yesterday evening that the remastered Babylon 5 is available on Amazon Prime, albeit by some circuitous route. It turns out that Amazon have launched a ‘mini-channel’ here in the UK (not sure about elsewhere in Europe, but I presume its being rolled out) called imdb TV, which is free but ad-supported, and includes, buried in the long list of available shows, the complete remastered Babylon 5. The imdb-TV channel takes a little of digging to find, and  Babylon 5, for me at least, wouldn’t have a chance of being found had I not been tipped off that it was there (somewhere) but I guess a search for Babylon 5 would have found it easily enough (I prefer to take the Indiana Jones-with-a-remote route, I get a much rosier glow of satisfaction when I get there).

The persistently questionable Amazon compression algorithms likely don’t show the series at its best, and the CGI looks as woeful as it ever did, but back in its 4:3 picture format, the show returns to how we first saw it when it originally aired and the non-effects shots look pretty good, considering (probably would have looked better on a Blu-ray, just saying). Naturally it would be even better without any ads but hey, it weirdly maintains that authentic ‘watching on Channel 4’ ambience I suppose.

I’m not suggesting, tempting as it is, that I’ll manage to rewatch the whole series- maybe if I’d invested in a Blu-ray set I would have felt disposed to make the additional effort/exert better self-discipline. As it is, there’s just so many time constraints these days, but at least I have an option to see the remastered Babylon 5 that I didn’t have before. At very least I shall watch my favourite, key episodes from each season, but you never know…

A Babylon 5 Reboot?

b5rebootThat picture above is almost enough to drive me to tears. So many of those wonderful people gathered for a fun publicity shot, so clearly enjoying themselves, are gone now; Richard Briggs, Andreas Katsulas, Stephen Furst, Jerry Doyle, Mira Furlan, Jeff Conaway (and of course, not pictured here, Michael O’Hare). Its the sadness and loss that permeates the memory of Babylon 5.

I expected the chief Babylon 5 event of 2021 would have been a remastered release of the complete series on Blu-ray- alas, that hasn’t transpired, the remaster limited to a digital-only release and streaming on HBO Max over in the States. Regrettable, if not surprising, the way physical formats become increasingly marginalised: possibly the new interest/HD remaster was just two or three years too late for the disc boxsets I had hoped for.

But it seems there was a hidden reason for that HD remaster, as it appears to have been a way of gauging interest in the Babylon 5 franchise- and somebody likes how it turned out. It has been announced by Warner Bros that the show is being rebooted, some totally unexpected news that is part exciting, part intriguing, part absolutely horrible. I suppose in a world in which Blade Runner got both a sequel and an anime series spin-off, anything is possible, but Babylon 5 coming back? Beyond weird. About the only thing that possibly makes any sense at this point is the news that original creator and writer J. Michael Straczynski is involved- on Twitter he has announced that he is currently writing the new show’s pilot. 

Straczynski has revealed that it won’t be a continuation or sequel, if only because of the simple, inescapable fact that we have lost the actors who played the major characters of Delenn, G’Kar, Franklin, Vir and Zack… its impossible to go back again, to the Babylon 5 we used to know and love. Instead he seems to be going back to the original idea for the show, a “from-the-ground-up reboot” retelling the story with what I assume will be a fresh, contemporary spin. Horrible as it might sound. I just find it rather unnerving, reading about kicking off with the season two storyline of John Sheridan (played by Bruce Boxleitner originally) being assigned to Babylon 5, a five-mile long space station positioned in neutral space attempting to maintain an uneasy peace between rival planetary empires. 

It could be brilliant. Imagine Babylon 5 with a considerable budget, in 4K, with cutting-edge visual effects enabling the scale and scope of the galactic space-opera. But it could be terrible. I suppose there’s no reason why they shouldn’t, but it could turn out to be about Earthforce commander Jane Sheridan and all sorts of new characters, a new G’Kar and a new Londo, or a new Delenn, switching sexes etc and just.. well, I suppose that’s the whole point of a reboot, and there’s likely no good sticking too close to the original anyway. But as a fan of the original, who took that shows ups and lows to heart, all those cliff-hangers within the show and outside (would we get a third season? would we get a fourth season?), it feels so difficult even considering going back. Can you go back? Those of us who grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy have already found its impossible to bring some things back. Maybe original B5 fans should stick with our DVDs (damn it, I still want my HD remastered discs!) while Straczynski makes the new show for an entirely different audience.

