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

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 will beat you like a Cherokee drum.

Fast & Furious 8 aka The Fate of the Furious (2017)
(SPOILERS) Fun. Brio. That’s what any director needs to bring a sense of to the ever more absurd Fast & Furious franchise at minimum. Action chops are definitely up there, but paramount is an active affinity with how plain silly the series is. And it’s a quality F Gary Gray doesn’t really have, or if he does, he’s never shown it, previously or here. Even his action leaves something to be desired (his The Italian Job remake is far superior in that regard). Which isn’t to suggest there isn’t fun to be had from Fast & Furious 8/The Fate of the Furious, but it’s much more sporadic and performance-based than the previous outing, lacking the unbridled gusto James Wan brought to Furious 7.

But maybe I’m wrong about this. While I’ve seen every instalment in the franchise (only the once, mind) I haven’t followed it avidly in order (1, 4, 5, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, I think, only the first and last two at the cinema), although, it isn’t as if t…

There’s no surf in Michigan.

Don’t Breathe (2016)
(SPOILERS) I passed on Fede Alvarez’ The Evil Dead remake – it seemed a tad too close to torture porn for my tastes, and besides, why redo Evil Dead if you’re eschewing a sense of humour; it’s what made it what it is – so this home invasion thriller in reverse is my first exposure to his work (he also has a new Lisbeth Salander movie, baffling rebooting the series with the fourth instalment, and a remake of Labyrinth on his to-do list). Don’t Breathe is okay, effective within its highly exploitative bracket, rarely doing anything but serviceably pushing obvious shock buttons.


I’ve seen reviews complain about the rape subplot herein – some even seem to think the Blind Man’s defence of “I’m not a rapist” is a representation of the views of the filmmakers, and that it thus needs emphasising that he is, in fact, which rather suggest a desire to be outraged than ends up making them look a bit dim – but it seems to me to go with the generally dubious territory of this ki…

Why would you sell the cows?

American Pastoral (2016)
(SPOILERS) Maybe Philip Roth and cinema just don’t mix. I couldn’t say for sure, as I haven’t read any of his novels, but the consensus is pretty much that none have resulted in highly acclaimed adaptations (eight have been translated to film or television thus far). American Pastoral won him a Pulitzer, so I presume it must be good, although you wouldn’t know it from the stodge that ends up on screen, any more than you’d have the remotest idea what it was in the material that hastened Ewan McGregor to make his directorial debut.

He can’t take the blame for the screenplay (stand up, John Romano) so that’s something in his favour, and technically, I guess, you could call him competent, but in terms of putting a dramatically coherent film together he does, alas, seem pretty hopeless, miscasting himself in the lead (and this after a string of roles that have rather re-established his early promise) to underwhelming effect – ironic, since he had been attached as an…

This is our last stand. And if we lose... it will be a planet of apes.

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)
(SPOILERS) It isn’t difficult to see why War of the Planet of the Apes didn’t open as well as its predecessor and is unlikely to come close to its gross; it plays it safe. Which sounds odd to say, for such a dark, downbeat, (almost) relentlessly grim blockbuster, but the lack of differentiation between this and its dark, downbeat, (almost) relentlessly grim predecessor suggests Matt Reeve and Fox thought more of the same would tickle its audience’s anthropoid itch, when in fact it only leads to a lack of differentiation. Which is a shame, as War of the Planet of the Apes is (mostly) an accomplished movie, expertly directed by Reeves and performed with due conviction by its mo-capped (and otherwise) cast.

It does seem a tad churlish to complain about what a movie might have been when it maintains the series’ consistent high quality, but I’m now firmly in the camp of wishing some of the more tonally-varied content of the original pictures was finding…

Is that a cherry pie?

Twin Peaks 3.11: There’s fire where you are going
(SPOILERS) A damn good episode. Perhaps the lesser part of it is the still great FBI plotline, but that’s only because – despite having the most overtly weird elements – it is more linear and less inimitable than the other claims to fame: Bobby and the shooting incident, and Dougie-Dale’s encounter with the Mitchum Brothers. Yes, it’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally come around to silver fox Bobby. Or should that be Becky’s pops.

What impressed me most about this sequence was the way it develops – escalated would be the wrong word. You think the scene is about one thing but then it becomes about something else, and then it becomes about something else entirely. During the build-up to this we’ve had the ominous, Blue Velvet-esque scene in which a boy playing ball sights Miriam crawling bloodied from the woods. Followed by Shelly riding the bonnet of her car until Becky throws her off. 

There’s something very matter-of-fact procedural …

I’m sorry to bother you, but are you telling people you’re God?

The Leftovers Season 3
(SPOILERS) I didn’t watch the final season of The Leftovers in Damon Lindelof’s preferred weekly format. Rather, I took it in over three nights (blame Sky for not knowing what to do with it), and if I’m completely honest, it wasn’t until the finale that I thought it reached the heights of Season Two. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t still (probably) the best series currently on TV (or was, at any rate), just that by the time of its third run it had evolved into something familiar, rather than disconcerting. As such, HBO was probably right to call time, as a fourth innings (Lindelof projected it might have had enough juice to go that far, left to its own devices) could have seen a shift towards mild contempt.

The big takeaway is that Lindelof has successfully rehabilitated his reputation after the litany of brickbats coming his way following the Lost finale (3.8: The Book of Nora is the anti-Lost finale) and the unfair maligning he received following Prometheus (blame …

He’s a good kid, and a devil behind the wheel.

Baby Driver (2017)
(SPOILERS) Pure cinema. There are plenty of directors who engage in superficial flash and fizz (Danny Boyle or JJ Abrams, for example) but relatively few who actually come to the medium from a root, core level, visually. I’m slightly loathe to compare Edgar Wright with the illustrious likes of Sergio Leone and Brian De Palma, partly because they’re playing in largely different genre sandpits, partly because I don’t think Wright has yet made something that compares to their best work, but he operates from a similar sensibility: fashioning a movie foremost through image, supported by the soundtrack, and then, trailing a distant third, comes dialogue. Baby Driver is his most complete approximation of that impulse to date.

A man who doesn't love easily loves too much.

Twin Peaks 2.17: Wounds and Scars
The real problem with the last half of the second season, now it has the engine of Windom Earle running things, is that there isn’t really anything else that’s much cop. Last week, Audrey’s love interest was introduced: your friend Billy Zane (he’s a cool dude). This week, Coop’s arrives: Annie Blackburn. On top of that, the desperation that is the Miss Twin Peaks Contest makes itself known.

I probably don’t mind the Contest as much as some, however. It’s undoubtedly lame, but it at least projects the season towards some kind of climax. If nothing else, it resolutely highlights Lynch’s abiding fascination with pretty girls, as if that needed any further attention drawn to it.

Special Agent Cooper: You made it just right, Annie.
I also like Heather Graham’s Annie. Whatever the behind the scenes wrangles that led to the disintegration of the Coop-Audrey romance (and it will be rather unceremoniously deconstructed in later Coop comments), it’s certainly the …

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…