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

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

You guys sure like watermelon.

The Irishman aka I Heard You Paint Houses (2019)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps, if Martin Scorsese hadn’t been so opposed to the idea of Marvel movies constituting cinema, The Irishman would have been a better film. It’s a decent film, assuredly. A respectable film, definitely. But it’s very far from being classic. And a significant part of that is down to the usually assured director fumbling the execution. Or rather, the realisation. I don’t know what kind of crazy pills the ranks of revered critics have been taking so as to recite as one the mantra that you quickly get used to the de-aging effects so intrinsic to its telling – as Empire magazine put it, “you soon… fuggadaboutit” – but you don’t. There was no point during The Irishman that I was other than entirely, regrettably conscious that a 75-year-old man was playing the title character. Except when he was playing a 75-year-old man.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

You're skipping Christmas! Isn't that against the law?

Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
Ex-coke dealer Tim Allen’s underwhelming box office career is, like Vince Vaughn’s, regularly in need of a boost from an indiscriminate public willing to see any old turkey posing as a prize Christmas comedy.  He made three Santa Clauses, and here is joined by Jamie Lee Curtis as a couple planning to forgo the usual neighbourhood festivities for a cruise.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

We’ll bring it out on March 25 and we’ll call it… Christmas II!

Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
(SPOILERS) Alexander Salkind (alongside son Ilya) inhabited not dissimilar territory to the more prolific Dino De Laurentis, in that his idea of manufacturing a huge blockbuster appeared to be throwing money at it while being stingy with, or failing to appreciate, talent where it counted. Failing to understand the essential ingredients for a quality movie, basically, something various Hollywood moguls of the ‘80s would inherit. Santa Claus: The Movie arrived in the wake of his previously colon-ed big hit, Superman: The Movie, the producer apparently operating under the delusion that flying effects and :The Movie in the title would induce audiences to part with their cash, as if they awarded Saint Nick a must-see superhero mantle. The only surprise was that his final cinematic effort, Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, wasn’t similarly sold, but maybe he’d learned his lesson by then. Or maybe not, given the behind-camera talent he failed to secure.

It's their place, Mac. They have a right to make of it what they can. Besides, you can't eat scenery!

Local Hero (1983)
(SPOILERS) With the space of thirty-five years, Bill Forsyth’s gentle eco-parable feels more seductive than ever. Whimsical is a word often applied to Local Hero, but one shouldn’t mistake that description for its being soft in the head, excessively sentimental or nostalgic. Tonally, in terms of painting a Scottish idyll where the locals are no slouches in the face of more cultured foreigners, the film hearkens to both Powell and Pressburger (I Know Where I’m Going!) and Ealing (Whisky Galore!), but it is very much its own beast.

On a long enough timeline, the survival of everyone drops to zero.

Fight Club (1999)
(SPOILERS) Still David Fincher’s peak picture, mostly by dint of Fight Club being the only one you can point to and convincingly argue that that the source material is up there with his visual and technical versatility. If Seven is a satisfying little serial-killer-with-a-twist story vastly improved by his involvement (just imagine it directed by Joel Schumacher… or watch 8mm), Fight Club invites him to utilise every trick in the book to tell the story of not-Tyler Durden, whom we encounter at a very peculiar time in his life.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.