Friday, January 23, 2015

Inexplicable TV Review: Galavant Gala-like

Somehow, Galavant is kind of an OK show. I’m not entirely sure how, since the concept – a musical twist on the classical damsel in distress, dungeons and dragons affair – seems like a Monty Python sketch stretched way too thin. How do they make it work for one 22-minute episode? Nevermind eight of them!

However, in execution, Galavant basically works as a version of Glee that is not completely up its own ass with seriousness. Everything is tongue-in-check and played for laughs, and with the surging popularity of things like Game of Thrones and Tolkien’s entire literary history now fodder for blockbusters, there is plenty of spoofing material.

The premise – The hero Galavant has his lover, Madalena, taken from him by the dastardly king. He storms the castle in an attempt to rescue her… Only to be told at the altar, by her, that she likes this new arrangement and her new things and doesn’t need rescuing. He’s knocked out, and time passes, allowing him to become vagrant-y. The now-Queen Madalena turns out to be a terror, and in an attempt to win her over more completely, the king concocts a plot to build Galavant back up for a duel in front of the queen, at which point he will kill Galavant.

All of this features singing. A lot of singing. A lot of hilarious, tongue-in-check singing. I mentioned Monty Python before, and while nothing reaches the heights of “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life,” most of the tunes are at least as good as “Camelot.” It’s a show that’s clearly made with goofy fun, with actors making obvious asides and winking statements to the camera, which makes it easier to hang in with.

In the words of a famous man, it's good to be the king.
There is a small bit of wasted potential in the concept though, in that they clearly had to skimp a bit on the acting talent. The standout is Timothy Omundson as the king, showing off some comedic chops after basically play straight-laced for eight years as Carlton Lassiter on Psych. His kidnapped damsel turned torturer Madalena, played by Australian model Mallory Jansen, is also a standout, as is Karen David as Princess Isabella Maria Lucia Elizabeth of Valencia. Vinnie Jones basically plays the king’s lead henchman as Snatch’s Bulletproof Tony in the 1200s… not that that’s a bad thing.

The rest of the cast, including the lead role, are shakier. They don’t detract from the fun, but they don’t add as much. And the guest stars are where the show is at its absolute hammiest. John Stamos, Weird Al and Ricky Gervais are just way too on the nose when it comes to the comedic accessory parts. Unlike the very best spoof movies, there isn’t a Lloyd Bridges or Robert Stack or Peter Graves to balance this out. (Okay, all three of them are dead. Yeah but still.)

The reception to the show has been mixed. On one hand, it has gotten average to very good reviews from most sources. On the other hand, it’s been pretty horribly rated. It started with 7.42 million viewers and a 2.0 in the 18 to 49 demo, but it slid to 1.3 in its second week and 0.9 in its third week. The final two episodes are on Sunday, and it can’t be a cheap show to produce, so a second season seems unlikely.

The title card and picture of Tim and Mallory are common promotional images floating around the Internet.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Inexplicable Book Review: Secret History of Wonder Woman(’s Creators)

If you can get over that the fact that the advertising and title of The Secret History of Wonder Woman is a bit misleading, what you’ll find is a very solid book about the five incredibly strange people who contributed to the iconic DC Comics character.

The issue with the book’s title is that it should really be called The Secret History of Women Woman’s Creators and Influences. While the influences of Wonder Woman can be seen throughout early pages, we don’t get to the actual creation of the character until page 180 – the last third of the book. If you’re a comic book buff, then this isn’t really the book for you. It’s definitely aimed at more of a general interest audience.

And the history that the book does get into is amazingly bizarre, strange and interesting, to be clear! The “creator” of Wonder Woman was William Moulton Marston, but he clearly took “inspiration” from Ancient Greek tales, the women’s liberation movement, and his wife Olive Byrne, who wore bracelets on her wrists.

