Month: February 2012

EP0613: Let George Do It: Nothing But The Truth

Bob Bailey
A western legend, “the last honest man”, who is rumored to be rich, hires George after someone kills his seeing eye dog.

Original Air Date: November 27, 1950

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EP0612: Christopher London: The System-A Code for Murder

Glenn Ford

Christopher London travels from New York to the South France to solve the murder of a great musician.

Original Air Date: May 29, 1950

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EP0611: Barrie Craig: Murder by Error

William Gargan

Barrie is hired by a wife who fears her husband is being blackmailed.

Original Air Date: July 13, 1954

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Movie Review: The Adventures of Tintin

Tintin may be one of the most fun characters that most Americans have never heard of.  Tintin was the creation of the Belgian Cartoonist Herge over a period of nearly 50 years. Tintin is a Belgian investigative journalist who travels the world, getting caught up with one adventure after another, along with his faithful dog, Snowy and usually accompanied by his friend, Captain Haddock. The character came to Americavia HBO and later Nickelodeon through the BBC series which has the same name as the 2011 film, The Adventures of Tintin. 

In the Adventures of Tintin, our intrepid hero buys a model boat at an outdoor market. Two separate buyers are desperate to get the boat and offering top dollar, Professor Sakharine and an American named Barnaby. Tintin’s curiosity is aroused by their  and he begins to investigate.  The boat is stolen and Barnaby is murdered on Tintin’s doorstep but he finds the key clue, which is then lost to a pick pocket right under the noses of the ever-incompetent Scotland Yard duo of Thompson and Thomson. Not knowing the clue was lost, Sakharine has Tintin kidnapped and brought on board the SS Karaboudjan and imprisoned in the hold until he’ll reveal the location of the clue. Tintin breaks out of the hold with the help of his intrepid dog,  Snowy and encounters Captain Braddock for the first time. Braddock, an alcoholic who has lost control of his own ship, holds the key to the treasure that Sakharine’s after. Tintin and  Braddock must stay alive, stop Sakharine and find the treasure.

It’s rare that a movie made in 2011 will get a review here, but The Adventures of Tintin has a definite golden age feel to it. Much of the credit for that has to go to Director/C0-Producer Steven Speilberg. Speilberg has a great respect for the golden age of Hollywood and he’s able to tap into that to create works that appeal to modern audiences such as the Indiana Jones movies or Speilberg’s animated programs in the 1990s, such as Animanics.

The Adventures of Tintin could be best described as a new old movie. It’s brand new in it’s stunning performance capture animation, particularly if you were able to watch it in 3D at the theaters as my wife and I did last week.  The movie was a feast of visual effects and stunning animation.

But it also was old in the sense that there was no attempt to update the characters or plot lines. Captain Braddock still starts out as a drunk, Thompson and Thomson are still incompetent, Tintin remains his tough but virtuous self, and through the nearly two hour film, only one woman appears on screen. All this creates a sort of rollicking and bloodless adventure flick that’s become increasingly rare in recent years and was far more common in the 1930s and 40s. The only part of the film that seems more modern is a “believe in yourself” heart to heart between Tintin and Braddock, which was actually pretty well done.

Tintin lacks the rugged looks of Indiana Jones, with a very mild appearance, but he’s plenty tough when the chips are down. In one of my favorite scenes, Braddock and Tintin are caught in the middle of the ocean on the remains of a lifeboat when the villain sends an airplane after them to finish off Tintin and capture Braddock.

Tintin: I’ve got bad news! We’ve got one bullet left!
Haddock: Oh, great. And what’s the good news?
Tintin: We’ve got one bullet left.

Tintin then fires a perfect shot that brings down the airplane.

The Adventures of Tintin is somewhat overlong as the plots for three separate books were combined. This leaves plenty of time for Tintin to show its fantastic action scenes. However, given the films length, it was almost too much of a good thing. Speilberg has stated that  future installments will only be based on two books, so hopefully that will lead to more compact films.

Overall the movie was a lot of fun, a technical marvel, and a showcase of the Talent of Spielberg, and the enduring fun of Herge’s stories.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Sleuths of My Youth: Mathnet


Previous in this series: Perry Mason and Ben MatlockBatmanHardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Tom Swift Sherlock Holmes, and Encyclopedia Brown.

