Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tandava's Guide to the Zone--2014-15--Part II: New Year's Day--Midnight to 7pm

And the Zone goes on!!

We continue from yesterday's entry (8am to Midnight) to find SyFy keeping with the tradition of airing the superb "Midnight Sun" at the stroke of the New Year.

As before, here is a short list of my favorites (try to catch "The Silence" (1:00 PM -- TZ's only supernatural-free episode) followed by the complete list of Twilight Zone episodes to be aired on SyFy from midnight New Year's Day through 7pm, with comments and mini-reviews, so you can sift the wheat from the glurge.

Fortunately, although there is only one from the Time Top 10, it's one of the best:  the iconic "It's a Good Life" at 2:30 PM (listed in red below). And there are quite a few gems, including two hour-long episodes starting at 6 AM (just following the only hour of "Paid Programming" ☺)

A third entry will follow covering 7pm through 6:00am Thursday morning, Jan 2nd.

So, once again, the other two categories are:

(1)  My Personal Favorite Episodes – These are underrated gems with strong scripts and beautiful performances – in green.

(2) Episodes Worth Watching – These have flawed scripts or execution, but often have compelling performances and/or ideas – in blue.


My Favorites  Short List
(Click the time to jump to the episode description.)

12:00 AM  The Midnight Sun
12:30 AM – The Obsolete Man
1:00 AM  The After Hours
1:30 AM  Night Call
2:00 AM  The Lonely
2:30 AM  King Nine Will Not Return
3:30 AM – Mr. Denton On Doomsday
4:30 AM – Two
6:00 AM  –  I Dream Of Genie
7:00 AM – Jess-Belle
12:00 PM  Mr. Dingle, The Strong
12:30 PM  One For The Angels
1:00 PM  The Silence
1:30 PM  The Sixteen-millimeter Shrine
2:00 PM  Death's-Head Revisited
2:30 PM  It's A Good Life
3:30 PM  A Penny For Your Thoughts
4:30 PM –  Five Characters In Search Of An Exit
5:00 PM – The Odyssey Of Flight 33

Full List  With Descriptions

12:00 AM – The Midnight Sun – Earth has been knocked off its orbit and is gradually approaching the sun. Thermometers pop, a painting melts off its canvas (this is actually a painted wax tablet on a hot plate!), but this apocalyptic tale is most interesting for its relationships – an excellent script, beautifully acted. Note: They played this one at NYE midnight last year too... coincidence? Um... no.

12:30 AM – The Obsolete Man – The superb Burgess Meredith is back to his book-loving ways, this time as a librarian in a dystopic totalitarian future, where both he and his books are declared obsolete.

1:00 AM  The After Hours – Stunning Anne Francis finds herself wandering the non-existent floors of a creepy department store. (Wait... is that mannequin watching me??)

1:30 AM  Night Call – Originally called "Sorry Right Number," this careful-what-you- wish-for tale features calls from beyond and a beautiful performance by Gladys Cooper. It has also been recycled as internet glurge.

2:00 AM  The Lonely – Convict Jack Warden spends lonely days on an asteroid until his supply ship pal brings him a realistic robot – in the ethereally beautiful form of a young Jean Marsh (best known as Rose from Upstairs, Downstairs). A touching, romantic story. Features Ted Knight as an obnoxious crew member.

2:30 AM  King Nine Will Not Return – WWII B-25 Captain Robert Cummings finds himself stranded in the desert with only the carcass of his King Nine, lost 17 years before. Is it a hallucination? Time travel? Both? The de rigueur twist ending is now a TZ cliché, but still worth watching for a strong script and Cummings' excellent performance.

3:00 AM – The Hunt – This mediocre folksy tale by The Waltons creator Earl Hamner Jr. has been recycled as internet glurge. Guy and dog have died and are walking along the road to heaven. Guy at pearly gate says, “No dogs allowed.” Guy says, “I ain’t goin' nowhere without my hound…” Sheesh. (This one has also been recycled as Internet glurge.)

3:30 AM – Mr. Denton On Doomsday – Touching old west tale about top-gunslinger-turned-town-drunk finding redemption. Fine performances by Dan DuryeaMartin Landau and Doug McClure.

4:00 AM – Uncle Simon –  Two despicable people in a screeching, unredeemable story. Sadistic eponymous Uncle berates greedy, gold-digging niece caretaker into an "accidental" (and fatal) lapse in care. Twist ending? Yeah, but who cares. By the time it's over you'll want to twist off your head. Geeks may get a kick out of the brief cameo of Forbidden Planet's Robby the Robot; the ambulatory prop also appears on "The Brain Center at Whipple's" and in miniature in "One for the Angels" (12:30 PM 1/1).

