Bonnie & Clyde

ALIAS – ‘The Abduction’ (2×10 – Review)

In 2018, I began my first deep-dive TV review series looking at JJ Abrams’ Alias, which ran from 2001-2006. This year, I’ll be looking at Season Two’s 22-episode run in detail…

Ever since the very beginning, Alias has always neglected a key group of its contracted regular cast, among them the character who finally gets his moment in the spotlight in The Abduction: Marshall Flinkman.

Though Will had his conspiracy investigation angle in Season One to give him meat to chew on, Marshall was one of three characters particularly who week in, week out would get short shrift compared to Syd, Jack, Vaughn and Sloane principally. Dixon would only be wheeled out when Syd needed someone to go on a mission with, getting only the briefest of interesting plots when he suspects Syd of betrayal in Almost Thirty Years. Francie, Syd’s roommate, gets an unconvincing romantic sub-plot ditched from The Coup onwards, after which she barely features. It takes Dixon’s entire belief system and then family to be destroyed to give him anything of real substance, and Francie has to actually *die* before she becomes in any way interesting. Which just leaves Marshall.

Right from pilot episode Truth Be Told, Marshall is designed entirely as comic relief. He is the nerdy oddball who is tolerated purely for his technical brilliance, given how much he irritates all of the serious people in the room. There is barely an episode of Alias up to this point that doesn’t feature Marshall in a briefing awkwardly dropping one-liners or geek references that nobody in the room finds funny, or rambling too often before being cut off and falling quiet. He is, effectively, Xander Harris from Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Q from the James Bond series by way of the Lone Gunmen in The X-Files. Marshall, as a character, runs entirely counter to everyone else in Alias and that’s precisely the point – though he may be a genius, he is also perhaps the most relatable person in the show. If we were in Alias, we’d all be a variant on Marshall, most likely.

The Abduction, and particularly A Higher Echelon after it, are designed with one question in mind: what if we throw Marshall out of his comfort zone?

WONDER BOYS: Classy but listless existential privilege (2000 in Film #8)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

This week, released on the weekend of February 25th, Curtis Hanson’s Wonder Boys

Nobody went to see Wonder Boys. Granted, it was the top earning box office movie of its opening weekend but the competition was slim, truly only up against John Frankenheimer’s Reindeer Games, a picture which itself should probably have fared better given the talent involved – Ben Affleck, a rising Charlize Theron. Wonder Boys did so poorly that Paramount re-released the film later in the year. The results were much the same.

Part of the reason analysts suggested Wonder Boys bombed was because Paramount simply had no idea how to market Curtis Hanson’s film. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times suggested the poster made Michael Douglas look like Elmer Fudd; others suggested Bonnie & Clyde’s portly Michael J. Pollard and Hanson himself plumbed for Robin Williams, still a major box office draw at this period. Douglas, however, was not known to audiences as the middle-aged, middle-class literature professor Grady Tripp, filled out with a little middle-aged spread and a semi-nihilistic sense of creative block. Dashing heroes as in Romancing the Stone, corporate snakes a la Gordon Gekko in Wall Street or sexually compromised detectives in the neo-noir stylistics of Basic Instinct, sure, but this saw Douglas wandering into waters plumbed to great acclaim by the now-disgraced Kevin Spacey in the Oscar-winning American Beauty a year earlier.

A cynic might suggest Wonder Boys is cashing in on the existential malaise of the privileged white male at a point of powerful social and cultural change, a new millennium that, as Fight Club too in 1999 suggested, offered no easy choices for the rage and sadness built into the masculine American psyche. And, arguably, Wonder Boys no doubt benefited from the success of these aforementioned pictures and helped get Hanson’s film the green light, but Wonder Boys comes from prestigious source material; the second novel of Pulizter Prize-winning author Michael Chabon, front-lined by a household name, crewed out with strong young and old character actors, and propped up by a director fresh off L.A. Confidential, one of the best films of the previous decade.

So why did Wonder Boys not capture a great deal of cinematic wonder?

Blu-Ray Review: The Incident (1967)

On the evidence of The Incident, more people should know the name Larry Peerce.

A lesser known product of the burgeoning New Hollywood Wave that emerged out of the classic studio system, The Incident is filled with well known players from earlier eras and projects to come – Brock Peters, Ruby Dee, Gary Merrill, Thelma Ritter and principally a vital turn by a young, emerging Martin Sheen, some years away from the career and life-defining experience of Apocalypse Now. As a character drama, it hangs on performances which belie the fairly low-fi, low-budget, almost TV movie approach Peerce was forced to employ, yet he frequently evolves beyond in his direction. This ends up theatrical, close-quartered, tense and to an extent ground-breaking in what it achieves with so little.

The Incident feels quite ahead of its time in how it brings together an ensemble cast and places them inside a bottleneck; a nightmarish, relatable situation filled with people in the wrong place at the wrong time, terrorised by a pair of wayward, New York thugs played by Sheen (this was his first film role) and Tony Musante, who is particularly mesmerising in how he physically and psychologically breaks down an assorted collection of late night travellers on a New York subway train. Peerce introduces the incendiary pair and then allows his film to steadily build, casting a pallor of dread over the first forty minutes as we await the titular incident.

What follows, in the final hour, ranks among the most nail-chewing, protracted escalating dramas of brewing violence and social deconstruction committed to celluloid.

Blu-Ray Review: The Night of the Generals (1967)

Occasionally I am fortunate to be offered review material from various film, TV, book or comic PR companies, and will be taking a look at releases that interest me, whether based on writers, director or content.

This one is from Eureka Entertainment, 1967’s The Night of the Generals…

You might be surprised to learn that Lawrence of Arabia was not the only film in the 1960’s to co-star Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif, but it would be no surprise if The Night of the Generals doesn’t ring any immediate bells.

A critical and financial dud on release, despite the ascendant stars of the aforementioned leading men, The Night of the Generals suffers in no small part for barely replicating the alchemy in David Lean’s masterpiece of having O’Toole & Sharif share screen time. The producer of both films, legendary Hollywood maestro Sam Spiegel, drafted both men in as part of a contractual deal following Lawrence of Arabia, paid them both a pittance (less indeed than lower billed Donald Pleasence), and largely kept them apart – O’Toole the creepy, dead eyed Nazi General and Sharif the dogged Nazi Major looking to catch a serial killer of women he has concluded was the work of a high-ranking General in the SS. Despite being inextricably linked by the narrative, O’Toole & Sharif share only a few brief scenes and it is one the many missteps taken in an overlong, oddly structured and ultimately misconceived novel adaptation.

Here’s the key point as to why: The Night of the Generals is both a political thriller and a cat and mouse horror all rolled into one, revolving around the search for a murderer the identity of whom is blindingly obvious from the very beginning of the film.