I can only hope that somehow Straczynski finds the formula to reboot it in the same way as Ronald D Moore managed to do it with his Battlestar Galactica; you know, different and better: but its a different thing, turning Glen Larson’s cheesy Star Wars-knockoff/homage into a gritty and adult show, compared to rebooting something that was perfectly fine first time around. Good luck JMS capturing lightning twice. 

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The 2021 List: September

Such a strange month, September, looking back on it. Somehow I squeezed some television shows in, but for the most part it was hard work sticking with them. The BBC’s Vigil, for instance, wasted an interesting premise by just getting dafter and dafter, until I was ready to throw objects at the screen: I’m developing a genuine antipathy for BBC dramas lately and wondering what I’m paying a TV License for (if ever the BBC was forced to move to a subscription model, one has to wonder if that would be the end of it). The writing on Vigil was absolutely appalling, guilty of all the worst excess of the more recent Line of Duty series. In one episode the pretty protagonist had her head smashed into a metal bulkhead, cutting her forehead open, and then next minute after a trip to the medic not a bruise or a scratch or plaster. Maybe they were worried about continuity or impairing her pretty face. Ridiculous rubbish and best avoided.

Not that this month’s films were really very good either, but the fairly dismal bunch was enlivened by the wonderful Nobody (really must get around to posting my review of that), the bizarrely interesting Corruption, and the sublime The Green Knight. I’m not sure what lies ahead for October- the fourth Columbia Noir box from Indicator needs to be gotten through, and the 4K editions of Dune (1984) and The Thing (1982) have been patiently awaiting the perfect dark evening. Possibly just as well that I held back watching them as I have no pre-orders for discs due in October at all, so yeah, catching up with unwatched discs seems to be the order of the day for October if only to give me something to post about, unless Netflix and Amazon have a few surprises.

Oh, and there may actually be a trip to the cinema for the first time in fast approaching two years, for Villeneuve’s Dune. Maybe. After waiting so long for this much-delayed film I’ve actually found my anticipation waning. I suppose that’s a tricky thing regards marketing films, especially over the past year or two due to Covid, teasing images and trailers and maintaining the hype and interest without falling into some kind of fatigue: they could have shot another Bond movie in the time we’ve been waiting for this latest one. 

Television

103) Raised By Wolves Season One

105) Into the Night Season Two 

112) Sex Education Season Three

115) Vigil Season One

Film

101) The Racket (1951)

102) Django (1966)

Clear and Present Danger (1994)

104) Horizon Line (2020) 

106) Kate (2021)

107) The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (2021)

109) Nobody (2021)

111) Bloodbath at the House of Death (1984)

Glory (1989)

110) Gunpowder Milkshake (2021)

113) Corruption (1968)

114) The Green Knight (2021)

116) Walk A Crooked Mile (1948)

Into the Night Season Two

in2oNetflix’s Into the Night, a Belgian apocalyptic thriller, was something of a surprise when I saw its first season last May, although I didn’t get around to posting a review of it so, er, take my word for it- it was pretty good. The premise is one of those which… well its either interesting or ridiculous, depending on one’s own ability to stomach it- for some unfathomable reason, radiation from the sun causes a global disaster, killing anyone caught in sunlight, and the series focuses on a bunch of survivors on a flight from Brussels racing ahead of the sunrise, knowing they have to stay in the night to survive. Its one of those dramas with people caught in a crazy, pressure-cooker situation, and it worked very well in season one, albeit its success depended upon the viewer ‘buying’ into its bizarre set-up and forgiving some strange acting.

