Saturday, June 24, 2017

Doctor Who--"World Enough and Time"

      “World Enough and Time” is the first episode of the two part finale of the tenth season. It was net to impossible to avoid spoilers for the big event. In fact, the two biggest were exposed in March and April before the series even began. At least they have been able to keep the identity of who with play the Thirteenth Doctor a secret. There were still enough surprises to make the episode something special. I was, in parts, both scared and saddened. When it is only the penultimate episode of the series, that is a good sign of things to come.
      The Doctor now trusts Missy enough to offer her a test run at investigating an issue her would normally handle. Bill and Nardole are wary, but agree to g along based on the Doctor's sincere desire to see Missy reformed. The TARDIS arrives on a 400 mile long, 100 mile wide ship heading away from a black hole. The Doctor remains in the TARDIS for Missy to take the lead. It ends in disaster as Jorj, shows up demanding to know which one of them is human. Something dangerous is coming their way because of the human. When Bill admits to being human, Jorj seemingly kills her. The CGI of the hole through Bill's chest is amazing.
     When the people finally arrive, they take Bill. The Doctor assumes they can help bill, so he lets go, but not before implanting a message in Bill's subconscious to wait for him. The doctor is right Bill is helped. He has a cybernetic device permanently attached to her chest to serve as her heart. He was also right to encourage her to patiently wait for him. Since the ends of the ship are at opposite ends of a black hole, time moves at opposite speeds. As time runs fastrr at he end closest to the black hole here bill is being taken, time will move faster for her. To put it exactly, the Doctor spends tn minutes explaining the situation and devising a plan to rescue Bill. But that ten minutes is nearly three years for Bill.
      Bill's experience is the most chilling thing I have witnessed in a while. Generations have passed in the few days since the ship reversed course from the black hole. Bill is stuck in a hospital with patients with their heads covered by masks who think only of their pain and desire to die. Bill befriends Mr. Razor, a scruffy man who appears to be a low level worker. She spends the bulk of her time with him.
      You know things must go from bad to wore, o here it is. Mr. Razor is actually Jon Simm's Master He hands Bill over to doctor who convert her into a full blown Mondasian Cyberman. The Master then seemingly convinces Missy to join him in whatever plan he is hatching. The Doctor discovers both bill's cruel fate and Missy's apparent betrayal. To be continued.
      It took a few scenes before I figured out Mr. Razor was Jon Simm under a lot of make up. The hair and make up looked fake fro the beginning, but I still did not guess right away it was Simm. The make up job was impressive. Or my eyesight is worse than I thought. Or both. Credit where credit is due. Speaking of make up/costuming, I was concerned the original '60's look of the Cybermen would not fly in 2017, but I was wrong. The idea of being converted into one of those things is terrifying. It is the sing-song, emotionless voice that gets me. So does bill's pitiful plea in that voice, 'I waited for you.” What a heart breaking moment.
      It is going to be difficult to top “World Enough and time,' but I am anticipating the conclusion. Unfortunately, Steven Moffat has a habit of fizzling out when it comes to resolving storyline. My fingers are crossed for the best. The pacing and mood were excellent. As I said above, I was both frightened and saddened at parts. It is not too often I feel such strong emotions over fictional characters.
     Rating: **** (out of 5)

Friday, June 23, 2017

Monkees--"Fairy Tale"

      You can almost always tell when a series is sputtering to an end when it does an out of continuity episode which winds up being a dream or fantasy or otherwise never really happened. What happens when a surreal show like The Monkees reaches that point? You get the worst episode of the series. No, seriously. I almost decided against reviewing The Monkees because I would b forced to sit through this episode again. But I soldiered through it, folks.
      “Fairy Tale” is set in a medieval kingdom designed in the style of a high school play. Cardboard cut outs and such. Mike is a cobbler. Davy is a tailor. Micky is an innkeeper. Peter is unemployed because he is infatuated with a princess, who is played by Mike. While riding through town, the princess' carriage gets tuck in the mud. Peter lets the princes step on him to avoid the mud, and she rewards him with a locket. Peter discovers her guards plan to imprison hr in a tower before executing her. So he sets off to rescue her with the power of the locket which the princes did not know was magic.
      On his hero's journey, Peter meets various fairy tale characters. Each encounter ends with a Fractured Fairy Tales sort of joke. Except that Fractured Fairy Tales was a humorous series. Peter's rescue attempt fails when the princes learns the locket is magic and insists on taking it back. So then he is captured, too. The guys come to his rescue, but are losing until the princess is convinced to give the locket back to Peter. The good guys subsequently win. The viewers inevitable lose.
      There is a rare for the second season post-episode interview in which the guys talk about filming 'fairy tale.” Mike sums up his experience—in particular his appearing in drag—with open irritation. “I'm pretending it didn't happen,' he says. So am I, Mike. So am I.
      Rating: * (out of 5)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Monkees--"The Monkees Christmas Show"

