Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Pretty in Pink: The TV Series | Freshman Year: Sixteen Candles

I think it would be fun to name the various seasons of my hypothetical Pretty in Pink TV series after the John Hughes movies that inspire them. So since the first season takes place over the school year starting in Fall of 1983 and ending in Summer 1984, which is when the movie Sixteen Candles was released, Season One is called "Sixteen Candles." And it'll focus a lot on the events of that movie.

As I've already outlined, one of the main characters is Andie Walsh (Sophia Lillis), a 15-year-old sophomore at Shermer High School. She’ll turn 16 over the course of the season, but so will a lot of the rest of her class, including Samantha Baker (Lulu Wilson). Hence the title of the season.

Andie's best friend is Duckie Dale (Hayden Summerall), another sophomore who clearly has a crush on Andie, but she pretends not to notice, because he's her friend and she doesn't want to hurt his feelings. Andie's attention is all on a freshman named Keith Nelson (Jacob Tremblay) in her mixed-grade biology class. They'll eventually get together and date briefly over the season, which of course creates tension for Duckie. But it's also hard on Keith’s best friend, another freshman girl named Watts (Mckenna Grace).

Keith is a good guy and tries to be an attentive boyfriend, but Andie eventually learns that he's still nursing a childhood crush on another freshman named Amanda Jones (Austyn Johnson) from Keith's neighborhood. Andie's patient about it at first, but eventually she'll get tired and break things off with Keith, much to the delight of Duckie and Watts.

Sadly for Keith, Amanda is into another freshman named Hardy Jenns (Julian Grey), but Hardy is a rich kid and doesn't notice working-class Amanda. So while things aren't going anywhere between Amanda and Keith, nothing's happening for her and Hardy either.

Andie and Duckie have classes with Sam Baker and some kids jokes that Andie and Sam are twins, even though they don’t run around in the same circles and only superficially resemble each other. Kids can be weird. So while Andie and Sam's paths cross every once in a while, Sam is dealing with her own stuff, supported by her best friend Randy (Dafne Keen).

A big part of what Sam is dealing with is her crush on popular senior Jake Ryan (Emjay Anthony). Jake already has a rich and popular girlfriend named Caroline (Storm Reid), so Sam's dream about dating Jake doesn't seem very realistic. Of course, as the season progresses, Sam will accidentally reveal her feelings for Jake through a sex quiz that she intends to give to Randy, but Jake unintentionally intercepts. Jake starts having some issues with the super shallow Caroline and takes an interest in Sam. This all leads to the season finale in which Jake finally approaches and kisses Sam the day after her birthday.

Jake's rich friends form the popular clique at Shermer High. He and his fellow seniors are at the top of the group, but right behind them are juniors Claire Standish (Sadie Sink) and Andrew Clark (Oaklee Pendergast) and sophomores Steff (Sunny Suljic) and Blane (Nicolas Bechtel). 

Hardy Jenns may only be a freshman, but I've decided that he's Jake's cousin, so he's more accepted by the upperclassmen than a freshman normally would be. And Hardy has another freshman friend named Ian (Robert Downey Jr in the movie Weird Science) who's sort of a supercool, but jerky New Wave god that all the upperclassmen girls are into.

While dealing with her Jake drama, Sam will also have to handle a freshman nerd named Farmer Ted (Ian Chen). He’s creepy at first, but he mellows out as the season goes on and becomes her friend. And Ted's an important guy because he introduces us to the various nerdy characters at Shermer.

In addition to Ted's best friends Bryce and Cliff, there are freshmen Gary and Wyatt (from Weird Science) as well of course as Ferris Bueller (Caleb Brown) and Cameron Frye (Cooper Dodson). There's also a sophomore named Brian Johnson (Noah Jupe) who hangs out with the younger students because he doesn't have any friends his own age.

One final clique is the Freaks, but they're mostly on the edges of the other stories this season. There's Duncan (Bryson Robinson), a funny, but rough kid who keeps hitting on Watts. And he sometimes hangs out in the smoking area with a junior named John Bender (Elisha Henig). 

And while she's not really accepted by any clique, we'll also keep seeing this girl named Allison Reynolds (Farrah Mackenzie) who has no friends. She probably doesn't even have speaking lines all season long, but she'll become a major character in a couple of years.

