Sunday, July 28, 2013

"Murdoch Mysteries" repackaged as "The Artful Detective" on Ovation

The Artful Detective/Murdoch Mysteries
Based on the Detective Murdoch novels by Maureen Jennings
(Saturdays on Ovation)

     While flipping channels last night, I stumbled upon a Canadian TV series titled The Artful Detective on Ovation. It's set in turn-of-the-century Toronto and features some of the inventiveness of other series (the short-lived QED and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. for two) in that it foreshadows future inventions and real historical persons.
     I was intrigued that I'd never heard of the show (my cable TV remote said it was from 2008), so I looked it up first on IMDB, then Wikipedia, and found nothing. Ovation's home page revealed no further information either, so I did a Google search.
     I discovered it was originally titled Murdoch Mysteries, and that it was based on (or maybe inspired by) a series of seven novels by Maureen Jennings. Before the series, three TV films based on three of Jennings' novels were broadcast (with a different cast and perhaps less use of historical persons and playful inventions), and those are available on DVD.
     The series is still being produced in Canada (season 7 is scheduled to begin, in Canada anyway, on Sept. 30).
     I don't know why the title was changed (maybe -- since new episodes are still being filmed -- to avoid confusion, as they used to do when syndicated reruns of Bonanza were re-titled Ponderosa), but to spare anyone else from the same puzzlement I experienced, I thought I'd mention it.

Friday, July 26, 2013

"Star Trek Into Darkness": The REAL exploitation of Alice Eve

     Star Trek: Into Darkness opened on May 17, and -- as I type this on July 26 -- some critics/cultural observers/bloggers are still upset (most recently here) about the scene in which Alice Eve as Dr. Carol Marcus strips to her underwear prior to getting into a spacesuit. Usually this umbrage is accompanied by a still photo of Alice Eve in her underwear.
     Does this strike anyone else as ironic or cynical or disingenuous?
     The first I knew of the now infamous scene was in a trailer for the film where the image appeared, without context. I remember thinking that this was probably Dr. Carol Marcus, whom the earlier film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan revealed was a past lover of Capt. James Kirk. I assumed this was a scene from their ... courtship, let's say. Instead it's a throwaway scene which the director has confessed he now regrets. I still think this is a tempest in a teapot, and all the faux outrage is much more exploitative than the scene in the film itself.
     Firstly, the shot of Alice Eve is extremely brief. If it lasted more than 5 seconds, I'd be surprised. It's a perfect illustration of the expression, "Take a picture; it'll last longer." That's what all these critics have done by running that still: made it last longer.
     (As I said above, at best it's ironic -- they don't know that they are doing the very thing they are decrying -- or cynical -- they don't care if they are doing the very thing they are decrying -- or, worst,  disingenuous -- they know they are doing the very thing they are decrying.)
     Secondly, in the context of the film, I assumed it was a jokey reference (there were a number of such in-jokes to other science fiction) to the scene in Alien where Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley strips down to her underwear before getting into a space suit and zapping the alien out of the escape pod. That was a much longer scene, but I don't recall as much negative reaction.
     Thirdly, the underwear was more akin to a bikini than sexy lingerie. Really, it wasn't that revealing or exploitative. I was more concerned by all the destruction of property -- and, though we didn't see it, presumably lives -- caused by the crashing of a starship into a densely populated Earth city. I guess Americans are still more upset by nudity and sexuality than violence, destruction and death. That's the real exploitation.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Reviewer Review: The Corrigan versus the Cormoran

From Mullholland
The Cuckoo's Calling
By J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith
(Mulholland Books)

Only Surprise in Rowling's 'Cuckoo's Calling' is the Author 
By Maureen Corrigan

     As you've probably heard by now, J.K. Rowling has written a second non-Harry Potter novel, this time a mystery, The Cuckoo's Calling, featuring detective Cormoran Strike, and this time under a pseudonym. It received some good reviews as by Robert Galbraith, but now it's being reviewed by reviewers as by Rowling. 
     The first I've seen is by Maureen Corrigan, a regular reviewer for NPR's Fresh Air and The Washington Post, and she finds it wanting. Not only that, she takes deep umbrage that she's been forced to read and review such a substandard work. She makes snarky comments about Rowling laughing all the way to the vault (a Harry Potter reference! Isn't Corrigan smart and clever? Much cleverer than Rowling who took her title from a poem by Christina Rossetti rather than from one of the best-selling children's book series of all time). 
     First, Rowling doesn't need the money, and didn't want the book to be identified with her precisely because of snotty critics like Corrigan. She wanted to see, I think, whether she could sell books and please herself and readers without trading on the currency of her name, or dealing with the matching prejudices caused by the association. I believe Stephen King had a similar conceit in mind when he adopted the Richard Bachman pen name.

