Review: The Questor Tapes (1974)

2023-02-05 

NOTE: If you’re following along on this Roddenberry adventure with me, you might have noticed that I’ve skipped over reviewing Strange New World, the third attempt at making the Dylan Hunt saga a reality. This is not an accident. It’s a terrible pilot and I’ve already given it more than enough attention by reminding people it exists.

Another prototypical Star Trek concept before it got dumped into the 80s. In this case, the inspiration for Commander Data on TNG is fairly easy to see.

Though this goes in a completely different direction, as this android is built by a mysterious genius who disappeared, sending his creation on a hunt across the world, with a ticking clock running before he explodes like a nuke.

Questor passes for human (Foxworth is lucky he didn’t have to wear gold contacts), but is less articulate than Data. Though I certainly hope his generic ‘robotic’ voice would have mellowed out a bit if this had gone to series. (They do lay narrative groundwork for it eventually easing up.)

“My human friend needs a ride to Korea.”

Mike Farrell is a fine actor, but he’s not strong lead. I don’t dislike him here, but it took a while to warm up to him. It’s tough to shake “BJ Hunnicutt”, even if this is a year before he scored that role. He lacks a certain gravitas, for lack of a better description. He’s like a rice cake.

It’s a slow paced, but quite interesting romp in the same vein as other high-brow sci-fi concepts like ‘Million Dollar Man’. As good as it had the potential to be, I can sadly see why it wasn’t picked up. I’m not even sure what kind of adventures they could have had to maintain a series.

Quite good, but there’s an unrealized potential here that feels frustratingly just out of reach.

Another missed opportunity. In some alternate reality this went on for several seasons.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Observations:

  • Not even “fully functional” was an original joke. Geesh.
  • He got machine gunned like Data did in the missile silo, except it went much worse for Questor.
  • Take a drink every time a failed Roddenberry pilot includes “male”, “female” or references anything relating to gender.
  • Questor Tapes succeeds where Strange New World failed: this show made the entire premise of the series THE story for the pilot episode. Where SNW treated the intro as if we’d all seen it before and just jumped right into an episode of the week. This, at least makes Questor Tapes a far superior watch standing on it’s own.

via https://letterboxd.com/drfortyseven/film/the-questor-tapes/

Review: Planet Earth (1974)

2023-02-04 

Keeping the “failed Roddenberry pilot” train going this evening…

I’m struggling as to whether I find this better or worse than it’s direct predecessor, “Genesis II“. I’m leaning towards worse, even though most folks seem to think otherwise.

The budget has clearly gone up, and there’s an overall boost in the production values. It seems to have saved some money recycling props, locations, footage, and ideas from the original. Made me a bit sad seeing the G2 sets reduced to cameos in the background of this clunker.

As a pilot, the first half of this is terrible and lazy.

It skips over the entire introduction of “Dylan Hunt” (now played by the great John Saxon) — not even showing his misfortune via montage, save for one very brief scene — and delivers the bulk of the backstory via a narrator exposition dump and “captains log” style diary recording, slipping us into a PAX mission already in-progress. It serves a means to introduce us to the ‘team’ before jumping into what could have been any ol’ episode. (In fact, it adapts a planned Genesis II script.)

The first half is a real slog despite taking so many shortcuts. Surprisingly, the second half picks up considerably. But it’s still schlocky and cant’ seem to get out from under the shadow of Star Trek’s whole feel.

Indeed, Saxon is clearly cut from the ‘Jim Kirk’ vein of hero: a too-cunning, perfect “man’s man”, almost, but not quite, overthrowing the savage, backwards evil tribe of women with his dick alone.

And holy hell, is this thing roughly 10x more horny than Genesis II — something I dinged THAT show for. But, in comparison, it’s downright wholesome. Planet Earth is clearly Roddenberry just GOING FOR IT, pressing the limits of TV sex and violence in order to appease the network gods.

I naively called Genesis II “Roddenberry Unchained”, but this is THAT cranked to eleven.

That certain camp charm that made me enjoy Genesis II is not present here. Planet Earth is well cast, but much more blunt, far less cerebral, and somehow much less fun.