Next Time: Sophomore Year.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Little Women (1949)

Who's in it?: June Allyson (The Three Musketeers), Janet Leigh (Holiday Affair, Psycho), Elizabeth Taylor (Jane Eyre, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), Margaret O'Brien (Jane Eyre, The Secret Garden), Peter Lawford (The Picture of Dorian Gray), Mary Astor (Don Q Son of Zorro, The Maltese Falcon), and C Aubrey Smith (Tarzan the Ape Man, Rebecca).

What's it about?: A lavish, Technicolor remake of the 1933 version.

How is it?: Because it's based on the same script as the '33 version, the '49 Little Women makes the same cuts to Alcott's novel (no Amy burning Jo's book, for example) and finishes on the exact same note. June Allyson even seems to be borrowing some of her line delivery from Katharine Hepburn as Jo (including a bona fide "reaaallly I do"). 

But Mervyn LeRoy's '49 version improves on the previous one in a lot of ways. It's beautiful, to start with. It's got extravagant and highly detailed sets as well as gorgeous matte paintings and backdrops. And it looks glorious in Technicolor. It's an epic production.

But Allyson is also much more natural in the role of Jo than Hepburn was and the rest of the cast is just as good. I grew up associating Janet Leigh with Psycho, but have been watching more of her early work lately (Holiday Affair with Robert Mitchum being a special favorite) and she's a beautiful, wonderful Meg. Margaret O'Brien is a sweet and sympathetic Beth, showing that she has some range from her brattier character in Meet Me in St Louis

Casting 12-year-old O'Brien as Beth though makes it tough to cast Amy, who's supposed to be the youngest sister. LeRoy went with 17-year-old Elizabeth Taylor, a strange choice in some ways, but also very good in others. She's clearly playing younger than 17, but there's no universe in which she's younger than O'Brien's Beth. It works just fine though if you throw out fidelity to the novel and just imagine that Beth is the youngest sister. 

In the novel, Amy is beautiful to the point of being spoiled about it and Taylor brings that out of the character perfectly. But while she ends up being a fine choice to play Amy, the script takes out so much of her relationships with Jo and Laurie (Peter Lawford) that I never warm up to her like I do in the book. 

Mary Astor is a wonderful Marmee. I wouldn't want to choose between her and Laura Dern from Greta Gerwig's adaptation, but Astor is almost exactly what I imagine when I read the novel: kind and wise and wanting nothing so much as to see her daughters grow into healthy, moral, and happy people.

Special points as well to C Aubrey Smith as Laurie's grandfather. If the script gave him more, he'd be up there with Chris Cooper in terms of heart-breaking likability. Though I oddly didn't enjoy his Mr Laurence as much as I did Henry Stephenson's in 1933. The difference is in the directors, I think. In '33, George Cukor paid attention to some subtle touches that really emphasized the deep relationship between Mr Laurence and Beth. Smith's version is super lovable, but LeRoy leans too heavily on that and doesn't give us much else.

Finally, Rossano Brazzi (The Italian Job) is a much less creepy professor than Paul Lukas was in '33, mostly because he's a lot closer in age to Jo. He still calls her "my little friend," but he gets away with it.

Rating: Four out of five letters from Father.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Hellbent for Letterbox | Jane Got a Gun (2015)

Pax and I watch Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, and Joel Edgerton in Gavin O'Connor's film about a woman defending her home from a gang of ruthless killers.

Pax also talks about Yul Brynner and George Segal in Invitation to a Gunfighter (1964), while I watch more Zorro and read the collected webcomic High Moon by David Gallaher and Steve Ellis.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Greystoked | Tarzan's Magic Fountain (1949)

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Noel and I watch the last Tarzan movie of the 1940s, in which Johnny Weissmuller has been replaced as the ape man by Lex Barker. We discuss Barker's alarming post-Tarzan behavior and how knowing that affects viewing his work, including Tarzan's Magic Fountain. And we also bid farewell to Brenda Joyce in her last appearance as Jane.

In the episode, we also mention a publicity photo in which Sol Lesser took a picture of his new Tarzan with the original movie Tarzan, Elmo Lincoln, who had a tiny role in Magic Fountain. Here's the photo that Noel found.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Western History | Zorro and Son (1983)

Who's in it?: Henry Darrow (Filmation's The New Adventures of Zorro, the '90s Zorro TV series), Paul Regina (Frank Nitti on the '90s Untouchables TV series), and Gregory Sierra (Sanford and Son, Barney Miller).

What's it about?: Disney makes a half-hour Zorro sitcom while still including some swashbuckling adventure elements.

