Tag: review

TV Episode Review: The Hardy Boys: Welcome to Your Life

The new series of the Hardy Boys kicks off with the episode, “Welcome to Your Life.”

The series makes a lot of changes to the Hardy Boys formula and characters. For those who have never read the books, the Hardy Boys were two teenage boys: Frank (age 18) and Joe (age 17) living in the upstate New York town of Bayport. Their father is Fenton, a private detective, and their mother is Laura, a librarian.

Frank and Joe are not complex characters in the book. They are distinct. Both are smart and physically capable, however Frank is more of a geek and more cautious, and Joe is more physically capable and more given to making rash, impulsive decisions.

The TV series takes things in a different direction. It looks to be set in the late 1980s where Frank and Joe (Rohan Campbell and Alexander Elliott) live with their parents in “the city.” Frank is sixteen and Joe is twelve. Frank is a nerd, but he’s also a good baseball player. We spend the first few minutes of the series seeing the boys interact with their mom who is then killed in what appears to be an auto accident. On top of that, their father Fenton (James Tupper) decides to move them back to their mother’s hometown of Bridgeport for the summer. At first blush, this seems incredibly insensitive, but its for their own safety due to information it’s implied he’s hiding.

In Bridgeport, they meet their grandmother (Linda Thorson) who is glad to see them and eager to go about the business of micromanaging their lives. They also meet the townsfolk who are mostly friendly, even though we’re given some hints of something suspicious a few times. And both a flashback prologue and a couple moments later on hint at the ongoing mystery the Hardy boys are eventually going to resolve to solve.

This first episode doesn’t do a lot for me. There’s definitely room to flesh out the Hardys and make them more three dimensional. However, the writers seemed to have approached this using the most cliched methods of modern storytelling. Killing off a parent as a plot point and in order to make the characters more relatable is the most overused tool of modern writers. And here it’s handled in such an uninspired way that it feels obligatory.

At the same time, the change in ages also changes the dynamic in ways that don’t work well. In the book, Joe and Frank were peers. Plus they’ve made Frank not only a genius nerd but a talented athlete, leaving Joe’s defining characteristic as “the younger one.” Which is a bit of a step back from the balance in the books, not a step forward.

Probably, the biggest problem with this first episode is its length. It’s over forty minutes and feels padded. It ends on a strong note, but in order to get to that note, it has a lot of time where it’s dragging through its runtime to get to the punchline. This particular episode would have been better at 20-22 minutes, which is more typical for a kid-centric TV series. Based on this episode, I’m also skeptical that the writers have enough mystery and enough twists to justify the thirteen-episode, season-long plot arc.

That said, no performances were bad. The interesting clues left me a bit curious to see what will happen next. I’ll watch at least one more episode to see if the series picks up its pace and moves beyond all the set up in this first episode. This may turn out to be a good series when it’s all said and done, but this first episode was rough.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Audio Drama Review: Twilight Zone Radio Dramas, Volume 9

The ninth volume of Twilight Zone radio dramas features six more audio recreations of tales from the Classic TV series.

The set kicks off with “Time Enough at Last” where a bank teller who wants to do nothing but read and talk about what he’s read is persecuted by both his wife and his employer. It’s a classic story. The TV version is tragic and depressing and the expanded time for the audio drama manages to make it even moreso.

Next up is, “Will the Real Martian Stand Up?” There’s a report of a UFO, state troopers go out to investigate and find footprints leading to a diner. A bus has just arrived. The driver says he had six passengers, but there’s seven in the restaurant. Who’s the real Martian? This story is a nice science fiction mystery with a very clever twist at the end.

“The Trade-Ins” takes us to a world where the elderly can have their life renewed with a new body. An elderly couple wants to do this so they can have a fresh start on life. But they’ve only saved enough for one of them to get the treatment. The story has a few logical issues but still has some very sweet and surprising moments in it.

“A Passage for a Trumpet” features a trumpet player whose career has been ruined by his drinking. He’s ready to pack it in, selling his trumpet, and getting ready to leave town when he steps out in front of an oncoming truck. The story gets interesting when we find out what happens next. The story is heartfelt and earnest even its turns are a bit predictable.

“I Shot an Arrow Into the Air…” follows the crew of a downed spacecraft. One crew member sees this as a cutthroat survival experience. They have limited rations and the more of them there are, the less long those rations will last. So if fellow crew members die off, that’s longer for him to live. This one turns on a huge twist which changes everything for both the protagonist and the listener.

“The Brain Center at Whipples:” The owner of a factory (Stan Freberg) is bringing automation to spur on efficiency and eliminating jobs. This is a heavy-handed story about the anger and fear at the coming of automation. There’s a twist but you can see it coming a mile away. It does seem when Freberg did the Twilight Zone radio dramas, he tended to play roles that were much more caricatures than characters. Still, he does convey good emotion when the owner gets his expected comeuppance.

