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The X Files: Improbable (2002)
Of all nine seasons of The X-Files, I gotta say this was my favorite episode.
No Mulder, aliens, super soldiers, Lone Gunmen, clones, conspiracies or any of the usual unusual.
This episode is truly a stand-alone.
A delightful Burt Reynolds dominates the cast in a story sort of about luck and a serial killer and an Italian street fair.
Agents Reyes finds a numerical correlation between some unsolved murders using numerology.
No one believes her at first, but then the numbers start adding up for Scully and Doggett and the FBI is on the case.
Songs (in Italian) and a Fellini-like score round out this darkly comic episode.
Written and directed by Chris Carter, it is just plain fun.
If there was ever a single episode of The X-Files deserving of an Emmy or two, this was it.
Not to be missed!
The Lone Ranger (2013)
I really don't get what happened to Westerns. When I was a tyke, I found them irresistible - Hoppy was my first hero. The Lone Ranger was up there too. Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels riding away into the hills of Burbank while some townsperson asked the inevitable: "Who was that masked man?" When I first learned that Johnny Depp was doing The Lone Ranger as a feature, and playing Tonto no less, I had no doubt Depp would pull it off. Even with the concerns raised by Native Americans - and I have read pros and cons in Indian Country Today and elsewhere - I just couldn't be dissuaded. I figured after all those great pictures, Depp knew what he was doing.
If you like Westerns, especially mixed with nonstop action and comedy, you will love The Lone Ranger. Depp is brilliant, as expected, and so are Armie Hammer (as The Lone Ranger) and William Fichtner (as Butch Cavendish) and everyone else. Gore Verbinski has a real feeling for The Old West of Hollywood Past (Rango was animated, but he gave us the same Western fun in that one) and even though a lot of Indians get killed in The Lone Ranger, so do plenty of them bad guy white people.
Much gunplay and other violence - too much bloodshed for little kids, although the two sitting in front of me didn't seem to mind. Forget the stalled box office and go out and see it on the big screen before it's replaced by the latest end of the world epic.
Oh, and Silver often steals the show. Smartest horse since Comet on Brisco County Junior. I give it a 10.
A sad film, ultimately about humans living sad lives against a background of impending doom. Great performances from Dunst and Gainsbourg, slightly less from Sutherland (suffering a dour role), and it's always a delight to see Charlotte Rampling in anything.
This is a beautiful film to look at, great score and cinematography, but the overall predictability of the main story thread weighs it down. To his credit, von Trier attempts to avoid this at the start but waiting for the inevitable does drain pace and suspense from Melancholia.
Another film made the same year, Another Earth (directed by Mike Cahill), used a similar main device to better advantage.
Alien Trespass (2009)
I was a kid in the 1950s, so I remember all the classic sci-fi movies first hand. There were great ones like The Thing from Another World, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, War of the Worlds and 20 Million Miles to Earth.
There were less great ones like Red Planet Mars, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, This Island Earth and The Blob. Then there were the turkeys.
Stuff like It Conquered the World (1956), Not of This Earth (1957), The Beast With 1,000,000 Eyes (1955) and, of course, Plan 9 from Outer Space (1958) gave sci-fi a black eye and hurled the genre into the mud for decades. Some of those titles (and there are scores of them) have become cult classics, but they were schlock, let's face it.
Apparently, that's what Steven Fisher and James Swift were going for when they wrote Alien Trespass. That's what they got. Schlock.
The actors in Alien Trespass are the only surprise - this turkey has some excellent actors, led by Eric McCormack - but they can't save a film that has nothing new to offer. Many send-ups of 1950s sci-fi movies have succeeded (Mars Attacks!) This one fails.
Save time and skip it.
Back in space where the series belongs
A very impressive pilot (I hope it's a pilot - but a good SyFy movie in any case) for still another addition to the Battlestar Galactica franchise. Creators Michael Taylor and his co-creator David Eick have picked up the saga post-Caprica and pre the 2004-2009 Battlestar Galactica series with a new tale centering on a young Bill Adama. Pasqualino and Cotton were excellent as Adama and Coker and the action filled plot is thankfully nothing like Caprica, which was sort of boring. This time we are back in space where the series belongs, shooting Cylons.
There is still a hint of the philosophical depth in Ronald D. Moore's re-imaging of Glen A. Larson's original series but the Taylor teleplay keeps the politic and morality questions to a minimum and we get treated to a lot of good old fashioned shoot 'em ups along the way. (Taylor and Moore worked DS9 for the Trek Franchise way back when, BTW, and David Eick worked on all the recent BG series.)
My only complaint was too little time for vet character actor John Pyper-Ferguson as a sort of bad guy (no spoilers here because he usually plays a bad guy, although some of us fondly remember him as a very funny bad guy in Brisco County Jr.) If we really do get a new series, maybe he'll be back.
BG fans should be marching for a reboot based on Blood and Chrome. This universe has plenty of room for more episodes.
****UPDATED 23 March 2017****
I just watched the Blu-ray release of Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome and I've added one star as it was even better than I remembered. There is a lot of material that didn't make this, the extended cut, (included in Deleted Scenes) that is worth watching, even though this didn't become the pilot I'd hoped it would be.
