Nothing huge this week, just a bunch of little things that together make up a column. Column-ettes. In no particular order… You know how this works. So let’s get to it.
An idea we were kicking around as a possible continuing series here at the Junk Shop was that we’d take turns revisiting something that never really got a fair shake its first time out, something that was worth a second look.
As it happens we recently acquired a DVD that’s practically the poster child for this: Strange Days.
I hadn’t seen this in about twenty years. I remembered liking it; but in the years since, I kind of forgot about it. It was at a library sale for a couple of bucks so I thought why not? and into the cart it went.
Upon viewing it again, I realized that I like it a LOT. In a just world this would be the movie that is cited when people try to explain the science-fiction sub-genre ‘cyberpunk,’ not Blade Runner. Science fiction is usually really shitty at predicting the future, despite what fans claim. But this one is weirdly prescient, especially when you remember that it was made long before anyone really was thinking about ‘social media.’ Here’s the trailer.
Take a minute to appreciate the amount of talent lined up here. A young Ralph Fiennes paired with a young Angela Bassett, both of whom are doing amazing work (I was especially impressed with how Fiennes makes us care about Lenny even though for most of the movie he’s kind of a creep and a loser.) Also young Vincent D’Onofrio and young Tom Sizemore (before he self-destructed.) Co-written by James Cameron, directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Also — I know you all are probably sick of me riding this hobbyhorse but dammit it MATTERS– it works not just as science fiction and social commentary but the PLOT is a really tight thriller/fair-play whodunit with actual clues, and I am picky about that sort of thing. A very noir piece and it perfectly captures the then-current cyberpunk aesthetic of so much of 90s SF, as well as exploiting the concept of ‘jacking in’ to the internet much better than William Gibson’s own Johnny Mnemonic, despite the fact that Gibson basically invented the genre with Neuromancer and even did the screenplay for Johnny.
Strange Days tanked at the box office so badly it almost derailed Bigelow’s career, mostly because nobody in Hollywood or in the press understood what the hell it was. But it’s great. You can probably find it for a buck or two online. Well worth it and I’m glad to have it in the library. Julie had never heard of it at all and she dug it too.
In the course of writing the four-part musical series of columns, I mentioned that lately I’ve been getting into the jazz/funk fusion style of music generally referred to as “acid jazz.” As luck would have it I found all sorts of cool examples on YouTube. But the ones I want to commend to your attention are from the Estival jazz concerts, held annually in Lugano. Some good angel has uploaded full shows and they are great fun. Since Julie and I will likely never get to go to Switzerland ourselves, these are the only way we’ll get to see these shows and they’re great.
..and Tower of Power, baby. Also from 2010.
Thought I’d share before they get taken down for copyright violation.
Hard Case Crime sent along their latest a few weeks ago and I finally found some time to read it.
Understudy For Death is the latest example of probably my favorite thing Hard Case does — unearthing lost or long-out-of-print works from classic crime novelists. In this particular case it’s from Charles Willeford, one of those guys that never really got to be a household name but whose work is hugely admired by actual working writers.
Here’s the blurb for Understudy: Why would a happily married Florida housewife pick up her husband’s .22 caliber Colt Woodsman semi-automatic pistol and use it to kill her two young children and herself? Cynical newspaper reporter Richard Hudson is assigned to find out – and the assignment will send him down a road of self-discovery in this incisive, no-holds-barred portrait of American marriage in the Mad Men era. On the 30th anniversary of the death of the masterful novelist the Atlantic Monthly called the “father of Miami crime fiction,” Hard Case Crime is proud to present Charles Willeford’s legendary lost novel, unavailable since its original publication by a disreputable paperback house in 1961. One of Willeford’s rarest titles (copies of the original edition sell for hundreds of dollars), Understudy for Death still has the power to disturb, half a century after its debut.
And it is really creepy and disturbing, but impossible to put down, as well. I don’t know that I enjoyed it so much as admired the way it came together… it’s not exactly happy good times writing. But it’s good stuff, and recommended.
So here’s the thing. I have hated the original Lost In Space pretty much since the first time I saw it at age 8. Despite my ungodly love for all the other cinematic efforts of Irwin Allen, no matter how awful (yes, even Land of the Giants and The Swarm) Lost In Space always has annoyed the crap out of me. I’ve never been able to get through more than five minutes of the original without cursing and changing the channel.
