Torchwood: End of the Road

After the ridiculousness that was the 7th episode with Nana Visitor showing up to bring Jack to the one man who could tell him what was going on, we are re-introduced to Angelo, the one man who can’t say a thing because he’s in a coma and about to die.  Jack and company arrive with Angelo’s granddaughter as guests and it’s immediately clear that the events of episode 7 never had to happen: an invitation would have been enough to get Jack involved.  But neutralizing the previous episode isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it frees this one to be a much better episode.  Well… barring a little annoying dialogue in the beginning.  Rex realizes that all this happened because “two gay guys had a hissy fit!”  Thankfully Gwen sets things right pretty quickly: “Come on Rex, get back in your cave!”   (And of course, their hissy fit had nothing to do with the Miracle!)

As we discussed a few weeks ago, an arc needs to either add things or change things to move the story along.  We are given some additions: Angelo found a way to create a “null field” so he would not live forever, though it’s clear that was not his plan, considering how much he did want to live forever.  We learn about the families; no not some Mob thing, but a group of three families who go on a quest for eternal life.  And we get another Star Trek alum, John De Lancie (Q) as Shapiro who is also a remarkably fun character to watch.  (I do take issue with the fact that the writers felt a need to have so many blatant slurs in this series though: De Lancie calls Friedkin “fat ass” twice, which I find as offensive as all the gay insults!  This certainly isn’t the parent series!)  But barring his nastiness, Shapiro is a lot like Rex with his blunt attitude and no interest in wasting time.  The dialogue is often really enjoyable.  (I especially love that he calls Jack the “Red Baron” and asks if he has “Snoopy up [his] ass”.)

The big question is: what makes this episode the titular “end of the road“?  Is it that Angelo died?  Does it have to do with the null field that has a piece so small Jack can sneak it away in his shirt pocket? Is it that Oswald Danes has gone off the deep end and beaten Jilly or is it that Jilly was approached by The Family and recruited to work with them?  Or could it be the fact that there was still an agent inside the CIA?  Probably none of that.  It’s more likely that Gwen has been deported and is sitting on an airplane.  She has no idea that Jack has been shot.  Jack… the previously immortal character that is now mortal… lies in the back of the car that Esther drives to an unknown destination. It’s a damned good cliffhanger to an episode that felt strangely fluffy.

I’ve said before that I am a huge fan of Babylon 5.  It’s an epic story told over a 5 season arc.  There are filler episodes, don’t get me wrong, but there’s an entire 3+ season run that pushed the story along.  That’s what’s needed for arc-series.  This episode is good, and it’s got some great moments.  It was also nice seeing De Lancie and Visitor together for a few minutes.  But it doesn’t feel like it needed to be an episode.  It felt like it could have been half an episode that was accidentally stretched out.  Yes, it’s miles ahead of the previous one and puts the series back on track to launch the final two parts, but… there was a better way…

In a rare moment, I’ll explain what should have happened in episode 7.  Visitor reaches out to Jack and invites him to meet.  Of course he accepts, because why wouldn’t he?  Through this sequence we could be given those flashbacks – most of what we saw last week could have been truncated into shorter flashbacks that Visitor narrates.  By the halfway point of the episode, Angelo would have died and Jack would have found the null field, ran off, taken the bullet and ended in the same place this episode did.  Now, we would have a more cohesive, logical story with just as much data but a better flow.  Alas, I suspect someone said “but that means only 9 episodes and we can’t have an uneven series in America!  What is this, Britain?”   So episode 7 was crafted to lengthen the series.  And that’s a shame because we could still be left in the same place, but without a lot of backstory that did very little to make us care about Angelo.  Were we supposed to care about him?  I liked him enough in episode 7 but by this episode he dies without ever speaking another word, and then he’s taken away and forgotten.  Gone is the memory of Angelo.  (Even Ianto gets mentioned in this and he’s been gone for more episodes than the entirety of last season.  Will Angelo ever be thought of again?  I’m going with: nah…!)

I shake my head.  A good series so far, but not a great one and we had the potential for a great one.  I’ve got my fingers crossed that the last two episodes change my opinion!   ML

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And You Thought There is Never a Girl Online?

And You Thought There is Never a Girl Online Ako original artwork

Artwork by Katie Marriott

This ponderously titled anime covers the same ground as many other series: the nerd gets the girl. Fortunately it does that with a good amount of originality. The nerd in question is Hideki Nishimura, who spends his spare time doing internet gaming on a multiplayer game called Legendary Age. The game has a chat facility and players can form groups and alliances. Sometimes players take this a step further and develop in-game relationships. Hideki learnt the futility of that approach to dating the hard way, when he proposed to a cute cat girl in the game, only for her to reveal that in real life she’s a middle aged dude… or so she says.

Realising that “the game and the real world are different things”, which becomes his catch phrase, Hideki swears off dating within the game, until he steps in one day to save a newbie in trouble and she latches onto him. Ako isn’t going to take no for an answer, and Hideki even agrees to marry her within the game environment. By this point, Hideki is spending his time while gaming with a group of internet friends in Legendary Age, two other guys and Ako, and they have all formed a guild together. They decide to take a big step and meet in real life.

In a reversal of the apparent cat-girl situation, the two male players in the group turn out to be female in real life. There’s Kyo, who is the “master” of the group within the game and in reality is a rich girl who is the student council president at school. There’s Akane, who is a popular blonde who keeps her gaming a secret in real life to avoid damaging her cool reputation. And then there’s Ako, who is the main focus of the series. Oh, by the way, they all just happen to be attending the same school, because everyone we meet on the world wide web just happens to live a few streets away… right?

So we have to take a leap of faith there, but it’s worth it. Ako is absolutely adorable but frankly she’s mentally troubled. She can’t distinguish properly between the game and real life, and starts calling everyone by their game names (so Hideki is “Rusian”, for example). That’s a problem for Akane in particular, who has a reputation to protect (oh, and her gamer name just happens to be the German for “pig”). Ako also treats Hideki as if he’s really her husband. You would have thought that would be a dream come true for a nerdy teenager, but the brilliance of this anime is that it acknowledges that you can’t live a fantasy. Hideki realises that Ako is blurring the lines between the game and reality, and he knows it’s just not right. He starts to fall in love with her pretty quickly but he wants it to be real, not just the attentions of a confused, troubled school dropout with no real life friends. He wants Ako to love him for who he really is, not his in-game persona. The trouble is, Ako just can’t seem to understand the difference, and that problem is at the heart of this series. The group all wants to help Ako, and they form a gaming club at school, so now they are meeting together as real friends.