How is it?: I wasn't going to include Zorro and Son in this project, frankly because Zorro as a sitcom sounded ridiculous. But after talking about the Filmation cartoon and The Family Channel's version, it seemed a shame not to at least check out Henry Darrow's other stab at Zorro. I did, and I'm surprised that I actually liked it.

It wasn't a big hit and only lasted five episodes before being cancelled by CBS. All five episodes are currently available on YouTube though, complete with the announcer asking you to stay tuned for Square Pegs and Magnum pi over the closing credits. I get why it didn't catch on. It's a weird combination of the adventure of the classic Disney series from the '50s and a situation comedy complete with laugh track.

But the jokes are only forgettable at worst, and often either not half bad (a friar is arrested for "selling wine before its time" and Zorro's nickname as "the Curse of Capistrano" is mistaken for a digestive condition) or actually made me laugh out loud (often involving a recurring gag around people being strung up in chains, but not too upset about it, or even just the way Darrow and Sierra deliver lines). 

The premise is that when Zorro misses a jump from a balcony to a chandelier, his faithful servant Bernardo (played by Bill Dana as neither deaf nor mute) is concerned that Zorro is getting too old to continue fighting for justice. So Bernardo sends for Diego's son Carlos (Paul Regina) to come home from college and take over the family business. Carlos agrees, but Diego isn't ready to give up his job, so unlike other versions that make Zorro into a legacy hero, this series now has two Zorros running around. 

Gregory Sierra plays the villainous Commandante Paco Pico who controls the village. And Richard Beauchamp (who played a recurring character on the TV show Hunter) is Pico's sergeant. Sgt Sepulveda is different from the traditional Gonzalezes and Garcias in that he's not overweight or even especially bumbling, but he's still very funny as a foil for the commandante. 

Probably my favorite gag in the whole show is when Commandante Pico orders Sepulveda to play Good Cop to Pico's Bad Cop with a prisoner. Sepulveda doesn't understand, so Pico explains that his job is to cozy up to the prisoner and make him think that Sepulveda is his friend. Sepulveda of course takes it too far and begins insulting the commandante as a way to ingratiate himself to the prisoner. 

The weekly adventures aren't meant to be that funny. The plots could have fit into a straightforward Zorro series pretty easily. For example, in "A Fistful of Pesos," someone else commits crimes while dressed as Zorro, undermining the community's trust in their hero. That's something that's been done in pretty much every TV version I've watched. Other episodes deal with a character's potentially learning one of the Zorros' secret identities. And since Disney produced Zorro and Son, they were even able to reuse the theme song from the '50s, modified slightly so that it refers to two Zorros instead of one (eg "The foxes so cunning and free; they make the sign of the Z.") 

So while I think that the combination of humor and adventure works, Zorro and Son is neither hilarious enough nor thrilling enough to be compelling or memorable as anything other than a weird experiment that I'm glad I got to watch.

Rating: Three out of five dad jokes.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Mystery Movie Night | This Is Spinal Tap (1984), Maximum Overdrive (1986), and Mystery Men (1999)

Dave, David, Erik, Evan, and I muse about metal, machines, and metahumans and the mysterious matter that melds them together.

00:02:12 - Review of This Is Spinal Tap 
00:19:28 - Review of Maximum Overdrive 
00:31:01 - Review of Mystery Men
00:45:59 - Guessing the Connection

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Pretty in Pink: The TV Series | Freshman Year Cast

Combining the six John Hughes teen movies into a single, hypothetical TV series is challenging for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest hurdles is figuring out how to balance all of those characters. In a world where the cast of The Breakfast Club is interacting with the casts of Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles and all the others, it's easy to get overwhelmed.

So I decided that for each season of the show, we would focus primarily on eight characters. That's a good number for an ensemble cast. It won't necessarily be the same eight characters getting the attention each season, so that'll help keep the show interesting. And of course there will be a ton of recognizable supporting characters interacting with the main cast, some of whom will become main cast members in future seasons.

But here's my main cast for Season 1:

I already mentioned in an earlier post that the main character will be Andie Walsh from Pretty in Pink and that she'd be played by Sophia Lillis (ItNancy Drew and the Hidden StaircaseGretel & Hansel). I'm not starting the series with her as a freshman though. The concept of the show is that it covers all six movies in the same four year period in which they were released. The first John Hughes teen film was Sixteen Candles and it came out in 1984, so the series starts in 1984. The movie Pretty in Pink came out in 1986 and Andie was a senior in it, which means that she would have been a sophomore during the events of Sixteen Candles

[This post is going to be very image-heavy, so I'm putting the rest of it behind a break.]

