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July 2018

IMDb meta-data is runtime is 1 hour and 21 minutes, rated 5.5 by 535 cinemitizens

Genre: Sy Fy

Riders card.jpg

Verdict: Stolid.

Setup? Things are going badly for the US rocket program, despite the best efforts of Herbert von Marshall. The rocket go up whole and then come down in pieces. (That was true, about sixty in all.) What is happening? What is to be done? Herbie V ponders these questions behind his owlish glasses with his team in the heart of the darkest California desert.

Then Ice Blonde concludes the rockets have to be shielded from the cosmic rays that are disintegrating the hulls. ‘Ah ha,’ mutters Herbert, ‘Yes, we have to do this before THEY do.’ This would be the Red THEY of the Coldest War.

Now the talk shifts to what kind of shield? Meteors rocket around without disintegrating until they burn in the Earth’s atmosphere. They must have a protective coating in space which is lost when entering the atmosphere. What we need is a meteor from space so we can examine its protective coating of carbonised bumpkin. Well, why not, the meteor shower is in every Sy Fy scriptwriter’s play-book. (Of course, this line of reasoning makes no sense since the rockets will have to pass through Earth's atmosphere twice. If the atmosphere strips the coating off a meteor on entry, it will have two chance to do that to a rocket.)

Rockets they have aplenty from the bottomless budget allocated to get ahead of THEY. Mission they have, lassoing some meteors in the wild. Now they need some rocket boys to sit atop of tons of volatile liquid nitrogen that can go bang at the spark of a split infinitive. Herbie has been sending white mice — discrimination against brown mice? — up in rockets to study weightlessness but he is pretty sure the Aryan mice are not up to meteor-grabbing. Why not use a computer? Because in 1954 a computer was a mile long and weighted more than a Hollywood actor’s ego. Ok, it has got to be people, well, as of the times, men.

And not just any men but a carefully selected set of Hollywood supporting actors who are chosen by the whirring of computers scanning punch cards. (Be glad if you don’t know what a computer punch card is.) About twenty supporting actors and the leads are invited to join a secret project. Some say ‘Buzz, off.’ Others rush to the door to escape the unwanted consequences of a wanted act. Others go as relief from the boredom of life on civie street. Because it is a curious offer. Because it must be important. Because it is on the way to the pay office. Because the alternative is another McKinsey training seminar. And finally because the script says so.

The twelve who said 'Yes' arrive, all wearing neck ties and business suits and about half wear hats. Several smoke pipes and more than half of the others are sucking cigarettes. Is it any wonder lung cancer surgeons look back on the old days with nostalgia.

Next comes the rigorous testing for the mission. It is in two parts, the first psychological and the second physical. The psych test is fiendish. They are seated in a meeting room and told that the training session will begin shortly! There is no escape; the door is locked! And they wait. For hours. Hours. Hours. What to do? Light up. Everyone smokes. To some perhaps lung cancer was preferable to enduring yet another training session given by twenty-year olds who never use the system and have no corporate knowledge or interest.

James Best goes all whiny and storms around. Another one paces a hole in the floor. A third smokes three times faster than anyone else and disappears behind a midden of cigarette butts. A fourth goes all WTF and pounds on the door. While others sit calmly waiting, napping, talking about sports, or thinking about that Ice Blonde, as were the fraternity brothers.

Sorted. Whiny James (who is he best whiner in the business) is out. Ditto both Pacer and Pounder. Smoker though seems normal enough once he is disinterred from the ashes. How he is going to smoke in space is one of the imponderables that does not get pondered.

Next comes the needles to start the physical examination. Sight of the needle sends others packing. Then they go to the fairground and ride around to test stamina. Next comes the equipment training and more are winnowed out until only four are left. Then for reasons the fraternity brothers missed another one leaves. Some testing! They started with 150 million people and got down to three.

The rockets have scoops which were later passed on to Hugo Drax. But for now our trio go meteor hunting in the heart of darkest outer space. Whew. One bites off more than his scoop can chew and blows up. His skeletal face in a pressure suit floats by the window of a second scooper who panics and tries to bail out. So much for the rigorous testing program. Sight of the first stiff and he wants to bail, scoffed the fraternity brothers, while cowering behind the sofa in fright. Only the stolid William Lundigan prevails and returns to save US from THEY! That melts Icy.

This the third of Ivan Tors’s trilogy about the Office of Scientific Investigation, and as usual Tors tried to get some science into the story. Wacky though it is.

Ivan Tors.jpg Ivan Tors. Note the microscope. [Witticism needed for caption.]

Ergo the computers look like computers of the day and not Christmas toys. That is bland with nary an array of blinking lights to keep the audience awake. There are no voltmeters, retorts, or Tesla coils passing as advanced scientific equipment. The stock footage of rocket launches is well integrated into the props and effects. The pressure suits the flyboys wear are the real thing. The term 'astronaut' is not used.

There are no villains except for the off stage THEY. Space flight is hard enough without villains or papier-mâché spiders. Overcoming the laws of physics like gravity takes all the ingenuity there is. I certainly feel that way many a morning.

The fairground ride was in fact a centrifuge at USC which Tors got permission to use.

Lundigan G force.jpg Lundigan getting G-forced for real.

Some of the other effects are not as good. The wires in the weightless scenes are visible.

While all the potential fliers are men, the Ice Blonde comes up with the core idea, and she is a mathematician not a coffee-maker. Like everyone else in the script she is a Doctor and the title is uttered at least fifty times by one character or another about or to another. Fifty at least, because the fraternity brother who was counting ran out of fingers (don’t ask) at that point. Of course, Icy is there to pair off with Stolid Bill though how he could melt her is a tribute the the screen writer’s imagination. By the way the writer is the redoubtable Sy Fyian Curt Siodmak. All hail!

Speaking of Bill, well, it is hard to speak of him, because he is soooo bland. But there is a light in his eyes that sets him apart from the catatonic John Agar whose existential being was eroded by the hundreds of terrible parts he played until there was nothing left beneath. Bill is just attractive enough to be noticed by women but not so damn handsome as to irritate men. That middle way would seem to be his major attribute. He is calm, reassuring, steady, and stolid, and he had that mellifluous voice that got him started in radio advertising when his football career ended.

Having been a BMOC at Syracuse University he had a knee injury that made him 4F in 1941 but he volunteered anyway and in time served. That he volunteered voided his film contract and his career never quite recovered from that. Was he brown-listed? Did such tacky things happen in Tinsel Town? Most of his post-war career was in television. He was the one constant in the very realistic series ‘Men into Space’ (1959-1960) over thirty-eight episodes.

Richard Carlson of much Sy Fy fame is there as second lead and he got the directing credit in a deal with the producer Tors, though this is much discussed in the Cine Nerd Cyberdom. He is another Mr Ordinary, but with an intellectual and reflective mien that served him well. He had hoped to go into directing and this was his first outing, which was made difficult by playing in it as well, but it was a chance to try and he took it. He directed television episodes in the 1950s and 1960s including one starring Bill in ‘Men into Space.’

Hidden in the Ice Blonde’s one hundred and six credits on the IMDb is one star turn in ‘Some Came Running’ (1958), where she had more to do than be eye-candy. She is by the way Martha Hyer whose voice alone melted four of the fraternity brothers. Here she is endowed with sense, poise, intelligence, and purpose. Later she had the screaming, tripping, and fainting duty in ‘First Men in the Moon’ (1964) usually allowed to women in Sy Fy of the era.

Herbert Marshall was owlish in 'Gog' (1954), reviewed elsewhere on this blog. After having a leg amputated in Great War, he gave up a career as an accountant and took to acting. His first and most sustained act was to develop a walk that concealed his prothesis so well most did not know he had it. Ivan Tors thought his walk, which he had noticed, was an affectation for the role, only to be astonished later to see the wooden leg. That wood was a constant source of pain which Herbie doused with whiskey at all hours of the day and night without slurring or forgetting his lines. Thus did the show go on.

Genre: Krimi

GoodReads meta-data is 334 pages rated 3.9/5 by 539 litizens.

Verdict: Compelling.

Hamberg cover.jpg

January 1947, Hamburg Germany is city in ruins and a city of paradox. It is depopulated and overpopulated. Depopulated by the war, by the bombing, by the deprivations….tens of thousands died, many who could left. Overpopulated by Displaced Persons - millions of them roaming Europe at the time, camp internees, returning German POWs, German refugees from the East, Russian deserters, and more.

Hamburg Europe.png

Because it was a major seaport on a major transport waterway, the Elbe, because most of the U-boats were built there, because it lay within range of the RAF, Hamburg was subjected to constant air attack for five plus years. From July 1943 the air raids were obliteration bombing aimed at the industrial and attendant working class areas of Hamburg. Because precision bombing was then, as now, largely a fiction for popular consumption, the bombs fell where they may.

What became the British Army of the Rhine occupies Hamburg and environs with an experienced colonial hand.

Then came the hard winter in which the story is set. Both the roads and railroads were badly damaged by bombing, and now the weather has rendered them useless. The trains cannot run. The roads are impassable. The Baltic winds drive the -25C temperature into the bone. It has been much too cold to snow for weeks. In this weather the Brits mostly stay indoors, near the heat. They have plenty of everything, and stealing from them is crucial to the blackmarket.

hamburg rubble.jpg Hamburg cola seasrch.jpg

Much of the population is homeless, living in basement ruins, lean-tos, or cobbled together Nissan huts surplused by the Brits. Most are dressed in the rags, clothes they have had on since 1944. Most wear all their clothes at once for warmth, but also to keep others from stealing them.

In the last years every tree has been cut for fire wood. Coal is unknown. Medicine is beyond price. With the closure of transport for weeks, neither wood nor coal can be trucked in. Food is vanishing. Everyday people die in the street of starvation, malnutrition, exposure, disease and simply freeze to death.

Hamburg death 1.jpg Death in the streets. Starvation, malnutrition, and disease.

The Third Man would find this all familiar territory.

DeNazification has gone full tilt. Expelling Naziis from the police, courts, law, hospitals and so on. Necessary but disruptive to the workings of the city. Expatriate Germans who got out are returning to this new world, but many are out of depth in this situation. False identity papers are a thriving black market. Since few paper records have survived the firestorms of the bombings, claiming identity is common.

Could things be any worse? This nightmare world is far more disturbing and disjointed than any dystopia conjured in the Sy Fy films treated on this blog. This environ and the city of Hamburg itself is the major actor in the novel.

Then it gets worse when a murder victim is found, naked and frozen into the surface in a bombed ruin. Then another, and another. Can it get any worse? Yes. The first victim was a young woman. The second an elderly man. The third a child. The fourth, an older woman. Each garrotted, a method much favoured by Naziis as degrading and economical.

Inspector Frank Stave with a stiff leg that kept him out of the Wehrmacht and much baggage is landed with the investigation, aided by a British liaison officer, and a new vice detective. His loyal office assistant does what she can. There are wheels within wheels in this circle.

The strength of the book is the context. The ice freezing on the windows of unheated bedrooms. The flapping of roof tiles in the Arctic gusts. The odors which penetrate even the sub-zero temperatures. The desolation of the streets. The exhaustion of the people. The flow of humanity in the Displaced Persons of every nation, race, and creed. Everyone is suspicious and fearful of everyone else pace Thomas Hobbes's state of nature. The desperate efforts of Jews to get to Palestine. Ominous rumbling about what the malevolent god in the Kremlin might do next.

The author is no apologist for the Reich.

A1qKAfp5HOL._UX250_.jpg Cay Rademacher

The Hunger Winter of 1946-1947 was bad all over Northern Europe, made worse by the destruction visited by the Naziis in Norway, Denmark, Poland, Netherlands, and France. As Stave muses, we brought this on ourselves and now we have to endure it.

On the terrible conditions in Germany read Stig Dagerman's 'The German Autumn' (1947), though when I read this years ago while travelling in Sweden I found it to be an apology for the Reich.
German autum.jpg

Back to the book in hand, in contrast to the environment, the characterisations are not particularly compelling, and as is usual there is far too much sympathy-jerking backstory for Stave. This volume is the first of a series and I will certainly try another.