Overall, this was a pretty solid set. The stories were told well and adapted well (for the most) so the expanded running time the radio dramas offered was to put to good use. There were issues with a few of the stories but even the last (and least favorite) story wasn’t bad. All in all, a decent collection.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

Streaming Review: T-Men

In the 1947 film T-Men, two Treasury agents (Dennis O’Keefe and Alfred Ryder) travel to Detroit and go undercover in an attempt to infiltrate and ultimately break a counterfeiting ring.

T-men was a very entertaining bit of noir. It has the same cinematographer as He Walked by Night, and if you enjoyed the look of that film, you’ll probably like this one as well.

It’s one of those procedurals like He Walked by Night which really strove to portray the real life work of the investigator. So there’s a lot of detail, a lot of different scenes and minor characters who pop-up as our heroes try to work their way to the top, through a long tangled web of the underworld from creating their criminal identities to solving the case and making the bust. 

The script is smart, well-written and well-thought out. Our heroes are in constant peril and we’re given a reminder of how much they and, by extension, real-life Treasury Agents risk in the course of their work. Throughout most of the time, the film takes a deliberate pace, but it definitely picks up in the last ten minutes as the case comes to a finale.

The acting is solid. Outside of O’Keefe, most of the cast is made up of veteran character actors who manage to play their parts without seeming over-the-top, campy, or too stereotypical. Wallace Ford as the Schemer may have been my favorite performance. The main rising star in this is June Lockheart (Lost in Space) who appears as one of the agents’ wives.

The criticisms I’ve read online have basically come down to complaints about it being a procedural noir made in 1940s. If you want something faster paced or less detailed, this may not be the film for you. However, if you appreciate the realistic procedural films of the 1940s, this is a must-see.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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Currently Available for free Streaming with Amazon Prime or on Blu-ray/DVD with two other films.

Telefilm Review: Cannon: Nightmare

The Season 5 premiere of Cannon from 1975 opens with a hitman being gunned down while trying to escape from prison. His wounds are fatal and he summons Cannon (William Conrad) to his bedside to confess to having murdered his wife and son by running them off the road. The criminal isn’t able to explain why the contract was put out before he died except that he stated that Cannon’s wife was a prostitute.

After an angry scene outside the killer’s room, Cannon realizes, while he’d always thought an old enemy of his had been responsible, his wife had been killed in a case of mistaken identity. He sets out to find the intended victim in order to flush out the man who hired the killer.

This episode feels different from the rest of the series. Usually Cannon is a genial, professional, and wise investigator who can  be intimidating when he has to be and can always handle himself well in a fight. Here Cannon is very much on edge. He’s relentless and with far less tolerance for nonsense than usual. He’s a man whose long-buried grief and rage is waiting to boil over. At one point, Cannon seems to realize he’s going too far and backs off. And the confrontation with the killer is intense.

Throughout his career, Conrad was mostly cast as “cops” or “heavies,” but when he was given something good to sink his teeth into (such as on Nightbeat or the radio version of Gunsmoke) he showed time and time again, that he was as good as any actor of his time. This story is no exception as he brings new dimensions to his portrayal of Cannon. 

The story itself is well-written. Despite being set in the 1970s, the story has a noirish feel that works well for it. The rest of the cast other than Conrad is little better than competent but with a story that gives Conrad so much to work with, that’s all that’s necessary.

If I had one complaint, it would be that the series didn’t  lay the foundation for this story at all. I remember (vaguely) in an early episode that it was mentioned that Frank Cannon’s wife had died, but this wasn’t Monk where the death of the hero’s wife was front and center throughout the series. The episode does offer a bit of an explanation for this as the death occurred fourteen years previous (nine years before the start of the series) and that Cannon had stuffed his emotions while trying to move on. This is shown through his visit to his former father-in-law, who he hadn’t spoken to in years. It’s implied on some level, that was part of his efforts to put the tragedy behind him.

Overall, if you’re a fan of William Conrad or 1970s Noir-style stories, this is a stand-out episode that is well-worth watching.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Streaming Review: Philip Marlowe, Private Eye: Season 2

In the 1980s, Powers Boothe starred in the HBO series Philip Marlowe, Private Eye, a series based on Raymond Chandler’s short stories featuring Marlowe (or other detective characters Chandler created who were indistinguishable from Marlowe.

The second season is available for viewing on Amazon Prime and features two stories that were released as Marlowe stories in the collection Trouble is My Business as well as four others.

Boothe plays the lead and delivers a solid performance. However, some great actors have taken on this role, including Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, and Gerald Mohr. I wouldn’t put Boothe in their league. There are moments where it  feels like he’s trying too hard to create an effect of being a hard-boiled private eye and those are the moments where I find myself taken out of the story. That said, there have been worse takes on Marlowe, and I think Boothe works more often than not in this season.

