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

There are times when I miss the darkness. It is hard to live always in the light.

Blake's 7 4.12: Warlord

The penultimate episode, and Chris Boucher seems to have suddenly remembered that the original premise for the series was a crew of rebels fighting against a totalitarian regime. The detour from this, or at least the haphazard servicing of it, during seasons Three and Four has brought many of my favourite moments in the series. So it comes as a bit of a jolt to suddenly find Avon making Blake-like advances towards the leaders of planets to unite in opposition against the Federation. 

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…

I had that Christopher Marlowe in my boat once.

Shakespeare in Love (1998)
(SPOILERS) You see? Sometimes Oscar can get it right. Not that the backlash post-announcement would have you crediting any such. No, Saving Private Ryan had the rug unscrupulously pulled from under it by Harvey Weinstein essentially buying Shakespeare in Love’s Best Picture through a lavish promotional campaign. So unfair! It is, of course, nothing of the sort. If the rest of Private Ryan were of the same quality as its opening sequence, the Spielberg camp might have had a reasonable beef, but Shakespeare in Love was simply in another league, quality wise, first and foremost thanks to a screenplay that sang like no other in recent memory. And secondly thanks to Gwyneth Paltrow, so good and pure, before she showered us with goop.

The Statue of Liberty is kaput.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)
(SPOILERS) William Goldman said of Saving Private Ryan, referencing the film’s titular objective in Which Lie Did I Tell? that it “becomes, once he is found, a disgrace”. “Hollywood horseshit” he emphasised, lest you were in doubt as to his feelings. While I had my misgivings about the picture on first viewing, I was mostly, as many were, impacted by its visceral prowess (which is really what it is, brandishing it like only a director who’s just seen Starship Troopers but took away none of its intent could). So I thought, yeah Goldman’s onto something here, if possibly slightly exaggerating for effect. But no, he’s actually spot-on. If Saving Private Ryan had been a twenty-minute short, it would rightly muster all due praise for its war-porn aesthetic, but unfortunately there’s a phoney, sentimental, hokey tale attached to that opening, replete with clichéd characters, horribly earnest, honorific music and “exciting!” action to engage your interest. There are…

Move away from the jams.

Aladdin (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was never overly enamoured by the early ‘90s renaissance of Disney animation, so the raves over Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin left me fairly unphased. On the plus side, that means I came to this live action version fairly fresh (prince); not quite a whole new world but sufficiently unversed in the legend to appreciate it as its own thing. And for the most part, Aladdin can be considered a moderate success. There may not be a whole lot of competition for that crown (I’d give the prize to Pete’s Dragon, except that it was always part-live action), but this one sits fairly comfortably in the lead.

I’m the spoiled toff who lives in the manor.

Robin Hood (2018)
(SPOILERS) Good grief. I took the disdain that greeted Otto Bathurst’s big screen debut with a pinch of salt, on the basis that Guy Ritchie’s similarly-inclined lads-in-duds retelling of King Arthur was also lambasted, and that one turned out to be pretty good fun for the most part. But a passing resemblance is as close as these two would-be franchises get (that, and both singularly failed to start their respective franchises). Robin Hood could, but it definitely didn’t.

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

I should have mailed it to the Marx Brothers.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
When your hero(es) ride off into the sunset at the end of a film, it’s usually a pretty clear indication that a line is being drawn under their adventures. Sure, rumours surfaced during the ‘90s of various prospective screenplays for a fourth outing for the whip-cracking archeologist. But I’m dubious anyone really expected it to happen. There seemed to be a natural finality to Last Crusade that made the announcement of his 2007 return nostalgically welcome but otherwise unwarranted. That it turned out so tepid merely seemed like confirmation of what we already knew; Indy’s time was past.

Have you always lived here, Mother?

I Am Mother (2019)
(SPOILERS) This Netflix science-fiction offering arrived with very solid reviews, always a surprise for a Netflix movie, even one they picked up at Sundance. For about two-thirds of the running time, I Am Mother seems to justify the (modest) raves. It boasts assured direction from Grant Sputore (making his feature debut), polished production values and strong performances from a very small cast (basically Hilary Swank and Clare Rugaard, with Luke Hawker in a Weta robot body suit and Rose Byrne providing the voice). It operates intriguing turns of plot and switches in sympathies. Ultimately, however, I Am Mother heads towards a faintly underwhelming and unremarkable, standard-issue conclusion.

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones Season Six
(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.

I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (t…