     Despite all that, the secret got out, and Corrigan resents it, apparently. Rather than take out her frustration on her employers -- who presumably asked her to review it -- or on herself -- for deciding to read it -- she takes it out on Rowling.
     (Corrigan also derides a positive review of the book for using the cliche "a stellar debut," then -- in the same sentence -- herself uses the cliche "deader than a firecracker stand on the a rainy Fifth of July." Maybe she was using her cliche ironically?)

     Corrigan also resorts to a form of reviewer abuse: recommending a "better" novel with a tangentially related plot. That neglects the fact that most of the people now reading the book (including Corrigan; she makes a point of having given away her reviewer's copy unread, and downloading an e-book version because she couldn't wait for the hardcover) are reading it primarily because it's written by Rowling, not because it's a mystery. I doubt the author of the other mystery would appreciate the comparison or her recommendation in this instance. 
     I haven't read the book, and may not. If I do, and don't like it, I won't bore you with an attack on Rowling's character. I have occasionally attacked an author's character based on the difference between what they do and what they say, or on sleazy behavior, but not just because I don't like a book. If it's a non-fiction book, and I feel that the facts have even played loose with malicious intent, then a personal attack could be justified. The only justifications I can think of for Corrigan's behavior in this instance is that she believes Rowling, seeing sales of the book stall at 1,500 copies, decided to leak her authorship to boost sales (unlikely since, as already noted, Rowling doesn't need the money; the publisher might have felt differently though, if they didn't mind offending their superstar author), or because -- as another blogger recently wrote in defense of her blog style -- she feels her abrasive personality makes her memorable. 
     Read or don't read The Cuckoo's Calling, like it or don't like it, but review the book, not the author or the circumstances that led to you reading it.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

What if Trayvon Martin had killed George Zimmerman?

     One of my favorite types of science fiction is that of alternate realities or alternate histories, or "what if" stories. What if Nazi Germany won World War II? What if Dewey did beat Truman? What if Europeans never colonized the Americas? What if Babbage's proto computers had been built and worked?
     Or what if Trayvon Martin had grabbed George Zimmerman's gun and shot him instead?
     A lot has been written on the subject of Zimmerman and Martin, there's been a lot of outrage over the "Not Guilty" verdict on the one hand and a lot of handwringing and counter accusations by those who feel that charges should never have been brought in the first place on the other. (The most intelligent post-mortem -- and probably the best researched -- is William Saletan's on
     I've reluctantly concluded that the jury vote was based on the evidence, and that Zimmerman was not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of murder or manslaughter. I don't like it, but it's probably true.
     What's equally true is that if Martin had indeed taken the gun from Zimmerman, and shot and killed him with it, he should have been found equally "Not Guilty" under the law.
     The defense argued that Zimmerman was in fear for his life or grave bodily injury when he shot Martin. Despite the fact that the confrontation that led to this fear was created by Zimmerman, this is true. It's equally true that Martin, who was being pursued in a dark gated community by someone who did not identify himself as a Neighborhood Watch volunteer and who turned out to have a gun, also had legitimate reason to fear for his life or grave bodily harm.
     On an episode of the quirky 1990s TV drama  Picket Fences, the police chief (Tom Skerritt) ended up on jury duty in a case in which a drug dealer shot and killed some police officers who were coming to arrest him. His defense was that he was cleaning and loading his guns when they busted down his door. He knew that when they saw he was holding a loaded gun, they would shoot him immediately because they feared for their lives. He shot them first in self defense, not to prevent his arrest but because otherwise they would have killed him. The police chief didn't like the argument -- the drug dealer was a criminal, the police had a warrant, the guns may have been illegally obtained -- but he couldn't argue with the dealer's conclusion: If he hadn't fired first, he would be dead.
     If Martin had killed Zimmerman, would the case have attracted as much attention or the same kind of attention? Would the people who now believe Zimmerman was completely innocent grant Martin the same clemency? Would those who condemn Zimmerman call for Martin to go to jail for murder? If so or if not, what does that say about our society? A commentator on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show said that it means that -- in Florida, at least -- the winner is the one wsho draws and shoots first.
     While Richard Cohen argues that Zimmerman was right to be suspicious of Martin because he was African American, and Geraldo Rivera argues it's the fault of the hoodie that Martin was wearing, the fact remains that an unarmed young man -- carrying a cellphone, a non-alcoholic beverage and some candy -- was killed because someone with a gun pursued him in the dark without identifying himself.
     Granted, Martin reacted violently. What is the proper response when someone follows you in the dark without identifying himself or showing that he has reason or authority to do so -- with or without a gun? Zimmerman never took the stand, so we never got to hear him explain what result he expected from his pursuit. Maybe he was so wrapped up in his assumption that Martin was up to no good that he didn't expect any result other than that the police would arrest him.
     If the guilty party is the last one who could have done something differently to avoid the tragedy, then both men were partly to blame. Still, I have more sympathy for the man who was minding his own business when a stranger with a gun stalked him, whatever his motivation.