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters (2016)

Who's in it?: Jonathan Pryce (Tomorrow Never DiesPirates of the Caribbean) plays the Brontë dad. I wasn't familiar with the other actors, but they're all amazing.

What's it about?: As Branwell Brontë slides into alcoholism and depression, his father and sisters grow concerned about the financial future of the family once Father dies. That's when oldest sister Charlotte starts thinking about publishing.

How is it?: I'm not normally crazy about biopics, but really wanted to see more about the Brontë siblings after reading Glass Town and Infernal Angria. It's possible to make a good biopic though, usually by focusing on one, crucial part of the subject's life and using it to summarize what the film wants to say about the person. I hoped To Walk Invisible (or just Walk Invisible, as it's sometimes called) would do that. And it does.

It opens with some cool shots of the Brontë children on the verge of inventing their Glass Town/Angria/Gondal world, but the film isn't about that. The childhood world they created says something about their creative spirits. And there's also some early mention of how addictive that world became, especially to Charlotte (Finn Atkins), as explored a lot in the Glass Town graphic novel. But To Walk Invisible is less concerned about the creative spirit itself than about what the siblings do with it.

In Branwell's (Adam Nagaitis) case, the answer is, "Not much." He attempts a trip to London to sell himself as an artist, but becomes overwhelmed by the idea and chickens out on the way there. Instead, he spends the time - and all of his money - getting drunk in a village along the road. (Infernal Angria relates this event, too.) Branwell's cowardice and other moral shortcomings send him into a spiral, which spells trouble for the rest of the family. 

They're not particularly concerned about scandal. They're not wealthy or well-placed enough for that to be an issue. The problem is that Patrick Brontë, the family's patriarch, is an elderly, Anglican priest who owns no land nor the parish house that the family lives in. When he dies, according to English law and custom of the day, it will be Branwell's responsibility to support the sisters financially. But Branwell is both unwilling and unable to do that. Which sends eldest daughter Charlotte scrambling for ideas about how the sisters can support themselves.

I won't outline the whole story, but the short of it is that Emily (Chloe Pirrie) needs some convincing about Charlotte's publishing scheme while Anne (Charlie Murphy) is pretty game for it. Emily is angry and resentful about Branwell and the situation he's created, but she's not crazy about sharing her poetry, which is extremely personal to her. And that's a problem because Charlotte's plan is to publish a book of poetry written by all three sisters, but with Emily's as the foundation, because she's the best at it and there's no book without her. If the poetry collection is even moderately successful, Charlotte hopes to parlay it into a book deal where each sister can write her own novels.

So the film is a commentary on gender issues, but it's also about unconditional love (as the family tries to figure out the best way to help Branwell) and various commercial and personal motivations for creating art. The Walk Invisible title comes from Charlotte's plan to use masculine pseudonyms so that the authors' true gender is undetectable and so not an issue for publishers or readers. And I love Emily's suggestion (or maybe it's Anne's, I forget, but it sounds like an Emily idea) to make the gender of the pen-names ambiguous, but masculine-sounding. So Charlotte, Emily, and Anne become Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell.  

This all leads to my favorite moment of the film when Charlotte and Anne have to travel to London and reveal their true selves to their publisher in order to correct a misunderstanding with potentially catastrophic repercussions. I don't want to spoil it, but it's so good.

As is the rest of the film. It's all expertly crafted from the story and the acting to the photography and art design and a closing sequence that seems like it should be nothing, but is extremely emotional and powerful considering all that's come before. 

Rating: Five out of five badass author sisters

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Hellbent for Letterbox | The Kid (2019)

Pax and I discuss Vincent D'Onofrio's The Kid starring Ethan Hawke and Dane Dehaan as Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. 

We also talk about a couple of books we've been reading: a collection of early Jonah Hex stories as well as the Charro! novel.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Western History | Zorro (1997)

Who's in it?: Prolific voice actor Michael Gough (not the guy who played Alfred) is the voice of Zorro. Other recognizable voices through the series are by Ed Asner, Clancy Brown, Mark Hamill, and Ron Perlman.

What's it about?: A cartoon version of Zorro with supernatural and steampunk elements.