Good actors going to waste and almost nothing new
Sometimes it is wise just to let a dead dog lay. As I remember, the first version of Coma wasn't very good. This one is about the same. Overblown to distraction by the Scott Brothers, the TV "mini-series" version features good actors going to waste and almost nothing new.
Yeah, there is a big super tech conspiracy tacked on to the original plot, but even that was tame next to 21st century TV series like Dr. Who or Fringe. Lauren Ambrose was excellent in the lead, but deserves better, and it was a joy to see Ellen Burstyn working, even in a sort of Boris Karloff role. James Woods was good. Geena Davis, Joe Morton and Richard Dreyfuss - what were you thinking?
I watched it On Demand and, like another reviewer here, was grateful that Fast Forward was not disabled.
A great trip into the ghosts of TV past
My daughter found the DVD of this wonderful original version of The Stingiest Man in Town and I watched it Christmas Eve. I was 10 when it was first telecast and, if I saw it then, I was probably nowhere near as impressed as I was to see it revived for the 21st century. The only drawback is the lack of color, and that because it was a rare color telecast back in 1956. It was also done live (videotape was a few years away), so all we have now is a restored black and white kinescope (that means it was shot on film off a TV tube during the live broadcast.) Unlike a lot of kines, this one comes off very well. You can see some scratches and other signs of filmic age, but the production shines through it all, and it is a great version of The Christmas Carol! Mr. Rathbone, who never claimed to be a singer, holds his own against Johnny Desmond, Vic Damone and the (now somewhat forgotten) Patrice Munsel - they were all pop music stars at that time.
Now that I'm an old codger myself, I miss the extravaganza network productions of 50s TV. Junk like American Idle (whoops! did I spell that wrong on purpose?) and Dancing with the Hasbeen Wannabes just don't hold a candle to the true variety and "special" productions that used to grace the tube in its early days.
If you're looking for the real thing, see if you can find this one! (And thanks to my kid for a nice Christmas Eve :o)>
Tales of the Gold Monkey (1982)
Jack the Dog
I watched this show way back when it came out but only saw about a half a dozen episodes. Some of these also appeared as reruns a while later, but never the entire series. So I was delighted when the DVD box was announced at last and even paid the folks at Amazon in advance of its release. Now, don't get me wrong kids: this is a TV series by the guys who did Magnum p.i. and Quantum Leap (and J.A.G and N.C.I.S) and it is really a TV series from that Magnum period all the way. Studio sets, stock shots, very familiar character actors and that horny, brassy Mike Post music (again, like Magnum) screaming inappropriately everywhere. But this series is a gas, man! It's fun! It's silly! It's TV! AND it has Jack - undoubtedly the smartest dog in TV history! And Jack talks! Well, sort of. One bark for "no" and two barks for "yes" and he cracks me up in every episode. Rent it, buy it, I don't care. You'll thank me later. (Arf, arf!)
Building a spaceship with Mickey
I'm giving this episode a 10 for two reasons: it's the only episode of The Mickey Rooney Show that I remember and because it inspired me. (At age 8, I might add.) In 1954, I probably knew as much about outer space as any other kid - we had comic books and Captain Video on TV and rumors of flying saucers in the news - but it was a couple years before the first great sci-fi epic Forbidden Planet arrived in 1956, (complete with free passes for kids hidden in boxes of Quaker Oats.)
It was before all those horrible Corman sci-fi films and a decade before Star Trek. But Mickey Mulligan was a guy any modern kid could like (he even worked for a TV network!) so the day after I watched Mickey and his pal Freddie build their backyard spaceship, I was out there in my back yard with my little sister creating one of my own. We never did finish ours, much less get it off the ground, but the spark was there and a couple of years later I was reading sci-fi books. I started out with Robert Heinlein's Revolt in 2100 and then dropped back to H.G. Wells and Jules Verne before discovering Theodore Sturgeon, Ballard, Bliss, Bradbury, Clarke, Robert Sheckley and hundreds of others. For a while, I read at least one (paperbacks were 25-35 cents) sci-fi book a week, and many of them were collections of short stories.
Maybe I was trying to find Mickey's blueprints?
I continued to read sci-fi (and so does my sister) and of course we're both Trekkers and Firefly fans, but I still remember that night in 1954, watching Mr. Rooney and Joey Forman build Mickey's space ship. Before I ever saw him as Andy Hardy or song and dancing with Judy Garland or any of the wonderful stuff he's done since in his amazing career, Mickey was my TV hero. What I wouldn't give to see this episode again!
The Dog Problem (2006)
I've been following Giovanni Ribisi's career since the 80s because I love character actors and this guy has always been a great character actor and I came across The Dog Problem in the cable listings and thought: "Giovanni Ribisi in a lead role?" Now I gotta wonder why no one has cast him in a lead before this? Anyway, see this movie! It's one of those great little films you'll never forget and everybody in it is fantastic and Scott Caan (who wrote and directed and co-stars) made all the right choices here. (Mark Mothersbaugh does the music and Phil Parmet shot it - that didn't hurt either.) Trust me, this movie is no dog!