The big-screen movie reboot, though, I admit kinda liked (though it falls apart at the end, and the excessive shout-outs to the original annoyed me just because I’m so NOT sentimental about it.)
So I was all set to skip the new one. But a lot of writers I follow on Twitter and elsewhere were very high on it, so I thought we’d give it a look.
And you know what? It really is pretty good. Julie adored it and we ended up binging through the whole thing over a couple of days.
For one thing, Parker Posey as Dr. Smith is just blood-chilling in her sociopathy.
There is nothing of the Jonathan Harris, lovable-rascal, comedy-relief version here. This Dr. Smith is fucking SCARY in her madness, and more than any other depiction of this kind of character I’ve seen on screen, Ms. Posey really nails the aspect of the random lying and constant me-first jockeying for advantage that you rarely see done in film or TV, but is painfully reminiscent of every real sociopath I’ve ever met. Most of the time this sort of character is shown as the conscienceless Lex Luthor archetype, but if you’ve ever had to deal with this kind of person in real life (several maddening relatives of mine come to mind) Posey’s Dr. Smith is much closer to the real thing. Her conviction that if everyone UNDERSTOOD what she was trying to DO they wouldn’t be so MAD, and her manipulation of young Will Robinson, gave me actual chills. Seriously.
But my favorite thing was the new Dr. Maureen Robinson.
Just a week after the column lamenting how we never see this kind of character any more, the new Lost In Space gives us the new Dr. Maureen — and Molly Parker just takes that role downtown. She is wonderful as a genuine Heinlein-esque science BADASS. She’s still a caring mom and a loving wife, but Maureen also is clearly the most capable person on the ship and everyone knows that and respects it, including her husband. I loved that. She’s not flawless, certainly, but her flaws are not related to her intellect. There’s none of that quirky-geek stereotype to be found anywhere on this show. I was happy every time the focus was on Maureen and her husband… the kids were mostly in the way as far as I was concerned. The episode where Maureen and John were trapped in the tar pit, especially, was a standout.
Those things were enough to get us over some seriously stupid plot holes (Like ARRGH why in the world do people on TV keep secrets from each other for no reason? Especially in a situation like that faced by the Robinsons and their fellow colonists, survival trumps embarrassment!) we are on board for season two, which I understand is a go. Provisionally recommended for the reasons above, but with cautions about some dumb plot things.
I feel kind of guilty because Will O’Mulhane at Titan Comics faithfully sends review copies of their stuff every month and I hardly ever look at it. But they’ve been on a roll lately– first the introduction of the Hard Case Comics, and now there’s a new version of The Prisoner.
I first saw the show when I was in high school, when it was rerun on the local PBS affiliate.
I was interested mostly because Byron Preiss had mentioned in Weird Heroes how it was an inspiration for Ron Goulart’s Quest of the Gypsy, which I adored; and also because Steve Englehart had talked about doing a comics version in the Dr. Strange letter columns of the time.
The Englehart comic never panned out, nor did the rumored Jack Kirby version. It’s probably just as well. The trouble with revisiting The Prisoner is that McGoohan’s original TV finale is pretty much impossible to follow. It’s a surrealist hot mess.
So the only way to make a pastiche work within McGoohan’s continuity (we will not speak of the abomination starring Jim Caviezel) is to find some sort of work-around for the finale. The one from DC Comics dismissed it as a hallucination.
That worked okay, but though it looked gorgeous and it was clearly done with tremendous affection, the story itself wasn’t all that engaging. I didn’t HATE it but I didn’t love it either.
This new one from Titan, though, I loved. It neatly disposes of the finale problem on page one.
It’s written by Peter Milligan with art by Colin Lorimer. The plot is very clever and also serves as a great way to introduce the concept; our hero is tasked with assassinating a female agent, with whom he has had a fling, before the Village gets to her. But he determines that he will rescue her instead, which gets him disavowed by MI6, and while evading their people, he embarks on a campaign to GET himself taken by the Village so then he can break both himself and the woman out.
What I loved about this was that it managed to update the concept without throwing anything away (well, except the original’s finale, which you kind of have to.) The espionage stuff has a great sort of Le Carre/Jason Bourne vibe.
And the transition to The Village works well, with a nice little nod to the original.
First issue out on the 25th. Check it out.
And there you go. Back next week with something cool.