Tuesday, May 26, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Sliders: The Weaker Sex"

That was my reaction the first time I saw Remo Williams, too...
You know how some things are very, very funny in hindsight? Like Marvel wanting to end the Spider-Man Clone Saga by bringing in Mephisto or Samuel L. Jackson being cast as Nick Fury after the Ultimates comics used his psuedo-likeness.

My point is, there are some things in fiction that can be looked back at years later much to the amusement or disgust of the viewer. Depending on where you stand on the matter, this episode begins with a Hilary Clinton lookalike giving a speech to the nation as the Sliders look on in shock. That's right, they tried a gender swap episode. So, do they actually go for a more middle of the road "everyone should be equal" message or the more obvious cheap shot of using the gender swap to point and men and scream "Look! Look! A bunch of sexist assholes! Let us burn them into ash, the bastards!"

...considering the level of writing on the show, I don't think we're going to get anything that good,

Nevertheless, it is indeed Rush Limbaugh's greatest fear - a world run by women. Quinn reads from an Almanac that the President, most of Congress, most of the CEOs on the Fortune 500, and even the Pope are all female. Arturo brings up the fact that gender discrimination is no laughing matter, regardless of who has the upper hand. Wade chides him - even though, to this point Arturo's really been nothing but a perfect gentleman for the entire show, but whatever - and Quinn brings up the more pressing issue that they have six and a half weeks on this world and almost no money left. Thus, they need to find jobs.

Rembrandt takes up singing on the street while Quinn hits the phone books but is only able to find work as a nanny or as a nude model. The menfolk manage to finally get a motel room where Quinn introduces the Professor to the miracle that is Cheese Whiz just before Wade arrives to tell them that she'd gotten a job overseeing the computer installation in the Mayor's Office. She also brings the gift of her cash advance and some actual food, as well as the news that she might be able to get them jobs!

They go to City Hall where Arturo gets chided for his fake English accent (oh, production team, you so funny) by the mayor...Anita Ross.

...no, I'm not going for the easy joke here. Those of you who follow my Twitter will know exactly what I'm talking about.

While waiting for interviews, Arturo decides to very loudly wax poetic about the fact that anyone - regardless of gender - can be corrupted by power. According to another sitter, Danny, Arturo apparently has what is considered a very radical outlook. A journalist, he tells Arturo that if he can't get a job with the Mayor to give him a call - he might have something that will interest him.

Quinn, meanwhile, is taken in for an interview and treated like a piece of meat by the interviewer saying that Wade apparently has good taste. Nevertheless, he got the job. Arturo and Remmy, however are not so lucky...at least until Arturo is accosted once more by Danny who he leaves with. At a bar, Danny introduces him to a group of men who Arturo harangues on the values of equality of the sexes, saying that to allow either side domination would be to invite chaos.

Apparently because of this, they wanted to elect Maximilian Arturo the next Mayor of San Francisco.
"Campaign to get me a role in a Peter Jackson trilogy."
Back at the motel, Wade brings up the irony that Arturo has been preaching non-interference this entire time and is just now wanting to get involved. I would argue that he and - in fact- all of them have been involved in the affairs of other worlds way, way too much for her point to be remotely relevant, but in this case it's the only one that she has. Quinn brings up a very practical concern that the day of the Slide will be coming up, but it apparently coincidences with the day of the election as well.

How convenient.

Back at the statue that Rembrandt has been singing at for pennies, he's called over by a woman in a pink convertible who seems to enjoy his singing. The woman, Serena Braxton, claims to know some friends in the music industry and offers to set up a meeting with them. And we all know that just makes Rembrandt's day. Though her ominous tone when he hops into her car really has me afraid we're going to learn of Rembrandt's untimely demise in a bathtub full of ice with both his kidneys missing.
Arturo is at a shopping mall handing out fliers and not taking to meshing with the public well at all regardless of gender - don't get me wrong, love his character, but there was a reason this man was cooped up as a physics professor in a university somewhere. But he at least makes the news, which means he is getting somewhere - as it's said, there's no such thing as bad publicity. Wade and Arturo throw off their customary barbs at one another to no end.

At the home of Rembrandt's organ remover, he's treated to a nice dinner and dessert before it becomes abundantly clear that she wants the Crying Man to put a little coffee in her cream.

Doesn't matter, had sex.
Back on the campaign trail, Arturo speaks from a bus with Howard Dean-esque enthusiasm in a short montage of fade cuts, and manages to get his approval ratings all the way up to seven percent. This is apparently enough for Mayor Ross to agree to a debate under the terms set by Arturo's campaign. Also, Arturo's offices get attacked by a brick, reinforcing his campaign manager's belief that they've struck a nerve nobody knew existed...except, apparently, everyone. A call comes in for Arturo to warn him that, next time, it'll be a bomb.

