Skip to main content

I don't think there's any such thing as an unpredictable action.

Star Cops
8. Other People’s Secrets

The Star Cops“comedy” episode, although you’d think that being the case they’d have bothered to give Catweazle (Geoffrey Bayldon) an amusing role. I spent the first 20 minutes expecting the worst, with its broad (annoying) shrink out to piss everyone off and some atrocious comedy music from Justin Hayward and Tony Visconti, but it did grow on me, mainly because its custom-fitted to the portly Devis and he’s used rather well.


Mind you, this is the one where he suggests playing “a game of hide the sausage” to Anna, which, even for a show playing up the coarse language, felt a little too uncouth. The writer is John Collee again, and the director the on-the-pedestrian side Christopher Baker. So Moonbase, and its ventilation ducts (not a Vervoid in sight) are never more than obvious sets. That said, the sequences depicting the depressurisation of the base are fairly decent.


The take on psychology and related hang-ups really ensure this one shows its age, even more than casual racial stereotyping in other episodes, though. Dr Angela Parr (Maggie Ollerenshaw) arrives on the Moonbase to psych examine personnel, and Nathan agrees to set an example by volunteering the Star Cops. Inevitably, they’re nonplussed, Kenzy in particular. Parr is conducting a project in Space Psychology, no doubt endorsed by the Terry Nation College of Space Studies, and proceeds to behave more like a nightmare shrink from sitcoms of the period than an example of “realistic” futurism.


Devis: You, er, spotted any loonies yet?

Parr is given to pronouncements such as “I’ll get your people straightened out for you” but, in the rudimentary comedic fashion of undermining the shrink’s penetrating insights, she has an Achilles Heel that is her ex-husband Devis. Despite it being very obvious, Trevor Cooper keeps things amusing, and he and Ollwerenshaw have good easy chemistry; “Ever since I’ve been out here, I’ve been really randy” he confesses to his former wife/brain care specialist. To which she responds, “You were pretty rampant on Earth too, I recall”. Inevitably, they’re trapped in a room together and her defences come down (“I’m not thatscared” she replies, when Colin asks if she wants a cuddle), and they interrupted by David en flagrante as the station returns to normal.


The regular cast are all given their moments, this being a character comedy piece. So Nathan and Pal also get shut in together, with the first clear indications that they may have feelings for each other beneath overt mutual disapproval. She is defensive of shrinks “Because they never know when to stop” and Spring offers up some backstory regarding his father, a computer salesman for Recondite whom he put away when he was a fresh detective on the job. Calder may be the glue holding Star Cops together, but Linda Newton is more than up to matching him in these confessional scenes.


Elsewhere Sayo Inaba continues to be furnished with better lines than she’s able to pull off. The thunderingly ignorant shrink witters on about the Japanese sense of duty, only to be disarmed when Anna mentions Devis’ presence. Collecting herself, she asks Anna where they were; “The disorientating effects of a sudden emotional shock”.


With this as the predominant plotline, the mystery is very much bringing up the rear, and its pretty minor league. It turns out that Ernest Wolfhartt (Bayldon) has been sabotaging systems on the base, a pensionable thrill jockey (“I liked the feeling of things getting out of control”) It’s weak stuff, and he’s shown sympathy by Krivenko, an increasingly irritating presence who I presume we’re supposed to like but continually undermines Nathan at every turn; it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense that Spring indulges him so much.


The best guest performance here comes from Barry Rutter as Hooper, a temperamental engineer who comes under suspicion (particularly from David, assigned to work with him) but is instrumental in saving the day. A series as reined in by budget constraints as Star Copsreally benefits from the kind of naturalism Rutter brings (he was one of the regular cast in The Goodies’ short-lived Astronauts TV series).


This is one that, on balance, probably had the right director. I’m not sure Harper would have been much cop at the comedy/character moments, although you do miss him when the more dramatic scenes arrive. One thing I’ll grudgingly give the incidental music; while mostly it’s just plain poor or glaringly out of place, I rather like the ambient accompaniment to model sequences; for example. the extended shots of the buggy crossing the lunar surface.


