Skip to main content

Are you a good poker player, Commander?

Star Cops
4. Trivial Games and Paranoid Pursuits

Another great Boucher title, and (fanfare) the first episode directed by Graeme “Graybags” Harper. Suddenly there are scenes shrouded in semi-darkness, the Moonbase isn’t floodlit and everything from video monitors (from the other side looking out, effects-enhanced) to camera placements (An overhead shot! A conversation reflected in a shaving mirror!) have care and thought attached. Add in a sterling performance from Daniel Benzali (a veteran of both The X-Files and Season One of Murder One) firing sparks of Calder, and you have a piece that is a step up on every level.


Krivenko: Why are you so unfriendly?
Devis: Maybe because you’re not.
Krivenko: Have you always been so paranoid?
Devis: Have you always been so nosey?
Krivenko: Curiously is what makes me a scientist.
Devis: Suspicion is what makes me a policeman.
Krivenko: Then we have nothing to say to each other.
Devis: I think that just about says it all.


Well, almost. New Moonbase commander Alexander Krivenko Jonathan Adams really loves his hammy Russian accent, and isn’t all that far from The Invisible Enemy’s Professor Marius for comically exaggerated foreign scientists. He’s entertaining (at this stage), though, and that’s an important get out. If he were dull and rigid he’d just go down on the growing list of Star Cops stereotypes. His interaction with Devis (who has no one to be sexist towards for most of the duration) is some of the most enjoyable in the episode where Benzali’s Commander Griffin isn’t involved (the only unfortunate aspect of the above exchange is the wah-wah joke music that concludes it).


Spring: Since I sacked Inspector Hubble, your State Department can’t seem to make up its mind if I’m the Anti-Christ or anti-American.
Griffin: Same thing.

Griffin is as much of a broad stereotype, complete with cigar. But Benzali is such a pro you’d hardly notice. He even gives his character’s rampant sexism some flair, although it’s a little alarming to hear his innuendo on having Kenzy on the pool table of his Ronald Reagan space station (in light of the following year's The Accused particularly so). Kenzy has wangled her way off desk duty, to Spring’s disdain (“That bloody woman. That woman is a menace”).


Boucher doesn’t necessarily time his reveals quite well enough. It might be that he needs 90 minutes to allow his plots develop towards a finessed conclusion. Here, Griffin and his second Lennox (Robert Jezek) discuss the fate of missing blood specialist Dr Goodman, helpfully revealing matters to the viewer before Spring gets the chance. Which feels like a bit of rush to the end, based on the idea that Spring is clever enough to have worked it all out (this might fit into the gamesmanship/bluffing theme, except that Spring isn't as calculating as Griffin thinks).


On the other hand, we’re inclined to side with Spring when he reacts to Griffin’s protestations of innocence regarding knowing the detail of Goodman’s work (“I don’t believe a single word”). Except that, this is a space bug, “one that likes the vacuum as much as it likes the air”. It represents a lucrative weaponised virus that clearly works, so sealing Goodman up in his lab and sending it off into space seems like the least likely of possible solutions to their problem. It’s the only element suggesting this might not be at military behest, but one would have expected the military to leap on its potential.


The identity of Dilly Goodman (Marlena Mackay, whose American accent could use some work) is also a neat twist (albeit following the twist of Devis’ partner in Conversations with the Dead), although her World Press Association scoop ending is on the cheesy side. More satisfying is Spring sealing an agreement for Star Cops to be posted on US stations.


Krivenko’s crackpot interruption of the salvage crew like a doddery old boffin (“I have been wondering, why is it welded closed?”) isn’t such a great moment, but the whole business with the salvage team raises questions of just how viable space travel for the average person is by this point, and how pervading “stuff” out there is. The salvage team could be off-cuts from Vengeance on Varos bickering couple and, while Harper shoots these scenes expertly, Boucher needs to drop greater hints if we’re to buy into the idea that space salvage is a going concern.


Other concepts are more plausible, though. The artificial gravity of the US station (via some decent model work; in 2001 homage agreement, Harper includes a bit of Strauss at the start), while Nathan using Box to rig the pool game is a nice sequence that has him in favour of the machines for a change (it also riffs a little on Blake’s 7’s Gambit, albeit that was written by Robert Holmes). There are also off-hand little references (space travel is possible without any major bone damage).


