Monday, March 27, 2017

Highlander: "The Gathering"

I am Duncan MacLeod, born 400 years ago in the highlands of Scotland. I am Immortal, and I am not alone. For centuries we have waited for the time of the Gathering, when the stroke of a sword and the fall of a head will release the power of the Quickening. In the end, there can be only one.

Thus begins the opening of each episode of Highlander: The Series, which leads into the song Princes of the Universe by the band Queen. This is all quite familiar because the movie Highlander begins with similar text and the same song, although the TV show edits the song to emphasize the heavier aspects of the track, which is unusual given that heavy metal was quickly falling out of favor in the pop world of 1992. Of course, the track is timeless (or immortal, if you will), so it works in any era. The original movie was basically an open and shut case, storywise, but given the cult popularity of the film, it led into this series as well as two sequels, the third of which was released around the same time as the show.

The film featured Connor MacLeod of the clan MacLeod, while the series featured Duncan, born 100 years later in the same clan. The series premiere decided to guest Connor (fairly recognizable French/American actor Christopher Lambert) to bridge the gap between movie and series, which is odd because officially(?) the movies exist in an alternative universe from the series...and then lmuch ater on, there was a movie with both MacLeods, and at one point there was a Highlander cartoon set in the future, I think...essentially, the Highlander universe is more convoluted than the X-Men universe.

We'll put all that aside. The series premiere was feature length, about 90 minutes long, and directed by Thomas J. Wright, a TV sci fi veteran last known for working on Castle. It was written by Dan Gordon, who was hot off co-writing the Wesley Snipes vehicle Passenger 57. They fairly effectively spun the TV universe out of the movie one, by suggesting the time of the Gathering was larger in scope than initially realized in 1986.

The show lays out the major players, which includes Duncan (Adrian Paul) and his girlfriend, Tessa Noel, a French character played by Belgian actress Alexandra Vandernoot. It's not clear if the producers assumed North American audiences couldn't tell the difference, but in reality, we can't. Vandernoot didn't have much of a prolific career, but I won't judge; maybe she didn't want one. Richie Ryan is also introduced as a young vagabond, played by Stan Kirsch, also of nothing inparticular; his career went silent in 2005.

A Kurgan-esque (see the first movie) villain by the name of Slan Quince comes hunting for Duncan, who is in turn being hunted by Connor. Quince is played by Richard Moll of Night Court fame, but his performance leaves a lot to be desired. It doesn't even look like he's enjoying the role. Lambert, on the other hand, offers his usual charm and brings the movie character to life for the small screen, reminding us how great and ridiculous Connor MacLeod is as a character.

Ritchie breaks into the antique store run by Duncan and Tessa, sees a big sword fight between Slan and the MacLeods, and freaks out but remains intrigued after Duncan refuses to press charges. After a lot of sweaty practice fights between Connor and Duncan, which appear to take place in a sawdust factory, Connor knocks Duncan out to go fight Slan. Connor is winning the fight until Slan cheats with some kind of sword-gun, but Duncan shows up and - SPOILERS - wins. The best part about this series is that the sword fights are usually pretty good, and there's usually a decapitation. Slan is killed by this method, as it is the only way to kill an immortal, and Duncan takes his life force or whatever the nebulously defined energy is that one immortal absorbs after killing another.

The movies and series are plagued by ill-defined rules and concepts, but if you let your mind go, it's OK. After the fight ends, Duncan goes looking for Connor, which apparently takes all night, as he drags him out of the water during sunrise. So...maybe 6 hours? In any event, the MacLeods see Ritchie watching, and basically that means he becomes the kid sidekick for the series.

Finally, one more note - there is a police officer named Sgt. Powell, played by Wendell Wright, a minor character actor who has appeared in many projects over the decades. You may not recognize him, as he plays minor roles like "Economist #1" and "1st Cop." Sgt. Powell will appear in two more episodes and then disappear forever.

Who wants to live forever?
Who wants to live forever?
Forever is our today
Who lives forever anyway?