      Are you ready to celebrate Christmas in June? Neither am I. It is difficult to even think about Christmas until Thanksgiving is over. Of course, these days Christmas decorations are often in store displays right after Halloween. We are obsessed with the consumer culture aspects of holidays, folks. But that is a rant for another time and blog. Now we are going to see the Monkees' idea of Christmas spirit.
      The guys arrive at the vandersnoot Mansion on Christmas Eve expecting to play a party. Instead, they are hired to babysit Mrs. Vandersnoot's son while she goes off to spend the holidays with her sister. Melvin is not so much a brat or even spoiled so much as he is he type who knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing. Melvin does not understand love, fun, or especially empathy. Naturally, he does not know about the true meaning of Christmas.
     If this situation occurred today, the guys would simply sit Melvin in front of a television and play a DVD of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Actually, if this happened today, DSS would take Melvin away from his mother for leaving him with four strangers, the Monkees, suspicions of pedophilia would end the Monkees' chance at stardom, and Nancy grace would have enough material for at least a week's worth of shows. But this I the more innocent time of 1967. The situation is more lighthearted. The lighter tone is a good thing. I seem to be even snarkier than usual today.
     The guys make three big efforts to show Melvin what Christmas is all about. Each one ends in disaster. Christmas shopping destroys the mall and injure peter. Searching for a tree earns mike a karate chop from an old lady and a poison ivy infection for Micky. Decorating the tree causes Davy to gt hurt when he falls trying to place the star on top. Taking care of all these problems take up all the cash they were paid to look after Melvin. Unimpressed, Melvin leaves the pad for his empty mansion.
      While alone in his living room, Melvin fantasizes about everything above going much better than it did while enjoying Christmas with the Monkees. The fantasy sequence takes the place of the usual musical romp. What Melvin needs is love, so the Monkees arrange for his mother to come home for Christmas. Everyone celebrates happily with Micky in a Santa suit and Davy as his elf.
    The episode ends with two tags. Both are great. The first involves the Monkees sing an a cappella rendition of “Riu Chiu.” The band has a reputation for bubblegum pop, both they do have harmony. The second tag features a holiday greeting from the cast. They then bring on and introduce the entire crew. A few of these folks were never acknowledged in the credits.
      Look for the bit in the fantasy sequence in which Melvin, who is abut ten or elven, slow dances with a mall employee, a hot girl in her early to mid-20's. He paces his hand on her hip rather than the small of her back or on hr shoulder. He may not know much about the Christmas spirit, but he is obviously aware of something equally important—if she will let you touch it, go for it. Now there is a message for the kids!
      “The Monkees Christmas Show” is as over the top as you might imagine. I will give it credit for being less cynical in its humor than the show often is. When a girl his age asks to cut in, he dances with her, but this time with his hand on her back. There is as genuine a holiday message a possible when a Christmas episode excludes any references to Christianity. I enjoyed the spirit of the two closing tags more than the episode itself.
      Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Monkees--"The Monkees on the Wheel"