I quibbled about some of the terminology. Those who informed on others were styled by several characters as ‘grasses’ a British term of the 1960s. Would a German have used that expression in 1947. There were other instances of the same sort that distracted this reader.

IMDb meta-data is runtime is 1 hour and 32 minutes, under-rated at 7.0 by 82,620

Genre: Sy Fy and empathy.

Earth Sky.jpg

Verdict: Recommended for adults.

An intense tale of hubris, tragedy, and redemption with a blinder at the end.

It charts the budding relationship between a distraught man and the guilt-ridden girl, he nearly psychotic and she certainly neurotic, each with good reason.

What's to like? (In no particular order.)

- the living Jupiter in the opening sequence.

- the video boxing.

- the essay about the losers being the people who go first.

- the other earth hanging in the sky ever an invitation to think twice.

- the chance meeting with a one-time high school classmate at the convenience store and his incomprehension that she is a janitor and her directness in saying so.

- the working class side of New Haven in the fall and winter as a setting: Barren, foggy, hard, bleak.... Yet the spring will come.

- the saw concert for one.

- that there was no resolution at the end just more questions.

And I really liked the very end. It was quite unexpected and yet dead obvious, both at once. If only…..

Cryptic and enigmatic at times, but it assumes an audience of adults who will not implode if everything is not rammed home with shouting, primary colours, and capital letters, an audience of adults who might later think about what they have seen in this empathy machine. The air of mystery that hangs over the film adds to its forlorn appeal. For example, what are we to make of the elderly janitor? His suicide attempt makes no sense and does not relate to either the major theme (the other Earth that is within us all) or the minor theme (the relationship of the wounded man and broken girl).

The rough edges show in some of the photography and camera work. Please use a tripod in the future.

The idea of another Earth figures in 'The Journey to the Far side of the Sun' (1969), reviewed elsewhere on this blog. But there is no other point of comparison between the two movies.

I cannot recall what prompted me when I bought on iTunes except that it was Sy Fy just before leaving for Honolulu in August 2012, and watched on the unendurable (see next paragraph) flight to Honolulu on my own before I went on to Omaha. Loved it. Put an edited version of these notes on IMDB and read Roger Ebert's laudatory review. I posted a review on the IMDb but forgot to put it on the blog, until now when I went looking for it.

This flight to Honolulu promised to be unforgettable because my Economy seat mate wanted to tell me his sad life story at full volume even before seatbelts were fastened to make me a captive audience. Ten hours of that might have been fatal for one of us. But immediately after take-off a cabin steward said I could [hint, should] move to an empty row up ahead. There is a god. I did so, though even at that remove I could still hear my former seat-mate going on about his woes to those sitting behind him, and they encouraged him to go on, and on, and on, and he was still at it when those ten hours later we stood at the baggage carousel in Hono. Why this cabin steward picked me is the miracle in this story.

I read some of the one-star reviews on the IMDb. What a world! Lifeforms below Republicans exist. Who would have thought that was possible.

IMDb meta-data is runtime of 1 hour and 27 minutes, under-rated 7.9 by 153342 cinemitiziens

Genre: Sy Fy.

Verdict: Unique.

MAn Earth cover.jpg

Dr John is leaving town, having resigned from the local college where he taught for several years. He will pack up and leave without fuss or fanfare, but…..

Friends arrive bearing beer for a surprise send-off party. They gather: a biologist, an anthropologist, a geologist, an historian, a theologian are among their number. Some are solo, and others have paramours with their own academic fields. They sit around, joking, talking about sports when one notes that it is Columbus Day. (That used to be a national holiday in honour of Christopher Columbus blundering into the West Indies.)

Warning SPOILER. To read on is to find all.

At which point John says, ‘I had a chance to sail with him'…and goes on to describe Columbus, the ships, and crew and his fear of a flat earth which precluded going along. The others sit in silence, surprised, bemused, anticipating a punch line, stunned, but John, though low in key, is serious, sustained, and systematic.

Man Earth Colon.jpg

His mien is shy, diffident, reluctant even. Yet he goes on.

He says he is a very old man, despite his appearance of a thirty-five year old. In fact, he estimates his age at 14,000 years. That is right 1 4 0 0 0 years. [Think of all those IRS returns.] Estimates, because there is no 14,000 year old birth certificate.

When he first noticed others ageing and dying, he began to realise slowly that he was different. He learned that in small tribal societies being different was dangerous and moved on, and on. He has since travelled the world slowly and learned to move on before others noticed that he does not age. He has been injured. He has been ill, but he has always recovered.

He has no superhuman powers. No special insight. He is just one individual and he only grasped the significance of many things later when he read about them, e.g., Columbus. At the time, Colon was just another Genoaese adventurer going West instead of East. When Genoaese sailed East they were pirates preying on Venice and Constantinople. When they went West they were explorers.

The assembled scholars do what scholars do best — 'Make snide remarks and quibble,' chorused the fraternity brothers — no, ah, yes, well they do that, but they also ask questions, many of them, and he has answers. All simple. He has lived a long time and learned a lot but he has forgotten most of it over time. He has no superhuman mental powers. He can be hurt. If shot, as one proposes, he will die. It was a scary thought that the dean carried a gun. The fraternity brothers have pledged themselves to be more respectful.

Has he met others like himself? Maybe, he says. Not sure. Not the sort of thing to talk about with strangers in an elevator, and as he is always moving on, he is usually with strangers. Of course the premise of the story is that he has chosen to tell these people who have surprised him with this gathering.

Does he have proof? No more than any one of them. A Driver’s License. Not a stone age name tag or SSN 000000000001.

Isn’t he weary and bored? Well, yes, but that is why has earned so many degrees over the centuries and moving on is always a stimulating challenge.

He has mundane but credible answers to the questions they throw at him. The night wears on. The beer flow is exhausted and the whiskey bottle ebbs. The nods begin.

Finally, in anger one guest tells him to stop teasing them with this hokum. And he does. He says it was all a lie, all a joke that got out of hand. Everyone laughs in relief, especially the theologian for whom an immortal is a god. The party members leave. All but two.

One of the two remaining asks him, ‘Why did you lie?’

Which lie? Clearly the interrogator believed the super Methuselah story and means the lie that it was all a joke. The truth is that he is 14,000 years old. [Image his pension payout.]

Now I would have left it there. But the screen play has other elements which are well played but which cut across the intellectual plane of the story. One is about the historical Jesus and two others are about emotional relations to these last two characters. Well played though they be, they are superfluous. And the emotional connections defuse that last ambiguous remark about which was the lie.

The screenplay by Jerome Bixby is a corker, but he did not live to see this pet project to completion, having written the first draft in the 1960s. His other credits include ‘Fantastic Voyage’ (1966), and many episodes of ‘Star Trek,’ ‘Twilight Zone,’ and ‘Men into Space.’ His Sy Fy CV is rich. The direction of Richard Schenkman is invisible. That is high praise for what is a one set, stagnant play. He injects just enough movement and establishing shots to retain visual interest and to remind viewers that nature is indifferent.

It is sometimes performed as a stage play. All it takes is a few chairs and some players.

The screenplay passes lightly over love and sex, though not entirely, but it does completely elide language. Has this travelling man from India to Indianapolis learned all the languages in-between. Does he retain the Latin Columbus spoke? Urdu? Aramaic? Greek? Gypo? Arabic? Hindi?

David Lee Smith carries the picture as ‘The Man from Earth’ with a subdued intensity, though what the title means remains a mystery to this viewer. The ensemble cast includes the marvellous Dr Phlox from ‘Star Trek: Enterprise’ and William Katt, who was memorable in ‘Big Wednesday’ (1978), made a return to my consciousness here with his soul patch.

IMDb runtime is 1 hour and 25 minutes, rated 6.2 by 292 cinemitizens.

Genre: krimi but honorary Sy Fy, as below.

Atomic City lobby.jpg

It opens with Trinity at 05:29 on 16 July 1944 in the Jornada del Muerto desert. In just over three weeks another gadget destroyed Hiroshima.

The Atomic City is Los Alamos, shown here enclosed by cyclone fencing topped with barbed wire, the perimeter patrolled by armed guards with dogs, entry and exit is tightly controlled. (Much more tightly than the Brits did in ‘Spaceways' [1953]. Much.) Inside the wire no one talks about the work but everyone works on weapons. Secrecy is all.

Alamos 1.jpg A part of Los Alamos in 1952.

Top Scientist is distressed by an accident at work in which a worker was badly burned. That the burns are very serious is made clear. At the time the official line was that worries about radiation were evil Commie propaganda to undermine Yankee-doodle nuclear research. While no fuss is made, any viewer, apart from the fraternity brothers, can see these burns are likely fatal.

His home life is displayed with Corporal Rusty much in evidence. The tone of the film is set by Rusty when he says, ‘if I grow up,’ and is corrected by his mother to say ‘when I grow up.’ But he lapses back to the subjunctive ‘if.’ That word ‘if’ conjures the threat nuclear war and it is striking. Well done, screenwriter Sydney Boehm, who also did ‘When Worlds Collide’ (1951).

Mrs Top Scientist, and that is how she introduces herself, worries that Los Alamos is a bad environment for Rusty surrounded by all these mad scientists dedicated to blowing things up with the prospect of more burns. Until the Big One.

Children.jpg Published by Katrina Mason in 1995, recollections of some who lived there.

Top points out that there are 4000 other children, the schools are excellent, there is no crime, and the newspaper is delivered on time. Enuf said.

Nonetheless it is also true that every time he steps out of the house he is followed by security officers who dog his every step, the mail is censored, the telephone calls tapped, the kitchen cupboards bugged. That he has to show his pass at every corridor and so on. He chafes at this while accepting its purpose. Inside the wire it is a benign police state.

Alamos security.jpg Everyone and everything is searched even inside the wire.

Top accepts this situation as necessary and in this acceptance he is far more mature than many of the scientists who developed the bomb there a few years earlier.

Rusty goes on a school outing to Santa Fe where THEY snatch him. THEY are RED. What is interesting about these Reds is that they are all homegrown. Not a creepy Eastern European accent among them. They want to extort atomic secrets from Top in return for Rusty’s safe return. Top and Mrs are distraught and try to go it alone, as per the instructions of the Red Rusty-nappers. See ‘Tobor the Great’ (1954) for a parallel plot done badly, reviewed elsewhere on this blog, where Steven Geray added menace with his accent.

But the ever vigilant FBI agents — well it is a work of fiction, hooted the fraternity brothers — have already noticed Rusty’s absence and spring into action, led by Doc Adams.

The Reds are ruthless and murder their own to cut the trail. Bad Reds!

When the FBI agents finally arrest a suspect, they must not waterboard him, because if they do, then they become just like THEM, says one agent to another in restraint. This tension is one of themes in the film. To defeat the merciless totalitarian Reds, the Yankees may have to be equally totalitarian and merciless.

In the story the tension is resolved in another good scene. When Top confronts the suspect and says his name. The gloves are off! Out comes the waterboard off camera.

Aside, early on we have a scene at a minor league baseball game, probably the Lost Angeles Cubs in those days. It is a nice bit of location shooting that is done very well. But what is striking at this remove is that the crowd at the game is integrated, conspicuously so. Check the date, 1952.

While we see much FBI effort, there is no result apart from the little info Top beat out of the suspect using a waterboard as a cudgel. And that goes nowhere.

Meanwhile, we see a grimy Rusty imprisoned by the All-American Reds in the Puye Caves of the cliff-dwelling Anasazi People. He is ever so polite, but even so we can see he is sizing up the situation and does not believe a word of the assurance the villains give. Remember ‘if I grow up.’ He does.

Puye 1.jpg

When the Reds are busy planning world domination (but not smoking), he sneaks off, and makes use of the cave system to worm his way into tunnels the beefy All-American Reds cannot enter. Nice use of the location with some grand vista shots.

It must have cost a packet at the time to hoist the camera to the top of that mesa. Equally it must have taken an effort to film at the baseball game with a camera the size of an automobile.

While all the principles are white-bread there are Latinos, Indians, and Blacks in the background at the ballgame and in Santa Fe. Even that little is rare for the time when Hollywood was All Aryan.