⭐⭐⭐

Observations:

  • You’ll never look at Dr. Pulaski the same way again.

  • Speaking of doctors, the guy they’re looking for, to do heart surgery on a guy back at PAX headquarters, resembles quite a bit like Chuck Huber who played Dr. McCoy in the “Star Trek Continues” fan series. (And also vaguely resembles DeForest Kelley.)

  • Ted Cassidy reprises his role from Genesis II as a white Native American character. It was bad enough there, at least he played the role with a bit of dignity and it wasn’t too much. It wasn’t so blatantly stereotypical as it is here. Here, it’s just… really overstepping good taste.

  • This whole remake feels like it’s IQ dropped a good 50-75 points from Genesis II.

  • You’ll never see another piece of media use the word “dink” so many times.

  • Keep an eye out for what’s clearly an early prototype for the Klingon ridge make-up that would make it’s way into Star Trek: The Motion Picture. This is the real delight of watching these — seeing Roddenberry recycle all kinds of shit, and even the origins of things.

Review: Genesis II (1973)

Whoo boy, this was certainly “Roddenberry Unchained”.

You know, I kind of loved it?

The pitch: like so many other similar stories, smarty man from the past is frozen in time and wakes up in the future — this time around it’s 150 years. Upon being woken, the two major factions recognize his value as someone who has knowledge of how to fix things, like nuclear power plants, and just what all these “k-cup” things are. One side tricks him into helping, but they’re really the bad guys. The good guys kind of suck, too, in a weird science/near-religious mish-mash kind of way, but one group doesn’t have pain sticks, nukes, and slaves, so our hero reluctantly makes his choice by the end.

It was kind of awful, and needlessly horny (as was tradition), but… man, there’s just this weird charm to it that only something ambitious, but produced on a low budget in the 1970s can make work.

The cast is mostly good, with Mariette Hartley, especially, standing out among them.

“I’m ethnic, don’t you hear my accent?”

There’s much of the original 1966 Star Trek DNA strewn about this pilot-cum-TV-movie, including some VFX tricks with the elevator, the wardrobe and cinematography, those phony ‘caverns’, musical stylings, a small Majel Barrett role, the hand-to-hand combat stunts, etc.

Pretty much what I was hoping for when I’d first heard about this.

Again, I had fun with it, riding the line right down the center of “fun to riff on” and “genuinely enjoying it”.

I’ve heard this is the BAD version of this, and the seemingly traditional network order to later remake it “less cerebral, and more action-oriented” is the superior one. 

Sounds like a win-win for me.

Wet.

Observations:

– This feels like the missing link between the original “Star Trek” and “ST: The Motion Picture” in terms of technical evolution. In reality there were only 3-4 years between this and Star Trek‘s third season finale. Yet it feels very much like a 1970s production. Maybe what Star Trek might have looked like if they had a sliiiightly larger budget.

– Lurch plays a “white Comanche Warrior”.

– “Decepticons” was a name invented for a kids TV series. What’s the “Tyranians” excuse, Gene?

– After detonating a fucking NUKE over the Tyrianian city: “you didn’t take any lives did you?” 👉🥺👈

“Bet you’ve got a nice pancreas.”

⭐⭐⭐1/2

via https://letterboxd.com/drfortyseven/film/genesis-ii/

Review: Wednesday (2022, Spoilers)

2023-01-25 

Admittedly, I was not on board with Wednesday when I saw the trailer for it.

I was still licking my wounds from the godawful CGI movie, so the trailer for this series was rubbing up against that recent memory, unfavorably.

Even after giving the initial episode a chance, being clouded by all that, it wasn’t quite working for me. Something felt off, and at that point, any hair out of place was going to be blown out of proportion. However, there was still a spark of something there, so I kept going.

That cloud quickly vanished by the second episode.

