Sunday, May 28, 2017

Monkees--"Monkees on Tour"

     Bob Rafelson, creator of The Monkees in nearly every way, wanted to finish off the first season with something unique. Without network permission, he filmed a couple days in the life of the band on tour in Phoenix, Arizona and San Francisco, California. The result is a low key, 16mm documentary that was probably meant to come off as candid, but still feels manufactured. There is a clear line between the Monkees as a product for consumption and the Monkees as real people. I cannot help but feel a sense of melancholy about the delineation.
    Something needs to be made clear if it has not been already. I was introduce to the Monkees via the first MTV marathon of the series in 1985. I liked the series in and of itself. While I had my favorites among their songs, the Monkees were actors on a fictional television show. It did not matter to me if they were a real band, played their own instruments, or were in control of creating their own music. As such, the controversies whether the Monkees qualify as a “real” band are of only a passing interest. My emphasis is on the television series, not the Monkees as a phenomenon.
      With that said, I still cannot help but note the clear distinction between the guys in scene before the concert in Phoenix and after wards on a day off in San Francisco. The Monkees arrive in Phoenix the night before the concert by plane. The net day is filled with planned activities in which the guys are to goof around in public. The Monkemobile arrives separately so they can keep up appearances by driving around in it for excursions horseback riding, motorcycle riding, roller skating, and taking over a radio station. You could imagine their television counterparts spending their time this way.
     The concert itself is shown in highlights. Th Monkees start out by performing their biggest hits to fans screaming so loudly, it is difficult to even identify the songs. The audio is as cheap as the film. The performances are spiced up by occasional in character antics from the guys. In the middle of the concert, each one gets a chance to do his own solo act. Peter plays the banjo. Mike covers a Bo Diddly song. Davy performs his song and dance man act. Mickey doe an impersonation of James Brown complete with collapsing on stage, Mike coming out to cover him with a black cape to escort him off, but Micky breaking away to complete the song. The concert ends with the band performing together again.
      It is the post concert segments that are the mot interesting. The guys are cut loose to do their own thing. The manufactured hype is gone now that the concert is over. The guys reveal their true thoughts. Peter wanders alone on a beach taking about how desperate he is for quiet sometimes. Davy laments how regimented his life has become while lounging in hi hotel room. Micky tours a house being built while talking about how he always wanted to build something important that will always last. Mike talks about how he used to stand on empty stages and dream of performing for thousands of fans while revealing he still feels the dream has not been satisfied. The implication here is, in spite of their meteoric success, it feels hollow and fake to the guys. The reasons why the Monkees will enjoy only a short life as a band are clear and present.
      Is it necessary to address the elephant in the room even though it is only touched upon in a punchline from a fan? Did the Monkees play their own instruments? Not always on studio albums. But such can e said of any band. There is an entire industry of studio musicians. Your favorite albums are loaded with them. The question tuck with the Monkees because of the same fake nature of their creation as the guys talk about in the post-concert scenes. The air of illegitimacy clearly gets under their skin.
     “Monkees on Tour” is an interesting change of pace for the series. It is not one of my favorite episodes. The Monkees as a real band aspect of their lore does not particularly interest me. It does not help I engage in a heavy skepticism for behind the scenes documentaries. No one acts real when cameras are rolling, so what exactly am I watching? A fictional band pretending to be a real band, then lamenting the band I not real? It is weird and kind of sad.
      Rating: ** (out of 5)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Doctor Who--"The Pyramid at the End of the World"

    “The Pyramid at the End of the World” is the second part of what has been unofficially dubbed The Monk Trilogy. Normally, it would mean the episode is a bridge from the first to final part with a lot of set up. But considering the unique aspect of part one "Extremis" as a simulation introducing the villains, the really is not the case. At this point, I wonder if The Monk Trilogy is material for a two part episode stretched into three. More along that line of thought in a moment.
    The pyramid in question appears overnight in the middle of a stand off between the American, Russian, and Chinese military. The UN Secretary General Brings the Doctor, Bill, and Nardole to the site. Because of the presumably alien threat, the doctor is placed in charge of Earth's defense. He believes whoever is in the pyramid is daring the three major powers to attack it. The Doctor uncharacteristically suggests they do just that. The attack fails before it can even begin.
    The occupants are the Monks, of course. Something terrible is about to happen to Earth in a symbolic three minutes to midnight. The monks can stop it by taking over the planet, but they must be sincerely invited. The doctor does not support the idea. The Secretary General surrenders anyway, but dies because he is no sincere. The military commanders on the ground from the United State, Russia, and China call a truce and surrender with the same results. .
     Intersecting with this part of the story is what appears to be a b-plot about two scientists in England. One is brilliant, but can barely see because hr glasses were accidentally broken by her hangover suffering colleague. It is not the only error he makes. Placing a decimal in the wrong place creates a bacteria which has the power to wipe out humanity. So the pyramid is actually a red herring. The deadly bacteria is the real problem.
      You will forgive me if I find it a little too convenient the doctor not only figures out the pyramid is a red herring, but surmises the bacteria angle, and tricks the Monks into revealing which lab's CCTV feed the monks are tapping into in a matter f minutes and is there to stop the bacteria from getting out. Everything had to be guessed perfectly in order to that to happen.
   The Doctor plans to blow up the lab to sterilize the bacteria. He becomes stuck behind a locked door with a combination lock The scientist, who is safely on the other side, reveals the combination, but the doctor's blindness finally causes an insurmountable problem. Nardole has been knocked out of commission as well, so h cannot help. Over the phone, the Doctor reveals to bill he is blind and cannot free himself because he cannot see the lock. Bill decides to make a deal with the Monks to surrender if they give the doctor hi sight back. The Monks sense she is sincere, so the deal is done. But at what price?
   The Monks reveal they choose to appear as corpse, so we still do not know what they look like. The word “silence” is dropped in several time, but eventually revealing them as the Silence would be a bit too obvious. Those speculating on Sutehk the Destroyer returning have even less to hang their hats on. The pyramid was a distraction meant to symbolize mystery or fear. I still think the Monks are the inhabitants of Mondasian Cybermen. It makes sense they would hide their true form and it is doubtful a bacteria that wipes out all humanity would affect Cybermen. They were featured in the series trailer, too.
    There is a Donald Trump joke dropped in. The Secretary General, referring to the Doctor's emergency room as President of Earth, asks Bill where the president is. She is unaware such an arrangement is made under dire circumstances, so she assume he means Trump. She replies she does not know the president. She would not even vote for him. He is...orange. I have been following Pearl Mackie on Twitter for a few weeks now. She is a strong supporter of the labor party in the June 7th election and frequently lambasts the Tories. She will also mock trump from time to time. I assume she enjoyed the line of dialogue.
    After all the time spent on Missy and the Doctor asking her for help in the previews episode, it was disappointing not to see her in “The Pyramid at the End of the World.” Judging by the trailer, she features prominently in the finale, so perhaps it will all make sense. It appears right now this could have been a two part episode considering the amount of material presented and the slow pacing. We shall see.
    I obviously have nitpicks about “The Pyramid at the End of the World.” I already mentioned the truth about the bacteria threat was uncovered way too easily. Its reckless for bill to make a deal with the Monks to surrender earth in exchange for returning the doctor's sight. She is banking on the restored doctor defeating the monks. The monks probably would have eventually found someone who would sincerely surrender, so at least this way the Doctor survives. I am hoping for a big payoff in the finale of The Monk Trilogy.
     Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Monkees--"Monkees at the Movies"