How is it?: Zorro '97 was a syndicated cartoon from the animation studio behind Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and James Bond Jr, so that should give you an idea of what to expect in terms of animation (it's not great, but it serves its purpose) and tone. It's about creating fun, after-school entertainment for kids, not reverence to anything that came before. And that's okay.

Zorro himself is a dashing enough Western superhero with the hidden cave and the secret identity, but the first big change is in his mute servant Bernardo. Instead of just a supportive companion on some of Zorro's more complicated missions, this Bernardo is an inventive genius who creates traps and wrist-mounted grappling hooks for his boss. He's basically a Western Q, like Artemus Gordon from The Wild Wild West. And then there are the episodes about cyborg bounty hunters and Sherlock Holmes analogs coming over from England to investigate Zorro's secret identity, which add to this version's steampunk quality.

There are also overt supernatural elements to the show. One recurring character is an Indian medicine woman with magical powers. An episode I watched (there are a limited number available on YouTube and I only watched a few of those) had her grandson mess with some of her magic powder and accidentally turn himself into a minotaur-like monster. There are also episodes with Sasquatch, evil samurai, and magic doppelgangers. 

Another big change to the Zorro legend is the inclusion of a character named Isabella. Most versions of Zorro have a woman whom Zorro is either in love or friends with. In this one, she begins as a Lois Lane-like character who's out to learn Zorro's secret identity. And surprisingly, she does. In the very first episode. How she does this is dumb, but I like that it gives Zorro another ally in his campaign and that she's a woman.

Isabella discovers the truth about Zorro and Diego when she accidentally ends up on his horse during a fight with some of the local soldiers. A fire breaks out that spooks the horse and sends him running back to Zorro's secret cave. So Isabella just hangs out there until Zorro shows up and unmasks. He deserves to get caught, but it's also disappointing that his horse isn't smarter than that. In the Disney show, Tornado was a wonder-horse along the lines of Roy Rogers' Trigger or the Lone Ranger's Silver. This one looks impressive, but doesn't have a lot going on between the ears.

The horse has also been renamed Toronado, for some reason. I forgot to mention at the time, but the Family Channel show from earlier in the '90s also made this change. I don't know why TFC decided to name the horse after an Oldsmobile or why this cartoon imitated it, but it sort of helps that if the horse is going to be this inferior to Tornado, at least he doesn't share the same name.

I'm also not crazy about this show's version of Sergeant Garcia (aka Gonzalez, in some versions). He's pretty mean. I like the sergeant character to be overweight, cowardly, and incompetent, but also friendly and apologetic when he has to carry out a despicable order. In this show, Garcia's a bumbler, but fully on board with whatever evil schemes his captain comes up with.

So this isn't exactly "my" Zorro, but the episodes I watched were all fun. And the ones I haven't seen sound like they are too, in the same bonkers way that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was. I was a big fan of the TMNT show at an age when I was older than its target audience, just because it was so over-the-top and genuinely funny. This Zorro has that going for it, too. Maybe it's not as funny, but how can I complain about Zorro vs cyborg killers and Bigfoot? There were only 26 episodes over a couple of seasons, so I wish it were available on DVD. I'd love to check out the rest of it.

Rating: Three out of five Toronados

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Pretty in Pink: The TV Series | Adult Cast Members

We're going to need some recurring adult characters in our teen dramedy series and the most obvious one to start with is Andie Walsh's dad, played by Harry Dean Stanton in the film. Stanton was in his early 60s at the time, which is older than I would have thought to cast for the father of a teenage girl, but that and Stanton's performance worked together to create a sad, but lovable character who's poorly equipped for the role of single parent. It got me thinking about actors currently in their early 60s who could do the same thing and the first to come to mind was James Spader. 

Spader has a wide range and can handle the saddest aspects of the character while also bringing some humor and optimism. And serendipitously, he was also one of my favorite characters in the film Pretty in Pink and creates a nice connection for older fans.

Most of the show will be set at Shermer High, so we need some recurring faculty and staff members there. There will be lots of teachers in the show of course, but outside of a couple of inimitable characters in Ferris Bueller, the Hughes films don't really feature memorable educators. They'd play a bigger role in my imaginary series, but I'm okay leaving that casting vague. There are some significant office and support personnel that need attention, though.

