Skip to main content

I’ve just been hearing about your giant leap for space mankind.

Star Cops
2. Conversations with the Dead

Boucher announces his clever premise – and it is a clever premise – with a bit too much gusto here, as Spring has to ask Theroux to explain himself when he announces a murder investigation into two still living crew of a freighter that has plunged off course; they have limited life support and no fuel left to correct course, so they are “technically dead”. The conclusion isn’t quite so satisfying for either this case or the demise of Nathan’s girlfriend, but in general Conversations with the Dead improves on the opener through being attend to the investigation(s) rather than establishing the scene.


With the “dead” freighter crew investigation, there’s a similar problem to the guilty party in the opener in as much as once the main suspect enters the scene there’s no doubting its him. There’s a potentially dodgy Scotsman about (Sean Scanlan who, appropriately enough, has appeared in Rab C Nesbitt), but he reeks of deep fried red herring and is dispensed with as a possible post-haste.


The move to the Moonbase (at Spring’s zero G-sick behest) is welcome from the point of view of limiting unwieldy and pace-destroying weightless scenes (the opening with Calder doing a bit of business is excruciatingly unconvincing) but it further underlines the stereotype-heavy nature of Boucher’s vision of the future. I mentioned Troughton era Doctor Who, and this really wouldn’t be out of place with a Frenchman wearing a neck scarf and beret talking about garlic.


Spring: I’ve just been hearing about your giant leap for space mankind. Congratulations.

With Spring on Earth due to the death of Lee, David does the legwork looking into the freighter’s misdirection (it’s unsubtly called the Daedalus), and unearths that the crew were a couple (against policy). Dr Paton (Alan Downer) shows up, announcing there’s some handy experimental cryogenics equipment on board (ostensibly bound for Mars) and this might be the solution to the crew’s terminal difficulties (using the ship’s air supply to course redirect; quite nifty logic, there). The problem is, Boucher’s unable to disguise how obvious this ploy is as soon as he lays it out for David.


Spring: It would save an awful lot of unpleasantness if you informed us of any journeys you intend making – in the next eight years or so.

We later learn that Paton was refused a licence for human experimentation so arranged the little mishap (“a melancholy way to test my equipment”), knowing “there will be a place in history waiting for the man who is successful in this field”. I like Boucher’s reflex cynicism (it pervade Blake’s 7 too), with Paton claiming Spring can’t prove any of this and that he is a man of influence. It certainly looks as if he will get away with it for eight years (as long as it takes for the freighter to return), the precise charges depending on whether they are “deep frozen corpses” or not.


So while the scheme for the titular case is a good one, it fumbles its reveal of the perpetrator. With the murder of Lee, the mystery itself is kept bubbling along engrossingly, including the introduction of soon-to-be Star Cop Colin Devis (Trevor Cooper, whom Graeme Harper had worked with on Revelation of the Daleks; Harper was instrumental in getting him the gig), the hopelessly unwieldy motivation that no amount of characters’ marvelling over how unlikely it is forgives fails to really satisfy.


Essentially, Lee is murdered by the security agencies so Spring will get on their tail and pursue one of them to an American space station where there are a lot of top secret goings on going on (“We go in there. We bring him out and get everything he brings out and has learnt out the station”). Er… What’s to say the spy will learn anything? The plan is tenuous at best. Even with Nathan having asked the Americans to “stop him at all costs” it seems unlikely he’d make it there and just be allowed to wander about the place.


Again, there’s a palpable cynicism towards those that rule, where national and corporate interests are willing to use innocents as collateral in their quest for power or success, but in this case the motivation is too difficult to swallow (likewise, the idea that “John Smith” (Benny Young) should have got “a bit carried away that night in the park”, when the whole scheme would have crumbled if Nathan died).


Spring: He’s one of the department’s all time cretins.

On the other hand, interaction with Devis yields some conversational gems.  Spring, grumpy at the best of times like a Space Morse, is understandably even more so at the news of Lee’s demise. He requests of Devis “You may not be bright but you can at least be civil”, then goes on to be uncivil towards pretty much everyone he comes into contact with throughout. He causes friction wherever he goes with Devis’ deputy Corman (Sian Webber, who turns out to be with the security establishment, in a twist that actually isn’t readily apparent).


Theroux: Jeez, I wish I had a classical education.
Spring: I wish you had any kind of education.