      It is a bit jarring to see episodes filmed early in the season held back to be aired towards the end. There is a big difference in the cinematography a while as smaller points like the length of the hairstyles and the age of the songs featured. I can only guess the reason for the episode order, but I imagine it has to do with balance. Recent episodes have been weaker than those in the early season, but “Monkees at the Movies” is pretty strong. It is the last scripted episode of the first season, so the powers that be probably wanted to go out on a high note.
      There is another possibility. “Monkees at the Movies” is a sharp send up of the entertainment industry's efforts to appeal to teenagers. The episode pokes fun at middle aged producers trying to connect with the youth, manufactured stars, the tabloid press, and the banality of popular music. You do not have to look too hard to see how the Monkees are satirizing themselves. They are not called the Pre-Fab Four for nothing. Everything about the creation of the Monkees was manufactured for mass consumption of the youth, and the guys hated it. It would have probably been a bad idea to air “Monkees at the Movies” too early. Fans would have had time to connect the dots if so.
      A b-movie director pots the Monkees at the beach. He considers them typical teenagers and offers them a chance as extras in his latest film I Married a Girl from Outta Town. They initially refuse, which is odd considering the exposure they would get even in a cheap drive in movie, but change their minds when offered thirty dollars a day.
    Bobby Sherman plays the star Frankie Catalina, an obvious parody of Frankie Avalon. Frankie cannot sing, is afraid of water, and breaks out in a rush around girls, but he has been made into the ultimate beach movie icon. It has all gone to his head. When the Monkees are more energetic during a volleyball scene, Frankie verbally unloads on them.
     Of course you know, this mean war! The Monkees set out to sabotage Frankie's reputation. Davy messes with his make up job to turn him into a werewolf. Micky leak an allegation to the press Frankie propositioned his sister. Micky also edits cue cards to make Frankie flub his lines. Mike plays with the record speed to fore Frankie to lip synch at alternatively impossibly fast and slow speed. Angered at how the dailies made him look, Frankie quits. 
  The Monkees con the director into casting Davy as Frankie's replacement. Stardom goes to his head as he parrots Frankie's motions up to the volleyball scene but instead of allowing Davy to berate them for upstaging him, they bury him halfway in the sand and tie him up with the volleyball net. He quits the role.
    I like “Monkees at the Movies.” Maybe the parallels to reality appeal to my cynical nature. Casting aside any deeper meaning, it is a fun episode.
     Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Monkees--"Monkees, Manhattan Style"

      If you were to do the Monkees in Manhattan style, how could you best sum it up? Brief would be the most apt word. “Monkees, Manhattan Style” is the shortest on story content of any scripted episode in the series. There is room for three musical acts and an interview segment, The first two musical number are over romps utilizing old footage. The third is a show ending performance of “Words” featuring Davy on drums while Mickey is front and center with the microphone. How is that for a change of pace?
      The Monkees arrive at a hotel in New York to meet a newcomer playwright named Baker who wants them to star n his first musical. He has not had a hit yet, so he has not paid his bill yet, either. In order to not be thrown out of his hotel room, the Monkees must delay the hotel manager evicting them while baker sees his backer about finances. The guys keep the hotel manager at bay by faking a contagious illness affecting Peter. When that does not solve the problem, they engage in a musical romp. It is all for naught. Baker's backer backs out.
     Rather than immediately return home, the Monkees get the idea to crash a millionaire's club across the street to pitch the play idea. Davy pretends he is from old money, Mickey an oil sheik, Mike a cattle rancher, and Peter a trust fund kid. They describe the play via a musical romp over assorted clips from pt episodes. By the end, all the rich, old men have passed out from too much brandy, but the butler opts to finance the play himself. The catch is he insists on four female leads. Baker earns his big break, but the butler busts the band's bubble. Bummer.
      Comedian Foster Brooks, who played a perpetual drunk in his act, is part of a running gag in which he approaches the hotel manager for his room. The manager assures him he will evict Baker and the Monkees immediately. Brooks says he will be in the hotel bar. Each time he returns to ask about his room, he is drunker and carrying more rabbits.
      A timely joke caught my hear, as well. While posing a the oil sheik, Mickey pitches the play to a rich old man. He asks Mickey if he enjoys the theater. Micky tells him no. it is against hi religion, so he does not like plays and neither do any of his wives. The joke is a job at the hypocrisy of Islam. It may be intended to mock religion in the general sense. But I doubt the joke would be allowed on politically correct network television these days. The backlash from the religion of peace would be a little too scary. A cable show might get away with it, but remember the death threats Trey Parker and Matt Stone received when they planned to depict Mohammed on South Park?
      “Monkees, Manhattan Style” enjoys a few funny moments in its scant running time, but with its re-used footage, three musical numbers, and an interview segment, it feels like filler. For all intents, it is a bare bones plot decorating a clip show. I imagine they were nearing the end of filming the first season and were forced to work on a shoe string budget. It could have wound up worse.
      Rating: ** (out of 5)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Doctor Who--"Extremis"