In addition to Mrs Top who does a lot of knuckle biting, there is a sassy school teacher. They add emotional depth, though Top is good at distraught, too.

There is cigarette smoking, to be sure, but it is not quite as overwhelming in this offering as it sometimes is. Hence the parenthetical remark above.

Honorary Sy Fy when it showed up in searches for Sy Fy because at the time anything atomic evoked Sy Fy. In addition, Top went on the beat the Martians in the next year and later to save the world on the 27th day.

IMDb runtime is a brisk 1 hour and 4 minutes, rated 5.2 by 330 cinemitizens.

Verdict: The end of the world. Again.

Night World Ex.jpg

The setup? Dr Drone beavers away in his laboratory to invent….a quakometer to predict earthquakes. He does. It does. We all know whose fault that is: San Andreas! That’s whose.

No sooner does Drone develop a drum printer to predict earthquakes than it predicts a big’un and soon. Efforts to persuade anyone to believe in science fail. Faux News rejects his data as fake. It is ever thus.

When the quakes start as predicted panic stations ensue. Faux News blames the quake on immigrants.

In this work of fiction the script gives public officials some credit for preparation and disaster relief. As if, once the budget cutters got done.

Off to Pasadena to consult the Datatron computer.

Datatron 205.jpg Datatron 205. (It took 204 others to get it right. Is that encouraging?)

Datatron confirms Dr Drone's prediction.

To get to the bottom of quakology Dr Drone takes his comely offsider and assorted extras to Carlsbad Caverns. 'Unknown World' (1951) boldly went to these Caverns first and is reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

Carlsbad.jpg

Only down there can the rotary printer predict accurately. The news is bad. Very bad. Worse than bad. The end is nigh. The explanation is mumbo-jumbo.

It is element 112, kaboomium, which is about to go critical. The demonstration of popping a balloon of earth convinces everyone to run for cover. Run where? Good question.

Instead Dr Drone coordinates a worldwide effort to quell element 112. They have twenty-eight days, one more than allowed in ’The 27th Day’ (1957), reviewed elsewhere on this blog. All across the world scientists everywhere pass water onto 112 and it relents. The fraternity brothers volunteered to pitch in.

The pace is brisk. The acting is improved by the absence of John Agar. The comely offsider gets on with the job with neither a scream, trip, nor a faint. The sets are miniscule. The authority figures seem authoritative. Dr Drone is committed to the role, as they say on thespian street.

However, there is far too much yakkity-yak. Everyone cooperates. No one nit picks. Quibbles. Back stabs. Undermines. Or any of the other Standard Operating Procedures of life. Nor are there any villains. Not even a Red. Where is the tension in a clicking calendar? Even kaboomium seems pretty sedate say compared to those walking menaces in ‘The Monolith Monsters’ (1957), reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

Curiosity. There is no musical soundtrack. The union missed this one.

Goodreads meta-data is 200 pages, over-rated 3.74 by 226 litizens.

Genre: krimi, police procedural.

Thumbprint.jpg

Verdict: a curiosity of the place and time. A forced march to finish it.

Set in the Swiss alps in the early 1930s when radio was a novelty. A local is found dead. Was it suicide or murder? Everyone speaks Schweizerdeutsch in which ‘Chabis’ is an oath.

SwissGerman.jpg
Not to be confused with Chablis.

Into this isolated mountain top community comes Detective Sergeant Studer from the distant Canton to find out which is which. He takes up residence and observes the locals. The bar owner. The nursery man and his staff. The family of the deceased. Creditors. Trees. Swains. Rivals. That is something like the Maigret approach but the hands of this cuckoo clock are heavier by far. As far as this reader can report no thumbprint figures in the story.

Masochists can find out more than they should know by reading the thirty reviews on GoodReads.

Glauser.jpg Friedrich Glauser (1896-1938) was diagnosed schizophrenic, addicted to morphine, dabbled with heroin, and was intoxicated when he could not get drugs. He spent most of his life in psychiatric wards, insane asylums, and prisons. That experience makes him well qualified, ahem, as well qualified, as most journalists, to comment on the human condition.

There are two or three other titles with Studer. They are unlikely to be disturbed by this reader.

GoodReads meta-data is 267 pages, rated by 3.87 by 1375 litizens.

Genre: thriller

Miernik cover.jpg

Verdict: Unusual in the telling.

It is deep in the heart of the Cold War of 1959 and the Russkies have their eyes on East Africa. Spy and counter-spy vie to manipulate the natives. It centers around a group from a UN agency housed in Geneva which includes a Yankee doodle, a Polack, a Magyar, a Sudanese princeling, a MI6er, and others who embark on a drive from Geneva to Khartoum. Sure.

Geneva Khartoum.jpeg

While the journey is as fantastic as anything Jules Verne conjured, the characterisations are nicely done. No one is quite whom they seem to be, and yet perhaps they are. Even at the end, it is not at all clear to this reader whether Miernik was a villain, though he certainly was a victim.

What is unusual is in the telling. It reads like a dossier that collects and combines testimony, written reports by observers, diary entries from protagonists, archival material about them, analysis by Langley desk jockeys, wiretap transcriptions, post hoc interviews, radio intercepts, case officer cables, opened mail, entries from the CIA Fact Book, field briefings, and such. While there is a master narrative with an arc, it is by no means told as a story. Though in its own way it is, and the story unfolds in these several different registers. The ending is open, but not empty.

McCarry.jpg Charles McCarry

This is the first title in a long series featuring Yankee Doodle, namely Paul Christopher. Alan Furst ranks it highly and that persuaded me to give it a try. Not sure, but inclined to try another.

IMDb metadata is runtime of 1 hour and 20 minutes (it seemed longer, much longer), rated a heady 2.4 by 294 cinemitizens.

Genre: Sy fy

Verdict: There is no UFO and little else.

UFO Target.jpg

The opening credits are juxtaposed with grainy photographs of ostensible UFOs from the 1940s and 1950s. Then in a prologue we see a journalist with big hair and flared trousers in a double-knit suit interviewing Georgians about UFO sightings and abductions. The interviewees look rural and sound southern. This seemed a reasonable start.

Then the unreasonable set in.

A graduate student, wearing a three-piece suit and necktie with his own office and desk telephone at the University of Gainsville (Florida) makes a telephone call during a thunderstorm and over a crossed wire hears a conversation between a general and someone else about strange goings on.

During this call he has flashbacks to his own childhood in a similar storm, though the exposition is so lame it took ages for the fraternity brothers to realise this was a flashback and not a parallel cut-away. Later these flashbacks might be relevant, but at the time they seemed bad editing.

What to do? He consults his supervisor (bearing a frightening resemblance to what Justin Beiber will become) who wisely tells him to forget it. In the great tradition of student rebellion Three Piece disregards this sage advice, and recruits Mystic to help him get to the bottom of this mystery. Who better than a mystic to deal with a mystery? Mystery? What mystery? The phone call.

He goes to see General, there is only one in all of Florida, who wears an Army-Navy store uniform and who chides him for the liberal ideas of students (in Florida?), and then denies everything. Well he would, wouldn’t he. During this conversation Three Piece represents himself, a lowly grad student, as negotiating for the university. Sure. Even so the conversation is reasonably well written but so slowly executed the suspicion grows that they actors had to be word perfect because their was no dime for a re-take.

It seems there is a long history of electric power disruptions in the area. That the Buford Plant generating station has had some strange accidents. And that the mystic hears voices in the air, and not from a BlueTooth headset.

Three Piece and Mystic trace the voices to the lake. ‘The lake! Gulp. The lake? Yes, the lake.’ This dialogue went on for five-minutes. What they need is proof. Sure, but proof of what? That Three Piece is nuts and Mystic has an ear pod stuck in her lobe?

As darkness falls, they wait. We wait with them. We all continue waiting. That is followed by more waiting.

Then Three Piece also starts hearing voices in the air. He puts on a grey wig like Christopher Lloyd in ‘Back to the Future’ and walks into the lake as the voices tell him he has been chosen, only the fourth to be so honoured in a thousand years. By his sacrifice the world is saved (from the Trumpettes for a time?). We wondered if Virginia Woolf had been so honoured.

The end.

Get it? Get it! No, neither did we. What were we saved from? A sequel?

If the phone call was hot why didn’t the general do something like lock up Three Piece. Like rip his office apart. Like send thugs to warn him off. Like put on reflective dark glasses. Like tell the aliens to look out. Like try to kill Mystic. Come on. This is standard B-movie fare.

Did Florida grad students in 1974 wear three-piece suits? Did scientists team up with mystics quite that readily? Did someone really write that dialogue?

We never see a UFO, nor is there any reason to think that there is one. The voices, well there are other explanations. See a textbook on psychoses for a list.

There are lots of swirling lights to imitate Space Odyssey (1968). Some of the sound track works.

None of it takes us ‘To The Edge of Tomorrow’ per the lobby card. Nor do we broach ‘UFO’s…the truth about them might just blow your mind for the last time.’ Nope. Unblown.

One of the critics linked to the IMDb entry suggests it be re-titled to ‘Target Extreme Boredom’ because it succeeded at that. Amen, chorused the slumbering fraternity brothers.

Then there are the effects, like the boom microphone hanging overhead.

Target boom mic.jpg

The post-production editing and (dis)continuity render most of it incomprehensible without a script to follow. Hmm. Maybe that would not help.

None of the cast or crew has other listing on the IMDb. Ergo they learned from this experience to go into paediatrics or something.

IMDb meta-data is 1 hour and 13 minutes of treacle time, rated a generous 4.1 by 818 members of the producer’s extended family over the generations.

Genre: Sy Fy

Verdict: The search for intelligent life on Earth continues, with limited success.

Phantom Space card.jpg

It opens with fifteen minutes of stock footage of radar dishes, screens, technicians who are tracking a flying object, so intones a narrator. The object is making 70,000 miles an hour! It was first spotted over Alaska and then tracks down the Pacific Northwest coast (skipping British Columbia) toward Hollywood. Gulp!

In May 1953 this had to be a Red rover, and not Santa Claus! Stock-footage of F-86 Sabre-jets ascending to meet this Soviet menace! Whoa! Sabres could hit 650 mph. The Red Saucer whizzes past them before the Sabre pilots can buckle a seat belt! What to do! Fear the worst.

Then the flying object slows and drops off the screens near Santa Monica Beach. Nice place.

As this latter event occurs we cut to citizens who find radio reception has been jammed. Some of these citizens go on and on about what they wanted to listen to on the radio. And on. All that jabbering galvanises the Federal Communication Commission to action. (As if.) Its technical vans, recognised by their revolving roof-top antennas drive around Griffith Park while the crew talk to each other. A lot of driving and a lot of talking.

By this time the fraternity brothers were dozing on the sofa. ' Zzzzzzzing' is a direct quotation.

Then a frazzled woman lurches in front of one of the vans and says she and her husband along with a friend were attacked by a man in a diving suit. The technicians leap into action. Yep, they talk some more, but they do radio in the alert and a call for an ambulance. Their radio can, it develops, send but not receive now, like some people. The intermittent radio trouble is well handled in this scene.

Ben Casey’s offsider working his way through medical school as a police officer arrives. Lights up. He finds the husband dead. Story is he picked up a club and swung at the Diver (Phantom to the cognoscenti) who shoved him down, fatally. Cops aren’t buying the malarky and conclude the friend killed the husband for the wife. In a touching bit of dialogue the police keep calling this friend ‘the young man’ when he looks about forty. (He is not listed in the credits so no check is possible.)

While the cops are fabricating a case against ‘the young man’ there is a break-in and fire at the Getty oil refinery. Someone was killed in the fire. But it seems it was started by accident.

At minute 27 second 43 we get the first glimpse of a figure running around the oil refinery in a onesie. This must be Phantom! About time!

The audio had to be turned up to be heard over the snores of the fraternity brothers at this point.

By now the ambulance medicos, army, police, and feds are mobilised in a one camera frame shot, squeezed together, but none of them make any connection between

1) the disappearing Red Saucer,

2) the radio interference, and

3) the Diver.