An idle threat, since FOX didn't give them the budget for pyrotechnics.

After Rembrandt's snu-snu, he's woken up and everything seems sunshine and roses. The phone rings and he picks it up, Quinn apparently calling the house on behalf of the Mayor and then not doing just job because he needs to catch Rembrandt up on the plot. They plot to convince Arturo that maybe trying to mess with the established social order in this case isn't a good idea.

Pulled away from his desk after a heated discussion with male coworkers, Quinn is shown a smear video against Arturo by the mayor. He and Wade step off to the side and Quinn accuses her of having contributed to the campaign - namely the jabs at Arturo not being able to produce any credentials to prove that he is a professor. He also says, in spite of her protests, that the entire thing has gotten out of control and that he's going to talk to Arturo, quitting on the spot.

Yeah, a brick through a window and a mean video is "out of control". Thank God these writers weren't writing for this show during the time of Twitter and Tumblr, because they would have had a field day.
...yeah, I have no joke here. Don't look at me like that.
Back at Camp Arturo, they have made a campaign ad of their own that actually doesn't smear Mayor Ross, but instead focuses on the positive aspects and goals of Arturo (which is a blindingly refreshing change from how political ads work in real life). Quinn arrives and he and Arturo go out for a walk. Arturo feels like he's really making a difference here in spite of Quinn insisting that he's made his point. Quinn also comes to a startling realization - if Arturo wins the election, he's staying.

Still at Serena's pad, Rembrandt has donned a robe and is cooking dinner when a man suddenly arrives - Serena's boyfriend. Or her ex, as it seems. They get into an argument, but the boyfriend ends up revealing that Serena's not a record promoter at all and that his relationship with her had been "abusive and degrading". The two hug it out, Rembrandt kind of awkwardly (and hilariously) standing there and taking it. Rembrandt closing out the scene with the most logical action anyone's taken hence far - "I need a drink".

Obviously, he'd read the script.

Back on the campaign trail, Arturo survives an assassination attempt. Later, Wade makes the comment that no one's ever heard of a female assassin. Insert Randy's monologue about female serial killers from Scream 2 here...which also had Jerry O'Connell in it.

Damn it, crossed the streams.

MadCap Crossed the Streams: 1

Wade also says that Arturo can't blame people for reacting the way they did. This is by far the stupidest thing that has come out of Wade's mouth to date. The man pulled a gun and fired it at Arturo with the intent of ending his life. He can very well blame the assassin for that. But nonetheless, Wade is allowed to go on and say that Arturo should not be opposing the natural order and because the script is written that way...he agrees with her.

Though Wade suggests that he pull from the race, he's determined not to as that would demolish all he has accomplished. The big debate looms ahead, however.

Returning to Rembrandt's subplot, he tries to explain his famous status back in his home dimension to Serena. We get what would, if the genders were reversed, be a whacky scene from a sitcom. But it really just comes across as uncomfortable, and I'll get to why in a bit. Needless to say, not being taken seriously and being treated as a piece of meat pisses off Rembrandt and Serena ends it, leading into him coming to the debate to wish Arturo luck just as things are getting on.

Arturo plans to pull a weeping during a question, so that he might throw the election but still save face for men so that his efforts were not entirely in vain. Also, from the twenty points he had in the beginning, he's apparently jumped to only five points behind Mayor Ross. Taking the stage, he takes a snide barb at Ross's opening statement before he pulls his emotions out front and center - claiming to be a nervous wreck from the campaign and having his feelings hurt by Ross's statements.
The pissing contests between Wade and Arturo get old fast.
Before Quinn, Rembrandt, and Arturo can celebrate, however, they meet with the campaign managers who say that Arturo didn't lose the debate - he wiped the floor with Ross. With the sympathy factor, they just might have this election in the bag. Arturo and Wade make a deal over who wins the election - if Arturo wins, Wade will give him one hell of a neck rub. If Ross wins, Arturo's her slave on the next slide.

The results come in and Arturo actually does lose. With a minute to go before the Slide, Arturo makes a final, impassioned speech to his campaign. He urges them to keep fighting for the principles he set out for them, that the war is not yet won and this is but one battle. The campaign manager leaves the Sliders conveniently just in time for them to slide and not have to have any awkward explanations last minute.  But just as the group does make the slide...news comes in that the polls were actually in Arturo's favor, leaving poor Danny looking confused as he bursts in at the last minute to find an empty office...

The Sliders, meanwhile, have found themselves on a tropical paradise planet, and we close out the episode with Arturo going to get Wade a refill on her drink, a function he'll be serving for the next nine days or so...