      “Etremis” was the best episode of the series thus far. It manage to take a premise I cannot usually stand—it was all a dream/simulation—and turn it in to a consequential and highly entertaining story. Missy returns in all her glory, we get a good look at the tenth series' major villains, and much more about the overall arc of the series. As a bonus, it was the first part of a trilogy, so expect the good times to lat at least two more weeks.
      The episode is split into two intersecting stories. I will address them in full one at a time to minimize any confusion. I do not want anyone becoming sick with all the yo yo movement between them. I will address the main story first. .
      The Doctor is till blind. Only Nardole knows it, and the Doctor is working hard to keep it a secret by using his sonic sunglasses The sonic sunglasses do not completely restore his site, but they do aid him enough to fake it for the most part. Think Daredevil for a close match. The Doctor I contacted by the Vatican to translate a text that has been in their Library for centuries called the Veritas. Anyone who tries to translate it commits suicide. The Doctor agrees. In the Vatican Library, he ends Bill and Nardole on a wild goose chase so he can use a device to help him read. He is attacked by aliens referred to only as Monks in promotional material. He flees them and escapes through a mysterious light portal.
      Bill and Nardole discover a light portal themselves and enter. They wind up in a central area in which they can travel to various secure locations on Earth like the Pentagon, CERN, and the Vatican they just left. Via CERN, they figure out it is all simulation because everyone comes up with the same numbers when asked to choose a random set. Knowing this instills a compulsion to commit suicide. . Nardole does, but bill enters another light portal to arrive at the White House where the Doctor already is.
      By this point, the Doctor has read the Veritas and knows this is all a simulation to prepare plans to invade Earth. A Monk intervenes and erases Bill from the simulation. The Doctor, who is now aware he is a simulation, keeps the Monk talking as he downloads the record of the last few hours into his sunglasses and sends the recording to his real self on Earth so he can prepare a defense.
     Interwoven in the main story is one told in the past in which a race of executioners has sentenced Missy to death. As only a Time Lord can execute a Time Lord, they recruit the Doctor to carry out the sentence. He fakes doing so, but honors his vow to hold her prisoner for a thousand years. So it is Missy inside the vault. The Doctor requests her help through the vault door to assist him in saving Earth from the impending invasion.
    Speculation time! The monks appear to be walking corpses. Perhaps they have been affected by a plague, natural disaster, or toxic fall out from a war. My guess is they are the people of Mondas before they became Cybrmen. Maybe they want Earth because its environment is similar to theirs. This might explain why some early versions of the Mondas Cybermen are in the trailer for series ten. Some fans speculate these Monks are the Time Lords. I guess their return would send show runner Steven Moffat out with a bang, but why would the Time Lords want to invade Earth?
      I cannot say much more than what i said in the opening paragraph about how good this episode is.  I liked “Etremis” a lot, and I am excitedly anticipating the next two parts.
      Rating: **** (out of 5)

Monkees--"Monkees Get Out More Dirt"

      “Monkees Get Out More Dirt” is episode 29 out of 58. While I never promised there would be no math, I will spare you the work by revealing we have reached the halfway point in the series. Is it all down hill from here? It kind of is in terms of the writing, but there are still enough em left to make watching fun. This episode is memorable, too. How could it not be when the Monkees are competing for the affection of the lovely Julie Newmar?
      The episode opens with the guys taking their clothes to a laundromat. Each approaches the owner to ask for detergent and each are rendered speechless by her beauty. Her name is April Conquest. She is played by the aforementioned Julie Newmar. All four fall in love with April. In a stark change of pace, they compete with each other for her affection rather than work together against a common enemy. It is an interesting twist. It is also the only time such a dynamic is featured in the series.
      In order to win over April, the Monkees follow the advice of television psychologist Dr. sisters by covertly discovering what she finds attractive in a man and adopt those characteristics. Davy pretends to be a painter. Peter is a classical music conductor. Micky is a ballet dancer. Mike is a biker. Is there any one man who fits into all these categories? Rosey Grier, maybe. April falls in love with each of them. Her inability to choose between them causes her to suffer a nervous breakdown and save their friendship with each other, the guys play a game of chance to decide who gets her. Peter wins, but she shows up for their first date only to introduce her new finance—a rock and roll singer. There is a happy ending when four lovely young ladies movie in net door and introduce themselves.
      There is a gag right before the opening credits featuring actor Wally Cox and two boxes of laundry detergent. It is as parody of contemporary commercial that is amusing, but would probably be funnier if I was familiar with the commercials it is mocking. There are many Batman references throughout The Monkees, but Newmar is the first of three actors who played villains on the show to appear. The other two will be Liberace and Burgess Meredith during the second season. The later will actually cameo as Penguin.
     The big question about April is why, beyond the fact she is hot, are the guys so madly in love with her? She is intentionally made out to be dumb and shallow. The only subject she talks about is laundry. Granted, she is incredibly attractive even without the Catwoman costume accentuating her...assets, but beyond that, she is not much of a prize. The reality takes the sting out of the irony she would have been impressed if she only knew they were rock singers, but they would have been in the same predicament then, too. So does the 'To thine on elf be true” moral even applicable? Not really. April's last name Conquest reveals the only thing sh ever was—something to be conquered. It is all quit shallow.
     I must award some positive wave towards 'Monkees Get Out More Dirt'” regardless. The writers tried something new with the group dynamic. It was effective and funny. A lot of fans do not like the idea of the Monkees being at odds with one another , but I appreciate the creators straying from the formula. I must mention Newmar is her heyday was gorgeous, too.
      Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Monkees--"Monkees on the Line"