I had to think a little about what to do for the school's primary disciplinarian. In The Breakfast Club, detention is overseen by Richard Vernon. I don't remember that his job title is ever spelled out in the film itself, but most online sources identify him as either Assistant Principal or Vice Principal. And that fits with the role that Vernon seems to play. But in Ferris Bueller, the chief authoritarian is Edward R Rooney.

I usually think of Rooney as a Vice Principal, which would create a conflict in the continuity, unless Vernon leaves partway through the series and is replaced by Rooney. That could work, but I like the idea of having two of these guys to play against each other. They're alike in a lot of ways, but there are also differences between them. And I think their similarities would lead them to really irritate each other, so that they're rivals instead of allies. And this is made possible by Rooney's actual job title, which he identifies in Ferris Bueller as Dean of Students. 

My high school didn't have a Dean of Students, but from what I can tell, the Dean of Students actually reports to the Assistant Principal and is responsible for the academic progress of students. They promote good attendance rates and school safety through the prevention of campus violence. They also help develop classroom management programs, identify students with attendance issues or disciplinary problems, and works with parents to correct those situations.

In contrast, the Assistant Principal spends a lot of time in administrative tasks supporting the Principal while also often being charged with maintaining discipline in the school. However, in a large school like Shermer High, I imagine that the Assistant Principal would delegate the discipline responsibilities to his Dean of Students while still being ultimately accountable for them. And with a controlling personality like Vernon's - especially when he's got a student like John Bender to deal with - it's easy to fancy that he may even want to personally oversee Saturday detention. So in my Pretty in Pink TV series, Rooney works for Vernon, but they don't like each other. 

I'm casting Vernon with Jake Gyllenhaal, who can be pretty creepy and serious when he wants to be. Vernon is a control freak and absolutely jaded, but he's good at his job. 

For Rooney, I'm casting Jason Segel, who brings a comedic element, which seems appropriate, but can also be frightening. He's also a control freak like Vernon, so he resents Vernon's interfering with his job, but he's not as cynical as Vernon is. He's absolutely a stickler for rules though and insists that students obey them. 

Rooney's assistant is Grace, played by Edie McClurg in Ferris Bueller. Ellie Kemper has that same adorably quirky, air-head quality.

The final staff member we have to cast is Carl the janitor from The Breakfast Club. I don't know how much he'll interact with the students, but there could be some stories about his role in the school and his relationships with the office staff. Maybe we can also tie him to another non-school character in their personal life. Maybe he's dating Iona (we'll get to her in a second) in the first season. Stranger Things' Joe Keery could make Carl an approachable character for some students, but also close enough in age to them that he's also the butt of some of their jokes.

I also thought about some after-school hangouts for the teen characters. Since this is set in the '80s, the mall will obviously be a big one. The mall in Weird Science was filmed in Chicago's Northbrook Court Mall, so that could also be the name of the mall in the TV series. Some of the students could get jobs there, too.

There's also the indie record store TRAX, where Andie works after school in the movie. She won't start there in the first season of our show, but TRAX will already be managed by the lovably unconventional Iona, played by Annie Potts in the film. For our show, I'm casting Jane Levy. She's cute and off-the-wall and I like that she's also a redhead, which will endear her to Andie.

The final hangout place is only for the high school's seniors: an 18-and-up club that plays live music. It'll be off limits for a lot of our cast in the first couple of seasons, but we'll still have senior characters right away who can go there. And it'll be something for the younger characters to aspire to for a while. 

In the movie Pretty in Pink, the club (it didn't have a name that I remember, we'll have to give it one) was guarded by a bouncer that Duckie calls Dice Man, played of course by Andrew Dice Clay. He's kind of a cool character, but also kind of sad. He just sits outside the club, playing with his cigarettes and checking IDs. He doesn't seem sad, it's just not an especially glamorous job. This is no New York hot spot after all.

For the series, I think it would be fun to cast Taylor Lautner. He's good looking and kind of cool, but people don't take him very seriously. And if he turns out to be really good in the role, we could deepen his character and give him some more to do.

What do you think? Any other adult characters from the John Hughes teen movies that you think should be included? Are there any of these that you'd cast differently?

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

The Innocents (1961)

Who's in it?: Deborah Kerr (The King and I, the '60s Casino Royale), Martin Stephens (Village of the Damned), Pamela Franklin (The Legend of Hell House, The Food of the Gods), Megs Jenkins (Ivanhoe), and Michael Redgrave (The Lady Vanishes)

What's it about?: The definitive, classic adaptation of The Turn of the Screw.