And You Thought There is Never a Girl Online? Fanservice Ako and AkaneThere are quite a few surprises along the way, with a couple of new characters also making an impact, but I can’t really talk about either of them here without spoiling some key moments in the series. What I really loved about this series is that it isn’t a harem anime, contrary to appearances. Instead it’s an uplifting portrayal of the importance of friendship, and the way friends can support and help each other. There’s plenty of fanservice, and it does feel at times like the writer is exploiting Ako a little too much. That might sound like an odd thing to say, because she’s just a character in an anime, but I do think when you are portraying what is basically a form of mental illness then as a writer you have some duty of care in the way you do that. But the majority of the fanservice tends to be focused on Kyo, which is a lot more harmless.

I always enjoy an anime that shows lonely people finding friends. It gives the viewer a warm, fuzzy feeling. But more than that, this shows the importance of having the right kind of friends. Akane already has loads, but that’s just because she’s playing the popular girl act. It’s only when she meets her LA friends that she finds something real, which is ironic because it all springs from something that clearly isn’t real at all. This is a series that acknowledges the pitfalls and dangers of internet friendships, while celebrating them and showing how important they can also be.

Hideki insists on drawing a clear line between the online world and reality, and to some extent that ends up holding him back. Ako doesn’t draw a line at all, and to some extent that damages her social and educational progress in the real world. Somewhere between those two extremes there’s a balance to be struck.   RP

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The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Marriage of Convenience

Edgar Wallace Mysteries Marriage of ConvenienceThe first Edgar Wallace Mystery featured Wilfred Bramble, and now it’s the turn of the other Steptoe, Harry H. Corbett, this time in the lead role as Inspector Bruce, a detective on the trail of an escaped convict.

We start with a bride looking wistfully at the wedding before hers, with lots of guests and a photographer. Nobody has turned up to see her own wedding, not even a witness, and the groom is late. When it turned out that the wedding was not going ahead, but was merely a ruse to help the convict groom escape from his guards, I did wonder if I had misunderstood Jennifer Daniel’s performance as Barbara, but actually I think that look of sadness was entirely deliberate. Later in the film it is pretty obvious that she has feelings for Larry, and there is a hint of a romance between them. I think Barbara is helping him for reasons other than just simple friendship.

Larry is pretty single-minded, though, a man on a mission to recover a huge amount of money that should have been waiting for him. Everything else is secondary to that, even the loss of his girlfriend and any thoughts of revenge on the man who took both his money and his girl from him. The final encounter between Larry and former detective Mandle makes that clear. At one point Larry has the money and doesn’t shoot Mandle, and I don’t think his half-baked getaway plan has much to do with failing to pull the trigger. Larry is not a monster, which is what makes this such a compelling film to watch, and an interesting one because for much of the film we can’t help rooting for the escapee. That has its limits, though. When he encounters a very stereotypical “simple French onion seller”, with a very dodgy accent, he starts beating him up for information. At that point he loses what sympathy we had for him, and the same feelings are reflected in the actions of Barbara, who not only does the right thing and gets the onion-seller medical attention, but willingly tells Bruce where to find Larry. It’s a clever bit of writing, because it’s important that the viewers are on Bruce’s side for the final showdown.

If our feelings towards Larry go through some changes, the same can certainly not be said of ex-policeman Mandle, who is a revolting character. Bruce’s reaction to him is one of a couple of moments when we can’t help but lose respect for him. Earlier in the film he proves himself to be a bit of an idiot, when he arrives at the garage and never thinks to check who is working under the car outside (of course, the biggest fool is the policeman stationed outside, who just watches him drive off!). But the hardest thing to watch is Bruce’s nervous meeting with Mandle in his house, when the sort of old hierarchy between them kicks in. Bruce looks like he is deferring to Mandle, sucking up a bit, and quite scared of him, despite the fact that Mandle is retired and obviously has the stolen money. Mandle hardly even makes much attempt to hide that fact. If anything he’s proud of it. Later when Bruce returns to the house and finds Tina there, he is again a bit dense. Tina is quite clearly terrified and it’s obvious that Larry is inside. One possible interpretation to the mistakes Bruce makes is of course that he is playing a game and biding his time, hoping not just to recapture Larry but to get Mandle in the process, but that’s left to the viewers to guess. I’ve never read the original novel on which this film is based (The Three Oak Mystery), but I would be curious to know if Bruce’s mistakes are explicitly explained to be a deliberate ploy in the original, and that aspect of the story was lost in its compression to a one-hour format. If so, a hint of it remains, but not enough to avoid Bruce looking incompetent, and that’s a shame.

Despite that, his moment of triumph is brilliant. Throughout the film Corbett’s performance is capable, but not particularly memorable, but the final moments are a masterclass in conveying emotions without any words at all. When he arrests Mandle, Corbett manages to convey disgust, disappointment and triumph all in one go, and when you think about it Bruce would absolutely have those kinds of mixed feelings about arresting a former colleague. Very poetically, Mandle is taken into custody with his own handcuffs, and then Bruce walks away with a flicker of a smile on his face. Great stuff. This is the most straightforward story in the series so far, but also by far the best.

P.S. Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that I’ve skipped out The Malpas Mystery from October 1960, which was shown between Clue of the Twisted Candle (September 1960) and Marriage of Convenience (November 1960). That’s because I’m watching these using the first volume of the Network DVD releases, which oddly misses out The Malpas Mystery but otherwise includes the other seven of the first eight films. It was eventually included on Volume Six, so I will get to that in a future article if I continue watching this film series.   RP

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Elfen Lied Episode 6

Elfen Lied Episode 6 Nana“Herzenswaerme (Innermost Feelings)”

The view from Igirisu:

After the trauma of the last couple of episodes, which were a barrage of abuse and dismemberment, this is the closest Elfen Lied gets to a breather episode. We even get time for one of the old rom com favourite scenarios: the boy and the girl caught in the rain and taking shelter at a shrine. Kouta and Yuka come close enough to confessing their love for each other and share a couple of kisses, so I suppose they are a couple now (despite being cousins, apparently), but that doesn’t stop Yuka getting jealous of Nyu again when a hug goes on for a bit too long. Disappointingly, Kouta gets a couple of comedy punches from Yuka yet again.