This episode brings up a battle of the sexes plot and ends up painting neither side as looking good. Does it preach a message of equality between the sexes? Ultimately, I'd have to say yes, but it's very murky and not done very well, as well as being both buried under and used for what the writers would probably say is cheap comedy but really just comes across as uncomfortable and embarrassing all around. The gender swapped reality thing is a common trope in science fiction and has been used all too often to point out problems. The problem here, and in many other stories that use the same tactic, is that it's not actually being subversive. It's the writers beating the viewer over the head with an anvil.

People are people, and people are not simple. Are there sexist individuals in our society? Certainly, there's no denying that. But this episode would have you believe that all women - up to and including Wade - are a bunch of misandristic, domineering she-demons with no redeeming qualities whatsoever who have cowed the entire male gender into a docile state of servitude. By the same token, the history of this world paints men as having been stopped from starting all wars and that there's no world peace forever, trying to paint men as a bunch of testosterone-poisoned warmongering assholes...in spite of the fact that handguns are readily available on this world as the assassin who attacked Arturo showed. Also, there's a military, which is impossible to get into if you're a man.

Explain to me how there's world peace and yet there's still a military? Right, because war is an issue that can be caused by so many different factors such as land boundaries, control of resources, religion, political or civil unrest, and just plain and simple greed among many other very human factors regardless of what genitals anyone involved happens to have. Not that the writers thought of that before trying to shake their finger at us and call us shameful. They want to ignore examples of females starting war such as Elizabeth I, Cleopatra, Margaret Thatcher, and others. Men are a bunch of psychopathic monsters who need to be corralled and controlled, damn it!

This is not good writing, Sliders writers, you did not think this through and were happy to Strawman the hell out of everyone. This is something that, regardless of which gender is which, would not pass for good in a subpar sitcom.

If this were more comedic or at the very least had some self-awareness that that is what it's doing, I'd be more at ease with it. But no, this script was specifically written so that they could point a finger at society and say "I don't like what you're doing" with absolutely no subtlety whatsoever. This is putting people in a box and labeling them. It doesn't matter who you're doing that with - man or woman, based on skin color, religion, sexual orientation,  whatever - you are taking that group of people and devaluing them as a whole. I'm not going to appreciate the fact that you're abundantly clever if you're a marginalizing asshole.

As I said above, people are not simple. You can't just write off all men as misogynistic pigs (or, apparently, you can and make half a million dollars off of it in a year) and you can't write off all women as soulless harpies. People are complex, multi-faceted creatures. While people as a whole are seemingly very easy to describe, individuals are not and rightly shouldn't be. It's just lazy writing to throw any one group under the bus, much less an entire gender either way you slice it.

Also another thing that bothers me, the status quo never is flipped. I don't believe that the people of this Earth's San Francisco should do it, but the Sliders should have some qualities that would counterbalance it. But they don't, because it's not in-character for any of the three male Sliders we've been introduced to thus far. Quinn is young and occasionally has his moments of brain dead stupidity, but is not a bad guy and is overall very friendly and personable to everyone he meets regardless of gender. Rembrandt is a roguish ladies' man, but is not one to even so much as kiss and tell much less treat women he cavorts with like pieces of meat.

And Arturo? Given the frankly moving speeches and his actions back in "Eggheads" concerning his late wife - how he treats her unto a goddess and does everything he can to make the life of her double as pleasant as possible in spite of the actions of his double against her - I absolutely dare someone to call him sexist.

...except in this episode, where they give him moments of that just to try and drive the point home. But it falls flat because of his attitudes before, and even several of the things in this very episode. The primary example that comes to mind is Arturo's campaign ad. In stark contrast to Ross's smear one against him, Arturo's sticks to the issues and his goals for the city of San Francisco, not smearing Ross.

Rule Number One: The characters don't change to fit the story, the story changes to fit the characters.  Don't change a character because you're trying to make a point, regardless of what it is. And if you can't, then it's not a story you should have tried to tell in the first place.

So, really - while it tries to preach equality - everyone just ends up looking bad. This is also, I'm sure you won't be surprised to find out, the low point of the season for me. Ironically "The Weaker Sex" is the weakest episode. Who knew?

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Monday, May 25, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "The Black Cauldron" (1985)

Disney is a fundamental part of the American childhood. You'd be hard pressed to find a child who grew up in the United States who can't identify the familiar Disney "D" or Mickey Mouse, or indeed many of the products that Disney produces in animation. Indeed, lately with films like "Frozen" and "Big Hero 6" being big box office draws and the company's acquisitions of Marvel Comics, Star Wars, and the Indiana Jones franchises, it really seems like Disney is bigger than ever before.