How is it?: I've watched The Innocents three times over the last couple of months. Like the novel it's based on, it haunts me. I can't stop thinking about it, wondering what and how much it's trying to say and what I need to do with what it doesn't say. Are the ghosts real? Is the governess insane? I think I've come to some answers to those questions where the novel is concerned, but do those same answers apply to Jack Clayton's film?

Possibly not. Clayton's adaptation, based on a script that was touched by a few people, including Truman Capote and Clayton himself, keeps the basic premise and setting of Turn of the Screw, but also makes some notable changes. It raises the age of the main character (Deborah Kerr), which is significant, and it muddies her mental state by removing some of the novel's scenes and having her react differently to some things than the way she does in the book.

A big example is how it casts ambiguity on the existence of the ghosts by almost always showing the governess' reaction to the ghosts before seeing the ghosts themselves. When we see them, are we only seeing them through her eyes? The film also adds a scene where the governess sees a photo of the deceased groundskeeper before she sees his ghost. How much has her vision of his spirit been influenced by the photograph? She never sees a photo of the former governess, but when she sees that ghost it's always at a distance with unclear features.

The one exception to this uncertainty is at the very end of the film. The last time she sees the ghost of the groundskeeper, the audience sees him first, leading us to believe that he's real. I'm not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, I like the doubt created through most of the film and part of me hates to see it done away with. On the other, part of me likes that after setting up this puzzle, the film actually offers a subtle solution.

Another change from book to film is the death of the little boy, Miles (Martin Stephens). They both happen basically the same way: when the governess forces Miles to face his demons and speak the name of the groundskeeper who both mentored (in a twisted way) and tormented him. Miles falls down dead and it's always unclear exactly why. I love this essay by Muriel West for constructing a solid argument about what actually kills Miles in the novel. Based on the governess' behavior throughout the book as well as quiet clues that Henry James plants in the scene itself, West believes that the governess literally (but accidentally) smothers Miles to death after figuratively doing it the whole story. The film doesn't block the scene that way, so Kerr's character isn't physically suffocating Stephens', but the symbolism is still there. It's a metaphor that somehow manifests itself physically. Maybe the ghost has something to do with it.

Clayton clearly wanted to leave the viewer a lot of options in interpreting The Innocents. Even the title can be taken a couple of different ways. Does it apply to the entire household (including the governess) or just Miles and Flora (Pamela Franklin)? If it's just the kids, does the title claim that they're truly innocent as the housekeeper Mrs Grose (Megs Jenkins) insists, making how the governess treats them even more tragic? Or is the title ironic and the children have already been somehow corrupted by the deceased groundskeeper and governess?

However you interpret it, as pure film-making, The Innocents is superb and deserves its status as a classic. When Truman Capote took a run at the script, he added lots of symbolism about death and decay: wilting roses everywhere and bugs crawling out of statues' mouths, for example. And Clayton and cinematographer Freddie Francis create a creepy, haunting atmosphere that's perfect for James' gothic story.

Rating: Five out of five ghostly governesses.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Fourth Chair Army Invasion | A Tribute to Nerd Lunch

On this final episode of Fourth Chair Army Invasion, members of the Nerd Lunch Fourth Chair Army talk about what they love about Nerd Lunch, their favorite episodes, and say goodbye to the show. But all is not done. Stay tuned to the very end for details about the new monthly show that will replace Invasion on the Nerd Lunch feed.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Western History | Zorro (1990)

Who's in it?: Duncan Regehr (Wizards and Warriors, V, The Monster Squad), Patrice Martinez (¡Three Amigos!, Beetlejuice), JG Hertzler (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Efrem Zimbalist Jr (Batman: The Animated Series), and Henry Darrow (The New Adventures of Zorro, Zorro and Son).

What's it about?: Zorro returns to live-action TV on The Family Channel.

How is it?: I was initially skeptical about the quality of The Family Channel's Zorro. The money-making channel had legally separated itself from the non-profit Christian Broadcasting Network by the time this came out, but it was still being run by people associated with CBN and my perception was that it was going to be ultra- tame and family friendly. Not that Zorro is an edgy character, but I expected the CBN version to be especially cheesy and moralistic.

Contributing to my expectation of goofiness was the casting of Duncan Regehr as Zorro. Regehr is a good-looking guy, but he's more soap-opera handsome than ruggedly dashing. I expected a lot of mugging for the camera and Joey Tribbiani "smell the fart" faces from him.