      My favorite episodes of The Monkees are the ones which masterfully weave in farce with a solid story. It is no surprise then “Monkees on the Line” is one of my favorites. It features an absurd plot, physical comedy, and spotlights each one of the Monkees in his own mishap. There really are no negatives to point out.
      When no one answers the phone in time, mike fears the guys might miss out on a paying gig because it is not the first time the phone has gone unanswered. The Monkees decide to hire an answering service. Rather than hire one, they wind up working for one instead when the manager cons them into taking over so sh can vacation. She departs with the dire warning to not get personally involved with the clients. Naturally, the guys get personally involved with the clients.
      Ignoring the warning offers each one of the guys his own mini-plot with the exception of Micky. He is relegated to sidekick, but he works bet as a reactionary character, so nothing feels missing. Mike intervenes in what he believe is a suicidal woman's cry for help, but she is actually an actress rehearsing Davy delivers a message to the wrong Mr. Smith announcing Zelda had his baby. Mrs. smith is enormously upset at the news. Finally, Peter confuses an illegal betting operation with a band booking and places a bet on the wrong horse while trying to give a struggling band gig
      The mix ups offers the guys an individual chance to shine Mike has demonstrated an emotional need to not be burden on anyone, yet he goes out of his way to help anyone else in need It is darkly comedic to watch him desperately try to help the seemingly suicidal woman while she is only using him as a rehearsal tool. Davy wins up in a strange chase scene with the smiths, a lady in nothing but a towel, an Olympic torch runner, a football player, and a gorilla. The only aspect of the chase that makes any sense is Davy enthusiastically pursues the towel clad beauty. Who would have guessed, right? Peter, confusing the name Popsicle for a band instead of a thoroughbred, offers the gig to the Pelican instead since they need the work All three are well-intentioned, but their actions lead to nothing but trouble.
      The plot threads all converge when the gamblers show up at the answering service t recoup their loss on the misplaced bet. Mr. Smith, who happens to be a cop, comes looking for Davy and discovers the plot. A musical romp ensues. The crooks are arrested and Davy clarifies matters with the smiths. They reconcile. The actress shows up to announce her show was a success Mk seems genuinely bummed to learn she was only acting. H is into emotionally unstable girls, I guess.
      What else can I say? I obviously like “Monkees on the Line” If asked to recommend an episode to someone who has never seen the show before, this is the one I would likely suggest. It I well written with an odd combination of charm and dark comedy. If you do not like this episode, the series probably is not your cup of tea.
      Rating: **** (out of 5)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Monkees--"Monkee Mother"

      I took a few days off when the opportunity to review “Monkee Mother” on mother's Day presented itself. It was a fortuitous twist of fate. Not only is it mildly clever to review the episode on this particular occasion, but I needed the break. Reviewing The Monkees is more of a chore than I anticipated. Who would have thought?
      Mr. Babbitt has concocted another scheme to evict the Monkees, and this time has a new tenant lined up. It is a long time widow named Millie. The guys initially plot to get rid of her, but wind up her boarders instead. The crisis is not so much Millie is there, but the changes he forces on the guys. She emasculates them by mothering them Micky and Peter are the most receptive. Davy is at least sweet about it. Mike is uncharacteristically cruel and sardonic about her even after he shares a sympathetic moment with her about his desire for success.
     Things go from bad to worse as Millie domesticates the guys, plays matchmaker for Davy, and brings in obnoxious family for a visit. The Monkees decide the best way to get rid of her is find her a husband. They settle on Larry, the moving man who delivered her furniture. It is in the background throughout the episode he is infatuated with Millie. The guys set them up on a diner date. Millie seemingly bores Larry with inane gossip, but he falls for her, anyway. They marry and Millie moves out. Mr. Babbitt appears so happy to be rid of her, he drops his eviction plan
      Three points are worth considering. One, while there is not much in the way of continuity or logic in this show, but it is strange for someone as recognizable as Rose Marie to play two separate guest starring roles in one season and no one notices. Come on, guys. She was a mob boss who wanted to kill you last time around! Two, “Monkee Mother” is also the first of two episodes to take place exclusively at the beach house. The limited setting gives the episode a stage play feel. Finally, the show does a rare political joke At one point, the guys are playing dominoes. Mike asks Peter what this is. Peter replies, “Southeast Asia” before knocking over the first domino so the others fall in succession. This is a reference to the Domino Theory from the height of the Cold War. The theory postulated if one country in a region fell to the communists, others would follow. The rationale was used to justify American involvement in the Vietnam War.
    I am not a big fan of “Monkee Mother.” It feels out of place with the rest of the series. Th plot feels too much like a run of the mill sitcom shtick. The single setting makes the episode feel small. There are a few nice touches. The guys are less ccartoonist than usual. I particularly like the first musical number when Millie imagines herself as a young woman dancing which each of the guys dressed in turned of the 20th century garb I would go so far as to call it the episode's saving grace.
     Rating: ** (out of 5)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Doctor Who--"Oxygen"