“The story you are about to see is a fib, but it’s short. The names are made up, but the problems are real.”

With these words began one of my earliest mystery series, Mathnet. 

Mathnet began as just one sketch on the series, Square One, a PBS educational program designed to teach kids about Math. Other sketches included “Mathman”, the animated adventures of “Dirk Niblick of the Math Brigrade” among others. Infrequent parodies included a couple of Honeymooners parody sketches. Each sketch, song, or story had the goal of teaching about math in an entertaining way.

Mathnet was its Dragnet-style sketch starring Beverly Leech as Kate Monday and Joe Howard as her partner George Frankly. They were crime-solving mathematicians who demonstrated a wide variety of math concepts in solving crimes.

The initial episode of Mathnet, The Case of the Missing Baseball was more parody than anything else with the cameramen playing off of Dragnet’s use of close ups to show a series of rapid close-ups in part one of the Missing Baseball.  The show couldn’t keep that up forever, so it became much of a homage with comic and educational overtones.  The show also changed from its pilot episode in which the two mathematicians weren’t part of the police force, even though they acted like it until they got the criminal.

Leech turned in a solid straight man performance as Officer Monday, but Howard was the one who shined as the goofy, but usually competent partner. Like Ben Alexander (Frank Smith) and Harry Morgan (Bill Gannon), Howard brought comic relief to the cases with dialogue like this when Kate announces they’ve received a call about a missing autographed baseball:

George: I love baseball, Kate. Martha and I we went to Dodger Stadium last night, Kate.

Kate: The Dodgers played in Cincinatti last night, George

George: Yep. No trouble parking. You ought to go with us. Martha and Me to a Dodger game. No trouble parking.

In another episode, Kate Monday asked an apprehended criminal, “Do you agree that crime doesn’t pay?”

He responded, “Yeah, at least not the way I do it.”

The show’s comedy worked. Then, it was merely funny. Today, I see some of the way it copies Dragnet’s success.

The show played homage to Dragnet in other ways that a kid under 10 who hadn’t seen Dragnet wouldn’t have caught on. James Earl Jones appeared as Chief of Detectives Thad Green.  In the original Dragnet, the Chief of Detectives was Thad Brown.
The program was cleverly educational, working math tricks such as estimating,  calculating the angle of refraction, basic geometry,  probability, depreciation, and the effective use of databases and spreadsheets seemlessly into the plot. While Mathnet didn’t provide a comprehensive math education, it taught some great math principles.

For kids, the program also provided solidly plotted mysteries with some fascinating conclusions. The stories were told as five-part serials that would end each episode of Square One and give kids a reason to tune in tomorrow.  Mathnet began as just one sketch of many, it’s first serial averaging about 6 minutes of air time per show. However, due to its popularity, Mathnet took up an ever-increasing share of Square’s One time.

In the middle of the second season, the show was packed up and moved to New York where other Children’s Television Workshop Shows were based.  Their first case in New York, The Case of the Swami Scam aired as a standalone TV movie. In subsequent seasons, Leech was replaced by Toni Di Buono as Pat Tuesday. But by then I was in an area where we didn’t get PBS.

I remember Mathnet fondly for two reasons.  First, it along with the entire show, Square One was successful at making math fun. There are math tricks I use today that I learned from Mathnet and I wasn’t the only one. A reviewer on IMDB notes:

In 6th grade in 1997, on Fridays we would watch Mathnet. It was always fun but plenty educational! As a student math was always the easiest when it was made fun, and that is exactly what this movie did for us. Quite frankly, the Mathnet series actually inspired my class to do our homework, because we weren’t allowed to watch it unless the whole class did their homework. It was always a treat when we got to watch these movies. There aren’t many good math movies (as I know now because I am studying mathematics)so it is amazing that Mathnet is so interesting. When the teacher who used them retired, he took the tapes with him and now Indiana is Mathnetless which it a pity!

If only educational TV was always that effective. It also helped spur a lifelong interest in Dragnet.  When I got older, my love of Mathnet fueled my love of Dragnet and the rest, as they say, is history.

Mathnet with its blend of great comedy, solid math skills, and some great fun with classic mysteries, still brings a smile to my face. My only regret is that the show has not been given its due with a DVD release.

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