The rest of the cast was fairly solid and believable. The main guest stars turned in good performances (including a young Robin Givens) and the supporting players all felt authentic.

The costume designs are great and did a superb job of capturing the era. On the other hand, compared to other period productions of the era, the sets and cinematography are pretty unremarkable. Nothing takes you out of the story with obvious anachronisms from the 1980s in the 1930s sets, but they also don’t evoke the era. They feel more like settings that existed unchanged from the 1930s to the 1980s.

The real highlight for many are the stories by Chandler. If you want to see adaptations of most of these stories, this is the only way to see them. As far as I know, four of them weren’t even adapted to radio. What comes across as a bit of a cheap feel for most of the production does work pretty well in telling the stories of the mean streets that Chandler does.

So overall, this isn’t close to being the best on-screen Marlowe presentation or production, but the trappings do well enough to be able to communicate some great overlooked hardboiled tales from the pen of Raymond Chandler, which makes this series worth checking out for fans of Philip Marlowe.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Audio Drama Review: The Prisoner, Volume 3

Big Finish concluded its reimagining of the Prisoner in the third volume of four audio episodes.

The series kicks off with a take on the TV episode, “Free for All” with there being an election for the new Number 2 with Number 6 finding a surprising groundswell for his candidacy.

The episode works well. It plays with the ideas in the TV show about Democracy but goes deeper in many aspects. Whereas, Number 6’s end is kind of sudden in the TV episode, we do get a build-up, a great final confrontation, and a memorable conclusion to the episode.

There are a couple of issues. I did find the village rifle association absurd. No prison is going to hand prisoners guns, not even the mad system of the Village. In addition, Lorelai King’s Texas accent didn’t ring true.

Other than that, this episode did a good job of setting the stage with a surprising conclusion.

In the next episode, “The Girl Who Was Death,” Number 6 is back in London with foggy memories of how he got there. He encounters Kate Butterworth (Lucy Briggs-Owen) again who tells him it’s been six years since his last return to London.

This story is intriguing. It revisits the smashing Series 2 opener, “I Met a Man Today” and challenges what we thought we knew about that story and how the aftermath played out over Series 2. There’s some real question as to what’s going on and who number 6 can trust. The answers aren’t obvious.

The flashback to tie in “Free for All” was a bit dull, and I miss the surrealistic majesty of the TV version. However, this does work a treat in continuing on this box set as a more inter-linked story.

The “Seltzman Connection” is an original story that’s a bit of a nod to the TV story, “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling,” Number Six teams up with another escapee to travel overseas and find out what happened to his girlfriend Janet before Number Six tendered his resignation. This is a story that has some intrigue and turns trippy towards the end to set the stage for the finale.

The series concludes with “No One Will Know” as Number Six now finds himself in Kate Butterworth’s body and questioned by Control. This a talky episode that deals with body-swapping and the ethical and practical merits of a world where no one would know who anyone was. It also ends up as a finale for the series so far and the result isn’t what I’d want, nor was it in line with the original, or something you can see being built up to from the beginning. Nevertheless, it’s one way to go and its handled pretty well.

Overall, I found the third series of The Prisoner to be a worthy updating of the original series. It evocative of the original series but goes deeper on some points than the classic television series did while developing its own themes. The acting and sound design is marvelous throughout, managing to evoke the 1960s while also having a very modern feel. Overall, a well-done final volume for what’s been a solid range at Big Finish.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5

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TV Episode Review: Murder She Wrote:A Christmas Secret

In “A Christmas Secret,” a Gulf War Veteran is set to marry Elizabeth, the daughter of a prominent Cabot Cove couple. While visiting for the holidays, Charlie receives an anonymous blackmail tape. When the woman who made the tape is nearly murdered, Jessica seeks to unravel the mystery.

What Works:

This episode has nearly everything you’d expect from a Murder She Wrote Christmas episode. The mystery has lots of suspects and potential motives as well as its share of red herrings

As this was from Season 9, the show was past the point where old Hollywood legends were showing up every week, but the recurring Cabot Cove cast is fun and the guest cast is solid.

The story has the right holiday flavor. It has just the right sentiment and rarely becomes saccharine or cheesy.

What Doesn’t Work:

Cabot Cove is supposed to be in Maine, but the show is filmed in California. That was never more obvious than seeing the streets snowless in December. The story features a Christmas trope of, “Will there be a White Christmas, it means so much to Character X.” I can’t help but feel the plot is a Hollywood ploy to avoid having to cover sets in fake snow for Christmas-related stories. It certainly feels that way here.

The solution requires a colorblind person to be completely incapable of making adjustments for her disability, and I have to admit I’m not entirely sure whether the writers have portrayed it accurately.

Overall:
This is a nice little Christmas treat. It’s neither the best Christmas mystery or the best Murder She Wrote, but it makes for fun holiday viewing.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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