Instead they grouse about the bad coffee.

Back to the Getty oil refinery. They chase after Phantom in the diving helmet and onesie. Then poof! He goes invisible. Every producer’s dream. He strips off his onesie and helmet and voilà nothing! Instead, wirework opens and closes doors, windows, spins chairs and so. Invisible he eludes the posse. Invisible he eludes a pay-cheque.

The cops, army, medics, and Feds finally realise the obvious at minute 47 second 5 that all three events above are connected. They take the onesie and helmet to Griffith Planetarium to be analysed. Guess they want to hold it up again the stars or something. In the lab (sure) is a woman scientist with her pet dog, Venus. Pay attention because these two are the only ones with any sense. She finds the suit radioactive and dons kitchen washing-up gloves to handle it. This was the official Atomic Energy Commission line at the time. Radioactivity was like poison ivy. Don’t touch.

The helmet, however, is not hot, but its breathing apparatus has unknown gases in it. Hmm. They sit in a cramped office and talk. Talk. Talk.Talk.

Periodically Phantom returns to the lab to inhale some of the helmet gases while the crew sits next door talking. Talking. Talking. Talking. By the way, contrary to rumour one fraternity brother stayed awake and counted forty-seven cigarettes lit by the onscreen cast. During some of the talk all of them are puffing way in a cloud.

Ah ha! There is an 'Ah Ha' moment. They will set a trap for Phantom. They set up the Planetarium with invisible eyes on all the outside doors to give alarm when he enters. What if Phantom is already in the building is a supposition none considers. Why they do not use the helmet as bait is down to their stupidity. Into their trap wanders the elderly and annoying journalist after some cheap sensationalism. Nothing has ever changed.

Every time Phantom is present Venus the dog goes ballistic but no one pays that any attention. Yes, Phantom is searching for intelligent life on Earth and so far only the dog passes the test.

While the men smoke and talk, talk and smoke, the Dr Woman goes back to the lab to pour stuff into vials. Phantom comes in for a helmet dose. Now get this.

What is B-movie woman supposed to do at this point? Scream. Faint. Trip. Scream. Faint. Trip. Those are the choices. NOT SO HERE.

Noreen keeps cool.jpg See, she keeps a cool head.

She is frightened when the helmet floats in air, but keeps calm and tries to communicate with the being! She also discovers that he becomes visible in ultra-violet light. She is a thinker. Another one passed the intelligence test. Both females, Venus and Woman, one dog and one not.

Needless to say the lads are unhappy about being shown up and to prove their manliness they set out to chase Phantom around the Griffith Planetarium for about fifteen minutes. We see repetitions of this footage five times. Then bored to death, Phantom runs out of his air and dies.

The end.

Well, it could have been worse. On the bright side, John Agar was not in it. Despite the zero budget it had some good special effects. When the Phantom carries Dr Woman off it is spooky since he is invisible. (In a black suit suit against a black matte.) When Phantom becomes partly visible under the ultra-violet light is good, too. Dick Sands who did the stunt work as the Phantom is good at running, jumping, tumbling, and falling. He does not speak and that saves him from the terrible dialogue.

One of the great moments in reasoning occurs when the talkers, conclude that because Phantom is invisible he must be silicon like glass. Tweet that. Who needs the National Science Foundation with brainwork like that.

It just ends, leaving nothing. There is no conclusion. No explanation. No expectation. No one wonders why he came. What he wanted. Where did he park the Red Saucer on Santa Monica Boulevard. Was he really a Russkie under all that white pancake make up. Nothing. Nada. Zip.

The lobby card is as erroneous as these usually are, written as they are by journalists. Phantom seems to have no power. He does not menace anyone. He was attacked by the husband and defended himself. We have no idea where he came from or why. No one checked the odometer on the saucer. Maybe he came from Outer Schenectady.

W. Lee Wilder produced and directed based on a screenplay by his son Myles Wilder. Yes they are kin of Billy Wilder. Elsewhere on this blog I have reviewed others of Lee Wilder’s oeuvre for which I did homework on the relationship to Billy. See the review of ‘Snow Creature’ (1954).

To some jaded viewers, among whom your correspondent takes a place, it seems the Widers saw ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ (1951) and set out to imitate it with a benign alien. But like someone trying to recite poetry phonetically in a foreign language, he had no idea how to intone, phrase, and colour it. Instead it is just a blurt.

The zero budget is reflected in the use of Griffith Park and the Griffith Planetarium which were readily available for filmmakers for years until the welcome mat was worn out. The cramped office scenes were shot in Wilder’s one-man office. Most of the extras were walk-ins recruited at a cattle-call.

IMDb meta-data is 52 episodes of 50 minutes each, overrated 8.0 by 2712 cinemitizens.

Genre Sy Fy.

Verdict: Improves after episode 1.1 thanks to writer Terry Nation but pales then without Terry Nation.

The director(s) need masterclasses from Val Guest. It is evident more money was invested in Seasons Two to Four in costumes, sets, and stunts. Then it goes on and on without Blake and without ever making it to seven.

Blakes7 card.jpg

It first aired the same week that ‘Star Wars’ opened in England. There are similarities and differences. The technical effects of ‘Star Wars’ outstripped everything at the time including this.

The similarities are in the story. Both feature a small band of righteous outcasts who challenge a behemoth. In the case of ‘Star Wars’ the band members cooperate, some friction aside, and prevail over the mighty, whereas in ‘Blake’s 7’ the members quarrel constantly, to the point of tedium, well, far past the point of tedium, and lose slowly but inevitably everything (including viewer interest).

The sequence of my viewing got jumbled but that did not seem to matter after the second season when any sense of a quest with a chronological order was lost and it reverted to swords and sandals in space with a new wardrobe each week. Blake departs but the name stayed.

In the far future (or past) the Terran Federation is a nightmare of McKinsey Micro Managers with Macro tasers. Things are worst on the home world of Earth where it all started. There micro-management involves brain washing. Today’s managers can only dream of this, and some do.

Malcontents who failed 360-degree reviews, missed the KPIs, or used plain English instead of deracinated McKinsey-speak are consigned to transportation to Au-star-lia in the far distant Botany Way. En route the prison ship encounters a Marie Celeste spaceship of an unknown design and it is big. Space is always crowded. Cannot go anywhere without running into an obstacle.

The Big Ship is ominously silent and the first boarding party goes that way, too: Silent. The captain of the prison ship decides to use some expendable prisoners to explore and secure the ship. Genius! He sends Blake because he is a pain and might get toasted; Plucked Eyebrows because she is a pilot who could steer it; and Nasty because he is a computer plumber who might be able to start it. Of course if they succeed ….

Thanks to his heroic self-control with which the script endows Blake, he zaps the self-defence systems of the Big Ship, whose computer then politely introduces itself as Zen, Siri’s cousin, and the ship as Liberator, and off they go.

In this case, bigger proves to be better. BIG disappears, leaving far behind the prison ship and its many keyboards which the actors pound with hammers. The prison ship captain is sure now to fail his 360-degree review. Gulp!

Blake has two then. ‘Blake’s 2’ did not cut it as a title. The fraternity brothers thought it could be ‘Blake’s 3’ by counting the man himself. Not so, a higher authority ruled. Blake’s One does not count. That one is covered with just the word ‘Blake.’ There are many convoluted discussions in the cyber world about this very deep and perplexing question. Abandon syntax all who would plumb those depths.

Blakes5.jpg Blake and five makes six.

By the way, the opening title card from Beeb above has no, repeat no, possessive apostrophe. It reads ‘Blakes 7.’ In fact it reads ‘Blakes7’ without a space between the word and the number. Grammar, too, must be abandoned it seems. Some wits and wags say those omissions were due to budget constraints. Neither apostrophe nor space could be afforded. Silly? Maybe not. If the title card and publicity material were done by mistake without the apostrophe and space, the budget might not have been sufficient to do them again. The IMDb in a rare display of grammar has inserted an apostrophe and space on its entry for this series which reads ‘Blake’s 7.’ As did I above.

The pilot seems willing to do what Blake wants. (The fraternity brothers made several suggestions.) Nasty wants to… be…nasty. They decide to follow the prison ship to the prison world and rescue any other prisoners who want to come along. Why? Because the title calls for seven, that is why. Yes, Blake says it takes seven to fly BIG but in fact there are never seven at a time on BIG. Moreover, every time something comes up, they run back and forth to the controls. It is clear to everyone but Blake that more than 7 are needed. However, often the ship, with Zen at the helm, flies itself and 0 are needed. At no time are there seven (7) on board flying Liberator.

These three show no curiosity about BIG or its absent crew, but find plenty of wardrobe that just happens to fit each of them. Go figure. The threads by the way are strictly Robin Hood. At least they are not flared trousers. No one stops to think that may BIG’s people will come looking for it with BIG things. This they do in the opening of Season Two with decals stuck on their foreheads and even worse dialogue. It is this episode the Nasty says, ‘Beam me up!’ Whoops. Ditto in this episode Blake says we call the ship ‘Liberator.’ Read the script, lad. Zen told you the name of the ship was Liberator in episode 1.1. It calls itself that. And the interrogator, even without a waterboard, should have already known all that since they came to reclaim the ship. Does anybody reads the syllabus, eh, script?

Thereafter they argue among themselves as their number increases toward but never attaining the magnificent but elusive seven. Mostly the tension is between Blake who wants to subvert the McKinsey Terrans with rebellion and Nasty who wants to enrich himself. We have action man who wants to blow things up versus the hacker. Blake’s merry band includes a strong man who can throttle villains two at a time, a cringing coward who can pick locks, a rebellious young woman who wants to do things her way, and someone I have forgotten. Or should that be two? By Season 1, Episode 6 they are Blake and four others.

Is Siri, the talking computer Zen, number 7? Stay tuned to find out! I did, stay tuned, and I didn’t, find out. Later we have another talking computer.

They are opposed by passing pirates, nut cases, Brian Blessed as a crazed Holy Roller, and pursued by McKinsey Operatives with Power Point lasers and training modules. Though these official pursuers are easy to elude because they wear blinding head gear which they only remove so they can clonked on the head.

Storm trooper.jpeg

If the director ever lets them take off those tin cans, Blake’s Seven will be None, Zero, Nada, Gone.

Blake emotes over microbes, broken pottery, litter on the spaceways, and is always going out of the way to get into trouble as required by the script. He is Mother Teresa in space.

The characters do not change though some are killed off and others just disappear. The pilot continues to do as told. Nasty remains nasty. The coward cringes when a draft blows. The strong man rips the top off tins when a can opener is handy. Blake emotes. It is all predictable. Scanners reveal a banana peel floating in space. Blake has to stop and collect it in case a passing ship slips on it. Nasty objects that doing so is a waste of time. Wimpy hides in case a chimpanzee comes looking for the banana. Pilot does as told. Petulant female pouts. Strongman stomps on it. The end.

By the end of season four only Nasty and the Coward remain from the original crew, a]having repeated their paper thin characterisations fifty-one times.

Strangely, Blake is in less than half the episodes. The question then is, who does the emoting if he is not there? When he is absent the crew goes looking for him but not very hard. Maybe he got a better offer, I know I did. Should the title have change to….? ‘7 without Blake?’ Or, how about, ‘Blakeless7.’

5without blake.jpg Five without Blake.

Most episodes of the first two seasons are bleak, and the fraternity brothers proposed it be renamed ‘Bleak 7’ and obviate the need for an apostrophe. There is never have a Zorro moment, and they leave a trail of destruction behind them, despite their intentions. The distant, space-powered future is worse than today. In most episodes they encounter malign beings and occasionally they turn on each other.

By the by, Nasty is called Avon. Yes he is. And yes he does….once, say into the communicator ‘Avon calling.’ I waited fourteen episodes for the moment. But it was anti-climactic, because Paul Darrow says it like he means it. What an actor! It became his show when Blake went missing. But how can Nastyman carry the show. Answer, he couldn’t.