      The Monkees run into the mob yet again. This time it is in the city the mob built, Las Vegas. The Monkees are in Sin City to play a gig at a casino. One would think becoming a regular act at a casino would mean the band finally “made it,” but that would appear not to be he case. Thy must have blown the opportunity off screen somehow.
      Micky is busy hitting on Zelda, a pretty blonde who is only interested in cleaning him out of coins for the slot machine. He hits it big on his last coin and earns the nickname Magic Fingers. His luck runs out when he accidentally places bets on a rigged roulette wheel intended to enrich two mobsters. The Monkees take the loot back to their hotel room. The crooks promptly steal it back. By this point, the casino has discovered the rigged wheel and assume the Monkees are responsible.
      The Monkees are given 24 hours to give the money back to the casino or they will be sent up the river. They locate the two mobsters and pose as a gang with an infallible system to cheat the casino. The plan is actually to lose every dime of the stolen money, but they win every time—even when naming imaginary numbers. Zelda recognizes Micky, thereby blowing the ruse. A musical romp ensues. You can fill in the rest.
      If I appear short with the review, it is because “The Monkees on the Wheel” is unusually short. There is only about fourteen minutes of story. Then there s the musical romp, an unrelated tag sequence, another musical performance, and then bloopers from an upcoming episode. The script was supposed to be written by a writer who had to decline due to scheduling conflicts. Perhaps his departure forced the creative team to cobble together an episode in a hurry.
      Micky does his James Cagney impression for the final time. I must confess, the impression was getting a little old. But it earns a good send off. The mob boss mimics Cagney from the beginning. He and Micky get into a Cagney-off upon their first meeting. Speaking of first meeting, a casino patron mistakes Mike for the Wizard Glick. The Wizard Glick is the name of Rip Taylor's character in the final episode of the series. Rip Taylor also plays the roulette wheel manager in this episode.
      “The Monkees on the Wheel” has way too many elements lifted from past episodes to be particularly entertaining. So much fluff had to be added at the end just to fill up the remaining time. The cast even seems to realize how overdone the material is. They are mostly phoning it in while Micky hams it up for the camera.
      Rating: ** (out of 5)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Monkees--"The Monkees in Texas"

      The Monkees return to a rural setting for a third and mercifully final time. Sorry, guys and gals, but I have never been a fan of the genre. I will concede the final foray ends on a higher note than usual with a straight up satire on westerns that pokes fun at every horse opera trope you can imagine. “The Monkees in Texas” directly parodies Bonanza, Gunsmoke, The Big Valley, and The Lone Ranger.
      The Monkees arrive at Mike's Aunt Kate—on a golf cart, no less-- just in time for a shoot out with Black Bart's gang. Through nothing but luck, they fend off the gang. Davy goes into town to locate the Cartwheel family for help. Micky and Peter, dressed like the Lone Ranger and Tonto, go to the sheriff's office and the saloon to recruit some outlaws for a posse. Mike has some soil analyzed and discovers his Aunt Kate is sitting on a fortune in crude oil.
      Micky and Peter wind up inadvertently joining Black Bat's gang only to discover they are actually the Cartwheels in disguise. Ben Cartwheel is Black Bart, if you have not guessed. He has both offered to buy the ranch cheap as Cartwheel and force Aunt Kate off as Black Bart. An amusing musical romp ensue in which the gang is defeated. Interestingly, it ends abruptly and segues directly to Micky crooning “Goin' Down” on stage.
      Texas has not advanced since the 1870's in the reality of the series. Peter never uses a gun because of his stance on violence. “The Monkees in Teas” is one of a handful of episodes not t air on Saturday morning reruns because of the gun violence. Even though it come across as cartoonish. Considering the backlash against Johnny Depp for whitewashing Tonto a few years ago, Peter might regret his portrayal in hindsight.
      “The Monkees in Texas” was subject to re-writes, and it shows. The abrupt ending bugs me, as does the plot hole Micky and Peter know Ben Cartwheel is secretly Black Bart even though there was no moment of revelation in which they figured it out. But hey are a few good laughs throughout, so I cannot criticize the episode too much. It is definitely not one of m favorites.
      Rating: ** (out of 5)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Monkees--"Hitting the High Seas"