Unfortunately the series completely jumps the shark with season two. I don’t know if the writing team was entirely different or if perhaps it was only greenlit subject to a reduced budget, but it now feels like some other show entirely. This sometimes happens to television shows between seasons (The Walking Dead?), and of course happens to films with successive inferior sequels (the Christopher Reeve Superman films), so its hardly anything new, but it remains frustratingly disappointing when it happens. Maybe there’s logic to delaying successive seasons to two-year gaps (like Westworld seems to do) rather than rushing into it in a race to capitalize on surprise success. Admittedly even after just over a year it can be hard to pick things up, I always seem to struggle returning to shows, possibly because there is just so many of them and they tend to be quite complex with multi-season arcs. But right from the start of this season its clear something is off. Its like some other show, with characters behaving very oddly, very stupidly, and twists and turns coming out of nowhere just for shock value, as if the sudden nonsensical twists of fate and unexpected deaths are the only thing that will keep people watching. Consequently the show is always on edge, and there’s little faith in investing with characters who can be gone by the end of the next episode, or plotlines that can seem undermined by another writer in another episode. 

My theory is that the producers/writers completed season one not really knowing where they were going afterwards, having set up something of a cliff-hanger and not having a clue how to get out of it. Maybe I’m being unfair to that writing team- as I have noted, budgetary or time constraints may have affected it.  Naturally this second season would have been made during the Covid pandemic too, so production difficulties may just be being reflected in the sudden drop in quality of the show.  Maybe we’ll see this over the next year or so with other shows, maybe we’re seeing it already, and maybe it excuses some of the films and series we’re seeing of late which thoroughly underwhelm. I guess Covid’s just the gift that keeps on giving. At any rate, not only am I not sure Into the Night deserves a third season, I also doubt that many viewers will even care.

Raised By Wolves (Season One)

raised1Alas, the fascination with ‘mystery boxes’ continues and becomes increasingly tiresome: its a crux used by JJ Abrams all through his career and one endlessly mimicked by other creatives, best described as being a narrative which drops viewers into the middle of a mystery-in-progress that leaves them wanting to know answers in both directions (what happened before/what happens next?). Admittedly I can trace a lot of this to J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5, which is one of my most revered genre shows. Not that B5 was the first, but certainly at the time when it came out, American shows were generally episodic in nature, pressing a metaphorical ‘reset’ button at the end of each episode and one episode seldom if ever referencing another.

Babylon 5 was more like a huge novel, each season being a part of a larger whole, so early seasons of B5 dropped hints and portents of mysterious ancient wars and a dark menace returning to threaten all the galaxy, and Straczynski fulfilled all the promise in later seasons, rewarded all the investment with the arcs and world building. He brought all the threads and revelations together into a grand conclusion that satisfied immensely (at least as regards the Shadow War storyline with season four, season five’s issues being largely out of his hands).

It paid off, and in spades, but that was a trick that showrunners and writers these days don’t seem to heed. 

So instead we get obtuse writing posing as complex storylines, promising grand revelations regards mysteries being scattered through plots (Westworld, Lost, Disney Star Wars etc) which ultimately fall apart, everything being built on sand. Its incredibly frustrating being taken in every time by this mystery box routine. Showrunners and writers are hooking viewers in and then largely failing to reward the viewer investment: even shows that succeed at this on some level only manage this in some compromised way that proves contentious even amongst fans (I’d cite Fringe as an example of this, and Ronald D Moore’s Battlestar Galactica reboot too).

So now we can add Raised By Wolves to this annoying list of Mystery Box Television, and already by the end of its first season its clear that a promising concept is not going to fulfil the early promise of its first few episodes. Those first two episodes in particular, directed by Ridley Scott no less, promise so much that even within the space of its ten-episode first season the crushing disappointment is palpable.

raised2Two androids (‘Mother’ and ‘Father’) arrive at a remote planet, Kepler 22b tasked with raising a group of human children in order to rebuild and save a humanity that has been destroyed by a global war between two factions: atheists and fundamentalist sun worshippers called the Mithraic. The visual design and concept is fascinatingly reminiscent of that of Scott’s troubled Prometheus, so much so that it almost seems an unofficial sequel, or at least set in the same universe. The music, too, seems directly related to that films haunting score.