Friday, March 24, 2017

Renegade: "Final Judgement"

We know we're getting a good episode when they use the vernacular spelling of judgment in a show about a Judge. Judge Lisa Stone (played by Sheree J. Wilson, veteran of such other TV schlock as Dallas and Walker: Texas Ranger) is a sexy, confident Judge who is being hunted by a dude named Otto (played by Brian Thompson, best known as Cronus in Charmed). Otto was cell mates with Hog, the slovenly biker dude who tried to kill Reno but put his lady love in a coma instead despite being close enough to spit on Reno.

The summary of the episode is fairly easy: Reno wants to interrogate Otto, Otto wants to kill the Judge, Reno saves the Judge's life, the Judge finds Reno working on his bike the next day and invites him to lunch, which is apparently a picnic. I stop to make note that Reno was working without his shirt, which was unnecessary until you remember Lorenzo Lamas had some really great abs. The episode was directed by our friend Ralph Hemecker, who was in charge of the pilot. This may explain why we get a lot of archival footage, ahem, memories from episode 1, even though we're only in episode 3. It just reinforces that all we really know about Reno's fiance is she had big tits and didn't mind making out in ocean water. I like breasts as much as the next heterosexual man, but it doesn't really help the backstory. Maybe she was a poet or volunteered at an animal shelter. Give her some personality. If she's just a walking pair of boobs, Reno can move on.

Which, jumping ahead, I note that Reno did make out with the Judge after saving her life a second time, but only after being arrested by the local police and being rescued by Bobby Sixkiller and his step-sister, Cheyenne. The plan is pretty ingenious, which simply involves driving a car into the jail cell Reno is being held in. Otto avoids the chance to escape so he can be brought in front of Judge Stone for arraignment, which is odd because she is a witness/victim to his attempted murder.

Otto kidnaps the Judge after murdering one of the sheriff's officers, but, as noted, Reno stops him in what is actually a pretty great action sequence with many punches, kicks, and grunts. Reno ultimately stops Otto with a bullet to the...somewhere. It's hard to tell, because people get shot all of the time in this show, but no one ever shows blood from bullet wounds. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Three episodes in, the thought of making my way through all 22 episodes of season 1 appears daunting, let alone trying to do all 110 of the entire series. However, with the promise of Reno taking his shirt off at least once per episode, I may be able to persevere.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Renegade: "Hunting Accident"

For some reason, Reno Raines ends up in a backwater town in Tennessee where the law consists of one, senior citizen sheriff. Naturally, the town is terrorized by a former high school jock who essentially gives people wedgies and takes their lunch money (or in some cases, VCRs and other trinkets). Reno befriends the Sheriff's daughter, some hillbilly sweetheart who sees the true warmth lying inside Reno's heart. Either that, or she just sees him shirtless all the time.

OK, that's not really fair. Reno wears a leather vest, so he's not topless per se.

The jock is Boone Avery, played by Peter Koch, a bit actor who basically has one guest appearance per season, which is a great way to dabble in Hollywood, so long as you have another job. Boone's reign of terror of noogies and "indian burns" (sorry, Bobby Sixkiller) is stopped by Reno's relentless kicks, making Jean-Claude Van Damme seem like, well, me. Boone retaliates by going to another law officer in another town and alerting him that Reno Raines is wanted...for murder.

Boone also says Reno is a "fairy" because he dances around and kicks a lot. I don't go in for homophobia or heterosexism or anything of that nature, but why gloss over that Reno is bare chested in a leather vest with long, flowing hair? It's the fact he kicked you in the chest that makes him gay? Sure thing, dude.

The hillbilly sweetheart from earlier is able to contact Bobby, who tricks some poor schmuck working a roadside fruit stand to give him his fingerprints. Cheyenne (Bobby's sister) then puts on a thick southern accent and calls the sheriff's office to say to disregard the other fingerprints and use these instead. OK, sure. It works, Reno is let go, and Boone kidnaps hillbilly sweetheart.

We're two episodes in and already we have two women kidnapped. Damsels in distress: not just for 1950s Disney.

Reno allows himself to get beaten up in order to find the missing girl, a plan which fails. However, thanks to a polaroid which he saw for 2 seconds but memorized every detail of, he was able to track down the location; it turns out the poor lass was stuck in a well tied to a rope. When she was pulled up by said rope, I was kind of hoping the rope was around her neck so Reno would have hanged her while trying to save her. Alas, that would have been too dark. I suppose.