Definitely not getting punched just for a cheap laugh is Mayu, who meets up again with Bando. Mayu seems to veer between being very silly and very clever, as if the writer hadn’t quite pinned down her characterisation. When she sees Bando again she greets him like an old friend, bizarrely, and then just blurts out about Nyu. On the other hand, calling in the favour Bando owes her by asking him to protect her from himself is a really smart move.

Talking of people who just blurt things out, we have the assistant to Professor Kakuzawa, now an assistant to a severed head. She really doesn’t work very well as a character. She has been working with him on some top secret stuff, and has knowledge of the Diclonii, but when Kouta turns up she just tells him everything and answers all his questions. Weird. Interestingly, the trauma of seeing the dead professor gets blanked out of Kouta’s head, so that is how his brain is handling shock. The question is, what has been blanked out from his past, something that seems to involve Lucy but he cannot remember?

“I can’t blame him for being shocked. No-one should have to see this.”

…as they showed a close-up shot of the severed head for the third time. At times this has been a series that doesn’t quite know where to draw the line between what is necessary and/or justifiable by the narrative and what is simply gratuitous. It might seem counter-intuitive, but going too far with that kind of thing actually lessens the impact in the end, and verges on silliness.

I mentioned how this is something of a breather episode, but it is also an episode that ends a run of misery and despair and instils a little hope at last, something that is much needed at the halfway point of the series. Nyu is back with Kouta, and those who have lost limbs get replacements. That’s not such great news when it comes to Bando, who is now a loose canon with a vendetta, but seeing Nana emerge from her escape pod while a recording of Kurama’s voice explains that he has disobeyed the director’s orders is a lovely moment. We have had a whole episode without her since her apparent death, just enough time for that to feel final and tragic before the twist in the tale. But all of that will count for little if she is just another killer with a vendetta, coming back for round two. I suspect Bando is beyond redemption because he really is a monster, but Nana is an unusual mix of a character, caught in the grip of Stockholm Syndrome even after her escape, a girl with a vendetta who has an aversion to killing. This one could go either way…   RP

The view from Amerika:

Episode 6 opens with Bando.  He’s back and has been augmented with cybernetic limbs and eyes.  Just when you think there’s no way the bad guy can get back on his feet, he does so with added power.  He immediately uses it to incapacitate the doctor who fixed him up, which should have come as no surprise considering the lowlife Bando is.  Later we’ll get a hint that there’s a human side to him when he promises to help Mayu so he wouldn’t be indebted to her… but then he immediately starts smacking her around making her lip bleed because, no, he has no soul.  (And he’s not a ginger!)   Even his language when speaking to the 14 year old girl is about what you’d expect.  It’s only Mayu’s quick thinking that she shows Bando the very phone number he just gave her that stops the abuse.  I hate him.

Meanwhile Kouta goes out looking for Nyu and finds the beheaded doctor; the son of the mysterious director.  (This was from last episode when Lucy ripped his head off for wanting to play Adam to her Eve.)  Kouta seems to have a minor break with reality as he realizes Nyu might be responsible for this.  We see this happen again later when talking to Yuka about it; he’s utterly traumatized but then switches off, forgets what he was saying, and then accepts Yuka’s invitation to go searching for Nyu together.  Clearly something is going on here, and I suspect we’ll learn more soon.  (There are hints at the end of the episode when they find Nyu that something happened 8 years ago and Nyu was around for it.  Damn this series, making me wait!)

Meanwhile the “chief” responsible for Nana and the other Diclonius is asked about his family.  Again, this series plays with us, so his answer that he murdered his daughter with his bare hands which lead to his wife’s suicide sounds pretty bad, but I think there’s going to be more to it.  Time will tell, but I’m guessing she had some medical condition based on the incubation chamber she appears to be in.

While all the heavy stuff is going on, Kouta and Yuka get some private time while wandering around looking for Nyu.  After Yuka falls, Kouta pulls her close and warms her up, in more ways than one.  I was actually pretty pleased with this, because frankly, Yuka needed a “win”.  (Though I did think the series started off with them being cousins, but whatever… no one’s doing a DNA test on anime characters, to the best of my knowledge!)  This also leads to some really funny moments.  When Yuka slips and falls and her underwear are visible, Kouta mumbles “they’re striped!”  She hits him again, and he asks “but why!?”  In a way, the smacking is very funny, and rightly kept offscreen.  We’re allowed to know it’s happening, but we don’t need to actually see it.  (Violence is best shown as a thing bad people do, not two people who may potentially like one another!)  When Yuka slips on the stairs, Kouta tells her it’s because the stairs are wet.  Casually she says “thanks for pointing that out”.  I love the comedy in this show.

I also am coming to love the art and the episode ends with some great shots on the beach but now and then, there are drawbacks.  Another Diclonius shows up in an escape pod.  This is where anime fails while live action would have worked better.  (Don’t worry: in Erased, we saw where anime worked while live action would have failed; so it’s not a one sided solution.  Some situations call for one thing; others, something else!)  Here it took Roger pointing it out to me that this “other” Diclonius was Nana, who we believed to have been terminated.  Now, I did think she looked like Nana, but last I knew, Nana was limb-less and dead.  Two key features that this character lacked.  I should have realized as she stumbles around with new limbs but I can’t be Sherlock all the time!  Nevertheless, I’m glad to have her back.  After she listens to a message from “papa” (the chief) who tells her to be free, she turns only to find Bando pointing a gun at her.  What is it with this guy?  Does he just wait at the beach for mutants to swim to shore?  Maybe I need to spend more time at the beach myself.

The episode ends, like all of them so far, whetting my appetite for another episode, but making me wait to see what happens.  Well, we’re making you wait from week to week… is my torture any worse?   ML

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Babylon 5: A View from the Gallery

Babylon 5 Artwork“Seems like every week something goes wrong around here…  Wonder what this one’s about!”

Straczynski has been writing a continual run of episodes since somewhere in the middle of season 2.  It’s an impressive feat.  With the Shadow War, then the war to take back Earth, then the arrival of the telepaths, there needed to be something a little different, and Straczynski delivers.  The backstory is simple: the Gaim have advised the command staff of B5 that an attacking force is coming.  But rather than experience the attack as we normally would, we have a unique experience of seeing things through the eyes of others, in this case, two IT and maintenance crewmen, Bo and Mack.