While Other People’s Secrets is very much on the lower end of the Star Cops ladder, it’s not unengaging. But it feels like it’s too much too soon to go for a comedy piece, and it’s frivolity is surely antithetical to the serious intent Boucher had for the project.


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…

Well, we took a vote. Predator’s cooler, right?

The Predator (2018)
(SPOILERS) Is The Predator everything you’d want from a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator (or Yautja, or Hish-Qu-Ten, apparently)? Emphatically not. We've already had a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator – or the other way around, at least – and that was on another level. The problem – aside from the enforced reshoots, and the not-altogether-there casting, and the possibility that full-on action extravaganzas, while delivered competently, may not be his best foot forward – is that I don't think Black's really a science-fiction guy, game as he clearly was to take on the permanently beleaguered franchise. He makes The Predator very funny, quite goofy, very gory, often entertaining, but ultimately lacking a coherent sense of what it is, something you couldn't say of his three prior directorial efforts.

Right! Let’s restore some bloody logic!

It Couldn't Happen Here (1987)
(SPOILERS) "I think our film is arguably better than Spiceworld" said Neil Tennant of his and Chris Lowe's much-maligned It Couldn't Happen Here, a quasi-musical, quasi-surrealist journey through the English landscape via the Pet shop Boys' "own" history as envisaged by co-writer-director Jack Bond. Of course, Spiceworld could boast the presence of the illustrious Richard E Grant, while It Couldn't Happen Here had to settle for Gareth Hunt. Is its reputation deserved? It's arguably not very successful at being a coherent film (even thematically), but I have to admit that I rather like it, ramshackle and studiously aloof though it is.

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 …

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

My pectorals may leave much to be desired, Mrs Peel, but I’m the most powerful man you’ve ever run into.

The Avengers 2.23: The Positive-Negative Man
If there was a lesson to be learned from Season Five, it was not to include "man" in your title, unless it involves his treasure. The See-Through Man may be the season's stinker, but The Positive-Negative Man isn't far behind, a bog-standard "guy with a magical science device uses it to kill" plot. A bit like The Cybernauts, but with Michael Latimer painted green and a conspicuous absence of a cool hat.

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998)
An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar.

Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins, and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch, in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whether the audience was on …

Bring home the mother lode, Barry.

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)

If Panos Cosmatos’ debut had continued with the slow-paced, tripped-out psychedelia of the first hour or so I would probably have been fully on board with it, but the decision to devolve into an ‘80s slasher flick in the final act lost me.

The director is the son of George Pan Cosmatos (he of The Cassandra Crossing and Cobra, and in name alone of Tombstone, apparently) and it appears that his inspiration was what happened to the baby boomers in the ‘80s, his parents’ generation. That element translates effectively, expressed through the extreme of having a science institute engaging in Crowley/Jack Parsons/Leary occult quests for enlightenment in the ‘60s and the survivors having become burnt out refugees or psychotics by the ‘80s. Depending upon your sensibilities, the torturously slow pace and the synth soundtrack are positives, while the cinematography managed to evoke both lurid early ‘80s cinema and ‘60s experimental fare. 

Ultimately the film takes a …

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

The possibilities are gigantic. In a very small way, of course.

The Avengers 5.24: Mission… Highly Improbable
With a title riffing on a then-riding-high US spy show, just as the previous season's The Girl from Auntie riffed on a then-riding-high US spy show, it's to their credit that neither have even the remotest connection to their "inspirations" besides the cheap gags (in this case, the episode was based on a teleplay submitted back in 1964). Mission… Highly Improbable follows in the increasing tradition (certainly with the advent of Season Five and colour) of SF plotlines, but is also, in its particular problem with shrinkage, informed by other recent adventurers into that area.