And I’m thrilled things went that way — not only has Wednesday been a complete joy in it’s own right, but it’s really expanded my perception of what The Addams Family CAN be. And that’s one hell of a lift for an often cynical, long-time die-hard fan like me. 🙂

Some quick observations:

A single-handed scene-stealer.
  • The Addams feel organic and real in this world. (More on that later.)
  • Thing was just incredible. Burton’s disembodied hand from the 1990s films immediately became the de facto version of the character, superseding the original, more limited “arm in a box” version from the 1960s. And here, more than ever, it’s obvious this was the best way to go with him. It’s absolutely freakish how emotive and charming he is in this.
  • It’s impressive that they’ve been able to keep all the Nevermore threads feeling serviced, full of character development, and just generally fulfilling. And most importantly, they never feel like they take away from the main story thread.
  • That said, in retrospect I’m realizing some of them didn’t really go anywhere. For example, the siren Bianca is set up as a rival for Wednesday. At least, initially. And she serves that role quite well. As the show progresses, they pull back on that bit and we see she has her own problems, in the form of her cult-leader mother. This seems like it’s going to pay off later in the series but it never does.
Infectious.
  • The cast is just incredible. Multiple times during this series, I thought to myself that every kid in this series is going on to do great things. Especially Jenna Ortega and Emma Myers, who have some insane chemistry together. Emma’s “Enid” is like the “anti-Wednesday”, but in a complementary, yin/yang completing each other kind of way. A real delight.
  • I feel it necessary to call out how great the show looked. It didn’t overdo it with the color grading, which is usually what ruins a lot of these modern shows for me. There was a great deal of beauty in this very dreary-focused series. Not quite Better Call Saul levels of “every frame a painting”, but there was clearly a lot of effort put into the cinematography here, and I definitely noticed!

Some criticisms I’ve encountered so far are worth examining:

  • Why was Wednesday attending Nevermore when she had no powers to speak of, since the ‘visions’ were her secret?

    Nevermore was more about being outcasts, which admittedly seemed to be more focused on ‘kids with monster powers’. Neither of which Gomez nor Morticia had at the time when they attended, nor in contemporary times. But an argument could be made that back in the 1990s, attendance was more diverse. And then as time went on, the school’s reputation attracted more monster-focused applicants. Wednesday, being the child of a 90s-era alumnus, was technically welcome, but would be a victim of the era — an outcast among outcasts. (Which she certainly was.)
  • Many Addams Family interpretations, stepping beyond the simpler gag-focused 1960s sitcom and comic strip premise, have a problem where once you start injecting real crises into the plot, the concept breaks down. “I thought murder was good? Bad is good, right?”

    Real stakes end up being at odds with their natural, comedic portrayal. Wednesday experiences this problem as well. At least, initially. But as the show progresses, and we start to see Wednesday break down her barriers a bit (a VERY little bit), it’s clear that while she definitely has the ultimate dark, macabre, loner streak — she’s an Addams after all — it’s also a bit of a front. At least in this version of the character. There’s a middle-ground deep inside her, closer to her parents. Somewhere in there. Thankfully, Wednesday’s glacial character growth feels believable. She’s complex.

    Indeed, the Addams clan themselves ultimately end up being more more grounded in general, by necessity of this longer-form series, without losing any their kooky charm.
  • And yes, admittedly, Wednesday is a mediocre, if incredibly intimidating detective. She not only falsely accused several people of being behind the murders, but she didn’t even really ‘solve’ the mystery until she thought it was over, received a spoiler-filled vision with the answer, and the Hyde just up and confessed in the police station.

    The ‘visions’, in retrospect, kind of sucked. They felt more like a writer’s crutch to move the plot along, rather than a skill Wednesday could learn to wield.

    Which is just as well. The core mystery wasn’t really the most compelling part of the show. It was more the interactions with Wednesday and the people of Jericho. So this is a fair point.
  • Finally, Crackstone’s resurrection, in the finale, is tougher to explain. I suspect his radical shift from firebrand puritan willing to torch an entire barn full of ‘outcasts’, and into being a magic-wielding supernatural being is a side effect of being dead for hundreds of years, existing in hell (presumably, or whatever afterlife), and the preternatural manner in which he was resurrected. But I don’t recall anything about that being touched on in the story, so… yeah, it’s just weird.
  • Almost as weird as Goody being an Addams and not a Frump, since she’s from Morticia’s side. 😉

These are all minor things — it was so much fun that even the criticisms that have some merit aren’t show-stoppers by any stretch.