The episode is refreshing.  We still get the story, but rather than seeing how things play out from the heroic members of the station, we see what the “lower decks” crewmen see.  It’s handled well and with a degree of comedy that was unexpected.  The whole “tastes like chicken” bit was enjoyable as was the rising price of Spoo (pay attention at the end of the episode; in just one day, the price of spoo went up 5 credits per ounce, if you can believe it!)  Through Bo and Mack we get a bunch of commentaries.  There’s the admiration of Sheridan, a captain who gets his hands dirty and gets down in the trenches with his men.  (They refer back to the episode where Sheridan chased down Delenn’s attacker in Ceremonies of Light and Dark).  And they talk about the love so evident between the two.  They get to talk to Doctor Franklin who offers reasons why he believes in saving all life, even that of the enemy.  They talk about Lockley and what side she was on during the war.  This is an interesting look at how rumors spread and how they can impact the way a person is perceived.  Similarly, they discuss the departure of Susan Ivanova, referring to her wanting a promotion and more money.  (This was in part due to real life questions about why Claudia left and the speculation that she was demanding more money!)  And they meet up with Creepy Byron, who gets to know people after they die.  Overall, it’s a very clever way to share observations about the characters and to allow the audience to experience the story.

But, dear readers, you know me; I can’t leave it there.  I take issue with some of it because for years I’ve been the IT Support, which is very much what Bo and Mack are for the station.  I’ve worked with others in this role too; skilled, intelligent people of insight and talent.  Take the story as a tongue-in-cheek bit of fun, and sure, I enjoy it as much as the next guy.  But both guys are depicted as a little dull.  Mack blurts out a rather silly message to Lochley, Bo talks to a doctor about letting others die, and both men don’t know how to act around the telepaths.  Maybe I’m biased by the fact I work for a company filled with so many great, approachable people that I can’t relate to the military strata, but I know no one in my company is looked down on!  So for me, the episode does not depict the emotional intelligence, skill or talent of the IT professionals on the station in very kind terms.  In real life, they are not the silly little men who wander the station wondering what their floor cleaners do, who sit around eating sandwiches during a crisis or who gaze longingly at a married woman as she walks by arm in arm with her husband!  So, yeah, I did find that a little offensive…

Conversely, in the short time they are on screen, G’Kar and Londo steal the show.  I loved G’Kar’s analysis of Londo, carrying his shelter around with him.  He says, “….you did not grow up.   You grew old!”  If one thinks back to Londo’s story about his “shoes are too tight, and I have forgotten how to dance”, Londo knew that even when he was younger.  G’Kar just solidified it.  It’s a great discussion.

Look, it’s a fun episode, it’s different and it’s unique.  Do I like everything about B5?  No.  I didn’t like the portrayal of the “worker caste”, I didn’t like Lochley’s hair pulled back so tight she could see yesterday and I found it weird that the station seemed to take on more damage than during the Shadow War.  But not for a moment do I fault this series for trying something new.   ML

The view from across the pond:

JMS has made a few attempts to show life on Babylon 5 from different perspectives. It’s a tricky thing to do, but this episode is his first unqualified success at doing something completely different. Mack and Bo are two tech guys, far below the chain of command, but whose work is vital in keeping the station running. A good example of that is when Mack is working on a malfunctioning console in the command centre (because of an insect!) while war is going on, completely unfazed and just focussed on his own job. These are the people who keep everything together, but whose contribution to the station is perhaps taken for granted.

We see Babylon 5 at war, through the eyes of these two workers, and because they are sent where they are needed we get to see most of the main characters from an observer perspective. The genius of this idea is the way in which they function as reviewers and critics. Basically, they are the voice of the fans of the show. They gossip about Ivanova’s departure. They give their opinions about newcomer Lochley (and there’s a typical fan debate there). They spot problems with the narrative and ask the difficult questions fans ask, sweating all those little details:

“Why don’t they just shut down the jump gate when things like this happen?”

And they ask the moral questions too, with Bo challenging Franklin on his motivation to save enemies as well as his own people, inspiring perhaps Franklin’s best ever speech:

“So when this is all over I’ll be out there, looking for anybody I can save, on our side or theirs, because that’s what I do. That’s what I would want them to do for me or for you.”

Their outsider perspective makes us question, and makes us think. Their moment of respect for fallen fighters asks us to think beyond the flashing lights and space explosions to the people in those ships. Amusingly, they see what fans see in the G’Kar/Londo relationship, the way they act as if they are a married couple squabbling. In particular, that’s the Centauri style of marriage! The dialogue in this episode is sublime, especially that conversation between G’Kar and Londo, with G’Kar remembering the wartime spirit of his childhood and telling Londo that he carries his shelter with him, and “did not grow up”. He grew old instead. Londo has perhaps the saddest line anyone has ever spoken in Babylon 5:

“I was never a child.”

Then we have the most heart-warming moments of the episode: the interactions between Bo and Mack and Delenn. She takes the trouble to get to know them and remember their names, perhaps due to her respect for the “worker caste”. And they are right about her smile:

“Did you see that smile? It was like the sun coming out from behind a cloud.”

I don’t know what the fans at the time thought of this, but they should have been clamouring for Bo and Mack to be added to the title sequence. Drop anyone else from the show if necessary, but keep Bo and Mack! In just one episode they made Babylon 5 so much funnier, so much more poignant and, most importantly, so much more real.   RP

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Gone Home

In the Summer of 2015, I picked  up Gone Home, a game that was getting a lot of good reviews.  It still retails for $15, so my $2.40 purchase was a steal. (Thanks Steam!)   Today, Covid-19 has caused governments and state agencies to recommend against traveling for Thanksgiving, and my wife and I find ourselves longing to have gone home for the holiday.  So I thought, why not replay a game all about going home!

Gone Home is considered a walking simulator, but it’s much more than that.  Over the last week or two, one of my closest friends shared a story he wrote and it got us talking about storytelling in general and how far video games have come specifically.  Then, just this week, Roger also wrote a review of one of the anime series he recently enjoyed and he commented that none of the titular superpowers mattered to him; he was in the story for the emotional journey.  Gone Home exemplifies the best of these qualities.  It’s storytelling, and with a very deep, emotional core.