There are some interesting ideas sprinkled throughout, and occasionally some fine acting. Ideas? The chair sized computer shrank itself to fit into a pocket. The idea that a universally used computer chip in the Federation can be hacked by the largest portable computer ever seen, Oric, was prescient. However in the kickoff to Season Two when The System comes to reclaim Liberator it seems computers there also use that chip. How can this be since this is the first contact between the Federation and The System is anyone’s guess. The fraternity brothers were sure of this, because those forehead decals are memorable.

While the fount, Wikipedia, reports a steady fall in audience from Season One to Two, the budget increased as evidenced by the every more expensive wardrobe, costumes, and stunts. The designers were also called to create new sets for new villains. The money went to these superficial bibelots and not to screen writing. Terry Nation’s name is seen less often in the credits. At one point it seems the script writer also plays a part. Never a good idea.

Good acting? Well, none of the regular and fabled ‘7,’ if ever that number was reached qualify largely because the scripts give each of them only one note, but Space Commander Travis in the first season has some moments in the last episode of real complexity. However this actor was replaced by Travis II who is one-dimensional. Avon certainly tries to inject gravitas into the limp scripts.

Blake had a long career in Brit TV, including — of course — 'Midsomer Murders,’ but this series is listed as one of his three ‘Known For’s’ on the IMDb. Since it is virtually unknown that is little consolation.

I watched some of the early episodes at the time with only a vague recollection, but I did not follow the series to the end. That was not an aesthetic decision but a result of travels on sabbatical 1979-1980.

Goodreads meta-data is 4.2/5 by 2745 litizens.

Genre: Thriller diller.

Verdict: The study in organisational pathologies continues.

Dead Lions.jpg

We used to teach something call Org Theory which bore little relation to Org Practice. This book does. Anyone who works in a large organisation will recognise the pathologies exhibited by many of the characters.

The set-up? Two of the Slough House crew are seconded by James Webb, known as Spider, to provide purely nominal security for a visiting Russian tycoon. Why two slow horses for the job, oh, because there is flap on at the Park. Something about office furniture. As always there is never any paperwork to justify the assignment. No paper trail for the FOI rats to find.

Why did I find it credible that a mighty organisation like the Secret Squirrels of MI5 might grind to a halt while an argument with accountants about office furniture takes precedence. Goal displacement comes in many forms. Of course, the furniture is only a means. The end is for two ambitious opponents to fight for supremacy within the organisation. The battle ground? An Eames chair.

Both of the slows, Min and Louise, hope this assignment might restore them to the shining light of the Park, ending their tedious exile to the outer darkness of Slough House, which per the earlier review on this blog is neither in Slough nor a house.

Webb is counting on that motivation to preclude them asking too many questions about this verbal secondment. In meeting them directly he bypasses the supremo of Slough House, Lamb.

There are so many wheels within wheels that my head got in a spin. Rather try to unravel that I offer a few remarks. Nit picking perhaps.

One of the salutary lessons is how easy it is to be fooled if one wants to fooled. Webb’s bit on the bait after reading all about the Russian on the Russkie’s web site. He found there flattering portraits from the 'Financial Times,' interviews in 'Der Spiegel,' and testimonials from here and there. He looked no further. It was not until Tech Boy Rod cross-checked these excerpts on the Russian’s blog with the original sources that Webb learned, much too late, that they were fake news. There were no laudatory accounts on the pink pages of the 'Financial Times' nor in the Gothic script headlines of 'Der Spiegel.'

What have teachers said since Odysseus returned? Check the original to see if there really was a horse.

Webb did not verify anything because he dearly loved the idea of doing a favour for major player in Russia, a favour that could be cashed later. Ergo, he saw what he wanted to see and nothing more. In his case a successful deal would lead to a promotion up the greasy org pole. Once promoted he would move on away from any fallout anyway.

That is the other lesson. Later when asked who set up the contact, Webb tried to make it sound like his initiative. It wasn’t but he wanted the credit for spotting the possibility of indebting this fellow. When finally he later reluctantly admits that the Russian contacted him first, the tale takes on a different light. It seems it was Webb who was being reeled in and not the Russkie.

london-skyline-700x325.jpg The London sky line these days.

Back to those nits, I found it hard to believe that Dickie would spot the hood quite that easily after all those years. Equally hard to believe was that Dickie did not wonder why it was so easy. Likewise that hood’s boss had lived quietly in England for nearly twenty years seemed a stretch, and in two different places. Even more so the villain’s faith in the dead lions, of whom in the end we learn nothing.

There a few more quibbles but that is what they are quibbles.

Less and less in writing is one legacy of Prime Minister Tony Blair, or so I have been told by a one-time inmate of Number Ten. In that administration, verbal communication became the order of the day to avoid written records. Freedom of Information applies only to what is in writing, after all.

IMDb meta-data is runtime of 1 hour and 30 minutes rated 4.1 by 529 cinemitizens.

Verdict: nice premise with a certain charm.

Star Knight card.jpg

The set-up? It is the 13th Century in medieval Europe. Alchemy and Catholicism vie for the patronage of the local Duke, who has a comely daughter. Little Harv wants to be a Sir Knight but isn’t. He affects the chivalrous speech and manners of such a knight, badly. He is called Klever but isn’t. Even the fraternity brothers got that one.

To pay taxes to the Duke, the peasants expect him to protect them from, say, a passing dragon. One passes overhead. Yikes!

The Duke seeks the counsel of Priest who prays, and Alchemist who gathers data. Then Daughter goes missing. Presumed dragon-meat. Duke offers big reward for her return, including her hand. Vlucan logic that. Bring her back and I will give her away.

Harv puts inserts into his shoes and sets off to rescue her, and garner the aforementioned, including her hand, and more.

Thing is, the dragon is a space ship with one occupant, Alien, who goes around in a spacesuit which is taken to be a suit of armour. He is a harmless lad. He swoons for Daughter and she reciprocates. He has to remain in the suit, and he does not speak but glows and murmurs like a puppy. She reads his mind, and he hers. Not too hard. Well…. [had to quell the fraternity brothers on that one].

Priest is more interested in displacing Alchemist than he is in getting back Daughter. Alchemist is curious and befriends Alien and manages things to bring Daughter back, saved by Alien. This turn of events royally displeases little Harv and Priest who contrive to enter the spaceship which takes off to the stars with them on board bickering, as Harv says, ‘All I ever wanted to do was to get ahead in the world!’ And now he is out of this world.

The End.

What’s to like. The premise that an alien space ship might appear in medieval Europe. Why wait for Area 51 in 1947. That the spaceship might be mistaken in the night and in the mist for a dragon. That a space-suited Alien might be taken for a knight in armour. The rivalry between the witch doctor Priest and scientific Alchemist. The Daughter and Alien are charming. It is daring that the Alien does not ever speak but he looks beatific.

Not so likeable is the slapstick humour of Harv falling over his first friend. The recurrent and pointless Green Knight who is there to remind viewers of Monty Python.

Wasted is Fernando Rey as the Priest. Klaus Kinski is the alchemist and to see him smile benignly is to be very afraid.

As the original title indicates this is a Spanish production from Barcelona. It has an element of Don Quixote with the knight jousting with the spaceship.

Genre: Fiction

GoodReads meta-data is 416 pages, rated 3.8/5 from 1573 litizens.

Verdict: Quite a ride. Best to have a scorecard of the names and places.

Santa Evita.jpg

The novel offers an examination of the place of Eva Perón (1919-1952) in the soul of Argentina and Argentines. Eva is dead. Long live Evita!

While there are retrospective glimpses of young Eva growing up, meeting and marrying Juan Perón and ruling with him, and her earlier career on radio and in films, most of the book concerns her afterlife.

When she died Perón went through the stages of grief, culminating in the plan to build a giant mausoleum to her memory. Barely had the ground been cleared in central Buenos Aires for the building when Perón was toppled in yet another military coup. (For what it is worth he won the popular vote in three elections.)

The plotters were at odds among themselves in every way but united in one. Above all else every trace of the Peróns, both of them, had to be erased immediately, least their followers, who were undoubtedly the majority of the populace, rally to the remaining symbols. Street signs, building names, charitable foundations, orphanages, schools that bore the name Perón, all of these had to go. Over night school teachers were required to mark out their names in every scrap of instructional material. Republicans have been doing likewise regarding Obama.

Eva young.jpg The youthful Eva.

No symbol of Perónism was more important than Eva herself. At her death Perón had set about having her mummified like Lenin and to be put in a glass sarcophagus on display to the faithful. He had seen the thousands come to mourn her as she lay in state, and since there was demand he set about supplying it. Work had begun on that. There was also a nascent plan to produce wax replicas, least the body decay despite the preservation. Remember Jeremy Bentham?

Eva at mic.jpg She spoke.

Eva speaking.jpg They listened.

EVa giving.jpg They came; she gave.

Eva layingon hands.jpg Even the touch was enough.

Some of this work of preservation had been done in secret and later amid the turmoil of the coup which was followed by an in-house palace revolution by another faction. Moreover some of those trusted with the cadaver tried to hide it from the usurpers. When usurpers found it, they in their turn tried to hide it. In short, the body got lost for many months. When it was discovered the new regime was in a quandary about what to do with it. Unsure even if it was the real thing. More hiding followed.

To desecrate it would call down the wraith of the Catholic faithful and the electoral majority of Perónistas. To bury it would create a site of Perón pilgrimage. To hide it indefinitely in a time of coup and counter-coup would not suffice. To comply with Perón’s plea from his roaming exile to send the body to him would put a potent symbol at his disposal.

From these chemicals Eloy Martínez compounds quite a story as he enters into the minds and souls of the morticians, embalmers, army officers and soldiers, on-lookers, janitors, true believers, by-standers, journalists, and foreign diplomats who come into contact with the mystery train transporting the cadaver or one of its several replicas.

To summarise what cannot be summarised, thinking takes time and initially during the thinking time a squad and a colonel, low enough in rank that he could not reject the assignment, drive the cadaver in a coffin around in a truck from place to place, phoning in for more orders. This becomes a truck of Otranto as the six men keep to themselves, park in deserted streets, eat army rations, skirt cemeteries, and begin to think Santa Eva is watching them from the coffin they transport, the coffin which they must not open, but which…

When the truck is parked overnight, and a careful watch is set, yet the next morning the truck is surrounded by flowers. Or when they turn into a blind alley far off the beaten track to park for the night, when they open the doors to get out they find the alley is now illuminated with candles. Spooky. Thereafter the colonel is obsessed by the body.

Meanwhile, others took charge of her personal effects and papers and in pawing through them come into vicarious contact with the Argentines she touched. There is no doubt that she was a miraculous saint to millions, one who brought material succour and, more importantly, spiritual hope. It is all there in the letters she received from individuals and the letters she sent in reply. This is charisma.

In death there are sightings of her in the valleys, pampas, deserts, villages, barrios, hills of Argentina. The rumours spread. Since there are no facts to contain the imagination, the rumours grew. If a sighting was reported in a village in the distant mountains, within a few hours a host of peasants was on the road making for that village. If a bundle of cash was bestowed anonymously on an orphanage the dead hand of Eva was credited. When the national soccer team scores a goal against the odds ….., and so on.

Dead Eva Perón was beyond price and dangerous beyond measure. Dead she was omnipresent and omnipotent.

The replicas are as dangerous and priceless as the cadaver and in the hysteria, miasma, fear, exhaustion, and confusion of the time, those responsible for the replicas and the cadaver themsevles become uncertain about which is which.

The novel is set out as the author’s report on his effort to write a book on this subject, and some of it takes the form of interviews years later with participants or their relatives, or the discovery of diaries kept by participants, old newspaper cuttings from villages in Tierra del Fuego, letters and documents as officials pass the buck, censored television footage, interview transcripts from the time, radio tapes, and so on. Much is fact, most is fiction.

At time the author breaks the theatrical fourth wall and addresses the reader directly. He also passes comment, droll and disparaging on Andrew Lloyd Weber’s abomination. Likewise he makes short shrift of Juan Luis Borges attempt to crucify Eva.

The grip the woman had on the soul of Argentina and Argentines is the theme. And that grip included both those who loved her in their millions and those who hated her in their millions. Together these millions were as one in their complete preoccupation with THAT WOMAN. Both get plenty of space in these pages.