One MAJOR nitpick though… a real problem…

Not enough Fester! A terrific tribute to Jackie Coogan’s version of the character while being his own thing. Leaps and bounds better than Christopher Lloyd’s bizarrely gravely-voiced evergreen victim in both of Burton’s prior films.

I would never in a million years considered Fred Armisen as a good choice for the role, but now I can’t imagine him NOT playing him. He’s genuinely a real treat who’s presence is far too fleeting.

Bring on Season 2!

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 1/2

2022 Personal Movie Retrospective

2022-12-31 

Over the last couple years I’ve started using Letterboxd quite a bit to keep track of what I watch, and maintain a list of “to see” films. I’ve been trying to really make an effort to catch all those classics I’ve missed.

Historically I’d be lucky to watch at least one film a month, if that, and it was usually whatever the Marvel flavor of the month is, or something of similar mainstream nerd appeal.

But as of late, I’ve really started to come to appreciate “cheesy movies”, which should come as no surprise being a long time MST3k fan.

But could I do it without the riffing?

No. Fuck straight off.

But I didn’t strictly need Mike and the bots to have a good time, either. Thanks to OSI74 and Cinema Insomnia, and the gang over on the Twitch channel, I’ve been virtually drowning in weird, horrible horror and exploitation this year.

And, of course, a lot the mainstream stuff.

So, looking back on this year, here’s a quick rundown of the four/five star ones, along with a quick blurb.

Title/ReviewThoughts
Monty Python and the Holy Grail5I’ve seen pieces of this throughout the decades, but never properly saw it front to back. Discovered some new bits, too! The whole European/African question, in context, is a brilliant punchline. And I had no idea about the thing with the cops!
Prey5I don’t think anyone saw this one coming — a risky, unexpected twist on a franchise that should probably have given up by now. Glad it didn’t. More like this, please.
Everything Everywhere All at Once5The MCU’s attempt at the multiverse peaked with Loki, and by this point I’m burned out on it as a concept. But EEAaO owns the hell out of it. And it didn’t need two dozen films behind it to give it meaning. Not to be missed. A lot of heart.
The Batman5Another franchise that seemed to be burning out, but took a risk and went all-in on “the Twilight guy” as Bruce, leaning into a grittier noir-focused take on Batman. Yes, even more so than usual. The cinematography really makes it stand out, even if the film itself is a bit long.
Spider-Man: No Way Home5The epitome of a guilty pleasure. Even with the multiversal gimmick laid bare long before seeing it, it was still a delight having all three Spider-men on screen together. They had genuine chemistry that made it really enjoyable seeing them working together. Or even just hanging out bullshitting. But the best part? Having Andrew Garfield’s version of the character be redeemed IN FULL. That made it worth it, all by itself.
The Wizard of Oz5Much like Holy Grail, this is one that slipped past me, but I knew enough of it from cultural osmosis that it felt like I’d seen it already. There were plenty of bits I was unfamiliar with, but unlike Grail, those were largely forgettable. A real spectacle of a film, though. It’s reputation is well-earned.
Black Dynamite5A new favorite, taking a place along side Kentucky Fried Movie and Amazon Women on the Moon. And that’s a sacred spot on my shelf that I don’t just hand out to anyone. This WILL spawn many repeat viewings.
Glass Onion4.5Craig’s Benoit Blanc is a Sherlock for the modern age. This hilarious take-down of modern internet culture and bizarre billionaire worship ruffled a lot of feathers. Good.
Spirited4.5I’m not averse to musicals, but it REALLY has to be good. And I was not aware this WAS one, going in. I was hoodwinked! Thankfully it’s probably one of the best musicals I’ve seen in a long time, and it’s actually a pretty great twist on the usual, tired Christmas Carol concept.
The Thing From Another World4.5This took me by surprise. The 1980s remake of this is legendary, but I haven’t seen it. Itself another “knew it by reputation” film. I figured I’d see that before I ever laid eyes on this 1951 version of the story, but I’m glad I did. This has some of the most terrifying visuals I’ve ever seen in a film from the era. But that’s probably owed more to my relative lack of exposure. Still, this made an impact on me.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special4.5The Guardians of the Galaxy will always be on another level from the rest of the MCU, and this just cements that belief for me. It’s barely 45 minutes long, but it packs a lot of love and heart into that tiny space.
Joker4.5I can’t believe I actually saw Joker. I swore I wouldn’t. But I finally caved. And I’m glad I did: it’s pretty amazing. A moody, violent exploration of mental illness. It’s fans tend to be garbage, though — I get into that, and why that might be, in the review.
The World’s End4.5A film wearing many hats. Is it an alien invasion movie? Or maybe it’s a metaphor for Pegg’s character stuck in the past? Or maybe it’s an action film involving shattering a child’s skull the wall? Maybe it’s all of these.
Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers4.5This had no reason being as fun as it was. A blend of animation and real life film in the tradition of Roger Rabbit, and easily as enjoyable. This could have gone wrong in a million ways, but it’s clever writing and love of the material keeps it together.