Reno goes back to the bar where he kicked Boone's ass last time and proceeded to kick his ass again. Boone is then arrested by the sheriff. While in cuffs, the Sheriff's son, who may be mentally delayed or may just be a geek/nerd (it's not clear), shoots Boone while in cuffs. In a heroic gesture, Reno takes the gun, wipes the prints clean, and puts his own prints on it, saying, "they already got me for murder, they can't get me again," which ignores many aspects of the law, the least of which is that he was framed for the initial murder and could, theoretically, be found not guilty.

The sheriff is having none of this, and tells Reno he can't let him do that. Ah, a man of the law, a man of honor, a man...oh, no, the sheriff instead concocts a story and tells everyone in the town (all 17 of them, who are hanging around in the parking lot) that Boone went hunting in the woods (with a handgun, mind you) and accidentally shot himself. Open and shut case! Handshakes all around.

The episode was directed by BJ Davis, who people might know from various background roles on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and for Medal of Honor: History of Heroes, which he directed, wrote, co-starred in, baked cookies for, etc.

IMDB lists Stephen Cannell's character (who briefly appears in this episode) as Lt. Donald "Dutch" Dickerson, even though he's called Dixon in both episodes I've watched. I promise to get to the bottom of this mystery, unless I forget or lose interest.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Renegade: "Renegade" (Pilot)

He was a cop, and good at his job. But he committed the ultimate sin and testified against other cops gone bad. Cops that tried to kill him, but got the woman he loved instead. Framed for murder, now he prowls the badlands...an outlaw hunting outlaws...a bounty hunter...a RENEGADE.

Cue a contender for the most amazing and obnoxious TV show ear worm, which follows something like 37 minutes of Reno Raines (played by Lorenzo Lamas) and his fiance frolicking on a beach. In the cold opening, Raines also goes into a police department to share his undercover investigation into a crooked cop. The head detective is Dutch Dixon, played by show creator Stephen J. Cannell, perhaps the greatest TV show mind of all time (if for no other reason than giving us the A-Team). Dixon and Lamas have an oddly hostile and nonsensical interaction, which is only partly explained by the fact that Dixon is also crooked. He arranges for Reno to be killed. We then cut to the aforementioned credits, which gives away the fact that Reno survives but loses the woman he loves. It cuts the drama a bit, although we do get to see a slovenly biker gang member miss shooting Reno from 5 feet away, despite the fact each Lamas pectoral muscle is like a beautiful target to aim at.

Dixon frames Reno and then goes to Bobby Sixkiller (Branscombe Richmond) and his sister Cheyenne (Kathleen Kinmont), the best bounty hunter in California or whatever. For whatever reason, law enforcement is unable to track people across state lines (this is pre-9/11, so back then all you had to do was travel to the next state and you would never be apprehended). Dixon is also strangely hostile towards Bobby, which leads Bobby into this great quote:

Only in America, Lieutenant, where every day could be the Wheel of Fortune. George Foreman, a black man raised in the ghetto, eats hamburgers and wins millions. Donald Trump, a white man, raised in a mansion, eats caviar, and loses millions. Ah, what a great country we live in, Lieutenant, where everybody gets a spin at that wheel.

Haha, Donald Trump, what a fuckin' loser. Whatever happened to that bozo?

Bobby and Cheyenne travel around in their high tech Winnebago tracking Raines. Reno goes after the biker prisoner dude who killed his fiance, but captures him only long enough to be captured by Bobby. "Sad!" - Donnie T

While Reno is in custody, Bobby tries to head off racist jokes by telling a lot of weird Native American jokes, even though no one was intending to crackwise about injuns. It's fine, though, because Bobby has a beautiful mullet and a million dollar smile and the best earrings I've seen outside of QVC, so we can do whatever he wants. I'll skip past some of the plot points to just say there is a fight scene with a biker gang, Cheyenne gets kidnapped, and blah blah blah Reno saves the day and he and Bobby become best friends.

The episode was directed by Ralph Hemecker, who helmed a number of Cannell series episodes before reducing output for about a decade until coming back strong with shows such as Numb3rs, Once Upon a Time, the Flash and Blue Bloods. Truly, he would not be where he is today without honing his skills on Lorenzo Lamas' lush, flowing hair and rock hard abs.

