Weekly Mishmash: August 30-September 5
Battlestar Galactica — “Saga of a Star World” episode (1978). I remember being a Star Wars crazy kid and watching Battlestar Galactica when it had its showy premiere on ABC (the same network with Laverne & Shirley and Three’s Company — so you know it had to be good). I also remember enjoying it, but not being sufficiently impressed enough to stick with it week after week. When Christopher rented the DVD with the pilot movie, I was curious to see if it held up after thirty-plus years. For a ’70s TV effort, I thought the production design, special effects and acting were all mighty impressive (especially Stu Phillips’ music score). Despite great production values, however, you can’t get away without cheese on something like this. I noticed how much blonde actress Laurette Spang resembled Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu, two full years before that opus. The Supremes-like trio of singing aliens with multiple eyes and mouths were another tacky treat. It was also fun to find things one didn’t notice earlier, such as Rick Springfield as an ill-fated space pilot. So the B.G. pilot movie was actually pretty fun. No, I don’t want to watch the rest of the series.
District 9 (2009). Christopher had a day off on Friday, so I decided we should go to the cinema and see this talked-about feature. District 9 is a New Zealand-U.S. production set in an alternate universe South Africa in which aliens have landed on earth. Instead of being welcomed with open arms, though, these crustacean-like creatures are separated into a Johannesburg shantytown. Presented documentary style, the film follows an incompetent government official as he and his comrades keep the aliens in check. I was prepared for the obvious Apartheid parallels, but in reality the film follows a path that I never would have expected. I loved the way the characters developed, starting the transformation of lead actor Sharlto Copely from buffoon to unlikely hero (he transforms in other, less savory ways, too). The special effects on the aliens were excellent, and the entire film sustains an appropriately grungy, icky atmosphere. Seeing something so unique in a theater is a real treat. We experienced that recently with Cloverfield, and now this.
The Marvelettes – Forever: The Complete Motown Albums, Volume 1. The Marvelettes have always had an overlooked place in Motown’s history. I tended to think of them more as a Girl Group than a Motown group, despite the fact that the company kept issuing singles under the Marvelettes’ name all the way up through the early ’70s. Even in the CD era, they tend to be glossed over in favor of The Supremes and The Vandellas. Which points to why the arrival of Forever: The Complete Studio Albums Volume 1 is so refreshing. This beautifully packaged Hip-O Select release collects just about everything the girls from Inkster recorded in the first half of their existence, from their initial flush of success with 1961′s “Please Mr. Postman” through the end of 1965 with Smokey Robinson’s elegant “Don’t Mess With Bill”. Although the set is heavy on simplistic R&B covers, it’s fun to hear the entire thing front to back and witness the group’s development from awkward teen balladeers to assured, sophisticated performers. One fun bonus is a rare 1963 live album from the girls, a total time capsule of an era when audiences really got into their concertgoing experience. This was a neat splurge for me. Now I’m anticipating the forthcoming Volume 2, which will cover the largely hitless but rewarding 1966-70 period.
Trumbo (American Masters, PBS). We were both looking forward to this documentary on screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and his horrific experiences with the anti-Communist witch hunts in the ’40s and ’50s. While it’s certainly a worthy subject handled well, the doc seriously gets derailed by having various actors read passages from Trumbo’s letters. By and large, the actors terribly overplay these readings, and the results come off like pretentious acting class exercises (I kept expecting James Lipton to come in and congratulate them for their “beautiful” performances). The rest of the documentary was all right. Trumbo comes across like an insufferably smug jerk, but if I went through what he did, I suppose I’d be a jerk, too.
Trog (1970). Joan Crawford closed out a brilliant career heading up this horror cheapie, playing opposite a guy in a nasty caveman costume. Not nearly as awful as its reputation, this film has its moments. Although Crawford looks like a fish out of water here (really, what is a lady who looks like a Park Avenue matron doing in a grimy British research facility?), she actually delivers a decent performance. About as decent as can be expected when feeding rubber lizards to a caveman while saying “Trog is an herbivore,” that is.