Friday, July 5, 2013

'Man of Steel' is superior to 'Superman'

     I finally saw Man of Steel last weekend, and while I didn't think it was a perfect film, I can't understand the animosity so many fans of Superman seem to feel toward it.
     The film retells Superman's origin story -- only he doesn't call himself "Superman," which is refreshing because only an arrogant ass would call himself something like Superman. The film explains the emblem in a similar fashion to the 1978 film by showing the insignia as a sign of the House of El (which, incidentally, the new film reveals, is a symbol that stands for hope).
     The studio and filmmakers probably don't understand the criticism either since the film is performing well at the box office, too, and seems to have singlehandedly reversed the moribund decline of the franchise.
     There are two main types of critics of the films: those who know (or think they know) the comic book character so well that they can state that the film is a violation of the entire 75 year history of said character; and those who love the 1978 film (and usually the sequel) so much that they think anything that varies from it is sacrilege.
     As everyone is aware by now, the film ends with Clark Kent/Kal-El killing the villain, which is so against Superman's code that he should have been reduced to a drooling idiot if he had to do it. Since by the next scene, which takes place in a non-specified but obviously much later time, he shows no sign of this conflict having affected him, obviously the filmmakers seem to imply he got over it too easily and too well.
     One could argue that under the circumstances -- the Phantom Zone was closed, Zod could not be confined easily (if at all) and he was determined to kill everyone on Earth in revenge for Clark Kent/Kal-El stopping his plan to bring Krypton back to life, and was in fact about to kill a bunch of people right then and there, and Clark Kent/Kal-El  had no choice but to kill him -- but that would ignore that the circumstances were created by the filmmakers. They could have had Jor-El provide Clark with a working Phantom Zone projector, or have Zod commit suicide because his life purpose was over. He could have had Clark somehow re-create Krypton in miniature in the bottle city of Kandor (which longtime readers will remember as a city from Krypton that was saved because it was shrunk and stolen by Brainiac before the planet's destruction).
     So, OK, Clark didn't have to kill Zod unless the filmmakers wanted to have him do so. That's the choice they made. How does it work in the film? It was a hard decision for Clark Kent/Kal-El to make, but unless you don't believe in  capital punishment, or defending yourself or your loved ones with lethal force in cases of home invasion or war, then get over yourself and suck it up. You would have done the same thing. "Yes, but I'm not Superman," you reply. Well, guess what: Clark Kent/Kal-El isn't Superman either, and it's a good thing, too.
     Sometimes Man of Steel critics state -- other times they merely imply -- that the first two Superman films are the ideal towards which all other Superman films should aspire. Really? Did they see the same films I did? I like them, at least in parts, but they contain many of the same problems, plus more besides.
     Wanton destruction of property? Both earlier films have that in spades.
     Superman killing someone? Try three people, the three Krypton villains art the end of the film after they have been depowered. (OK, it doesn't show them being killed, but we never see or hear of them being imprisoned or rescued from wherever they slide in the Fortress of Solitude. The comic book bit where the hero doesn't actually kill the villain, but allows them to die in an accident always seemed pretty wimpy to me. He's not a killer because of a technicality. I think that's still manslaughter.) Anyway, they weren't even much of a threat to Earth. After they take over, they mainly sit around the White House acting like the cast of Marty ("Whadya wanna do?" "I dunno, whadya wanna do?"). At least Man of Steel gives them some sense of purpose, some reason for behaving the way they do.
     Face it, Christopher Reeve's Superman is a self-aggrandizing showoff, an arrogant glory hound who puts on a costume before he's ever shown using his powers to help other people. Only an egotist would call himself Superman in the first place.
     Also, he's a bully who goes to pick a fight with someone who roughed him up when he didn't have his super powers after he gets his powers back. And, as another commentator has pointed out, Superman chose to give up his powers in the first place because he was horny.
     (For the record, Richard Donner's director's cut of Superman II doesn't contain many of the flaws of the Richard Lester version originally released, and is a far better film.)
     Out of kindness, I won't go into detail about Superman IIISuperman IV or Superman Returns, which I'm sure no one wishes to defend.
     If you're a fan of the comic book version(s), he's little better. For most of his run, he lives a double life, attempting to romance an uninterested Lois Lane while posing as a clumsy, socially inept dork, while pushing her away as a nuisance when he's being himself. (Unlike with true love, he wants Lois to love him not for who he is, but for who he's pretending to be.)
     Also, for most of those years, he didn't need to even think about killing anyone because even his worst foes weren't trying to kill anyone, except maybe kill Superman himself. They were either trying to pull overly complicated robberies in Metropolis (why, if you're a crook, do you decide to rob banks or museums in the one city in the world that has a resident godlike man defending it?) and/or to defeat Superman as if it were just some sort of game.
     Frankly, there's really no good reason for someone to dress up in a flashy costume to get cats out of a tree. There isn't much reason to do so to catch bank robbers either. About the only reason to do so is because you're fighting guys who are also dressing up like that, or to let people know that someone very important is coming and to act accordingly ("Kneel before Zod."). If you're humble and not seeking glory, you don't dress like that. If you're meant to be a symbol, you don't show your face either. A mask is de rigeur.
     Then there's the whole schizo Clark Kent-Lois Lane-Superman triangle. Is that truly a sane way to behave? Only if you have no feelings for Lois and just want to maintain your secret identity. In any sequels to Man of Steel, it looks like Lois and Clark will have a more honest relationship.
     There are many versions of Superman out there. He was not conceived of, developed and written by one person with one vision. And each writer's vision has been influenced by the times in which they lived (one version had a mullet).