Lamas and Kinmont were married in real life, until they weren't. Kinmont was on the show for 4 seasons until the relationship ended, and we got a new woman for season 5. However, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Doofus Doofbourne

Mr. Brexit, what went on in your head?
Oh, Mr. Brexit, do you think you're brain dead?
Your oration to me lacks all logic
With the derp of it all
You tirades are full demagogic
Yeah, you're gonna lose hard this fall

Friday, August 5, 2016

Pokermans


So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,---
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

That is the closing paragraph of a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1860, describing the famous events of April 18, 1775, when Paul Revere (and William Dawes) road out to warn the colonial army that British troops had landed and were about to march into Massachusetts. Many children know the folklore, with Revere riding through the streets shouting "The British are coming, the British are coming," although certainly events have been embellished over the years.

Most people are unaware of Jonas Cattell. In October 1777, Cattell was arrested for violating curfew in Haddonfield, NJ, and spent a night in jail. The British occupied the town, along with many Hessians, German soldiers employed by the British army. While incarcerated, Jonas overheard Hessian and British soldiers discussing a surprise, early morning attack on Fort Mercer, which sat on the banks of the Delaware River across from Philadelphia, PA. Cattell knew the area well, so upon his release, he ran ten miles along backroads and trails from Haddonfield to Fort Mercer to warn military leaders of the impending attack. He arrived much earlier than the Hessian forces, and due to the advanced warning, the Americans were able to defend the fort despite being outnumber three to one.

Fort Mercer was situated in what is now known as National Park, NJ. The Red Bank Battlefield Park is not a national park, despite the name of the town, but one open for public use and recognized for its historical significance. For those reasons, there are many memorials and landmarks throughout the park, which act as Pokémon GO gyms and PokéStops. Pokémon GO, as you must be aware, is a mobile game which allows players to try and find Pokémon characters in real locations, using GPS in the game. Players can train their Pokémon and battle in gyms, and they can visit PokéStops to get free items. People can also choose to turn PokéStops into lures, which draws out Pokémon to the area, thus making them attractive and popular to individuals playing the game. In other words, it draws a crowd.

There are so many Pokémon GO relevant areas that the park is filled with hundreds of people every weekend. People from all walks of life are outdoors, enjoying nature and interacting with people they may not otherwise and being a part of a semi-organic, unscheduled community event. As with anything popular, there is a backlash against the game, with many people bemoaning people playing the game, as if it is some sort of personal affront. The game doesn't hurt people to play, and it doesn't actually affect you whether people play, so if you feel like typing up some rant, maybe do yourself a favor and step outside and get a breath of fresh air like all the Pokémon GO players who rankle you so. Who knows, you might even be standing next to a Bulbasaur.

  art by dandr0id

Saturday, March 5, 2016

It's a Kind of Magic

Last night I dreamed about my cat, who passed away in September of last year. In the dream, he was as I remembered him, but smaller and in better health, without his asthma. I was overjoyed that he was back, and times were good.

But dreams are fleeting; they cannot last. The world was as it was. It would be nice to believe it was a message from beyond, a love note to let me know he is doing well and would see me again. That would require belief in things not explainable by science, unproven by the facts, and supported only loosely on spiritual ideas that are at best from the realm of philosophers and at worst the notions of madmen and con artists.

I would like to believe in magic, but it's hard not to think about the sleight of hand.

As America approaches electing a vain, short-tempered, delusional reality show star with a tenuous grasp on reality to be in control of the military (and the nuclear launch codes), maybe I'll find out soon enough what's on the other side. Before I do, I would be hesitant not to acknowledge that Highlander, the cult 80s classic about immortals who fight each other with swords trying to decapitate each other and be the last one to survive, turns 30 years old on Monday, the 7th of March. It has its flaws for sure, but it's a really fun movie with the right state of mind, as explained here (although I am aflutter with Lambert's performance, which made me believe he was a good actor for years longer than I should have). Considering I have evolved over the years into ostentatious film snob, it might seem odd that I love this low budget science fiction fantasy adventure (and the 80s had a lot of them), but we all have that soft spot for that one movie that hits all the right notes for you.

Thinking about watching Highlander 30 years after it hit theaters has raised my spirits. No matter how much we've lost and how much we will lose, the best advice is still - don't lose your head.