     When I saw the trailer for “Oxygen,' I braced myself for an unoriginal story The Doctor and his companions trapped somewhere with a ticking clock counting towards their doom? Half a dozen episodes come to mind with some variation of the plot. I was pleasantly surprised to find the story unique in most regards, but turned off by some heavy moralizing over the exaggerated evils of capitalism.
      The Doctor, Bill, and Nardole are in the TARDIS on their way to answer a distress signal from a mining space station. Upon arrival, the TARDIS is jettisoned requiring the trio to don smart space suits in order to survive. The mining company I so cheap, it doe not provide oxygen on the station. The miners wear smart suits that manage the oxygen supply by the individual breath. Some suits malfunctioned. Those rendered the occupant under the control of the suit, so they walk around like zombies hunting the few survivors.
     The trio lead the survivors on a space walk to a safe part of the station. Bill's suit malfunctions, so the Doctor gives her his helmet. They all make it through the space walk, but the pressure of space causes the Doctor to go blind. Even without his sight, the doctor saves the day by setting the self-destruct to begin if they die, which convince the zombies their deaths would be too expensive for the mining company.
     When it is all said and done, Nardole restores the Doctor's eyesight. After Bill leaves his office at the university, the doctor reveals he is still blind. Nardole panics. Whatever threat the two are facing in the running storyline for the series cannot know the doctor is incapacitated in any way or Earth faces a grave threat.
    I thought “Oxygen” was an exciting episode in general. The creepiness factor was especially high for the zombies in both movement and make up. I was impressed to see what appears to be a handicap introduced for the Doctor which is going to last for a while. I was certainly expecting the blindness to be cured immediately. I even groaned upon the revelation the space walk had blinded him. The no reset button at the conclusion was a shocker.
    But it would have been nice if the writer had used a different catalyst for the events of the story other than evil, evil corporatism. The mining company is so nickel and dime, it refuses to include life support for its workers instead, it provides spacesuits that manage by each breath. The spacesuits malfunction, so everybody tuns into the walking dead until the situation is too expensive to continue. If this was an isolated incident, it would be a one off tragedy. But this is said to be typical of the penny pinching company, and it cause a worker revolt the Doctor cheers on. It reeks of anti-capitalist hyperbole. Dial it down a few notches!
    The moralizing doe not detract too much from my enjoyment of “Oxygen.” There is much more to like than dislike.
      Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Monkees--"Monkees Chow Mein"


     Brace yourselves, snowflakes. “Monkees Chow Mein” bases much of its humor on Chinese cultural stereotypes. It is 1967, and Caucasian actors can play oriental characters with racially insensitive humor and a mixing up of L's and R's. Those were the days, folks. This stuff was funny, and no one was triggered. Not like 2017 where everyone is offended and everyone walks on eggshells to avoid any accusation of cultural insensitivity.
     One other thing before I review “Monkees Chow Mein.” The writers, Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso, also wrote for Get Smart. This episode is famous for recycling jokes from several Get Smart episodes the pair wrote. I have not seen an episode of Get Smart since the '80's. I do not remember a single episode from the series. If there is any sense “Monkees Chow Mein” is a rip off of another show, I do not have it. So my review will not address the elephant in the room because I cannot see the elephant even if everyone else can. Take my review for what it is.
     My review says “Monkes Chow Mein” is mostly amusing. The Monkees become involved with a Chinese plot to create a Doomsday Bug when Peter snaps up a fortune cookie with part of the formula on it. The CIS wants to recruit them to help nab the Chinese spies, but they wisely decline. Th spies mistakenly kidnap Micky. Peter tries to rescue Micky and gets caught himself. The two are comically tortured. Mike and Davy come to the rescue as Monkeemen. The CIS arrive after the musical romp. Case closed, but peter finds another spy game afoot in another fortune cookie.
      There are a lot of culturally insensitive jokes. Some are funny. Others are so predictable they will compel groaning. There is a lot of clever wordplay. The episode relies on it more than the usual slapstick. The musical romp is one of the funniest of the series. The Monkees and the spies run in and out of a set of three doors chasing each other, women, and a guy in a gorilla suit. The only drawback is the romp is set to “Auntie Grizzelda.” I absolutely despise that song.
      I honestly do not know how my review would change if I knew how much dialogue and jokes were recycled from Get Smart. Maybe it is best I do not know. On its own merit, the episode is pretty entertaining. My favorite aspect may even be the Fu Manchu-lie villain, Dragonman. He reminds me of some classic villains. Well, a parody of them, at any rate.
      Rating: *** (out of )

Monday, May 8, 2017

Monkees--"Alias Mickey Dolenz"