4:30 AM  Two –  Apocalypse survivors Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery approach each other warily in this sparsely written, beautifully acted episode.

~~~~~One Hour of Paid Programming~~~~~

6:00 AM  I Dream of Genie – Down-on-his-luck office slave Howard Morris finds an enchanted lamp, complete with modern-suit-clad genie offering One Big Wish. In somewhat overwritten but amusing fantasy sequences he entertains the common wishes of perfect love, wealth, and power before taking the genie up on his offer. A sweet, silly story with an adorable ending.

7:00 AM  Jess-Belle –  Jilted Anne Francis – the tale's eponymous Appalachian maiden – enlists aid from the local witch to win her social-climbing ex (James Best) back from the local rich girl. But fulfilling her heart's desire has unintended consequences in this tragic land-borne Little Mermaid penned by Walton's creator Earl Hamner Jr.

8:00 AM – The Purple Testament – Mediocre tale of a WWII soldier who sees a portentous "light" on his comrades' faces. Basically an anti-war story which offers only the resigned observation that in war people die and you can't save them (or yourself); title is from Richard III: "He has come to open the purple testament of bleeding war." Notable only for a good performance by a pre-Bewitched Dick York.

8:30 AM – Mr. Bevis – Loser gets all he desires (money, nice apartment, fancy car & chauffer), only to learn he can’t be his true whackadoo self and keep up appearances. Moral: Enjoying who you are is worth more than anything money can buy -- or money itself. A worthy message that deserved stronger delivery.

9:00 AM  The Rip Van Winkle Caper – It's Treasure of the Sierra Madre with suspended animation and blah writing. Good performances and a fun twist at the end make it sort of worth watching.

9:30 AM – Ring-a-Ding Girl – Medium episode about movie star returning to her home town and throwing a “celebrate me” performance of her one-woman show – competing with the town's annual picnic. Is this a diva craving attention, or is something else going on? Even though it’s not great, I always find myself watching this one all the way through.

10:00 AM – Little Girl Lost –  Little girl has slipped into another dimension. Can her parents and their conveniently present physicist pal rescue her before the portal closes forever? Decent script but bland acting. Tune in for the final 10 minutes for all you need to know.

10:30 AM – Hocus-Pocus and Frisby – A braggart gas station attendant's tales of prowess are believed by some seriously gullible aliens who want to take him home as a specimen of Earth's finest.

11:00 AM  Escape Clause – I'll usually watch this one because I like David Wayne, but it’s not a great episode, just a grim morality play about the value of mortality. *Yawn!*

11:30 AM – The Prime Mover – Compulsive gambler cajoles his telekinetically-enabled pal (an enjoyable Buddy Ebsen) into to helping him cheat Vegas. Doesn't work out too well, but could be worse. Moral: Be happy with what you have; know when to quit.

12:00 PM  Mr. Dingle, The Strong – Loud-mouthed salesman pisses away alien gifts on trivial feats. Worth watching for an adorable Burgess Meredith and amusing (and very young) Don Rickles.

12:30 PM –  One For The Angels – A nice way to start the Marathon. One of TZ's more successful dark comedies features Ed Wynn as a fast-talking salesman who must use his skills to save a child's life. Features the third of three cameos of Forbidden Planet's Robby the Robot (miniature, in this case) in the TZ; others include "Uncle Simon" (12:30 PM 1/1 – be glad you missed it) and "The Brain Center at Whipple's" (which surprisingly will not be aired this time; it is not my favorite, but it is a treat compared to the execrable "Uncle Simon").

1:00 PM –  The Silence – Tense, beautifully acted study in interpersonal dynamics and irony. Based loosely on Chekhov's The Bet, there is no supernatural hocus-pocus in this one. And there is no need for any. (And no Doctor Who jokes please... :-> )

1:30 PM  The Sixteen-millimeter Shrine – Luminous Ida Lupino stars as a reclusive aging movie star, immersed in the films of her youth. Sunset Boulevard, served up Zone-style with a bittersweet dose of wish- fulfillment. Score is by Sunset Boulevard's composer/conductor Franz Waxman. Catch Lupino's deft direction in "The Masks" later today at 7:30 PM.

2:00 PM  Death's-Head Revisited – Former Nazi captain's trot down memory lane via Dachau brings him to some unexpected denizens. Top-notch performances by Joseph Schildkraut and Oscar Beregi Jr.

2:30 PM  It's A Good Life – One of the most famous episodes (#3 on the Time list) featuring little Billy Mumy as a terrifying child who can create and destroy at will. The brilliant Cloris Leachman is his petrified mother. ("That’s a good thing you did… A real good thing… Now please wish it into the cornfield!").