By the way, Marston was a huge believer in the equality and possibly superiority of women. He also had two wives. And he didn’t work for a decade at one point, forcing his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston to be the primary wage earner for the family. The three of them all lived together, with Byrne raising her two children and Holloway’s two children. Marston was the father of all four. Marston was also one of the first to look into measuring heart rate and pulse as a way to detect deception in others.

Want more crazy? Well, Byrne’s mother was Ethel, a noted women’s rights proponent in the early 20th Century. She largely started this work after abandoning Byrne and her brother when they were children. Ethel’s sister was Margaret Sanger, another noted activist, who appropriated portions of Ethel’s background and wrote her out of history to secure her own legacy. Both were clearly influences on Wonder Woman, and both also supported the odd Marston family compound.

It’s all oddly fascinating, but it does highlight one other flaw with the book – It ends after about 300 pages. The rise of Wonder Woman tale basically replaces much digging into the family’s background, and in this part of the book, you can really tell that Lepore is a history professor and not a journalist or reporter.

There’s not really much about what the four children did, and how they dealt with the odd family arrangement, or about how Byrne and Holloway lived together for decades even after the passing of Marston. Conversely though, there isn’t much dissection of Wonder Woman storylines from the (admittedly horrible sounding) 1950s and 1960s. As a result, the book kind of crumbles a bit in the end, although the first two acts are still satisfying enough that I recommend it.

The image of Wonder Woman #1 comes from the DC Comics wiki here.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Inexplicable Movie Review: Back To The Future 2 (Is Now The Present)

An example of Back to the Future being sneaky awesome.
Folks, you might have heard this already, but we are finally in the “present” of the Back to the Future series. The second installment is set in 2015, and while we don’t yet have those self-lacing Nikes or hoverboards, I’m positive they’re right around the corner! As a result, you should check out that second movie – it’s the oddest of the three, while still being really good. My power rankings go 1 > 2 > 3; I find the third to be just “more of the same” from the perspective of the series, whereas the second at least does some weird and confusingly fun stuff with the time travel.

I recently re-watched the trilogy, because it’s awesome. (I mean, I don’t really need any other reason beyond that, do I?) However, it’s also because there is always something new to notice, because director Robert Zemeckis and writer-producer Bob Gale took so much care with the details.

Two prime examples: When Marty goes back to Hill Valley in 1955, he knocks over one of the trees at Twin Pines Mall. Also, when Doc Brown is trying to rig up the lightning bolt at the end of the movie, he slips and breaks some of the stone ledge. When Marty is returned to 1985, the name of the mall has changed to Lone Pine Mall, and at the end of the first movie AND in the second movie, the ledge where Doc Brown fell from is still broken.

If you’re as nuts about the movie trilogy as I am, then I heartily recommend that you poke around the Internet and on the DVD / Blu-ray collections for the commentaries on them. There are multiple commentaries with Gale and producer Neil Canton, and there are three Q&A sessions – one on each movie, with questions about the overall series sprinkled in – with some really interesting insider stuff, from Gale and Zemeckis.

Famously, Crispin Glover didn’t want to participate in the second and third movies, and they instead re-used footage from the first film. The producers and studio were later sued over this and lost, I believe. In the commentaries, Zemeckis gets into why they couldn’t reach a deal with Glover – he wanted the same salary as Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, as well as a bunch of creative control they even the top two stars didn’t have.

Also, contrary to rumors, there were never plans to do a fourth movie, or something like “Marty McFly and Dinosaurs.” Eric Stoltz was first cast as Marty, but he never was the first choice – Fox was. When they tried to do it without Fox and with Stoltz, they noticed the movie just didn’t work, and the initial effort and the time they wasted was actually the only way they were able to get Fox. Because they had the delay, Meredith Baxter-Birney was able to return to the cast of Family Ties, and that gave Fox justttt enough wiggle room to film both Family Ties and Back to the Future.