Eloy Martinez-2.jpg Tomás Eloy Martínez

I seem to have had a Perón spree, starting with Joseph Page, ‘Perón: A Biography’ (1983) and then Eloy Martínez’s ‘The Perón Novel’ (1999), both reviewed elsewhere on this blog, and now this. Eva is much present in these two titles, but I wanted to read more. I did watch the A&E biography on You Tube, which was basic but not as bad as some of the illiterate comments say. Then we were given tickets to see ‘Evita’ later in the year and I decided to do some homework on Eva, starting with this one. I have one more to go, ‘The Adventures of the Busts of Eva Perón’ (2004) by Carolos Gamerro.

I read Jeane Kirkpatrick’s ‘The Perónist Movement in Argentina’ (1971) in graduate school and it left me with a curiosity about Argentina. What she argued was that historically the army made Argentina and that despite its many later corruptions and failings it remained the only legitimate institution in the society. ‘Legitimate’ means being accepted by the populace.

When I referred to a scorecard above the meaning is that it helps to know the players, some of whom I have learned of through the reading above. To read it based on Lloyd Weber, well don’t bother.

Every military coup in Argentina was justified on the ground that it would bring stability. A coup was followed by a counter-coup in one case by a single day and in another by a month. No military government lasted as long as the term of an elected government. Civilian governments, said the army officers, were unstable. The duty of the army was to bring stability. This it did in an endless parade of coups and counter-coups, sometimes between the services, Navy, Air Force, and Army, and sometimes within the Army. They shot it out, bombed Buenos Aires, and fought it out again and again. Stability is a hard thing to get out of a gun.

IMDb meta-data is a total of 3 hours and 24 minutes in four episodes of fifty minutes, rated a scant 7.1 by a scant 558 cinemitizens. Scant squared is….

Genre: Sy Fy.

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Verdict: Nigel Kneale in top form!

Professor Quatermass leaves the hibernianation of his emeritus-cave in Scotland the Brave to get his sideburns trimmed by his missing granddaughter. He hasn’t been out much in the last thirty years - check those sideburns. He has to turn sideways to get through a door.

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He finds the world is on the verge of chaos. Gangs roam the streets pillaging, beating, and raping (off camera). They also make war on each other and the cash cops, loved that phrase, let them get on with it. Think ‘Clockwork Orange.’ Garbage is piled in the streets. Abandoned cars are strewn about. Petrol is not available. Public services don’t. Electricity cuts are recurrent. Hospitals turn away patients. Police are the problem, not the solution. Think London in 1982.

Instead of Hippies we have anti-vaxxer Planet People who wander around in tie-dyed saris waiting for the alien space ships to land and rapture them away to a better world. In their eyes Earth has been corrupted by science, by government, by J J J Radio, by hot water, by knowledge, by books, by thinking. They are proto-Trumpettes with waistlines.

Book fire.png A Planet People library.

For now the old order hangs on, barely. Cash cops try to quell violence with the tried and true policing method of more violence. Scientists keep looking for solutions down microscopes and up telescopes. No cure for stupid can be found under glass. That is where Prof Q comes in. What? Is he an expert on stupid? That would make him in demand.

The crumbling regimes of the USSR and the USA are combining to build a space station, and given Prof’s previous experience with space (and aliens) in ‘The Quatermass Experiment’ (1955), ’Enemies from Space’ (1957) and also ‘Quatermass and the Pit' (1958), all reviewed elsewhere on this blog, he is invited to comment on a television panel show of talking heads - groan! In the hall of mirrors of the media journalists interview each other and as an outsider Q is made to feel it. Some things never change.

John Mills is the sort of Prof Q writer Kneale wanted all along and he finally got his wish here in the last entry in the cycle. Eccentric, slovenly, confused, unkempt, indecisive, exhausted, just the man for the job. At the television studio he hooks up with Joe, a young astronomer; in the bucolic countryside Joe has a research team and family cowering in a bunkered observatory with voltmeters and CRTs galore. Who they are and what they are doing is left buried in the abyss of backstoryland, unless it was explained during a rest stop.

The Planet People are everywhere, stealing food, using parks as latrines, making trouble, leaving rubbish behind — a lot like dedicated Greenies in Camperdown Park today — and not above killing when a weapon is handy. These Hippies may have flowers in their hair, but they also have gats under their ponchos. They hear voices that tell them what to do, and they do it beyond good and evil. Starting to sound relevant? Tune into to the Russian-sponsored evangelical TV channel for an update.

The highest rating program on the television channel features amateurs in rubber suits hitting each other with sticks. Just caught a glimpse of the very same this morning on Australian Spartan, Ninja, Clown, Warrior or something. Prescient as usual is Kneale.

Prof Q and company are completely at a loss to understand, explain, comprehend, or communicate with the Planet People, though they try with evidence, argument, and reason. Huh! Two different species encounter one another in mutual incomprehension and contempt, young and old, Republican and Democrat. Isn’t this a story for our times?


Those efforts are as successful as negotiating with a dog or a Republican. Whoops, maybe that is an insult to canines.

The Planet People are scary and silly all at once.

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They use plumb bobs on strings to follow lei lines and gather for raptures in the sunshine, repeating vacuous phrases, waiting for the Tweet in Chief to raise them to the orbs. Several hundred gather at the Ringstone Round, a small and fictional version of Stonehenge. They chant. The BO index matched Woodstock. This is an England without rain.

In the interim, the Soviet-American space station blows up. At the same time, instruments on Earth go awry. Because communication is so hard, it takes a while for the connection between the events to be made.

Then at Ringstone Round the gathered crowd is vaporised. Poof! Despite the remains of some dead bodies, this vaporisation convinces the other Planet People who were nearby that the rapture has occurred, but they missed it because they were a few yards too far away. Disappointed, they will have to wait until next time. As the sage said, there is no cure for stupid.

By rapture they seem to mean being whisked away to a better world. How the whisking will occur is beyond understanding. That is its glory. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Nothing will shake their beliefs since their beliefs are based on nothing. See, it has contemporary relevance.

The evidence of their own eyes is explained away because aliens work in mysterious ways. Kickalong is their voice and he is perfect at it. However I would have cast Patrick Mower, who is unequalled in exuding energy and malice.

For the bigger picture on all this see Leon Festinger, ‘When Prophecy Fails’ (1956), reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

The vaporising convinces Prof Q and company that an incomprehensible Dark Force is at work killing these people. Dead is dead for them, and not immigration. Cryptic news from around the world indicates other vaporisation have occurred on ever larger scales. And there, too, the mass vaporisations have encouraged others to line up impatiently for their turn. Imbecilic yes. Credible, too. Lemming-like, too.

Q and company consult the voltmeters and stare meaningfully into the CRTs. The fraternity brothers were making lists of candidates for such raptures, starting at the top.

Meanwhile back at the ranch Joe’s sweet, innocent children recite the Huffity, Puffity song. Spooky since its lyrics seem to fit the events though none of the adults notice. Their baby-sitter, who seemed sane and sensible wearing flat shoes, goes all brain-dead, votes Republican, and joins the Planet People.

The four episodes were edited into a feature length film called ‘The Quatermass Conclusion’ for theatrical release. The latter seems to sum up and accelerate the four episodes which would be about twice as long. It is described as a cut-and-paste from the television episodes with Prof Q’s sideburns au naturel. Some additional footage was filmed simultaneously for the theatrical release to abridge deletions.

Q concludes that the megalithic sites, monolithic sites, and (old) Wembley Stadium* were erected by prehistoric peoples thousands of years ago to mark dangerous spots. Because every and now then Dark Force, as above, comes along and microwaves anyone stupid enough to stand around there. The young dolts of the Planet People are being harvested.

The fraternity brothers began to redouble their list-making, as noted above, but were disappointed to learn that the vaporiser only wants young people. The way that is wrapped up into the plot is ingenious. Suffice it to say here that BO comes into the equation.

Kneale once again shows his keyboard genius though here he is not working with director Val Guest who directed the earlier Quatermasses with verve. Even so the screenplay has ideas, drawn from the commonplace made uncommon, namely that nursery rhyme, and tapping into the fears of the age (Hippies, drugs, cults, feral sideburns) with an orthogonal rotation ( = new spin).

It seems to have been a major project to judge from the location shooting, the number of extras milling about, the costumes, and sets. Imagine all the assistant directors with megaphones marshalling those Planet People extras, and the gaffers lugging the 1970s camera around for outside shots, after waiting days for the English rain to stop, the sound engineers and focus pullers. Then there are the sets of the observatory, the car yard bunker, and the street barricades.

Bibliographic note for pedants. Ernest Bloch in the three doorstopper volumes of 'The Principles of Hope' (1954+) supposes, as evidently does Kneale, that fairytales are repositories of psychological and historical meaning.

By the way, the principals are all whitebread as usual but the Planet People include some of the human variety as they pass in front of the camera. Kickback is the only one to speak, however, and he is whitebread for sure.

The screenplay was completed on commission in 1970 but it took nearly a decade to get it filmed. The BBC owned the rights and started, and then stopped it, but held the rights for years. The original plan was to film the climax at Stonehenge but permission to film there was denied. Other snags were hit. Maybe John Mills shaved his sideburns and it took years to grow them back. Then a new producer came along, namely Ted Childs who had backed his hunches before, notably with ‘The Sweeney’ (1975+) and more.

The critics linked to the IMDb listing are sure the story is dated. They should get out more. The Planet People deny science with much the same attitude as is done today by anti-vaxxers, flat-Earthers, climate-change deniers, Republicans, UFO abductees, NRA zealots, those who hear voices in the air without BlueTooth, and other morons from Earth. It is a story for our time. What distinguished Q and company from the youthful Planet People is that Dark Force does not want their old proteins and that they have knowledge. These subtleties seem lost on such critics.

* Pedants will object that the old, roofless Wembley Stadium was built in 1923.

Wembley.jpg

True, but what was there before? Gotcha!

IMDB runtime is 1 hour and 13 minutes, overrated at 3.5 by 648 cinemitizens.

Genre: Sy Fy and nothing but.

Verdict: One of the first Eye-tie Sy Fy but not the last. Alas.

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In the year 2116 Rik van Nutter….[ponder that as a stage name] is assigned by the 'Interplanetary News' to visit a space station, one of several, it seems, and do a series of human interest articles, about the crew members, their work, life in space. That might seem a reasonable set up.

Here is how it plays. Rik is an insufferable know-it-all, busy-body, girl grabber, and endless pain. He has barely set foot on the station when he starts telling everyone how to do their jobs, getting in the way, and complaining about everything from the soup to the nuts. (Couldn’t resist that one.) After that he gets quarrelsome.

Even the ever whining fraternity brothers grew weary of Rik at 10 minutes and 05 seconds.

His initial meeting with the botanist sums it up. He astounded that the botanist is a woman. He astounded that a woman is a scientist. He is astounded that a woman is an astronaut. He is astounded that a woman is doing vital work. He is astounded that a woman is content to wear the work coverall that all the men wear. He is astounded….

After belittling her work, disparaging her capacities, and insulting her tastes, he turns on the charm and begins to grab and grope her in his state of astoundment. That was then. But what can one say? Has anything changed?

There are some nice shots of weightlessness.

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Though why they wear bikers’ helmets all the time is anyone’s guess. Still the white helmets with the dark sun screens make nice images and were cheap to hire.

The station is on a routine maintenance mission when things go wrong. Right on cue the meteors shower up. In part the accident happens because Rik got in the way, but he is sure he saved the day in so doing. In between pouting sessions he declares his heroism and demands a parade in his honour. He goes around expecting to be thanked. He is royally pained to discover the crew is too busy doing important work to celebrate him.

Never does he ask anyone else about themselves, about their work, or write a note. No doubt to complete his story when back on Earth he will interview another journalist and go from there. Some things never change.

To add colour, so often lacking in Sy Fy, Kmoto is there to make sage remarks. He makes the banal lines he has sound important. This one is not all white-bread. Noted.

More things go wrong and this crew has to save the world. None of them are up to the job so Rik has to do it. Ho hum.