Simple things help paint a picture of you family

 The story opens with a voicemail that you are leaving your family.  You play Kaitlin Greenbriar, who has returned home from an overseas trip.  Due to a midnight arrival, Kaitlin’s message tells her mom and dad not to come pick her up from the airport.  The first image (after a retro cassette spins the loading screen) is of your front porch and the time: 1:15am, June 6th, 1995.  There’s a note on the door from your sister saying she’s not home either.  There’s a hint of something ominous as the rain pours down, adding to a creepy atmosphere.  Televisions left on and emergency broadcasts just add to the spookiness, and some of the journal entries refer to the “psycho house” that your family moved into.  Finding books about poltergeists adds to the sense of unease.  As you explore the house, there’s a definite sense of something supernatural, including a Ouija board, secret panels and a passage that has a hand-made cross where, upon picking it up, the light goes out.  There’s also some fun genre related items to spot throughout the house.  (As a fan of Twin Peaks and The  X-Files, I was delighted to see references to those shows in the game!)  But the entire exploration of the impressive home opens journal entries from your sister.   It’s a slow build but an engrossing one.  Often, it’s the subtle things that crop up that give you a hint of who you are and what’s going on.  And the realization of why your mom and dad are not home also takes a bit of work.  (I thought there was something unhappy going on, but found that there was a very positive reason the parents were away.)

I have to admit: I like action games.  Think of games like Mass Effect; I want story, but I want action to propel it forward.  This game has minor puzzles, but they are very easy to solve; it’s not an adventure game.  Solving puzzles is really about finding the next journal entry that unlocks a direction.  There’s actually only one real puzzle and it’s not required to be solved to end the game.  (I was pleased to have actually solved it though!)   Yet, even without action and mind-bending puzzles,  I had become so invested in this very real, earthly story that I couldn’t stop playing.  95 minutes after starting, I had completed it and realized I took part in what was effectively an interactive movie.  (In fact, the game only has 2 voice actors!)    The main story made me a little sad, because I hate how many people are forced to hide their true selves from others (which I talked about this week in my Torchwood write-up, ironically.)  I can’t imagine needing to wear a mask all my life, literally or proverbially!   Sam’s story is really what the game is all about; you’re playing to learn where your sister is, and I could not wait to find out.

As much as I love supernatural stuff, the very real feeling of nostalgia is what pulled me into the game.  While the “psycho house” is far larger than the one I grew up in, every step of the way I was thinking of the house I grew up in.  There’s not a room in that house that I don’t have fond memories of: playing video games in the basement with friends (like Quake II) or pretending my sister and I we were crawling through a tunnel under her trundle-bed when she was a baby or watching the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation with my dad in the living room or scaring my mom by pretending to be a shark in our pool (you think I’m kidding…!).  This game evokes all of those wonderful emotions, bringing another home to life.  And it made me realize that if a house were to pick up the emotions of the owners, ours will be forever laughing.

Finding the old notebook paper made me smile. Seeing a reference to Thanksgiving was delightful!

Some of those items really resonated with me, like seeing print-outs from a dot matix printer.  Goodness, do I remember those!  The noise they made!  And music plays a part in this game too.  There are audio cassettes all over the place that you can play anytime you find a tape deck.  (I didn’t care of the music, though!)  Though you can’t play the video tapes, seeing them was delightful, especially seeing the hand written titles like we used to have.  And notebooks pages!   Who doesn’t remember that from grade school?  There was even one of those tape-punch label machines.  (I had to search a bit but they seem to have been cleverly called a “manual label makers”!)

Today is Thanksgiving!  It’s a day for going home and being with family.  While we won’t be traveling physically, I’ll be there in spirit and I know we’ll be together in our hearts.  I wouldn’t trade my home for the home in this game, because as great as this little game is, it can’t come close to the memories I have from my youth.  But it can bring some very positive emotions to the forefront of your minds.

To all of our friends and family here at the Junkyard, I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.  If you can’t go home, at least be there in spirit.  Have a safe and healthy holiday, wherever you end up!  ML

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Star Trek: Operation: Annihilate!

Star Trek Opening TitlesThe first season of Star Trek comes to an end with Operation: Annihilate.  A curious title for a show so often focusing on hope.  I mean here’s the deal: Starfleet says, “Jimmers, there’s an outbreak of mass insanity around your brother’s home on Deneva.  Go investigate.”  They have no idea what’s causing it, but when they find out that flying pancakes are the cause, they have to figure out how to stop them and that means annihilation!  There’s no middle ground here!  Spock doesn’t communicate with them to say “hey, chaps, this is the wrong way to do things”.  These creatures don’t follow The Outer Limits creatures in The Invisibles (or Babylon 5’s Exogenesis).  They are just there to connect to the nervous system and cause havoc.  It’s actually a very effective story that’s quite unnerving and that becomes most apparent when Spock is attacked.  But as good as that is, it’s not really a strong episode on most other levels.  Let’s put our thinking caps on…

Let’s start with some observations about the crew.  Scotty must be a remarkable engineer.  Seeing a ship flying into the sun, Kirk asks if they can beam the pilot out.  Scotty doesn’t so much as look at an instrument.  He just knows they are out of range.  (I’d have loved it if Sulu said something like, “Oh, whoops!  I just had zoomed the image all the way out on the scanner.  We’re actually right next to the ship!”)  McCoy may be a great doctor but I suspect he needs glasses.  He sees Jim’s brother Sam lying dead on the ground and asks “is this your brother?”  If not for the trauma of losing his brother, how wonderful would it have been for him to say “No, Bones, that’s just a man who looks exactly like me, but with a mustache.  My brother is a Black Asian Inuit with red hair!”   Come on, Bones!  Kirk meanwhile needs to learn the difference between “apology” and “excuses”.  When Uhura loses contact with the planet, Kirk asks her to reestablish contact.  Unsuccessful, she says “I’m sorry, sir…” but before she can say more, Jim blurts out, “I’m not interested in your excuses, Lieutenant.”  Um… what was her excuse, exactly?  If I knew “I’m sorry” was an excuse, I could have gotten out of so many homework assignments!  (And I do think Kirk hates his navigator sometimes.  At the end of the episode he asks Spock to “lay in a course…”  This is clearly the navigator’s job, but I guess that’s why next season Chekov starts; they needed a navigator Kirk could trust!)

There are also some quirky lines: “They tried to brain us with these clubs.”  Clearly this is a new verb.  I guess brains were on his mind considering the creatures he’s up against.  (Don’t groan!  It was a good one!)  “Fan out, follow me!”  This means everyone run in a straight line behind the captain.  And lastly, “I’m putting you gentlemen on the hotseat with me”.  What’s wrong with this?  Nothing if taken by itself.  But note his audience:

image003

For the sake of clarity, there are 3 women in the room, but Kirk only wants Spock and McCoy on the hotseat with him!  Women don’t have to be on a hotseat.