    The Monkees seem to get caught up in an awful lot of international intrigue and criminal plans. They manage to land themselves into a bit of both as they wind up impressed by a ship of pirates bent on robbing the pirate captain's last legitimately captained ship, the Queen Anne.
      The guys lose their current job as house band for a waterfront bar. They are so desperate for money they agree to become ship hands on a run down schooner. As cabin boy, Davy overhears the captain reviewing his plan to rob his old hip, the Queen Anne as revenge for firing him after thirty years of service. The Monkees try to incite mutiny that fails, but successfully save the Queen Anne by catching the pirates in a net during the musical romp.
      Mike only appears briefly in the beginning of “Hitting the High Seas.” The character Mike got seasick because real mike also got seasick. He disappears below decks for the remainder of the episode. The script was rewritten to accommodate his absence without missing a beat as far as I can tell. The captain's parrot is voiced by Micky, which makes it amusing when Micky secretly imitates the parrot to force the captain to elaborate on his plan of robbery.
      “Hitting the High Seas” is an amusing episode even if it is short a Monkee. I like the numerous references to Moby Dick, Horatio Hornblower, and The Mutiny on the Bounty. The plot certainly defies all semblance of plausibility, but it does bring the laughs. Ironically, it is the first scripted episode to not feature a canned laugh track.
      Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Doctor Who--"The Eaters of Light"

      “The Eaters of Light” sounds eerily familiar. Bill falls down a hole only to discover lost soldiers. Those soldiers are concerned bout cowardly actions, but must stop fighting and band together in order to stop a greater enemy. Where have I seen that plot before/ oh, yes...the previous episode. I did not care for the plot then, either.
      The Doctor, Bill, and Nardole travel to Roman era Scotland to settle a wager. Bill has a theory on what happened to the missing Ninth Roman Legion. The Doctor has another. Bill stumbles across what is left of the Legion after most were slaughtered by a monster. The Doctor and Nardle find Roman corpses along with a group of kids calling themselves the Gatekeepers. They found a portal and let the monster out to destroy the Roman invaders. Now the Romans and the Gatekeepers must work together to lure the monster back into the portal. Kar, the leader of the Gatekeepers, offers to stay in the portal with the Romans to hold the monster and his brethren at bay forever. Crows say “caw” in honor of Kar. No, seriously.
      The main plot is done in record time to make room for an extended epilogue in which Missy is trusted to make TARDIS repairs. Interesting, since the Master once stole the TARDIS. She and the doctor are slowly bonding because f hr new found remorse over past actions. /the main plot feels even more condensed because of an odd conversation between Bill and the Ninth Roman Legion about sexual orientation. It is mentioned for the umpteenth time Bill is a lesbian. I thought being gay was not such a big deal in the United Kingdom these days? Why bring it up so much with bill?
      “The Eaters of Light” does have a couple good points. The CGI monster is pretty cool, especially when its lighted tentacles are the only visible part in the dark of night. The second high point is the scenery. The episode was filmed on location in the Scottish countryside. It is a breathtakingly beautiful landscape.
      But neither of those is enough to save the episode. Save for a change of setting, the plot is virtually identical to the previous episode. T least space them out a bit! The Doctor's obnoxious attitude gets on my nerve, too. He is a pacifist with a contempt for soldiers. But it is ridiculous how he lectures both the Legion and the gatekeepers about fighting, then drafts them all to fight he monster. The monster and his brethren in the portal are said to be powerful enough to eat the stars. Yet the sense f menace is not present. In that case, the doctors attempt at self-sacrifice felt flat. I did not particularly like this one.
      Rating: ** (out of 5)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Monkees--"A Coffin Too Frequent"

     The episodes of The Monkees may be my favorites, but the supernatural themed episodes run a close second. The series did absurd well, and they are few episodes more absurd than 'A Coffin Too Frequent.” It features a non0ensical pot with holes one could drive a truck though, yet it is one of my favorite episodes.
     Near the stroke of midnight, the Monkees discover a visitor downstairs. Henry, a self-described scientist, points out a clause n their lease requiring them to vacate their house from midnight to dawn on that day's date. They are reluctant at first, but agree to split when they find out Henry plans to raise his Uncle Elmer from the dead to appease his wealthy aunt, Mrs. Weatherspoon. She arrives with Henry's giant henchman Boris in tow. Mrs. Weatherspoon insists the Monkees remain as witnesses to the occasion.
       Henry is scamming hi aunt for her money, of course. She plans to give him her fortune if he successfully raises Elmer from the dead. He will drug her so she will hallucinate seeing her late husband. Cue one of the less subtle drug references on The Monkees. The guys try t convince Mrs. Weatherspoon Henry is a fraud, but she is a batty old lady who is not convinced until Micky poses as the ghost of Henry, thereby forcing him to confess. One of the wilder romps ensues. I like it in particular because Ruth Buzzi, who plays Mrs. Weatherspoon goes way overboard on the slapstick during the romp.
     “A Coffin Too Frequent” certainly makes no sense. The plot element of using the pad for the resurrection is only to save money on sets. The entire episode takes place I the pad. The limited setting gives the story the feel of a one act play. Henry never drugs hi aunt or the Monkes, so one wonders how he planned o pull off his con. Or maybe it was not a con? The ending I which Elmer seems to appear leaves the issue open. In spite of some loose logic, “A Coffin Too Frequent” is fun episode.
      Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Monkees--"The Wild Monkees"