This was director Antonio Margheriti’s first solo foray into Sy Fy. 

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In this outing he took the English pseudonym Anthony Daisies, but Sy Fyians know him better as Anthony Dawson of the Gamma 1 sequence, reviewed elsewhere on this blog. It was with this picture that Mr D proved he could make a movie in ten days for ten lira, and off he went to do for the next fifty years. His last credit was in 2010.

IMDb runtime 1 hour and 35 minutes, is rated a miserable 6.5 by 15020 cinemitizens.

Genre: Sy Fy. Horror. Comedy. Fun.

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Verdict: The search for intelligent life on Earth ends in the San Bernardino Valley.

Once every sixty-five million years a big red comet passes close by Earth.  Get it?  Last time it called, dinosaurs exi(s)ted.  

It is Christmas Eve and everyone wants to see the red comet, being all Republicans they have no knowledge …. of extinction events or anything else.  Everyone who can, stands outside to watch the comet fly-by. The red light shines and life is eradicated.  Anyone exposed to the comet’s red glare turns to calcium dust.  An improvement for the moral majority.  

Some who were partly sheltered slowly turned into Pat Robertson zombies.  A few who happened to spend the relevant hours in a tightly sealed, steel-lined room are uncontaminated.  That latter number includes theatre projectionists, quiz show participants, survivalists, garden gnomes brought into sheds at night, truck drivers sleeping in the back, and …  

Two Valley girl sisters survive and want to keep doing so.  They have plenty of training from soldier dad, who is away fighting Sandanistas 'in Honduras.' Hey, don’t blame me, that is what is said. Apologies to everyone in Honduras but maybe dad was on R and R there.  

In their search for life, they hear a radio station DJ broadcasting, so they go to the station. There they find a tape on a loop.  The DJ taped the graveyard shift program in the afternoon and went home. He might have survived had he been in the airtight station booth. That same tape also lured Commander Chakotay.  They team up, a little.  Not enough, cried the fraternity brothers.

The girls show a few zombies some moves and break into NRA headquarters for some heavy weapons. Thus prepared, they head to the mall. The fashion parade cum shopping spree is great fun until the zombies come to the party which disintegrates into an NRA shooting spree.  The fraternity brothers thought they recognised a couple of Sigs among them. 

Just when it seems things cannot get any worse - Remember ‘Deer Hunter’ (1978) - they do.  They are rescued by a crack team of GOVERNMENT scientists.  Much relief... is short-lived. All those capital letters mean trouble ahead.

The scientists are more interested in…. [spoiler].

However Commander Chakotay comes to the rescue, and the girls again put their dad-training to good use. The fraternity brothers chortled when the lab assistants were tied up with the Santa Claus sign.

But best of all is the finale.

While our gang is sequestered in the desert bunker a cleansing rain falls and washes away the killer red dust and all the little calciums. A new dawn rises. After blowing up, up, and away the mad and bad scientists, aided by one of scientists who retains a conscience despite years of McKinsey-speak, our crew return to Lost Angeles….to go shopping in Eden Mall.

Chakotay and Big Hair look married, and are accompanied by the two tweenagers they rescued from the clutches of the lab assistants, they make a family. Many selfies are taken with a Polaroid. (Remember them?)

They dance down some steps to the street and stand at a crosswalk waiting for the light to turn green so that they may cross. No spoiler. But the next few minutes are worth the price of admission. Delicious and delightful.

Impossible not to like.

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Thank you Thom Eberhardt, writer and director.

It is energetic, full of tributes to other, better movies; fast and furious; has some ripper one-liners, the mandatory 1980s fashions, big hair, big teeth, and Mac30s.   Loved it when the gal pals compliment each other on their rigs in between slamming would be zombies to the ground and cutting others in half with a hail of sound effects.

Commander Chakotay breaks two of the barriers to Sy Fy, being Latindio. Get it? And one of the tweenagers might be Sansei plus. It is rare for Sy Fy to be anything but white-bread.

The empty street scenes in Lost Angeles were shot on Christmas Day and then scrubbed, say the reviewers.  

IMDb meta-data is 1 hour and 22 minutes of treacle time rated 5.5 by 500 relatives of the cast and crew.

Genre: Sy Fy and Boredom.

Verdict: 0 and this despite the star-studded cast of John Stead, Tony Curtis, Niles Doppelgänger, and Valley Girl.

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The trope is a movie within a movie, the former is sold to producer Tony as a tax write-off that becomes a hit. Mel Brooks did this better with ‘Spring Time for Hitler,’ recalled the fraternity brothers.

Lobster French card.jpg Sounds no better in French.

The within movie has the rest of the cast and the rubber suits from Parties R Us. The Martians are running out of air so Lobster Man is sent to Earth to collect air and return with it in his overnight claw. Once there, LM drifts off-mission to hunt down and consume Niles and Valley Girl, who rush back and forth in the 1950s movie nightmare they inhabit. They are shadowed by a PI who repeats invented 1950s PI slang tirelessly and tiresomely.

'Inane', 'inept,' and 'pointless' are some of the kinder things the fraternity brothers said of it. Tony enlivens about seven minutes of screen time before fleeing to the pay window. Stead has no more before making the same move. He also appears in another Sy Fy spoof I have been unable to finish. Saving it for much later. With these two absent that leaves more than an hour…. zzzzz. It is a long cast list and one suspects the contracts stipulated entering a ten vote on the IMDb web site.

Lobster stub.gif Read that stub carefully and believe it, or not: Sundance!

That a movie is so bad it attracts a following of idiots from among the rich pickings of idiots out there is the wet dream of every inept filmster since the late Ed Wood, Jr.  Ed, you have a lot to answer for.

IMDb meta-data is 1 hour and 35 minutes of Dali time, rated 3.5 by 2285 generous cinemitizens.

Genre: Sy Fy and Boredom

The Verdict: Bad enough to be Italian.

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On a deep space United Worlds (or some such nomenclature) police cruiser the crew is Captain Dorito, Cigarman, Stetson, and various rubber masks rejected from Star Wars. The ship is run by the title android, whom we style Pinocchia for reasons explained below to those who pay attention, who is perfect in every respect but is not even partly functional.  

While the crew is asleep for twenty-seven years after an epic beer bash which the fraternity brothers were to sorry to have missed, Pinocchia reprograms herself to be fully functional. She is motivated by Cigarman’s lust and learns what to do by watching within copyright clips from 1970s romance films.  We watch her watching these excerpts for twenty-seven years, or so it seemed, groaned the fraternity brothers. All very post-Modern meta, not privileging entertainment or intelligence over boring and pointless. Like innumerable cultural studies seminars, croaked the fraternity brothers.

While in cryogenic sleep Cigarman keeps a stogie clamped in his cancerous jaw, Captain Dorito has corn chip crumbs in his beard, and Stetson.... [go on, guess]. Fortunately, the stogie limits Cigarman’s dialogue. Good move that.

The end. ‘Hooray,’ shouted the fraternity brothers! ‘That was the best part.’

Disclosure notice: I took the dog to the park for an evening walk while it continued. Upon on return the fraternity brothers assured me that I missed nothing that they had noticed. Hmmm.

Pinocchia is eye candy for some as is Cigarman for others.  Regrettably, said the fraternity brothers, the latter is the one who is undressed though this fact did not stop them faire du léche vitrine. (Figure it out.) Captain Dorito and Stetson are the comic irritants.  Drying concrete is the pace. There is no screenplay apparent. The special effects were $49.95 at K-Mart.

On we go in our tireless quest for Sy Fy grail.....

IMDb meta-data is runtime 1 hour and 30 minutes, rated 4.5 by 1555 pathetic cinemitizens

Genre: Sy Fy Comedy

Verdict: Monty Python is an alien!

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In Sy Fy-land the aliens coming to Earth are most often (1) invaders, (2) technologically advanced, and (3) rubber creatures. In this case the alien are humans, retarded, and lost. (‘Space Invaders’ [1990], reviewed elsewhere on this blog, takes a similar premise regarding the intelligence of the aliens and offers a different exposition.)

Four of these hum-aliens have rented a space pod for a holiday and are tooling around the universe; they take a wrong turn and enter the solar system. The pod is from Rent-a-Wreck and it breaks down, making a hard landing on the M4 near Bristol. One of their number got lost in the confusion and makes a solidarity hard landing in Area 51.

The Brits' Secret Squirrels round up the trio and interrogate them for the advanced technology and alien physiology they must possess. Ah huh. These three possess next to nothing. Asking them about the space pod’s working is like asking the fraternity brothers to explain an automobile's rotary engine: ‘There are pedals…’

Their physiology is also a disappointment. Human. And nothing but. Not even very good specimens of that.

What to do? Lock them up and let the next minister decide. Well, that is Whitehall SOP. There will always be a next minister in a year or two.

The satire is heavy. The pastiches on other Sy Fy films are several. The musical numbers are two. The social criticism floats like a sledge hammer. The pace is swift. The humour is jolly.

The American cultural attaché arrives with six-guns drawn. The Prime Directive of US foreign policy is eradication. A verity. The British minister falls in love with the alien crumpet and tries to woo her. The media vultures descend but soon grow bored with how ordinary it all is. Realistic then.

Then one hapless journalist helps the trio to escape confinement and inadvertently turns them into celebrities. They are eminently qualified to be celebrated, being vacuous, retarded, greedy, lazy, amoral, self-serving, and lacking any talent or ability. Thus they are perfectly suited to the role. Move over Paris Hilton! Realistic again.

Meanwhile, Bernard, the fourth alien, searches Arizona for intelligent life. He searches. And searches.

News of these alien celebrities reaches far Arizona and Bernard makes his way to England with the help of the Chief from ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.’ It’s not a happy reunion. The members of the now celebrity trio do not want a four-way split.

Just as muscle chucks Bernard out, there is a Close Encounter of the First Kind (hinted at in an early instrumental number) with a repo man from the Hurts space pod rental company come to collect the overdue vehicle. He takes the trio away from their adoring fans to settle the bond.

The hapless journalist has lost his meal ticket, but, well, there is Bernard. The end.
Morons_from_Outer_Space_39321_High.jpg Alias Smith and Jones getting on with it.

It is a self-parodying film, leaving nothing to add. There are some truly great deadpan performances from Dinsdale Landen and James Sikking. Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones have zingers and sight-gags galore in the screenplay, though it does seem like an extended skit on the television programs. Sorry lads but it is true.

Some of the humour is pie-in-the-face, which the fraternity brothers eat up.

IMDb meta-data is runtime of 2 hours and 10 minutes, rated a measly 6.2 by a paltry 2129 cinemitizens.

Genre: Sy Fy when it was made, fact now.

Verdict: memorable as well as prescient.

An indictment of reality television made forty years ago by a French director with an English-speaking cast in Scotland.   Bored the fraternity brothers to sleep.

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In the near future, medical science has eradicated nearly all diseases. Most of us die of old age in our beds. But not all. There are still some incurable, fatal diseases.

Recognising a market niche, the Television Network launches a reality program called ‘Death Watch’ which will air the final, death agony of individuals with such rare diseases. The concept is salacious, puerile, invasive, vulgar, and crass, all the qualities of a ratings winner. Coming to Channel 7Mate soon! Why do I think of Richard Carlton? (Nigel Kneale did something even more cynical in the ‘The Year of the Sex Olympics’ (1968), reviewed elsewhere on this blog.)

Filming old folks in hospice care cacking it is rejected as boring what with bed pans and all. Who wants to see wizened oldsters croak anyway.

Better that the victim is young, preferably with a tear-jerked family, and seemingly healthy before the wasting away and pain begins. The bored cynicism of the producers is heavy duty. Into the frame comes Romy Schneider. She is diagnosed and prognosed in a one shot stop.

She goes through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and shopping for the remainder of the film.

First off, the carrion eaters descend to pick her living carcass. In return for the exclusive rights to broadcast her death, the Network will shield her from the other vultures. There’s the bargain, Faustia. Surrender privacy to get privacy.  Romy refuses and is besieged by the free press. She is harassed, hounded, humiliated to get reaction shots. Evasive tactics are demeaning and exhausting. She becomes a celebrity, signing autographs, getting book deal offers, and so on. That is depressing in itself.