     Re-used plot devices, anyone? “Alias Mickey Dolenz” features a Monkee—guess which one—running into his doppelganger and being recruited by the police to pose as the real deal. It was only a few episode back when Davy met his twin and took his place. At least the Monkee have not been recruited by the authorities to go undercover against spies or gangsters in a while.
       While plot device are being recycled, I will give “Alias Mickey Dolenz” props for finally focusing on Micky. Before watching the show for serious review, I never noticed how much emphasis is placed on Davy. It makes sense for the time. He was the most popular one, which may explain why they kept him around even though he only played the tambourine and maracas. Davy is not even in the episode. Micky has mostly been a reactionary character who has occasionally saved the day, but he has taken a backseat to the other three for nearly the entire season. This inspite of considerable comedic talent in both wordplay and physical comedy as well as solid acting chops.
     The trouble begins when Micky, out and about, is mistaken for someone else and beaten by a stranger. Mike takes him to the police to report the crime. There he discovers he is the identical twin to incarcerated gangster Baby Face. The police would like him t impersonate Baby Face to capture his gang and recover stolen diamonds. Micky does not want to do it, but a drive by shooting over mistaken identity changes his mind.
      After learning from Baby Face himself in his cell, Mickey resumes leadership of his old gang. He plans to set them up by recovering the diamonds tomorrow night into a police ambush. Suspecting something is up, the gang follows Micky back to the Monkees' pad and insist they recover the diamonds tonight. Mike and Peter join in as “specialists.” Meanwhile, the real Baby Face breaks out of jail.
      Everyone converges on the mansion from which the diamonds were stolen. Because who would think to look for stolen property in the place from where they were stolen? Mike and Peter stall for time. Baby Face shows up to turn everything into chaos. Finally, the police show up because activity is reported in the supposedly empty mansion.
        I am as shocked as anyone Micky never does his James Cagney impression. When convincing Baby Face to teach him his mannerisms, Micky tells Baby Face they are cousins. It would have been a neat plot element and nod to The Patty Duke Show if true, but it was just a lie Micky came up with to persuade Baby Face to help him. Missed opportunity, that. When mike sets dynamite to he fireplace to uncover the hidden diamonds, he says, “This is for you Dale” before blowing them up. I have no idea who he is referencing. Does anyone else know?
     “Alias Micky Dolenz” is not particularly original considering previous episode, but it is a fun showcase for Mickey. Make no mistake, it is his episode. Davy is completely absent. Mike and peter probably have a dozen lines between them. These points make it feel unlike any previous episode. None of the Monkees even take part in the musical romp. Instead it is a gangster fight It is fun to watch Micky play himself, Baby Face, and then himself pretending to be Baby Face. It is an unusual episode that feels like it is musing some key elements, but a fun one regardless.
Rating: ** (out of5)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Monkees--"Monkees a la Mode"

      It is ironic the Monkees, who are often derided as the Pre-Fab Four because they were created to capitalize o the popularity of the Beatles, would do an episode in which they rebel against a manufactured image of themselves. There are no mobsters, foreign agents, or crooked con artists to battle here. It is a struggle against the establishment to preserve identity and individuality. It is also hilarious.
    Chic magazine selects the Monkees as their Typical Young Americans of the Year. The author of a proposed article, a sweet girl named Toby, plans to cover the guys accurately. But the editor Madame Quagmeyer and snooty fashion photographer Rob Roy Fingerhead plan to make them into the epitome of high society darlings. It does not go well as the Monkees engage in their usual hijinks rebelling against the magazine when they realize what is really happening. When the plan to actually transform the guys fails, Rob Roy writes a misleading article describing them as high cultured.
     The published article causes the guys to lose friends. When they are invited to a banquet to receive the Typical Young Americans award, they take the opportunity for revenge by embarrassing Chic's advertisers with their uncouth nature. They are loud, clumsy, flirtatious, and in Davy's case, bald. The plan works as Quagmeyer and Rob Roy are fired. It fails because Toby is now in charge of the magazine and refuses a retraction. Meet the new boss, same as the old.
      The humor in “Monkees a la Mode" relies heavily on creating chaos as a form of rebellion against the establishment and simple, but funny sight gags. The combination works well. Quagmeyer and Rob Roy are unlikable from the start, so it is easy to cheer on the Monkee mayhem used to humiliate them. There are many small moment that are great, such as Davy peering the peep hole ever time there is a knock at the door even though he is too short to look into it. There is the usual absurdity, too, such as when Rob Roy pulls a gun on Micky to convince him to stop being so annoying.
      To add to the irony of “Monkees a la Mode,” it was the first episode to air after Don Kirshner was fired. Kirshner was supervisor for the Monkees' music. He was fired for releasing the next single without the Monkees' agreement. His termination, for better or worse, gave the Monkees themselves control over their music. So the Monkees defeated the recording industry elite to control their destiny as their television counterparts defeated the fashion elite to maintain their image.
      Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Doctor Who--"Knock Knock"

      It is amazing how a stellar ending can change my opinion on an episode. As I watched the first 3/4ths of “Knock Knock,” I joked it was Doctor Who on Valium. I can appreciate a slow build up of tension when there actually is a slow build up of tension and not a lot of plodding around waiting for something—anything—to happen. I still consider the glacial story pacing in the beginning a detriment, but the but the end was quite redeeming.
      Bill and five of her friends are looking for a new place to live. They decide to rent an old house for cheap based on the recommendation of the landlord. The doctor helps Bill move, but becomes wary of the house's odd creaking noises. For good reason, too. Once everyone I inside, the doors become sealed and alien insects crawl out the walls to devour victims. The landlord says he needs their lives to keep his daughter Eliza alive. Mercy, mercy...it takes a long time to reach this point.
      When we do reach this point, Eliza is revealed to be completely made of wood. The special effects are fantastic. Eliza's appearance is incredibly creepy. The creepiness factor is ramped up because she is a soft spoken, tragic figure. She is also not the landlord's daughter, but his mother. He has been luring people to the house to keep her alive for decades out of guilt over infecting her with the alien insects as a child. Eliza takes control of the insects and uses them to consume both herself and her son while simultaneously restoring Bill' friends. Everyone escapes before the house collapses on itself.
    Whoever or whatever is in the vault plays the piano and has a fairly good relationship with the Doctor as they dine together at the end.
      It feels odd there are no references t the sonic screwdriver being useless against wood considering Eliza was made entirely out of wood. T is also odd the landlord is never named. His actually relationship with Eliza is said to be lost with time. Leaving these two points blank seem like peculiar omissions, but since I am only lukewarm on the episode in general, I will resist piling on.
      So I am down on the slow pacing in the beginning of “Knock Knock.” emphasizing bill's relationships with her friends was an effort to humanize her a bit. The move was probably necessary since since she hit the ground running as a companion. But I already liked her, so I really did not need it. The story could have ramped up much faster. But I was impressed with the special effects fr the insect swarms and Eliza. They do not completely save “Knock knock,' but they are neat to see.
      Rating: ** (out of)