3:00 PM – A Nice Place To Visit – Another be-careful-what-you-wish-for morality tale about the true nature of Heaven and Hell. In 1960 it might not have been painfully predictable...

3:30 PM  A Penny For Your Thoughts – Not a classic, but one of my favorites, featuring a young Dick York (the first Darren from Bewitched.)

4:00 PM  Black Leather Jackets – Evil Fonzie-esque leather-clad alien (dressed this way to "blend") falls for local Earth girl in this poor man's Avatar.

4:30 PM  Five Characters In Search Of An Exit – A soldier, a clown, a tramp, a bagpiper, and a ballerina wake to find themselves in a doorless empty room. Well-played and engaging.

5:00 PM – The Odyssey Of Flight 33 – A 707 picks up a freak tail wind and travels back in time. Run-of-the-mill by modern sci-fi standards, but notable for its realistic cockpit dialogue created by Serling's aviation writer brother, Robert Serling.

5:30 PM  The 7th Is Made Up Of Phantoms – Spooked National Guard tank crew gets drafted into Custer's 7th Cavalry. Big whoop.

6:00 PM – A Kind Of Stopwatch – Blabbering bore gets comeuppance via magical timepiece. Perhaps an inspiration for the 80s' silly Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything?

6:30 PM  The Bewitchin' Pool – Worst. Episode. Ever. So bad it is actually worth watching in a Plan 9 sort of way... Even To Kill a Mockingbird's Oscar-nominated Mary Badham couldn't save this dismal excuse for a story. Spoiled brats escape manipulative divorcing parents by finding their way to SuperGrandma via an enchanted pool. Now, if Grandma dumped the tots in an oven, then we might have a story....

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tandava's Guide to the Zone--2014-15--Part I: New Year's Eve--8am to Midnight

... And we are back in the Zone!!

Thank you for joining me and my surprisingly devoted little group of zoney followers in this annual jaunt through the New Year's showing of that land between shadow and substance, of things and ideas: The Twilight Zone.

And the SyFy channel has done us right this year! Not only is it airing 87 episodes of this timeless series (up from 86 episodes in last year's New Year's marathon -- with no nasty infomercials), it is featuring some of the stunning and rarely-seen hour-long episodes from the series' Fourth season:  I Dream of Genie (6:00 AM 1/1), an entertaining down-on-luck-guy-finds-genie-in-bottle story with a cute ending (a precursor to the later Hagman/Eden series, perhaps?),  Jess-belle (7:00 AM 1/1) a rural tale of unrequired love and witchcraft, penned by the Waltons' creator Earl Hamner Jr., featuring Anne Francis and James Best; and The New Exhibit (5:00 AM 1/2), a deliciously twisted wax museum saga featuring Martin Balsam.

Unfortunately, the price for these treasures comes at the expense of two of my faves: A Quality of Mercy (WWII drama with Dean Stockwell and Leonard Nimoy), and Nothing in the Dark (death comes for Gladys Cooper in the angelic form of dazzlingly-young Robert Redford), and many of the turkeys of earlier years are gone too, though a few remain....

The fun begins at 8:00 AM on New Year's Eve, and continues through 6:00 AM on January 2nd -- with only ONE hour off on January 1st from 5:00 AM to 6:00 AM for "Paid Programming".

As every year, all ten of Time Magazine's Top Twilight Zone Episodes will be featured; they are in red. As usual, the bulk of these are on New Year's Eve, with a few gems during primetime of New Year's Day, along with some lesser known favorites, such as In Praise of Pip (3:00 AM 1/2) starring a magnificent Jack Klugman, and TZ's favorite child actor Billy Mumy (also known for his work in Babylon 5), as well as Ida Lupino's "The Masks" (7:30 PM 1/1) -- the only episode to be directed by a woman --and A Game of Pool (7:00 PM 12/31) (featuring Klugman and the sublime Jonathan Winters, who both passed in recent years), in green, and finally a few that are not perfect, but have notable performances in blue.

So, as usual, here is a short list of my favorite episodes which will be aired on Monday, December 31st, followed by a full list of all the episodes to be broadcast on 12/31, containing brief descriptions and my personal, subjective, and highly opinionated reviews of each -- and hopefully not too many spoilers. Celebrity names and other items of interest are bolded and linked.

Happy Zoning!

My Favorites  Short List
(Click the time to jump to the episode description.)

9:00 AM – The Last Flight
10:30 AM – Long Live Walter Jameson
1:00 PM  A Thing About Machines
1:30 PM –  And When The Sky Was Opened
2:30 PM  Nick Of Time
3:00 PM –  Night Of The Meek
3:30 PM –  Number Twelve Looks Just Like You