The crazy thing is I really like this episode.  Spock being attacked is frightening.  He collapses and can’t control the pain he’s in.  He even goes blind (although he has a get out of jail free card which I found lame)!   The creatures themselves don’t register on sensors because they are individual cells.  That’s a genius idea for a science fiction story.  Here we have a creature that does what I love in SF storytelling: it’s not humanoid, cannot be reasoned with, and causes madness upon contact.  That’s genuinely awesome!  But for all that, there’s a lot wrong with the episode.  My son pointed out that when the crew decided to sunburn the whole planet, they have to put floating satellites out to amplify the power of the sun.  The ship has a crew of some 400 people, but has room for 210 ultraviolet satellites!!?  Spock neglects to tell anyone that his species has an inner eyelid, and somehow McCoy didn’t know that either (even with 14 science labs on board, I guess some things slip past the medics of the future) and most insane of all: when they blast Spock with “1 million candles per square inch” of light (you know, because that’s how we measure light), he doesn’t even get a minor sunburn.   (I mean, I’m a ginger; I burn with 1 candle per 12 feet, so maybe I’m just jealous!)

The worst part of the whole thing is that after they blind Spock because “the rest of the planet won’t have goggles” (as if that matters: the planet is as good as dead otherwise, but Spock would still be the “most valuable first officer in the fleet” if they don’t blind him first…), they realize “oh, all we needed was ultraviolet light!”  Now, you might think: they were racing against time.  Sure.  If the answer didn’t come 2 minutes later.  “Let’s subject him to high intensity experimentation since it’ll be a while for the autopsy results.”  “Ok, Bones… but what’s ‘a while’?”  “Maybe 2… 3 minutes?  10 tops!”  “… sooooo, waiting wouldn’t be more prudent?”

I will always love this episode because as a kid it freaked me out and I still love the feeling I get while watching it.  But applying a little thought really derails it.  I guess the writer wasn’t worried about being on the hotseat, huh?  ML

The view from across the pond:

In this episode Kirk finds his brother dead. You would have thought he might be a bit more upset about that, but he has a quick lean on a wall and then on with business. Mind you, his brother is none other than William Shatner in a fake moustache. I’m not sure laughter was the audience reaction they were going for at that point. But the whole family thing doesn’t quite hit the right notes, and not just because of William Fake-Tachner. You can see why the writer did all this: to add some emotion and raise the stakes, but we have never met Kirk’s brother before, his sister-in-law just screams a lot and talks about “horrible things” before popping her clogs as well (no attempt at CPR Bones? Just going to watch those dials heading south?) and “my brother’s son” (if only there was a word for one of those) isn’t even a speaking role. Plus, it’s almost as if Shatner realised the emotion of this wasn’t going to land, so didn’t really give it any effort. The reason for that is the episode already gives us something to care about, the fate of Spock. We already know and love him as a character, and the importance of Spock to his best buddy Kirk is very well established. We don’t need moustache man, screaming woman #12 in our Trek Tally, and a sleeping nephew to raise the stakes, because they are already raised.

Down on the “extraordinarily quiet” streets (all the extras budget blown on the last episode?) we get to see the monsters, which are yucky, flappy things that fly, making occasional parpy noises. Despite Yeoman Zahra’s comment about them not looking real (where was she when the Gorn or the Horta were around?) these squelchy things are for my money the most effective monsters this whole series, simple but very icky. The idea that they are single cells from an organism spread across the galaxy is also quite inspired.

So, Kirk ends up facing a choice, and it’s basically the same choice he has faced for the last couple of weeks: do the lives of the many outweigh the lives of the few? Save the universe but condemn Lazarus to perdition? Save the future but let Edith die? Save billions of people by wiping out millions, including Spock and My-Brother’s-Son?

McCoy’s catty little lecture to Kirk about how the colonists are his responsibility and he shouldn’t just been focusing on Spock and Silent-Nephew comes across as cruel, and McCoy remains the only major character who doesn’t quite work in Star Trek, unless the vibe they were going for really was a bit of an idiot. If Kirk can help Spock and Peter he can help everyone. They aren’t two separate problems and his attention is hardly divided. And in the end his reaction is this:

“I will accept neither of those alternatives, gentlemen… I want that third alternative.”

And that had me punching the air. At long last. If anyone is still confused about why the previous universally-loved episode is actually below-par trash compared to much of the first season, here it is in a nutshell. We’ve sat and watched Kirk repeatedly faced with two nasty choices and picking the slightly less nasty, but here he actually takes a stand and insists on a third way. If only somebody had joined the dots and turned this into the character development it should be, with Kirk learning from his mistakes, it would have been even better, but other than that the writing here is streets ahead of The Alternative Factor or The City on the Edge of Forever.

OK, once Kirk has set his mind on finding a third way, it’s not the plain sailing that a similar course of action could have been in the last two episodes (e.g. allowing Edith to live but save her pacifism for a better moment, or even take her with them to the future). Spock is unnecessarily blinded for the sake of a bit of added pathos, thanks to some entirely flawed logic, with Kirk and McCoy reasoning that just because they can’t give goggles to the people on the planet they shouldn’t give them to Spock either, as if that’s going to have any effect on the result of the experiment. The idea that a very bright light can penetrate inside the body to kill the monsters seems silly, simply because the dialogue doesn’t quite join the dots in terms of the invisible ends of the light spectrum being able to do exactly that (so the writer takes something that does make sense and makes it sounds like it doesn’t). And I’m not entirely sure leaving people with dead gunky aliens inside their bodies wouldn’t be at least a bit of a problem in terms of their future health.

Despite those qualms, this episode ends the first series on a high, simply because Kirk finally become the hero who takes a stand and insists on a third way, and in doing so defeats the most effective monster we have seen so far, both visually and conceptually. So we have two consecutive episodes to end the season, one of which sums up why I walked away from Star Trek on my first attempt, and the other that sums up why I’m so pleased that I tried again.