     I'm thankful for Man of Steel for several reasons: there is no sign of Kryptonite, which is a mostly lame plot device; Lois Lane behaves like a more-than-competent reporter (and appears to be of an age where that is believable) rather than a bad screwball comedy heroine; and while there is a brief glimpse of the Lexcorp label, there are no hare-brained real estate schemes involving the murders of millions of people. All those elements were also present in the 1978 film, so revered by critics of the new film. Do they wish they were present in the new film? 
     I've also seen several critics say the sequence on Krypton was too long. I liked it myself, but I'm more of a science fiction fan in general than a Superman fan in particular.
     I didn't care for all of the fight sequences -- I didn't care for them in Superman II either -- but they may have been some viewer's favorite scenes.
     I also didn't like the learning-to-fly scene. It looked silly, like he was jet-powered. I always saw Superman's flying as more of an antigravity thing, that he could just sort of float there, though he could go faster than the sound barrier if he chose to or needed to. Man of Steel seemed to imply in that first flying scene that he couldn't fly unless he went very fast. (If you want Superman to get back to his roots, flight is the first ability that needs to go. He couldn't do it until the comic book makers saw how silly he looked jumping in the original Fleischer Studios animated shorts.)

     Yes, in most cases Superman wouldn't need or want to kill anyone, but -- as I read in a book on writing -- a book or a film is about the most significant or most important or most unusual event in someone's life. That's why most series peter out. Either they become absurd because they try to make each successive event bigger than the last, or people start wondering why these less significant events warrant a book (or film). Man of Steel isn't about a random, pedestrian day in the life of Clark Kent/Kal-El, but about big issues, difficult decisions. You can argue that he made the wrong one, but that shouldn't in and of itself make the film a bad one. So if you don't like the film, ask yourself why, then ask yourself if the problem is within the movie or within yourself.