On that level, I was hooked from the start, and enthralled by glimpses of this global disaster shown in flashbacks (Ridley Scott visualising The End Of The World!), scenes of survivors boarding colony ships bound for a fresh start on a new world. Vague references to the two warring factions and a subtext referencing Eden, humanity bringing its old sins to tarnish this new world – it promised much. Additionally, ‘Mother’ (Amanda Collin, who is quite excellent) is fascinating, an androgynous android that back on Earth was a weapon of mass destruction, a Necromancer that destroys with its voice, the android of Lang’s Metropolis transformed into an Angel of Death. Now mysteriously reprogrammed to nurture and protect its cargo of twelve human embryos and the children they grow into, she is aided by her companion, a lesser, servant-model android named ‘Father’ (Abubakar Salim, who possibly steals the show). ‘Mother’ is initially protective as intended, but falls back into her old destructive ways when her wards are threatened by a Mithraic colony ship arriving at this New World, her powers terrifying both children and enemies alike.

The mysteries are endless: who reprogrammed ‘mother’, what is the history of this new world and the skeletons of giant snakes that litter the landscape, what are the unnatural circular shafts that plunge into the depths, the odd voices characters begin to hear, the mysterious artefacts of alien origin that are found… yeah its all mystery box piled upon mystery box, and unwisely the series begins to unwrap some of these boxes, each one proving a confounding disappointment, increasingly riddled with inconsistencies. Why is no-one alarmed at signs of alien life or remnants of apparent alien intelligence? Are Mother’s virtual meetings with her creator truly the resurfacing of deleted memories or are they a fabricated deception created by some entity of Kepler 22b, manifested later as the giant snake? And how do Mother and Father survive plunging down into what is presumably the molten core of the planet, through and out the other side (as patently ridiculous as it sounds, it makes the Hollow Earth of Godzilla vs Kong seem almost pedantic).

Its actually alarming to see a show that begins with such promise collapse so very quickly- its like seeing all three seasons of Westworld condensed into a single season, and I cannot imagine where it will take us with season two (just finished filming, apparently). That’s if I stick around for season two, of course. I was enjoying the first half of this season but began to rapidly lose interest during the second half, the finale proving totally unsatisfying, typically dropping hints and leaving arcs for season two to attempt to resolve (or just tangle up even more). Even as a fan of Babylon 5, I am getting so tired of the teasing of revelations and answering questions with more questions: just tell the goddam story.

Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed (2021)

happyaccThis new documentary on Netflix about Bob Ross is an illuminating and largely affectionate documentary – its best moments are those in which his son Steven and some of Bob Ross’ friends and colleagues talk about the artist’s life and career (it may actually be a surprise to many that Ross, whose art show “The Joy of Painting” always seems to be airing somewhere in the darkest corners of the cable-channel universe -its been airing again here on the BBC recently- actually died back in 1995). Ross was a charming, charismatic man who was able to make a real connection with audiences quite independent of his (substantial) artistic ability- its a talent as natural as his artistic prowess. The gentle innocence of his television show inevitably reminds one of the American children’s show “Mr Roger’s Neighbourhood” and its presenter Fred Rogers, recently immortalised in A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, which featured Tom Hanks in the title role of a guy who like Ross seemed a genuinely ‘good’ person in a world where hero-figures usually falter and let us down. It also reminds me of the likes of Carl Sagan, who was able to connect with layman audiences not usually taken with science documentaries, in just the same way as Ross could enthral viewers usually not in the slightest bit interested in art. Presenters such as these seem natural and the connection with the viewer feels real, without artifice; we are caught up by their passion and share it.

But director Joshua Rofé’s Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed, as the title likely suggests, has something of a dark side. Thankfully this is, like Fred Rogers, one hero/inspirational figure who doesn’t let us down with a shadowy real-life tarnished by grubby real-world human weaknesses: its not a film targeted with tearing down the image of Bob Ross. No, that’s left for other people largely left unknown to us until now. So while it is heart-warming learning that Ross seemed a genuinely nice fellow, and seeing Ross’ life story and road to success, the documentary is also quite depressing when it shows what happened following the artists untimely death at the age of just 52.  The film alleges that his business partners acted quite legally but in morally dubious ways, ensuring they owned and profited from Ross’ likeness, brand and television show following Ross’ death, subsequently earning millions while Ross’ son apparently earned nothing, all clearly contrary to Ross’ own wishes. Its the dark side of the American Dream writ large and really quite distressing. The film also reveals that many people were afraid to speak on the film for fear of litigation, and its unfortunate (albeit possibly quite telling) that Ross’ business partners Annette and Walt Kowalski declined to appear and defend themselves (so inevitably damned in their absence, you might say). 