Watching the show for this project, though, I enjoyed it quite a bit. There's a lot of quick editing to hide cheap stunt-work, but I'm used to that from other '90s adventure shows like Xena and Conan the Adventurer. And while the show can be cheesy, it's charmingly cheesy in the same way those other shows are.

There are 88 episodes if you don't count the pilot (and you shouldn't, for reasons I'll get into), so I didn't watch the whole series. But I watched the pilot and the first episode and then several other episodes from among the show's four seasons. These weren't really random; I picked them for particular storylines or guest-stars that I wanted to see. I got a good sense of the show and if it were more easily available to watch than just on YouTube, I'd be interested in going back for a complete look at some point.

The pilot is almost completely different from what the show would become. It stars an actor named Patrick James (this is his only acting credit), not as Don Diego, but as a new character who takes on the identity of Zorro after the aging Diego is mortally wounded in action. It's not good. Thanks to Zorro: The Gay Blade and the Antonio Banderas movies that we'll get to later, I'm used to the idea of Zorro passing on his mask to a younger hero. So the premise doesn't bother me, but James isn't charismatic enough to play a swashbuckling hero. The costume is also shoddy and I groaned when the climax had Zorro ride a homemade hang glider into battle.

Thankfully, the actual show recast almost everyone and even took a more traditional approach to the legend, so Regehr is actually playing our beloved Diego de la Vega. I say they recast "almost" everyone, because one actor from the pilot does return, although as a different character. That's Patrice Martinez, who was the aristocratic love interest in the pilot, but is now the owner/operator of the local cantina. Business owner Victoria Escalante is a much cooler role and gives the show the chance to explore some feminist themes as people (not Diego and his family) constantly underestimate Victoria and she stands up for herself.

Another character I like a lot is Felipe, Zorro's mute servant. He's basically the Bernardo character from the books, but borrows some elements from other, earlier TV versions. Like Bernardo on the Disney TV show, Felipe pretends to be deaf as well as mute in order to listen in on bad guys' conversations without their being suspicious. But he's also a young ward of the Vega family, like Miguel in the Filmation cartoon. He's a good-looking kid and an asset to Zorro's campaign. I like him a lot. He even mimes the Z-shape like his Disney predecessor did when he's asking Diego if Zorro will be going into action.

The rest of the characters are pretty traditional. Efrem Zimbalist Jr plays Diego's dad in the first season, but was replaced by Henry Darrow for the rest of the show. Zimbalist is fun, but Darrow is even cooler, especially considering that he'd been the voice of Zorro on the cartoon and played Zorro in the short-lived sitcom series, Zorro and Son.

The evil alcalde was played by Michael Tylo for the first two seasons until the character was killed off and replaced in season three by a new villain (JG Hertzler). Tylo and Hertzler are both great and their characters have slightly different personalities, so it's hard to pick a favorite between them. Tylo's character wasn't exactly bumbling, but he was a guy that Zorro could manipulate without too much trouble. Hertzler's character feels more deadly, but he's also given some unexpected background and motivation that makes him surprisingly relatable.

Finally, there's the Sgt Garcia/Gonzalez character, renamed Mendoza for some reason. He's played by James Victor and is rather unremarkable, but fills in just fine as the slightly overweight, incompetent leader of the alcalde's troops.

A very fun aspect of the show though is all the guest-stars. Jim Carter (Rustlers' Rhapsody, Downton Abbey) played an especially ruthless Spanish officer who was so nasty that he came back later for a second episode. And Daniel Craig was in a couple of fourth season episodes with all his James Bond intensity as the henchman to another villain. Philip Michael Thomas (Miami Vice) had an episode as a free Black man who has to endure bigotry from the alcalde and his men. Warwick Davis (Return of the Jedi, Willow) plays the leader of a dishonest circus in an episode. But my very favorite guest star was Adam West as an inventor named Dr Henry Wayne who is especially impressed when Zorro escorts him (blindfolded, of course) to his secret cave headquarters.

Possibly because an origin story had already been attempted by the never-shown pilot, the first episode of the series doesn't bother going into how Diego became Zorro. Which is fine. Fans already know that story and casual viewers likely don't care. But there is a four-episode origin story later in the first season, where a badly injured Zorro reminisces about how he became the hero. It's not bad and way more traditional than the unaired pilot, though some of the pilot's footage is used - including the hang glider!

Rating: Three out of five rapiers.


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