Also also – Jennifer, Marty’s girlfriend, was actually cast three different times. The original actress was Melora Hardin and picked to match Stoltz, who is taller than Fox. She was fired at the same time as Stoltz. Claudia Wells played Jennifer in the first film, but she was a very minor character, and featured in only two or three scenes. As a result, the part was re-cast after the first movie, and Elisabeth Shue was chosen.

You don’t need to feel too bad for Hardin though, since she was Jan in the U.S. version of The Office, and Wells… Well, she didn’t really do much after Back to the Future. But still, she’s eminently available for all of the reunion stuff, whereas Shue is not. Speaking of future Future stuff, the characters do belong to Zemeckis and Gale, but the name belongs to Universal. So unfortunately, there is a risk that there could be a reboot without the original creators or actors at some point.

There are two plot holes in the movie, one that the producers picked up, and one that they didn’t. In some scenes of the movie, Marty’s jacket zippers are up, and then, in the next scene they’re down. This is just an editing error.

However, the second one has been noticed by Cracked and Dave Dameshek, and I wrote about it based on their comments way back when. Specifically, it’s never commented upon by Marty’s parents that, wow, he looks EXACTLY like their old friend Calvin Klein that got them together in the 1950s! It seems like an odd thing for them to forget. (Not a plot hole, but just kind of cool – At one point, there are four DeLoreans in 1955. For more info, check here.)

Anyway, I know it’s a very controversial opinion, but y’all should check out these movies.

Much of the info and some of the photos for this entry come from the excellent Back to the Future wiki. The photos of the actresses are common ones taken from The Internet and IMDB / Wikipedia.

Monday, December 29, 2014

One Album Wonders (Or, Whatever Happened To The Propellerheads?)

About five years ago, in one of my iTunes running diaries, I touched upon a British big beat techno band called The Propellerheads and lamented that they had never released a follow-up to their 1998 debut, Decksandrumsandrockandroll. Unfortunately, the band has still not come out with a proper follow-up.

Unlike some other bands, there isn’t a really good indication online for what the issue is. Since 1998, they’ve released one new song according to Wikipedia – “Ten Years (Johnston’s Strut Part One),” which was a single track for a compilation in 2003, and is so obscure it’s not even on YouTube. The band’s debut peaked at No. 6 in the UK, and went gold, so it’s odd that there was no second album. They’re one of the ultimate “you’ve heard them, even if you’ve never heard OF them,” thanks to their appearances on The Matrix soundtrack and other spy stuff. “History Repeating” with Shirley Bassey was their one U.S. radio hit.

This got me thinking about some other One Album Wonders (in contrast to One Hit Wonders) floating about in my iTunes collection. From that same blog post, there is New Radicals. Their front man, Gregg Alexander, was strongly anti-corporate and odd, and the band self-destructed as a result. They have one album, the wonderfully-named Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too, and they’re best known for the earworm “You Get What You Give.”

The Postal Service was a side project of the guys from Death Cab for Cutie and other stuff. Unlike the first two bands mentioned, they actually did claim for years to be working on a second album to follow up Give Up. However, it never materialized between 2007 and 2012. The band then got back together for some shows in 2013, and disbanded again. How frustrating! (Also, this is somehow the first time I’ve written about The Postal Service, even though they were basically my soundtrack for sophomore to senior years of college. I was probably just burnt out on them for a couple years after…)

There is also the case of the Weezer side project Homie, which didn’t even get to one-album status. They had a single song, “American Girls,” that was awesome and on a movie soundtrack. (Meet The Deedles, a horrible Disney movie that attempted to hijack surf culture and starred Paul Walker.) “American Girls” is peak-Rivers Cuomo, and Homie also featured members of Cake and Soul Coughing. Apparently, there are live performance bootlegs out there, but I haven’t listened to them… yet. (One other “incredible soundtrack song” from the 1990s is “JAR” by Green Day, which was initially only available on the soundtrack for the otherwise forgettable Angus, but has since made its way on to some other Green Day releases.)


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