It all rather leaves a bitter taste in ones mouth. Its a very interesting film, and very pleasant when it describes Ross’ background and family life and his artistic pursuits leading to “The Joy of Painting” and its huge success, but its only likely to leave his fans (of which there are still obviously very many) feeling that a great injustice has occurred, albeit quite legal and above board (oh, justice in America is so very noir). Its unfortunate that something as sweetly innocent and joyous as Ross’ television show, which ran for eleven years and over four hundred episodes, will now always be blighted by the shadow of the story behind it.

I don’t know, maybe its perfectly symptomatic of the American Dream that a nice feel-good story like Bob Ross and his “The Joy of Painting” becomes tarnished by greed and corruption: money the root of all evil, yet again. All I know is that I went to bed feeling angry and frustrated: sometimes the bad guys win.

Netflix Bebop?

cowboylivea (2)

Ha ha those crazy buggers at Netflix, I thought they were joking, you know, the way Hollywood keeps fooling around with the dangerous idea of a live-action Akira movie. They talk about it but they’re never fool enough to actually do it. But no, it looks like Netflix is serious. Its coming in November. My God, I’ll never be ready for this.

About the only thing that really has me excited here is Yoko Kanno returning to handle the soundtrack duties, which certainly gives the project some credit – at least it will SOUND like Cowboy Bebop, and Kanno wouldn’t associate herself with a turd, would she? Oh Ghost you are so gullible.

See you November, Space Cowboy.

Starsky & Hutch vs The Vampire

starskyvampSometimes life is so weird it just has to be a hologram. Don’t ask me why, but last night we watched a second season episode of Starsky and Hutch that had been sitting on the Tivo since March, an episode which featured the city being terrorised by a Vampire (played by no less than John Saxon) and Huggy Bear selling Vampire Survival kits (a bag with handy equipment like a wooden stake and hammer, clove of garlic and a mirror to make sure that guy behind you has a reflection). Sceptic Hutch was convinced the Vampire was some kind of gag but Starsky was quite convinced he needed to go all Van Helsing to save the public from a fiendish blood-sucker.

By the second season any grittiness that Starsky and Hutch sported in the more serious season one was long gone, replaced by a cosy, family-entertainment feel commensurate with its huge success with younger audiences. This episode, The Vampire, was the show’s Halloween 1976 offering- something I hadn’t appreciated when I was watching it, I thought it was a genuine serious second-season episode (whatever that means with this show). Instead its rather like a poor-man’s Kolchak: The NIght Stalker episode only sadly lacking the brilliant Darren McGavin. But how bloody odd (and ludicrous) the sight of John Saxon in a cape chasing after women out of the shadows, it was absolutely hilarious (presumably intentionally so).

I used to love this show when I was a kid. I suppose there remains a soft, cosy warmth watching television from the era when they had to crank out 22 episodes a year and reassure viewers that the good guys always trumped the bad guys, and you could trust authority and cops (and even tricksters/pimps like Huggy had their heart in the right place). The world of course was never like that, but 1970s American television is fascinating, watching it now- its like from some other planet.

So John Saxon’s fake-cripple dancing instructor has a plan to resurrect his dead wife by… well, its a bit vague how he intends to bring her back, perhaps it’s some kind of deal with the devil, offering sacrifices as payment or something, but unfortunately he makes the terrible mistake of killing star pupils from his own dancing school, rather making it all too easy for Starsky and Hutch to track down the dastardly fake blood-sucker. Its all pretty empty-headed nonsense and I think there’s some b-plot about Starsky forgetting the phone numbers of some attractive ladies they struck up a conversation with in a disco party before being called back to work. Its fairly mindless fun, but I don’t know what in the world we were doing watching it (well actually I do, life has been bit shitty this week and in all honesty, once we got back home late in the evening, this silly episode was possibly a perfect tonic).