4:30 PM –  Walking Distance
5:00 PM –  A Hundred Yards Over The Rim
5:30 PM  People Are Alike All Over
7:00 PM  A Game Of Pool
7:30 PM – The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street
8:00 PM  The Dummy
8:30 PM  The Invaders
9:00 PM – To Serve Man
9:30 PM – Nightmare At 20,000 Feet
10:30 PM  The Hitch-hiker

Full List  With Descriptions

8:00 AM – The Old Man In The Cave – Confused story set in a post-apocalyptic future of 1974 (!!!). Town listens to the “old man” until soldiers tell them not to be superstitious – and it doesn’t work out well for anyone. What’s the message? Don’t trust your own perceptions? Ugh. Only worth watching for a young James Coburn.

8:30 AM – Caesar and Me – Satan-spawn dummy drives hapless ventriloquist Jackie Cooper to a life of crime – matched in evilness only by tormenting then-child actress Morgan Brittany (later of Dallas fame). The same material is handled much better in "The Dummy" (8:00 PM 12/31).

9:00 AM – The Last Flight – During a hopeless dogfight, a World War I pilot abandons his best friend by flying into a cloud–and 42 years into the future, landing at a modern airfield. A touching, beautifully acted tale of cowardice, duty, and heroism at the last minute. A rarely-aired gem. And check out the vintage 1918 biplane!

9:30 AM – The Little People – Ego and physical relativity clash in this memorable (though mediocre) episode, which has been lampooned  in The SimpsonsSouth Park, and Futurama. Good performance by Claude Akins.

10:00 AM – Third From The Sun – Trigger-happy world leaders have their finger on the button! Doomsday is near! Time for a select few to secretly gather their families to escape to a nearby planet. Hm... now what planet would that be..?

10:30 AM – Long Live Walter Jameson – TZ's most successful working of the "morality of mortality" theme features fine performances, a strong script and a touch of righteous revenge.

11:00 AM – A Piano In The House – Enchanted ivories reveal uncomfortable secrets; akin to "What's in the Box" (4:00 PM 12/31) and "A Most Unusual Camera" (12:00 PM 12/31), and slightly better than either. But only slightly.

11:30 AM – Perchance To Dream – Neat psychodrama with some freaky felinesque dream sequences. Not bad; not great.

12:00 PM – A Most Unusual Camera – Lame-assed episode about three greedy morons undone by a magic camera. Hokey, ridiculous, predictable ending. Skip it.

12:30 PM – The Arrival –  Mystery plane lands itself at airport. The flight inspector "with a perfect record of solving cases" brings in a team to investigate. Everyone sees different registration numbers, seat cushion colors, then all but the investigator disappear. Could it all just be the investigator's guilty conscience hallucinating? Ummm... maybe... Sigh.

1:00 PM  A Thing About Machines – One of my all-time faves about a guy who beats up on his machines – which, in 1960, included his typewriter, electric razor, TV and car –  and they gang up to have their revenge. The dawn of Skynet... ("Now, why don’t you get out of here, Finchley!!")

1:30 PM–  And When The Sky Was Opened – Well played, creepy episode about astronauts returning to earth… or did they? Or were they ever here? Or were you?? TZ makes us question our grasp of reality.

2:00 PM  I Shot An Arrow Into The Air – Three astronauts survive a crash on an asteroid (where the atmosphere and gravity are the same as on Earth, but no one notices this). Limited provisions stir bloodthirsty behavior. Yes, Rod, people in crisis are just no darned good.

2:30 PM  Nick Of Time – A charming script and low-key performance by pre-Kirk William Shatner (yes, I used "low-key" and "Shatner" in the same sentence) grace this cautionary tale about superstition and self-determination.

3:00 PM  Night Of The Meek – Down-and-out department store Santa, Art Carney, loses his job but finds a bag of gifts and plays Santa one last time for the neighborhood kiddies. But is it just an act? Beautiful, touching episode.

3:30 PM  Number Twelve Looks Just Like You – Dystopic utopia where everyone is beautifully identical and lifts their pretty mugs with a glass of Instant Smile. (Perhaps an inspiration for Scott Westerfeld's excellent Uglies series -- where a "beautiful world" has a particularly nasty underpinning?) Mediocre script saved by Collin Wilcox's terrific performance.

4:00 PM – What's In The Box – Lame and ridiculous episode about a couple’s bickering leading to accidental murder and capital punishment. Freaky TV predicts it all. There, now you don’t have to watch it and aren’t you glad?

4:30 PM –  Walking Distance – I LOVE this episode, a classic (#2 on the Time list) about a frustrated exec who, longing for his boyhood days, visits his hometown – only to find himself a grown-up amidst his own childhood. Insightful lesson about valuing the present and not romanticizing the past.