Monkees--"Captain Crocodile"

     The Monkees appear to get their big break when scheduled to appear on a television show for kids called Captain Crocodile. But Captain Crocodile fears he is being edged out by the new popularity of rock and roll singers, so he sabotage their appearances at every turn even after intervention by an eleven year old network executive. In a last ditch effort, Captain Crocodile sends his most loyal fan fans after the Monkees, who win the kids over during a musical romp. Captain Crocodile is fired after melting down about “these rotten kids,” but is replaced by his co-host who gives the Monkees the same treatment.
      If I appear to be shorting the plot, it is because the story is not the most entertaining aspect of the episode. The distinction goes to the fantasy sequence right after Captain Crocodile humiliates the Monkees on their second appearance. Peter is terribly upset over their blown appearance, so the others cheer him up by assuring him there will be other chances to star in television. They proceed to act out three parodies of popular television shows, including a news panel show, I've Got a Secret, and my favorite, a Batman parody with peter as the hero, Frogman, and Davy as his partner, Reuben the Tadpole. The parody is complete with odd sound effects during the big fight sequence.
      The fantasy sequence is the best part of the episode, but I do not mean to shot change the rest. I also enjoy the bit in which the disguised Monkees interrupt the executive meeting called to discuss the Monkees after a forged letter writing campaign complains abut them. Micky is a Nielsen pollster, Mike is a janitor with fourteen grandchildren, and Davy and Peter pose a kids. All urge the Monkees remain on the air.
     The Monkees perform “Valleri” on The Captain Crocodile Show. Or at least they think they do. Captain Crocodile signs off before they begin playing. While “Valleri' is one of the group's most popular songs, it is the object of much corn by Mike Nesmith. He considers it their worst effort. I find this opinion especially odd since “Valleri' is not only a decent song, but the episode also features “Auntie Grizzelda,” which is actually the wort Monkees' song ever.
      “Captain Crocodile' is a fun episode. The story itself has some funny gags, but it is the television fantasy sequence in the middle that is the true highlight.
      Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Monkees--"Monkees at the Circus"

      Is “Monkees at the Circus” merely an excuse to string together references to Micky Dolenz's first acting job in Circus Boy? I honestly do not know. I have never seen the show and can only identify one reference. At one point, Micky is quietly singing the theme song. Peter asks him what the tune is. Micky relies it is the theme to an old show he knows from somewhere, but cannot remember. Cue canned laughter. Maybe it is the only reference, but I have to point it out or someone else most certainly will.
      The Monkees visit a struggling circus on the verge of shutting down. Its star attraction, a knife thrower named Victor, is ready to quit because people have no interest in seeing the circus anymore. Davy, who is naturally infatuated with the circus owner's daughter, Susan, tries to pep talk the performers into going on with the show to no avail. In a last ditch effort, the Monkees pose as the world famous high wire act, the Mozzarella Brothers. The prospect compels the performers to go on until the guys come clean since they cannot perform a high wire act. Their clown act to cheer up the distraught Susan convinces the performers yet again to put a show on. Even Victor does his act when the crowd shows excitement.
“Monkees at the Circus” is one of the hokiest episodes of the series. As with the previous episode, the guys are pulling a con job at the expense of the pretty girl. Except this time, there are real negative consequences. Susan cries her eyes out when they are exposed as frauds. Their heart was in the right place. They assumed the crowds would be so entertained y the regular acts, the Mozzarella Brothers would not be missed. They were ultimately right, but there was no way to know that and every reason to assume the crowd would be upset the star attraction were not going to appear.
      Bonus points awarded for Davy coaxing victor to perform by threatening to do the knife throwing act himself at poor Susan. First, he manipulates her by posing as a world class circus act, then he risks killing her with inept knife throwing. She still falls for him in the end. We never see Susan again after the episode. By his actions, Davy winds up being more than a cad this time around.
      I still like “Monkees at the Circus' in spite of its relatively dark—for this series, at any rate—elements. The clown act they do in the first musical romp is one of my favorites in the series. There are enough other funny moments to make it enjoyable, but I think our heroes come off looking worse than they usually do. The girls is cute, though. Especially in her costume. Oh, and there are elephants in the circus for anyone triggered by captive animals. There is my public service announcement for the day.
      Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Monkees--"The Prince and the Paupers"