We will be returning to Star Trek for the second season in the New Year, but before that it’s time to journey to the outer limits of our imaginations…   RP

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Torchwood: Immortal Sins

A lifetime ago, 2014 was a year without a pandemic. On January 1st of that year, my son and I started a Doctor Who marathon with William Hartnell’s An Unearthly Child.  It ran right up until this year, 2020 with Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor.  That included The Sarah Jane Adventures (and K-9 and Company), Class, and Torchwood.  It was an enormous undertaking and together, we’ve seen it ALL.  In that entire run, there was only one time I had to jump past a part of an episode: episode 7 of Torchwood’s Miracle Day.  That’s a shame when you think about it.  My son was 14 at the time and it’s not like we sheltered our boys from things, but some things really are not suited for every age.  14 was probably borderline, but it just felt like a tougher discussion than my wife and I were ready for going through Jack and Angelo’s lovemaking scene.  Some might consider it a wrong decision, but it’s the same reason we didn’t show the kids violent horror movies or movies with extreme vulgarity.  Any time a movie or television show aims to be gratuitous, it loses something.  Violence, blood, nudity, sexuality, vulgarity… they all have their place and not for a moment do I think they should be restricted but gratuity is where it fails.  Gratuity takes it to a level that caters to a baser instinct and isn’t really healthy for a young audience. Later in the episode, we have a brutal attack on Jack that I also forwarded through but I did notice this time (watching for the sake of the blog), it wasn’t as bloody as I remembered it.  When you consider how many episodes of this and it’s parent series my son and I watched, it’s a shame that some of it had to be skipped because of gratuity.  One single episode broke a run of Doctor Who lore that had gone on for decades!

Now barring that, the episode serves one purpose: it gives us the backstory between Jack and Angelo so we can have the big reveal at the end: Star Trek’s Kira Nerys, Nana Visitor, shows up at the end to take Jack to see his old lover, Angelo.  This brings us to the second big failure for the episode.  These people go through a lot to hold Gwen’s family hostage solely to have her to betray Jack.  The entire episode is her driving him to the site of where he will be handed over, during which we are given flashbacks to the 1920’s.  But when team Torchwood gain the upper hand in the last few minutes, Kira tells Jack that nothing has changed; he’s still going to come with her so he can find out who is behind it all.  Oh yeah?  Then why did they go through all the trouble????  Why didn’t they just send a message?  “Jack, come to Little Italy, find out what’s really going on, get a new t-shirt, with love, Angelo!”  Jack would have gone!  The Miracle was still going on so Jack wouldn’t fail to go!  What was the need for all the subterfuge?  (Well, at least it gave us background, but surely there was a better way!)

That’s not to say the backstory isn’t fun.  It’s just pointless really.  This wasn’t Captain John Hart from season 2 or any of the array of great villains; it was Jack’s old love interest; the one we had never heard of before.  Meh.  Sure, there are some fun moments, notably Jack making fun of Gwen’s cultural heritage: “you’re Welsh: you wouldn’t notice if the vowels were missing.”  Jane Esperson, the writer of this episode, is clearly a genre fan having written for Buffy, Battlestar Galactica, Jessica Jones, Game of Thrones, and plent of other things, so it’s not surprising that she did her research.  She gives Jack background with the Doctor who “travels the world with a companion”, so he can invite Angelo to be his companion.  She puts Jack into a situation with a parasite where Jack explains that the creature is part of The Trickster’s Brigade, whose plan it is to rewrite the future.  These moments are treasures to fans of the series.  She even has an attempt to fix the previous writers work of making Jack  a strictly gay character; he says “I like lots of things” when watching a beautiful woman.  Now that’s more like the Jack we know: he’s open to all; as the Doctor says, he goes out and “dances”.  So I credit her… until I look back and find out she wrote episode 3, where Rex didn’t like his jokes “too gay”.

Let’s rewind because this has been an ongoing problem with this season.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with having any character be the way they are.  That can take on any meaning needed for the story.  In this case, it happens to be a focus on Jack being gay.  Having just blitzed the incredibly delightful Schitt’s Creek, I can say with certainty that David is the best character in that show (which is a bold claim since everyone in that show is pretty fantastic) and I loved every scene he was in.  So I want to be very clear: the issue isn’t making Jack gay.  In fact, not only do I not have an issue with that if it was who he was all along, but I don’t think anyone should have to live behind a mask (excluding going out to shops during Covid) because they fear how they will be received by others.  Just as much as they have a right to like a different fast food chain or a flavor of ice cream from me, doesn’t make them bad or in some way inferior and they should not ever have to live in fear or with some shadow of inadequacy.  The fact that society can make them feel that way is terrible and for that, I am sorry.  That’s not the world we fans of Science Fiction  and Doctor Who want: we want inclusion and community based on shared interests, regardless of what our preferences are.  So it’s not a critique of Jack’s sudden proclivity toward men that bothers me but that the writers stopped paying attention to the lore that was already established and then making it gratuitously forced on the viewer.  Episode 7 is pure filler serving only to give us a history that felt contrived, while rewriting the character created in Season 1 of the rebooted Doctor Who.  Maybe the last three episodes will make up for some of the mistakes of this one.  I’m really counting on a miracle now.  ML

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When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace

Jurai Ando has a major case of chunibyo. Most readers of this blog will probably know what that means, but for the benefit of newcomers to anime, he is obsessed with fantasy-based fiction and anime, and pretends to have superpowers himself, much to the annoyance of the other members of the Senko High School Literature Club. One day, all the members of the club suddenly develop real superpowers, for reasons that are never explained in the anime. This is Ando’s dream come true, although his own power is apparently useless, a small dark flame that appears in the palm of his hand. But he now has a real power, so he’s happy. Much humour throughout the series comes from the other club members making fun of his lame power, but I found this a very refreshing change from the usual nerd-gets-powers genre of anime. Instead, Ando has to earn the respect of his friends by showing them what a decent guy he is, and their gradual realisation that there is more to him than his chunibyo silliness is the main theme of the series. This being an anime, the other club members are of course all female and all fall in love with him.

Tomoyo Kanzaki will probably be the fan’s favourite, and the series concentrates a little more on her than the other girls. In fact, I’ll talk about the other characters in what I felt was their order of importance in the series, although they all get their moments. Tomoyo’s power allows her to slow down or stop time. However, the powers aren’t generally the focus of the series, and at times it almost feels like the fantasy element has been thrown in to satisfy a certain demographic, while the writer is really interested in examining teenage issues. That’s what the series does best. Tomoyo has ambitions to be a writer, something she is keeping a secret from the rest of the group. Ando finds out about it and tries to help her, and does that in such a caring and supportive way that Tomoyo starts to develop feelings for him, from a starting point of getting annoyed with him all the time, so she’s very much the tsundere girl of the group. Later in the series we also discover that she has a hidden connection with Ando’s past, which is a great storyline and I won’t spoil it here.