Other notables, without comment: Confess, Fletch, Fletch, The Munsters, Red Dwarf: The Promised Land, Jaws, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, and a whole lot more.

So, damned good year for films for me. Hoping to keep up the pace for 2023. 🥵

Art Crawl: Bad Grandmas in Prison 4 Life

2022-12-30 

Review: Star Trek Prodigy (Season 1)

2022-12-29 

Does Prodigy have the best, strongest first season of Star Trek since the original series?

I’m not sure… but it’s either that or Strange New Worlds.

But frankly, I’m edging closer towards Prodigy. They’re BOTH great, don’t misread me, but it feels like Prodigy had a much bigger narrative hill to climb.

They successfully built, from scratch, wholly original characters in a brand new situation. And it was aimed at a new, younger audience who might be unfamiliar with Star Trek while still making it engaging for both new and old fans.

One big example: I bloody HATED Dal for several episodes. Generic, childish, obnoxious teenager archetype. But as the series progresses you can actually feel a very natural maturation that doesn’t feel forced. It feels earned. Same goes for the rest of the cast.

It’s just a damned GOOD show, damn it.

Can’t wait for Season 2! 🍻

Review: The Munsters (2022)

Not gonna lie: I love the neon lighting in this film. It’s excessive to the point of actually working.

Garish. Crude. Extremely corny and cheesy.

Those bits I don’t have a problem with — it’s fun. I had a great time, ultimately. It’s clearly a love letter in the form of an origin story for The Munsters.

So it’s pretty much as expected, if you’ve seen the trailer.

It’s a flawed film, but I want to protect it, despite them.It’s biggest problem: an excessive runtime given the content.

It has a very strong start, don’t get me wrong, but it feels like there was only enough story for half a flick. The major conflict of the story is essentially resolved just over half-way through the film. Both the concern between Lily’s scheming brother, and The Count trying to chase off Herman.

It’s kind of jarring — Grandpa really hated Herman, but once the marriage is over and they’ve been evicted, it’s like a switch is flipped and he’s a happy member of the family, like in the original series.

At that point any actual narrative challenge in the film evaporates as it coasts down to the other side, straight into the credits (complete with a recreation of the original title sequence).

Still, it’s earnest as fuck, and the cast is a delight. All the sight gags and attention to detail is a lot of fun. Absolutely adored the stylish touches everywhere, including that over-saturated neon vibe.

If you saw the trailer and liked what you saw: there are no surprises. It’s that, but two hours long.

⭐⭐⭐
https://letterboxd.com/drfortyseven/film/the-munsters/

LOVE this cover.

Offensive Technology

It’s the same story every time.

Oh woe! Life is so awful! The magic silicon smoke machines will take my life away!

Trog crap like this meme, and the rigid, binary anti-AI dipshittery, is essentially accepting the history of abuse by corporations as the default outcome of technological advancement.

As long as there are free, open expressions of this technology, it’s not.

Unless you let it.

So here’s my plea: instead of resigning to filtering every big technological advancement through the melodramatic lens of dystopian oppression, grab the wheel. Start thinking of ways to use those tools both defensively and offensively FOR the people. How can these tools improve life? Think about 3D printing, and how it enables people to create their own prosthetics. Things like that.

We should be pushing the narrative towards people-friendly, empowering positions instead of wallowing in shallow meme-quality victimhood.