    The best episodes of The Monkees are the ones parodying elements of pop culture. “The Wild Monkees” is a parody of the 1954 Marlon Brando film The Wild One. The Wild One is about a motorcycle gang entering a legitimate motorcycle race. The episode does not break the tradition of pop culture parodies being among the best in the series.
      The Monkees arrive at a hotel in the middle of the desert for a gig. They discover they are not meant to perform for hotel guests, but serve a group of new arrivals as hotel staff. The guests turn out to b a girl biker gang. The girls and guys woo each other with varying degrees of success. The Monkees decide their best shot is to pose as a biker gang. But when they do, the girls' biker gang boyfriends show up and challenge them t a race. The losers get beaten up by the winners. In with their typical trickery, The Monkees lose. They are saved by the intervention of the girls. The biker gangs decide to give up the road and settle down.
     The hotel is called Henry Cabot Lodge. Henry Cabot Lodge was Richard Nixon's running mate in the 1960 presidential election as well as ambassador to South Vietnam among other prominent positions. Mike, Micky, and Davy were experienced motorcyclists and actually rode the bikes. Peter was not a rider, and as a gag never could get his bike to crank. This is the only episode to begin with a musical number. Micky croons a jazzy version of “Goin' Down” as the teaser.
   "The Wild Monkees” is frivolous, but funny. The guys are all working together for a common goal—their survival—while accentuating their best character traits to do it. It is all quite amusing.
     Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Doctor Who--"The Empress of Mars"

      If I had to sum up “The Empress of mars” in a single word, it would be cliched. Writer Mark Gatiess was probably aiming for an homage to Jules Vverne and cheesy move serials from the '30's, but he was not up to the task of tying it all together. The episode was the subject of numerous re-writes which involved settings changes and character additions, which usually is not a good sign. Whatever the cause there definitely was problem.
      The Doctor, Bill, Nardole travel to Mars after NASA discovers a “God Save the Queen” message on the planet's surface. Team TARDIS discovers a group of Victorian Era soldiers who have allied themselves with an ice Warrior they named Friday. Friday allows them to mine mars supposedly for treasure, but he is actually looking for his Empress. They find her ad her warriors. She is temporarily convinced the war the ice Warriors were fighting ended 5,000 years ago, but a trigger happy soldiers sparks a new conflict. There is a pointless battle before n officer who previously deserted redeems himself by pledging loyalty to the Empress. Because betraying Britain twice makes everything all right. The end.
    Okay...not exactly the end. The TARDIS acts up by taking Nrdole to Earth and refusing to return to Mars. He recruits Missy to help him. When they arrive on mars, h doctor is shocked to discover she was helpful and even more so was concerned for his well-being. Or maybe he was afraid of the consequences of letting her out of the vault. Would letting her out before the 1,000 years is up cause her to revert back to The Master? The possibility might explain his return for the finale.
     I can understand naming the ice Warrior Friday. The soldiers were referencing Robinson Crusoe. There is even a movie named Robinson Crusoe on Mars, so that is kind of clever. As an unintended coincidence, the movie featured Adam West, who died on Friday. But some of the other aspects of “The Empress of Mars” are cringe-worthy. Captain Catchlove? Colonel Godsacre? A soldier showing another a photo of his girlfriend back home before he is killed? The dialogue straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon does not help give this one any air of tension. I wanted to like it. A retro-science fiction story combining elements of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and Edgar Rice Burroughs sounded great. But it did not turn out that way.
      Rating: * (out of 5)