Getting almost equal focus during the series is Hatoko Kushikawa, who has known Ando since they were little. Her power is the manipulation of the elements, but I’m not interested in that stuff. It’s the emotional journeys that make these characters come to life, and Hatoko has the most emotional journey of all the girls. She has played along with Ando’s chunibyo silliness for years because she loves him, but that has led to her feeling desperately frustrated at her constant lack of understanding of what on Earth he is going on about most of the time, and her inability to connect with him on any kind of a meaningful level. In a stunningly dramatic episode all the years of frustration come to a head and she pours out her feelings in a huge rant at Ando, before running away. In that moment all the silliness of the series fades away and things get very real.

Sayumi Takanashi is probably the next most important character, the club president and high-flying student, who predictably also develops feelings for Ando. She made little impression on me, although her power is probably the most interesting one, if a little vague: the ability to return something to its former state.

Much more entertaining is Chifuyu Himeki. She is younger than the others, and shouldn’t even be in the same school, but gets away with hanging around at the club because she is the niece of the club advisor. Her special power is the creation of matter, and very handily she can teleport wherever she wants to go in an instant. The writer was definitely going for the cuteness thing with Chifuyu, and she gets one of the most interesting storylines, her first crush. She struggles to understand her feelings, when she gets her first ever flutterings of the heart when she looks at Ando or even thinks about him, and importantly the series explores what that means for her friendship with her best friend “Cookie” (Madoka Kuki), to whom she turns for advice. Cookie worries that she will lose her friend, and there is a hugely entertaining episode where Cookie tries to find ways to make Chifuyu see that the object of her affections is really a jerk, while failing at every step because Ando is actually a decent guy. It all ends with an adorable heart-to-heart between Ando and Cookie, with Ando opening up to her about his worries for the future, and how Chifuyu will cope when the older members of the group leave school and she is left behind. She will need her best friend, and he wants to make sure Cookie will always be there for her. This kind of storyline illustrates how Ando’s heart is in the right place, and it’s far easier to believe in these kinds of harem anime setups when the main character shows himself to be so worthy of the affections of the girls. So many series get that wrong and show all the girls inexplicably falling for a jerk, but this is so much better than that.

Towards the end of the series another group of characters are brought into the mix as potential enemies, and there is more emphasis on the fantasy elements for a while, with one episode in particular hardly featuring the Lit Club characters at all. I’m sure plenty of viewers will have enjoyed all that, but for me it was an unwelcome distraction from all the emotional journeys, and didn’t really amount to much anyway. A lot of it felt like it was building up to a bigger storyline that would presumably have come to fruition in a second season, but unfortunately we don’t have one of those. That’s a shame, because the 12 episodes flew by and I really wanted to see more of these characters. As per usual, the story continues in the light novels and manga. Being an anime fan often feels like a frustrating journey through unfinished stories, but I suppose that’s a good reflection of life in general: unfinished business…   RP

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The Edgar Wallace Mysteries: Clue of the Twisted Candle

Clue of the Twisted CandleThis is the first film from the Edgar Wallace Mysteries series that is actually based on an Edgar Wallace book, and it’s certainly very different to Urge to Kill, which we looked at a couple of weeks ago. This is a locked room mystery, a subgenre I absolutely love, but it takes a long time to get to the point.

The detective for this one is Superintendent Meredith, played with gravitas and enthusiasm by Bernard Lee, who will always be remembered as M in the James Bond films. He is a man on a mission, trying to prove the innocence of a man named Lexman (David Knight), who he believes has been framed for a crime he did not commit. We know that he’s right about that because we saw beardy big shot Ramon Karadis setting it all up.

This reminded me a bit of a Columbo episode, with Karadis giving the impression of welcoming the input of the police into his life, co-operating fully with the detective until it is clear that the metaphorical Rottweiler is out to get him. The moment of that shift in dynamics is great, with Meredith asking to look in Karadis’s safe, Karadis telling him he can look if he can get into it, and then pulling a gun on Meredith when it looks like he’s actually going to crack the safe.

I also liked the small amount of humour that was injected from Meredith’s teasing relationship with his Sergeant, which contributes to the best speech of the film:

“Anson, I’m not going to rest until I’ve proved that Viney’s death was accidental and that Lexman was unjustly convicted, and when I say I’m not going to rest, I mean that you are not going to rest.”

Just when Meredith has achieved his aims and Lexman is about to be pardoned, he escapes from prison in an exciting sequence with Lexman and a fellow convict climbing over the prison roofs at night. This is one of a couple of two great twists in the tale. We’ll come to the other, but first of all let’s look at the locked room aspect of the film, which doesn’t actually happen until late in the game.

It’s all set up very nicely. To have a locked room mystery, you can’t have a window as a means of escape. I watched an inferior example of the genre recently in the form of an Avengers episode where the killer had simply escaped by means of a rope, but I won’t say any more about that because it won’t hit the blog for a while. This is much better, because early in the film it is established that Karadis has no windows in his office:

“I do not care to look out and I do not care to have people looking in.”

He is paranoid about possible attackers, if you can call it paranoia when there’s a good reason for it. Karadis has made a lot of enemies over the years, and you can see why. Another weak point that needs to be dealt with in a locked room mystery is the door, and once again that is basically taken out of the equation because it is made of steel and can only be opened from the inside.

As soon as Meredith notices the candles, fans of the genre will probably have little trouble figuring out what happened, but I still felt that this was a strong example of a locked room mystery. The solution was elegant and made sense, without being overly complicated.

“Why are there two candles missing from here? Why is this one lying on the desk, and the other one over by the door?”

That brings us to the second twist in the film, the identity of the killer. It is spoilt a bit by that age-old problem: an unconvincing disguise. There’s something about making up one person to look like somebody different that almost always shouts out at the viewer as wrong, however well it is done. I think there is something about the human brain that is excellent at detecting anything slightly unnatural about a human face, and it’s almost impossible to make a fake face fool us. But the twist still feels like an effective bombshell, and also it said something important about Meredith’s detecting skills. Throughout the film he has been like a dog with a bone, focussed on proving a man’s innocence. Solving the case required him to make a 180 in his beliefs, and I think that has a broader lesson for us. To succeed in life it’s probably essential to be open to the possibility that we can be wrong about things, and be prepared to completely reverse our opinions of a person or a subject. Closed minds are dangerous, and counterproductive. And if you don’t agree with that, you’re wrong and I’m always right. RP

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