I tend to stay up too late on work nights. I put the kid to bed, play on the Internet, then watch a movie or TV show. I hit the sack about midnight and then am back at it at six the next morning. At some point later in the week, the lack of sleep punches me in the back of the head as if to say, “Hey, dummy. You need more rest.” Friday afternoon was that point. I was sitting around flipping through various streaming services looking for something to watch when I nearly fell asleep in my chair. I headed up stairs and went for a nap. Just as I was falling asleep, the doorbell rang - a subcontractor looking for this week’s wages - and I had to take care of it. I laid back down only to have my mind start thinking about al the stuff I needed to do like write this article. I got up, wrote a little bit, and then there was supper, the mandatory Doctor Who with family on a Friday night followed by nighttime for the small child.
So here I am writing when really I’d rather be asleep. Forgive me if any of this is incoherent. Turns out though that not sleeping enough gave me plenty of time to watch some good stuff. And here we go.
Doctor Who: Terminus
Terminus is the fourth story of the 20th season of Classic Who and the second season featuring Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor. In the last story, Turlough, who was a student of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, became a companion of the Doctor. Little does the Doctor know, Turlough has made a deal with the Black Guardian who promises to give Tulough passage back to his home planet of Trion if he will kill the Doctor. At the beginning of this story, Turlough sabotages the TARDIS, causing all sorts of damage to the time machine including a field of instability (God, don’t you just love the ridiculous techno jargon on this show?), which is engulfing everything. Mysteriously, a door appears and everyone walks through it and winds up inside another space ship.
This ship is taking a group of lepers to a Terminus, a space-station at the center of the universe to be cured, or possibly murdered. The station is owned by a giant corporation with possible malevolent intentions or they might just be really bad at their jobs. Either way, the Doctor and his companions (Nyssa and Tegan) are going to get involved.
The guardians of the station are all dressed in funky radiation-proof costumes that look like a cross between a medieval knight and and some goofy animal cosplay. There is also a giant rat-looking creature that takes the lepers to a secret place where they are to get cured. Nyssa is taken here, as the rat thinks she has the disease, and learns that the radiation cure works but is being applied haphazardly. By story's end, she decides to stay in order to make the station a real working hospital. She also spends most of the episode in just her slip because the fan boys complained she was usually too covered up. The Doctor keeps the station from exploding and creating The Big Bang (because somehow that’s a thing that could happen).
All in all, it is a pretty average story, but at only four episodes, it is a short one and it moves so quickly it's easy to forgive its flaws and just enjoy the craziness.
An unrelenting look at how grief destroys a family, also demons. Toni Collette stars as Annie, who at the film’s open is dealing with the death of her mother - a secretive, difficult, possibly disturbed woman. By the end of Act One, she suffers another tragic loss, which nearly sends her over the edge. Her husband (played by Gabriel Byrne) and son (Alex Wolf) all deal with their grief in different ways and neither of them seem to be able to deal with one another during this process. Annie meets Joan (a marvelous Ann Dowd) who is also dealing with the loss of a loved one but who may have ulterior motives. I don’t want to give away too much but things get really weird and totally terrifying by film’s end.
For a good chunk of the first half, it is mostly a straightforward drama about grief and guilt, but after that, it pretty quickly turns into a supernatural horror film. Quite a few critics did not take well to that change, but I thought it was really effective and quite scary.
The Thing From Another World
I’m a big fan of John Carpenter’s The Thing and I’ve been wanting to check out the original film from 1951 for a long time. The basics of the plot - group of scientists in an isolated arctic wilderness discover a space ship and are attacked by its inhabitant - are the same but they go in some very different directions. The original’s monster isn’t a shape shifter so none of the paranoia that makes Carpenter’s film so effective exists. This one hinges more on the conflict between the scientists who want to study it and the military men who want to destroy it. Gone are the great practical effects as well, mainly because the original’s budget was minuscule, so the monster is basically a man with a helmet on seen only in long shots because the costuming was so shoddy to see any closer would ruin it.
What it lacks in budget and finesse is more than made up for in blunt emotion and some pretty good jump scares. Technically, it was directed by Christian Nyby but a great many folks claim Howard Hawks took the helm for most of the film (but didn’t take credit because it wasn’t kosher for big-named directors to make science fiction/horror films). Hawks definitely produced it and the film contains many of his hallmarks (overlapping dialogue, crackerjack banter between the male and female leads, etc.). Whoever directed it did a good job as it's a great little film.
Corey Finley’s directorial debut is like an updated version of Heathers without Veronica. It's about two well-educated, upperclass high school girls who plot to killer one of the girl’s stepfather. One of them says that she never feels any sort of emotion. The other seems to feel emotion but winds up being just as cruel. Anton Yelchin (in his final film) plays a small-time drug dealer who they enlist to do the deed. It is a deeply black comedy with a satirical bent. It is a bit cold in tone, and airless which can be off-putting to some, but I loved it.
Kiki’s Delivery Service
I find that I appreciate Hayao Miyazaki’s less fantastical films better after consecutive viewings. This one is about a young witch in training who is sent off on a year-long journey where she must prove herself. She lands in a port city and starts up a service where she can make deliveries flying on her broomstick. While it is about a witch, it is really about a young girl coming of age. The first time watched it I didn’t like it at all. I much preferred films like Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away. I don’t know if it's that I’ve become more familiar with the range of Miyazaki’s films or that I now have a young daughter but upon this viewing I was quite charmed.
In 1980, writer Chris Claremont created The Dark Phoenix Saga, one of the greatest X-Men stories ever told. It's about how Jean Grey/Marvel Girl becomes exposed to solar radiation and becomes Phoenix, the most powerful telepath/telekinetic in the universe. Afraid of what that power might do, she learns to keep it under control. But after a member of the Hellfire Club, Mastermind, breaks her using various illusions and mind control, she becomes the Dark Phoenix, the most dangerous being in the universe. It is up to the rest of the X-Men to not only save the universe but Jean’s soul as well.
It was kind-of, sort-of adapted in X-Men: The Last Stand and now they are trying a more faithful adaptation with the First Class version of the heroes. I’m quite excited to see if they can pull it off. Already from the trailer you can tell they’ve made some changes, but it still looks really interesting.