His rudeness to David (when Nathan quotes Arthur Conan Doyle about eliminating the impossible, whatever remaining no matter how improbable being the truth) is nothing compared to the way he responds to Devis (Devis: You’re not as stupid as you look; Spring: I wish I could say the same for you, inspector”). The scenes between Calder and Cooper come alive in a way those with Evans don’t, mostly because Cooper’s a better actor, but also because Devis is such a thoroughly obnoxious character; sexist, boorish, slovenly and “thick” (as he admits himself). He’s also one of those characters who ends up likeable despite himself, mainly due to Cooper’s good work.


Of which, the colourful language is a calling card for Devis, whether it’s innuendo or talking about bat shit; there are times where one feels it’s for the sake of it, a sign of how this is “grown up”. Occasionally the non-coarse dialogue is also a bit intrusive (“I’ve just had a man executed, against all my principals and my beliefs” announces Nathan, just to let us know where his moral standing lies)


Christopher Baker does a solid enough job directing, but one only needs compare his results with Graeme Harper’s to see how he falls short. The attack on Spring in Chiswick Park recalls Deckard being attacked by Pris in Blade Runner, just without any of the style (Contrastingly it reminded the Anorak of Leon’s encounter with Deckard). Elsewhere, the model work is top notch, especially with the new Moonbase and buggy scenes. The incidental music continues to be very variable, however, like a bad ‘80s US cop show.


Conversations with the Dead and its predecessor ought really to have been absent the opening title song (some would say they all should have been), since its resonance comes in only after Lee has died. While there are failings of plotting and motivation here, the whole is indicative of Boucher’s keen capacity for space age crimes developing from the “realities” of the environment. He also introduces a fine addition to the main cast in Devis (bringing charges against Corman has cost him his job) and continues to emphasise his man vs machines commentary on effective police work; computer decisions are not to be trusted and can miss things (an crucial autopsy of a roller-skating freak, or “Urban Apache” (!) is called off because its wasting Category A resources).





Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

What we sell are hidden truths. Our territory is the mind. Our merchandise is fear.

The Avengers 5.1: The Fear Merchants
The colour era doesn't get off to such a great start with The Fear Merchants, an Avengers episode content to provide unstinting averageness. About the most notable opinion you’re likely to come away with is that Patrick Cargill rocks some magnificent shades.

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

There’s still one man out here some place.

Sole Survivor (1970)
(SPOILERS) I’m one for whom Sole Survivor remained a half-remembered, muddled dream of ‘70s television viewing. I see (from this site) the BBC showed it both in 1979 and 1981 but, like many it seems, in my veiled memory it was a black and white picture, probably made in the 1950s and probably turning up on a Saturday afternoon on BBC2. Since no other picture readily fits that bill, and my movie apparition shares the salient plot points, I’ve had to conclude Sole Survivor is indeed the hitherto nameless picture; a TV movie first broadcast by the ABC network in 1970 (a more famous ABC Movie of the Week was Spielberg’s Duel). Survivor may turn out to be no more than a classic of the mind, but it’s nevertheless an effective little piece, one that could quite happily function on the stage and which features several strong performances and a signature last scene that accounts for its haunting reputation.

Directed by TV guy Paul Stanley and written by Guerdon Trueblood (The…

It’s all Bertie Wooster’s fault!

Jeeves and Wooster 3.4: Right Ho, Jeeves  (aka Bertie Takes Gussie's Place at Deverill Hall)
A classic set-up of crossed identities as Bertie pretends to be Gussie and Gussie pretends to be Bertie. The only failing is that the actor pretending to be Gussie isn’t a patch on the original actor pretending to be Gussie. Although, the actress pretending to be Madeline is significantly superior than her predecessor(s).

Do not run a job in a job.

Ocean’s 8 (2018)
(SPOILERS) There’s nothing wrong with the gender-swapped property per se, any more than a reboot, remake or standard sequel exploiting an original’s commercial potential (read: milking it dry). As with those more common instances, however, unless it ekes out its own distinctive territory, gives itself a clear reason to be, it’s only ever going to be greeted with an air of cynicism (whatever the current fashion for proclaiming it valid simply because it's gender swapped may suggest to the contrary).  The Ocean's series was pretty cynical to start with, of course – Soderbergh wanted a sure-fire hit, the rest of the collected stars wanted the kudos of working with Soderbergh on a "classy" crowd pleaser, the whole concept of remaking the '60s movie was fairly lazy, and by the third one there was little reason to be other than smug self-satisfaction – so Ocean's 8 can’t be accused of letting any side down. It also gives itself distinctively – stereo…

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…