5:00 PM  A Hundred Yards Over The Rim – Underrated episode featuring a very young Cliff Robertson as a pioneer dad who will go yards, miles and years to heal his ailing son.

5:30 PM –  People Are Alike All Over – Astronaut Roddy McDowall crashes on populous Mars, and consoles his fears with the thought that Martians (who include the radiant Susan Oliver)  and humans must be "alike" ...

6:00 PM – Probe 7 Over and Out – Stranded astronaut Richard Basehart, meets hostile alien female on deserted planet. She hurls rocks at him. Or maybe it's just foreplay. Now, what shall we call this place...? (Appropriately rhymes with "dearth.") The same story is better told in "Two" (4:30 AM 1/1).

6:30 PM  Stopover In A Quiet Town – At least it was quiet until this nattering couple woke up in a strange house with no memory of how they got there, and no one to ask where they are, or why the grass is made of papier-mâché. And if they'd shut up for two seconds, we just might care....

7:00 PM – A Game Of Pool – This taut two-person drama explores winning and losing, and what's really important in the game of life. Fine performances by Jack Klugman (who passed in 2012) and Jonathan Winters (who passed this last spring). Not crazy about the end, though; the real (and better) ending was done in the 80s TZ version.

7:30 PM – The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street – #4 on the Time list. The story is included in grade-school anthologies. Beautifully written masterpiece about fearing thy neighbor. The brilliant Claude Akins is considered the lead, though it is a true ensemble piece. Don’t miss it.

8:00 PM –  The Dummy – Cliff Robertson as a troubled ventriloquist whose creepy dummy will simply not stay in the box.

8:30 PM  The Invaders –  Agnes Moorehead's virtuoso 25-minute wordless monologue; riveting  with a slick twist at the end. #7 on the Time list.

9:00 PM  To Serve Man – Aliens come to earth offering solutions to all the world's woes; their trouble-entendre mission: "To serve man." An undisputed classic, #8 on the Time list.

9:30 PM – Nightmare At 20,000 Feet – "There's a man out on the wing!!" Shatner at his whiteknuckle best. #6 on the Time list.

10:00 PM – A Stop At Willoughby – Beleaguered exec finds himself in his childhood hometown. Similar to "Walking Distance" (4:30 PM 12/31) but trades insight for sentiment. Some people really like this one; I can do without it.

10:30 PM  The Hitch-hiker – A driver keeps seeing the same hitch-hiker thumbing a ride as she heads west…. A deliciously Hitchcockian morality/mortality play about fear and acceptance of the inevitable. #5 on the Time list.

11:00 PM  Dead Man's Shoes – Bum dons dead gangster's wing-tips and finds himself stepping into the thug's revenge-thirsty ex-life. You might feel bad for the bum if you find yourself caring about anything in this one.

11:30 PM – Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up – This was voted 8.5 on the IMDB, but I think it’s dopey and ridiculous. Bus passengers are stranded at a diner – but there is one too many. Oh, and rumor has it that a spacecraft crashed nearby. Give me a break.

Monday, December 1, 2014

World AIDS Day -- December 1st

Today, December 1st, is World AIDS Day.

And although our focus has shifted to ebola to ISIS to Bill Cosby, we must not forget that 35 million people still live with AIDS/HIV worldwide.

And we must not forget the devastation it wrought on a generation.

Here are some stunning photos of an AIDS hospice taken in the early 90s.
A resident's room the day of this death from 
AIDS at the Bailey-Boushay House.

Please also watch HBO's The Normal Heart for a heart-rending dramatization of the early stages of the AIDS crisis in America.

Let us never forget the way that AIDS patients were shunned and treated callously, even by hospital staff. My father, who works in nuclear medicine, told me this chilling story from the early 80s.

He needed to run some tests on a patient who, as was typical of those suffering from AIDS, was secluded in a remote section of the hospital. When my father arrived at the room, a radiologist was already present, doing a portable X-Ray. This procedure required placing the scanner above the patient, with a tray beneath, while the image is taken. A few minutes later, the tech exited and my father went in to draw blood.

He looked at his arm for veins but couldn't find any. His skin was cool.

He looked again at the patient, who was motionless and realized... the man was dead.

The other tech had X-Rayed a corpse, and in spite of the considerable physical contact necessary to do this, he had not even noticed that the patient had probably been dead for some time.