      Let us start with the most obvious point..."The Prince and the Paupers” is loosely based on the Mark Twain novel The Prince and the Pauper. By loosely based, I mean mostly the title. The novel is about a prince and a poor guy who are identical. Through a case of mistaken identity, they switch roles and learn how the other half lives. In this episode Davy discovers Ludlow, the Prince of Beruvia, is identical to him, except he must get married within a month or lose his crown, but he is too shy to talk to girls. You can see where this is going.
      You can see where this is going because the plot plays out the same as the first episode, "Royal Flush," right down to Davy sword fighting the villain during the climactic musical romp. In both cases, young royalty have a deadline to meet in order to stay in power that a power hungry aide is plotting to prevent them from making. The Monkees—mostly Davy—intervene to save the day. The Monkees reshaped the European map more than the Treaty of Versailles. Maybe they should have abandoned rock and roll for diplomacy.
      The bad part about “The Prince and the Paupers” is not the plot similarities with 'Royal flush,' but the mean-spirited con being pulled. Davy takes Ludlow's place in order to woo Wendy, the potential bride to be. Meanwhile, Micky and Peter take Ludlow to the Monkees' pad to teach him how to talk to girls. Davy convinces Wendy to marry him, but Ludlow never develops any skill with women. Yet Ludlow will be the one to marry Wendy even though she is in love with Davy. Wendy does so and seems happy with her decision, but it is still evil to trick her in such a manner. She grew up on Park Avenue, so maybe the money and power are enough to convince her Ludlow is her true love. The sad part is I cannot decide if I am being cynical or realistic.
      It is never wise to take this show too seriously. The stories rarely even maintain the warped sense of internal logic established in each episode. But this plot is uncharacteristically harsh. Usually, the villains get their in the end, but not at the expense of the pretty girl. Micky even throw punches here. Come on, now. The Monkees are all about clever trickery, not violence to solve their problems. Not violence.
      On a final note that might be considered unfair piling on, the split screen technique used when both Davy and Ludlow on screen might have been great at the time, but it was definitely not intended for HD DVD. Either it was not that good at he time, either, or cost prohibitive, but there was a stand in shown from behind in all but two scenes when Davy and Ludlow shared screen time. It looks better that way.
      It should be clear I did not particularly like 'The Prince and the Paupers.” It doe not have a lot going for it. The plot was done before nineteen episodes back. The plan to save the day misleads an innocent character to potentially wreck her life. The Monkees themselves act out of character enough to take almost all the fun out of the episode. There are a few laughs, and Davy's portrayal of ludlow as a stammering beta male is amusing, but neither is a saving grace.
      Rating: ** (out of 5)

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Monkees--"Monkees in the Ring"


   
     “Monkees in the Ring” revisits a couple of old tropes. Someone tries to lure Davy away from the band in order to exploit him. The bad guys who are trying to exploit him are a pair of crooks, one smart and the other dumb henchman. The differences are there s no pretty girl involved and the two bad guys are not with the mob. At least I assume they are an independent operation. Organized crime is all over the sport of boxing.
      Davy falls for a con job set up by a crooked boxing promoter and his sidekick. The con involves convincing Davy he has potential to be the next featherweight champion by having him knock out a guy on the street who accosts Peter. Davy is set up to fight several matches against boxers willing to take a dive, then give Davy a shot at the champ. Davy will naturally get clobbered in a fight against the champ.
      The rest of the Monkees, who did not want Davy fighting in the fist place, Discover the truth when one of the boxers claims he got less money for taking a dive than another. Success has gone to Dave’s head, so he refuses to listen. The guys try and fail to scare the champ into calling off the fight. Nothing works until everyone gets in the ring for a musical romp. Davy survives intact and the bad guys are arrested.
The champ is an homage to Cassius Clay/Mohamed Ali. He talks in rhyme in both taunting his opponents and in normal conversations.
      “Monkees in the Ring” has some funny moments, but it is just does not feel right. You could plug in the characters from a hundred different sitcoms and you would come up with this. Even the just for laughs training session set to music is something you would expect here in the post-Rocky era. It is unfair to apply the comparison to an episode of television airing a decade before Rocky was released,, but it merely punctuate my criticism of a mediocre episode.
      Rating: ** (out of 5)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Monkees--"Find the Monkees"

      The Monkees go meta when they seek to audition for a television producer who is also looking for them after accidentally hears a rehearsal session recording of theirs. Wires keep getting crossed as they barely miss one another. The episode is fun, but the most interesting part is the epilogue interview. We will get to that in a moment.
      Our heroes run into quite a few obstacles in their pursuit of television producer Hubbell Benson and his long suffering secretary, Ms. Chomsky, including peter's nervous hiccups, auditioning by phone to the wrong number, and plain scaring Benson off in a musical romp. For his effort, Hubbell tries the missing persons bureau and a newspaper headline. Nothing works until a rival band recognizes the Monkees' rehearsal session recording.
      The Monkees play for Benson at the beach house and he loves them. It looks like the Monkees have gotten their big break until ms Chomsky samples the theme song for the new show. Benson loves her voice. He cannot believe he missed the talent right under his nose all thee years! The Monkees miss out on their chance at stardom yet again. Peter take it the hardest when reality hit him and goes missing for the end of the episode.
     “Find the Monkees' is one of the best episodes of the series. It is one of the few in which the focus is on the band trying to find success. They all work together well, and the guest cast is just as funny. The musical romp advances the plot. The show is getting better at doing that. One of my favorite sight gags is featured when the phone booth audition delays Clark Kent from changing into Superman. 
     I also enjoy the subtle point the Monkees are struggling to be the band thy already are The other bands auditioning for Benson have a gimmick, such as matching costumes, but the Monkees are uniquely themselves.
      Speaking of uniquely being themselves, the post episode interview. It is the best one of the series, if memory serves of the rest. Sentence me to thirty lashes with a wet noodle if I change my mind later. The Monkees talk about the sunset Strip riots that occurred in 1966 over a ten PM curfew set for anyone under age eighteen. Micky indignantly declares they were demonstrations, not riots. The authorities and journalist cannot spell demonstrations, so they call it a riot. They can spell a word with four letters. Ouch. When mike is asked if he would like for kids to wear their hair like his, says he wants kids to wear their hair anyway they want. This interview is one of the rare times the Monkees were allowed to indulge in the youth rebellion of the '60's during the show. It is interesting to watch.
Rating: **** (out of 5)