She relents and takes the money, and then runs. She is shadowed, accompanied, and sometimes protected, and at other times manipulated by Harv who is the Network’s agent. Here is the Sy Fy gimmick, he has a camera eye. He transmits her flight back to the studio which edits and airs it. (Herbert Lom had one of those in ‘Journey to the Far Side of the Sun [1969],’ reviewed elsewhere on this blog. Didn’t do him much good. Too bad Harv did not know that before he cut his eye out to make way for the camera.)  

Harv makes sure that she never realises this is going on. On the run, they are, after all, trying to avoid others, hiding out in the gloaming, darting through the heather, though not a single tam o'shanter nor a man in a skirt was sighted. These latter omissions made the dozing fraternity brothers question the claim of location shooting in Scotland. Where are the cat strangling bagpipe players, they asked.

Most of the runtime is these two leaving a grey on grey Glasgow and travelling the hinterland to the coast so that she can see the sea and die. It becomes a road movie that we have seen many times before, albeit one with a sharp edge. As Harv plays her to spin out the story, the producer manipulates him to do ever more to wring the sob out of the story. The manipulator is himself manipulated per Michel Foucault. It takes Harv a long time to realise that. Not the sharpest knife in the hack's drawer is that one.

The mouth-breathing passive viewers of Channel 7Mate lap it up.

In this future the conditions are mostly Third World, perhaps we are all living longer but not producing more since we are watching Channel 7Mate all day. Glasgow looked better after German bombings than it does here. Most people dress in worn rags. Even the Network producer drives around in a dilapidated Leyland.

Unlike so much Sy Fy which is replete with gizmos, this one is shorn of that paraphernalia, much to the irritation of some reviewers on the IMDb. The only toy is Harv’s camera eye (and in one scene a Siri computer the size of a refrigerator). Moreover, and again in contrast to Sy Fy norms, no one is out there roaming the galaxy, but rather the focus is introspective. Additionally, it celebrates nature rather than the stars, though not quite in the same intense reverence as Edward G Robinson’s final scene in ‘Soylent Green’ (1973), not yet reviewed, because it depresses the fraternity brothers.  

The musical score is perfectly aligned to the ambience. That is another departure from the Sy Fy norm where usually the score is bolted on later, priced by the minute.

That 6.2 rating puts it 0.2 points ahead of D-movies like 'The Earth Dies Screaming' (1964), reviewed elsewhere on this blog. Figure that out.

Bertrand Tavernier, lawyer turned cinemaista, is the director, writer, and producer, whatever the credits say. Like Howard Hawks, his intellectual fingerprints on a film are obvious.

Tavernier.jpg

There is a 2012 informative and thoughtful short interview with him about this film on You Tube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpaVvh51Rbw). It remained as fresh in his mind during this interview thirty years later as the day it started.

Some of his other credits include these noteworthy titles:

‘Quai d’Orsay’ (2013) - a fool become foreign minister
‘In the Electric Mists’ (2009) - a mystical krimi in NOLA
‘It all Starts Today’ (1999) - a school teacher learns from children
‘Life and Nothing But’ (1989) - a bitter veteran buries the dead
‘Clean Slate’ (1981) - white savages in Africa
‘The Watchmaker’ (1972) - a father’s love is blind

For Romy perhaps the ones to name are the enigmatic Rosalie or the spectral Chantal.

IMDb meta-data is 1 hour and 22 minutes of Dali time, overrated at 3.3 by 2302 cinemitizens. (How come so many votes for this loser? Dunno.)

Genre: Sy Fy

Phantom Planet card.jpg

Verdict: Davy Crockett in space!

The set up is this: in far distant 1980 the United States Air Force is rocketing hither and thither, Mars, Woolworths, Venus…per Marvin Miller’s opening voiceover. (Marv was taking time off from handing out the dosh for ‘The Millionaire.’)

Get this, the pressure suits of the astronauts (and that term is used) have the Davy Crockett touch, a fringe along the arms to keep the space flies away.

DAvy fringe.jpg Check out the fringe down the left forearm of the dark-haired red shirt.

We see these same two fringed pressure suits on no less than eight astronauts, two at a time, throughout the eternity of this film. Even the fraternity brothers noticed the fringe on the fourth viewing.

One of the USAF rockets goes missing. Who you gonna call to find a missing rocket? Steve Canyon, that’s who! A bleached, gaunt, and comatose Steve, but Steve nonetheless.* He reaches for the clichés and says ‘it is too quiet’ in space. Vacuums are like that, Steverino! Maybe Steve shouldn’t have graduated from spaceboy school.

Spruced up after a meteor shower, Steve manages to lose his co-pilot in that too quiet space vacuum, accompanied by the Lord’s prayer. Yep. It takes Steve a while to notice this loss, and he recovers from the emotional trauma in seconds. That’s, Steve! Tough as nails where others are concerned.

By the physics of scriptwriting he ends up on an asteroid, which is sometimes called a planet. Confusing, no? Confusing, yes! He collapses in despair after reading the rest of script. Urgh. Then the leprechauns appear. Is this Ireland? They certainly are little people.

The Lilliputians are led by Nebraska’s own Anthony Dexter, on whom more in a moment. Rather than stake Steve to the ground like a beached Gulliver, Dex has a better idea. Open his face mask. They do. The catatonic, I think but with him it is hard to tell, Steve breathes the asteroid’s air. (Yes this weeny asteroid has an atmosphere in the script if not in physics.) This is the good scene. Steve shrinks inside the fringed pressure suit to Lilliputian-size. Every part of him shrinks. Get it? Now the whole of Steve is six inches. The fraternity brothers shrivelled.

Turns out the planet-asteroid is called Rayton, Rayon, Rheton, or something and flies around under the control the oldest alien seen in B-movie land, namely Francis X. Bushman, who is obviously reading lines from cue cards most of the time and still gives a better performance than the rest of them. This old stager was born in 1883. Driving an asteroid was a demotion for him because the year before he had been Secretary General of the International Space Order in ’12 to the Moon’ (1960), reviewed elsewhere on this blog. Earlier still in 1925 he had been Ben Hur and drove his own chariot. Experienced he is then at driving.

By the way, the controls are Tibetan rock crystals and X just waves his hands over them. This trope became a commonplace when theremin players were recruited as UFO pilots.

X at controls.jpg With X at the helm there are no worries.

Steve wants to fill out his pressure suit again and go home. The Raytons are shy and do not want to become a tourist destination, so are reluctant to let him go. To show him hospitality a jury of six young women sentences him to stay. They do so in silence. See, shy. Then the Solar Panelists attack, led by Jaws in the strangest rubber duck suit yet seen outside a bathtub.

Jaws Kiel.jpg See.

They fight it out. Fight. Fight. Fight.

Fighting back-to-back bonds Steve and Dex, who then shows Steve how to escape, full-sized and fully functional.

The end.

Dex is Nebraska’s own; he peaked as ‘Valentino’ (1951). His next lead was in ‘Fire Maidens from Outer Space’ (1956), reviewed elsewhere on this blog. Dex was also with X in ’12 to the Moon’ so they could reminiscence about that around the script-fire.

The fraternity brothers could detect no Cold War themes in this movie. If there was such a message they did not receive it. Situation normal.

Disclosure statement. I watched this ages ago and no write up followed because of the benumbed state that viewing produced in me. Now that I have been hardened by so much else, I watched it again, such is my dedication to bleaders.

* For years the syllabus in 'Power' had this entry: 'Beyond Steve Canyon and Rambo: Histories of Militarized Masculinity' by Cynthia Enloe. The reference here is to the comic book which became a television series in the 1950s.

IMBd meta-data is runtime 1 hour and 27 speedy minutes, rated a measly 7.2 by 21,596 cinemitizens.

Verdict: Chapeaux!

The Thing card 1.png

At a remote scientific station above the Arctic Circle in Alaska a giant carrot appears with a taste for blood!

Here's the set up. A NORAD airbase tracks an incoming craft that crashes near a polar science station. Since it is time for a supply run to the base, Captain Tobey and his crew are dispatched to deliver the goods and check the wreck. Simple. Ah huh! That’s what they think. (No one seems to think it could be a Russkie.)

After that leisurely start the pace increases. Finding skid marks on the ice, and a shadow under the ice, as if a hot object had slid along and then burned into the ice which then froze back over it, they fan out to measure its shape. It is one of the several brilliant moments in the film. As they shuffle around beating their arms to keep warm in the Arctic wind, they come to form a circle which no one notices since each is preoccupied with slippery footing and the biting cold, until…..

UFO ice.jpg

‘We found one,’ says one of the grunts in amazement. (You either get it, or you don’t.)

After some of this and that, they find an NBA body frozen in the ice and drag that sizeable block of ice back to the station for further examination. By now the weather, per script, has closed in and they are cut off from the outside world in the Science Station of Otranto.

The ice block thaws and a very hungry Marshall Dillon emerges to find a late lunch. Several huskies will do, one of which tears his arm off. No problem, he will just grow another one. Bullets have no effect.

The scientists examine the detached arm and conclude…. It is a carrot!

When Carrot Dillon runs out of dogs, the scientists are next in line. Gulp! This is some vegetarian.

Howard Hawks wrote, directed, edited, and produced this masterpiece. The results is a B movie with A movie pizzazz. It has all the touches of this cinema doyen. Overlapping dialogue as two or three people talk at once. When Robert Altman did that in ‘Nashville’ (1975) he was hailed as a genius. Old news to cinemitizens. Role reversals when a woman takes charge of Captain Tobey. Inverted hierarchy when the best ideas come from subordinates.

Moreover, the soldiers act like scientists and the scientists act like soldiers. That is, the soldiers discuss the problem, test responses, revise, amend, try again, evaluate, and improvise. The scientists obey the senior man’s silly orders and he holds to his interpretation of the facts despite the evidence to the contrary.

The Captain’s authority lies in melding the men together, not in shouting out solutions or orders. The Senior Scientist, by contrast, gives only orders and silences other voices.

There are two women at the station and neither screams. One offers the first practical response to the Thing. How un1950s it all is.

Equally unusual is the presence at the station of Chinese cook who is later there at the denouement, cleaver in hand ready to fight this man-eating carrot. In most films of the day such a character would have been comic relief, i.e., stupidly stereotyped, and then forgotten.

H Hawks.jpg Howard Hawks

Like Frank Capra, Hawks gives the supporting actors facetime and some of the best lines. It is a large ensemble cast of perhaps twenty and everyone of them has a line or two.

The conflict between the scientist and the soldiers is a trope in Sy Fy, but here, before it was done to death by later and lesser hands, it is fresh and vital. The scientist wants to keep Thing alive at all costs, including his own life. It is a being from another world. ‘We must communicate with it.’ ‘We must study it.’ ‘We must learn from it.' He goes like it is the Second Coming. ‘What are a few human lives compared to the chance to learn from a creature of another world.’ Well....

To his credit, the Senior Scientist risks his own life to try to communicate with Thing, and in this the soldiers give him due acknowledgement for the courage of his convictions. Nicely done. No cardboard plot devices here.

By contrast the soldiers know an enemy when he attacks and respond in kind. It is a perfect contrast in almost every way to its 1951 cousin ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ where Klaatu came in peace. The Carrot from another world came for dinner!

At the end, the final words are a warning 'to watch the skies' because more may be on the way. Of course in 1951 Thing has to be a Red Thing. Hence, carrot.

It has been remade number of times but I have never bothered to watch the imitations. Though I note that Janne Wass of ‘Scifist’ writes that John Carpenter’s version ‘The Thing’ (1982) is one of the finest science fiction films ever made, and Janne is an oracle on these matters.

Wass and others go on about the Senior Scientist, with his double-breasted brass-buttoned blazer there in the Arctic hut, sporting a fur hat and a roll-neck cashmere turtle neck sweater. He has a goatee which suggests, to the rune-readers, that he is homosexual, a Russian spy, a villain, a male model, a.... Well he is the pole of an argument but as for the rest. No dice.

He presents his arguments and he lives up to them. In the end the soldiers pay him his due for that.

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