The episode pretty much revolves around suspicions of and between US and Russia, which is (not so) nicely topical again. The Russian here is disarming and magnanimous, whilst the Americans are self-regarding and standoffish (not in favour of international policing); Boucher is pretty much on board with the Griffin’s dismissal that “Europeans have always been naive where the Russians are concerned”. This does serve to ensure an undercurrent of murky goings-on until Griffin pulls the plug. Krivenko might just be putting on an act, and we don’t even know that Dilly isn’t who she says she is until David stumbles upon the information.


This is one without an outright crime per se, yet it’s all the more absorbing for it. Boucher and Harper expertly navigate the layers of intrigue, only fudging the reveal. And Harper is a godsend to the series (check out the reflections in the space helmet, a 101 for how to create the illusion of a vaster environment; his use of light in the show was much more astute than the average TV director). If I were to put the dampers on anything here, besides the crap depiction of internationalities, it would be the movie references. They’re all too obvious, with Gone with the Wind featuring and a John Wayne line (last week’s had Shane).






Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How would Horatio Alger have handled this situation?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) (SPOILERS) Gilliam’s last great movie – The Zero Theorem (2013) is definitely underrated, but I don’t think it’s that underrated – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could easily have been too much. At times it is, but in such instances, intentionally so. The combination of a visual stylist and Hunter S Thompson’s embellished, propulsive turn of phrase turns out, for the most part, to be a cosmically aligned affair, embracing the anarchic abandon of Raoul Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s Las Vegas debauch while contriving to pull back at crucial junctures in order to engender a perspective on all this hedonism. Would Alex Cox, who exited stage left, making way for the Python, have produced something interesting? I suspect, ironically, he would have diluted Thompson in favour of whatever commentary preoccupied him at the time (indeed, Johnny Depp said as much: “ Cox had this great material to work with and he took it and he added his own stuff to it ”). Plus

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

To survive a war, you gotta become war.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) (SPOILERS?) I’d like to say it’s mystifying that a film so bereft of merit as Rambo: First Blood Part II could have finished up the second biggest hit of 1985. It wouldn’t be as bad if it was, at minimum, a solid action movie, rather than an interminable bore. But the movie struck a chord somewhere, somehow. As much as the most successful picture of that year, Back to the Future , could be seen to suggest moviegoers do actually have really good taste, Rambo rather sends a message about how extensively regressive themes were embedding themselves in Reaganite, conservative ‘80s cinema (to be fair, this is something one can also read into Back to the Future ), be those ones of ill-conceived nostalgia or simple-minded jingoism, notional superiority and might. The difference between Stallone and Arnie movies starts right here; self-awareness. Audiences may have watched R ambo in the same way they would a Schwarzenegger picture, but I’m

You were a few blocks away? What’d you see it with, a telescope?

The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s first serial-killer screenplay to get made, The Eyes of Laura Mars came out nearly three months before Halloween. You know, the movie that made the director’s name. And then some. He wasn’t best pleased with the results of The Eyes of Laura Mars, which ended up co-credited to David Zelag Goodman ( Straw Dogs , Logan’s Run ) as part of an attempt by producer Jon Peters to manufacture a star vehicle for then-belle Barbra Streisand: “ The original script was very good, I thought. But it got shat upon ”. Which isn’t sour grapes on Carpenter’s part. The finished movie bears ready evidence of such tampering, not least in the reveal of the killer (different in Carpenter’s conception). Its best features are the so-uncleanly-you-can-taste-it 70s New York milieu and the guest cast, but even as an early example of the sub-genre, it’s burdened by all the failings inherit with this kind of fare.

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

You don’t know anything about this man, and he knows everything about you.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s two-decades-later remake of his British original. It’s undoubtedly the better-known version, but as I noted in my review of the 1934 film, it is very far from the “ far superior ” production Truffaut tried to sell the director on during their interviews. Hitchcock would only be drawn – in typically quotable style – that “ the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional ”. For which, read a young, creatively fired director versus one clinically going through the motions, occasionally inspired by a shot or sequence but mostly lacking the will or drive that made the first The Man Who Knew Too Much such a pleasure from beginning to end.

One final thing I have to do, and then I’ll be free of the past.

Vertigo (1958) (SPOILERS) I’ll readily admit my Hitchcock tastes broadly tend to reflect the “consensus”, but Vertigo is one where I break ranks. To a degree. Not that I think it’s in any way a bad film, but I respect it rather than truly rate it. Certainly, I can’t get on board with Sight & Sound enthroning it as the best film ever made (in its 2012’s critics poll). That said, from a technical point of view, it is probably Hitch’s peak moment. And in that regard, certainly counts as one of his few colour pictures that can be placed alongside his black and white ones. It’s also clearly a personal undertaking, a medley of his voyeuristic obsessions (based on D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac).

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.