Posted on December 3, 2016
In 1951, during that short breath America takes between wars, director Robert Wise delivered an elegant, hopeful movie about an alien from an advanced civilization bringing a gift to our government. That same year, The Thing From Another World (later remade as John Carpenter’s The Thing to much greater effect) put forth a much less hopeful thesis on alien encounters.
There couldn’t be more difference between these two movies, one plays to our better angels while the other harnesses our worst fears. One is finely wrought and delicate in design while the other is blunt and obvious.
Arrival is our The Day The Earth Stood Still.
I’m going to talk about Arrival but before I put in the spoiler warning break, I just want to say that if you don’t want to cry in front of your girlfriend, don’t go see this movie with her. Take her to see Independence Day 2: Even More Independenter instead.
SPOILERS for ARRIVAL follow….
If it is true that the devil is in the details then Westworld is positively diabolical. I find myself watching and re-watching episodes looking for the tiniest clues to the inner workings of what is surely one of the most complex automata ever constructed for the purposes of entertainment.
But sometimes you just want to laugh.
Stan Against Evil, as created by the hilarious Dana Gould, is one continuous verbal pratfall. The always golden John C. McGinley fine tunes his grumbling heart-of-gold-but-crusty-on-the-outside character from Scrubs by just straight up removing the heart of gold. His constant but hysterical grumbling plays perfectly off of Janet Varney’s just-an-inch-away-from-giving-up Sheriff Evie Barrett.
Varney who is pitch perfect in so many supporting roles (You’re the Worst!) finally gets to step out front and take the lead. The way she plays off McGinley’s character could suffice for a post-graduate degree in “acting is reacting.” She not only delivers her lines with comedic perfection but her facial expressions when dealing with the craziness around her are comedy gold.
The cast is rounded out with more lunatics than you can shake a stake at, including Gould himself as one of the most no questions asked grave diggers the world has ever seen. Deborah Baker Jr. plays McGinley’s grown daughter with the mind of a toddler, an act you would think would get old except they keep feeding her the best lines in any comedy — “White Power Teeth Cleaning” leaps to mind — and Nate Mooney not only plays the best deputy since Barney Fife but also wins the award for the only human who can scream at a higher note than bats can hear.
It’s like Grimm but funny and interesting.
I’m a big fan of Douglas Adams. After reading the Hitchhiker’s series, I consumed all of his articles and opinion pieces with great relish. But I could never get into the Dirk Gently series, never even made it through the first book.
Now, however, there’s this wonderful new series from BBC America, created by Max Landis and starring Elijah Wood and Samuel Barnett. As I said, I’ve never read the books but I understand that it was nearly untranslatable to the screen. Apparently, Landis added Elijah Wood’s character to fix that problem and what he’s come up with is great television.
Dirk Gently is a classic Douglas Adams story rife with cosmic coincidence and Gently is a perfect Douglas Adams protagonist, even more clueless than Arthur Dent. The writing is sharp and the pacing is perfect. Landis has come up with a visual language that is perfect for Douglas Adams’ bizarre sense of humor.
Samuel Barnett plays Dirk as a kind of cosmically aware toddler. Which is perfect for a man who cannot know anything because the universe places him in the path of the things he needs to know.
Elijah Wood provides the necessary drag on Dirk’s bottomless enthusiasm and if it’s true that his character, Todd, was created to make the story work, I think it was a stroke of brilliance. Without Todd, everyone is a fucking weirdo and that’s just too much fucking weirdness.
There’s a part at the end of Larry Niven’s Ringworld where the nominal protagonists discuss the possibility that the only reason they’ve been through all these crazy adventures was so that the girl who tagged along with them could meet her one true love. It’s a nutty theory but one that would fit perfectly in Adams’ world.
I’m only three episodes in but it’s become one of my favorite shows. Highly recommended.
I’ve stopped writing about Thriller episodes because there are only so many ways to say, “Was probably great in its time but doesn’t hold up.” However, I just watched the episode called “The Watcher” and, while the above sentiment still holds true, there were a few interesting things about it.
First of all, the unintentionally hilarious in hindsight moment when the middle-aged teacher, a serial killer who seems far too interested in the sex lives of young men, says to a young Richard Chamberlain, “Sometimes an older man can help a boy stay straight.”
Nope and nope.
Secondly, this may be the earliest episode of female empowerment on television. In the middle of the usual early 60s Peyton Place hysterics about suburban propriety, the female lead, played by Olive Sturgess, turns into a straight up Buffy Summers.
Sturgess not only isn’t saved by her boyfriend, played by Chamberlain, she saves herself from the killer and then saves her boyfriend by knocking the killer out of the window to his death.
She also doesn’t bat an eyelash at the word “tramp” being thrown at her from all sides. She just wears it with a shake of her head and goes about her business no matter who’s trying to stop her.
This is a prototype for Buffy thirty-five years ahead of its time.
Somehow, I managed to miss an episode of Black Mirror Season 2. Last night while I was writing my post on Hated In The Nation from Season 3, I went to IMDB so I could catalog the differences between the first two seasons and the current one and there was this fourth episode called White Christmas I’d never seen.
One explanation may be that I missed it because the previous episode of season 2, The Waldo Moment, aired in February of 2013 while White Christmas aired in December of 2014.
What is that? 22 months between episodes? Who does that? Charlie Brooker, I guess.
Anyway, spoilers for Black Mirror Season 2 episode White Christmas follow.