And while not every Disney film is the height of all excellence, one would be hard pressed to find one that is inherently "bad"...except for this one. In 1985, Disney came out with The Black Cauldron. Nobody knew what to make of this film, an adaptation of the Lloyd Alexander novel "The Black Cauldron"...or, rather, a bit of a Frankensteining of the first two novels in Lloyd Alexander's "Chronicles of Prydain" series - "The Book of Three" and "The Black Cauldron". This isn't necessarily a bad thing - it's an adaptation. Sometimes, you have to cut out some of the original work so that things blend over more smoothly.

This can be good - like Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, or this can be bad like Peter's Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy. So where does The Black Cauldron fall in? For this review, I'll look at it from two perspectives, that of someone who's read the books, and someone who just enjoys movies as I do (or don't, if you look at the record of some films I've reviewed).

The film begins with Gandalf from the Rankin/Bass version of The Hobbit (John Huston) doing narration about a king so twisted and evil that he was feared by the gods themselves. Apparently this wasn't enough to keep him from being burned alive and sealed in the iron of a magnificently Gothic-accented pot - the titular Black Cauldron. Then it disappeared and a bunch of evil men searched for it, because apparently he who controls the Cauldron controls the universe.

Okay, to get the minor niggles out of the way - that's not even close to the Black Cauldron's origin story in it's book. Nobody knew where it had come from, except the three witches who owned it before Arawn Death-Lord (think Voldemort if he never bothered to show up until the last five minutes of the last Harry Potter book). However, given that the Cauldron does exactly the same thing that it does in the book, the "controls the universe" part is not an understatement - literally using the bodies of the dead to create and control an army that literally cannot be slain, does not tire, and does not need to be fed.

After all, an army that carries the Ark before it is invincible, am I right?

Elsewhere in the land of Prydain, however, an old man known as Dallben the Enchanter (Freddie Jones...no, not that one) speaks some exposition to his cat about an infamous villain known as the Horned King (John Hurt). Apparently, he hasn't done something evil in a while and the Enchanter thinks he's up to something insidious. But enough about that, because we have to be introduced to the real star of the show - Taran (Grant Bardsley). In the books, at least at the beginning, Taran is an annoying little whelp of a boy who wants to take the Dungeons & Dragons approach to being a man - that is to say, taking up a sword and killing things and taking their loot. In the books, his journey is a transformative one where he grows from boy to man and he learns that wars do not make a man great, that being a hero has its prices, and that sometimes by doing the simplest acts of goodness we can make the world a little better.

Here...he's an annoying little whelp of a boy who wants to be a hero. And is only a little bit wiser by the end of things. He laments tending to the magical pig Hen Wen and that he will never be a real hero because he's never had a chance to fight in the wars. However, the pig starts squealing to be made bacon and Dallben takes this as a sign that she's about to have a vision. She puts her snout in a bowl of water, and they determine that the Horned King is mucking about trying to find the Black Cauldron.

And, since the Horned King knows of Hen Wen because...plot convenience...Dallben throws a sack with a rusty dagger and some gold for starting equipment into Taran's hand before chucking him off to go run and hide at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, no doubt hoping that the centaurs will aid in their hiding. Thus, despite his protests that he wants to kick ass and take names, Taran heads off for his grand adventure of roughly an hour from this point.

It's about seven minutes of an introduction, and it's a fairly good one. Again, I'm not gonna rag on them too much for adapting. Truth be told, while Lloyd Alexander does do an excellent job of explaining many of the concepts in the books, they can be disorienting for new-comers when putting them into a film. After all, this was made in 1985 - long before the invention of the internet. So no Wikipedia, no wikis, nothing one could draw upon except by reading the actual books the film was based off of.

In the next scene we get introduced to the villain, and really probably the only reason to see this movie - the voice of John Hurt as the Horned King. He is chilling, he chews the scenery only just enough, and his performance is accented by the atmosphere of him in a darkened castle, surrounded by hideous draconic beasts and entire slews of skeletons lying about in astounding detail. It's grizzly, chilling, and one hell of an introduction as the Horned King declares his intention to raise his army and rule the world.

Through the rest of the movie, we are introduced to Taran's other companions, the first being Gurgi (John Bryner). In the books, Gurgi was a man-beast who was more concerned with eating than about fighting evil, but...well, no he was still concerned by the end of the books about his "crunchings and "munchings", but still possesses a noble heart and wants to do good. Here, he's much the same, though relegated to adorable Disney animal sidekick status. His design is less man-beast and more bipedal sheep dog, and he sounds like someone put Andy Serkis's version of Gollum on a higher pitch. But he pretty much serves exactly the same function he did in "The Book of Three", that is to say a source of comic relief and irritation for Taran and the others.

The next up is Eilonwy (Susan Sheridan), a princess and the latest in a long line of enchantresses who Taran meets a bit later on. Like in the books, she's head-strong, takes no nonsense, and is strong independent enchantress who don't need no man. She's also more than happy to call Taran of Caer Dallben out when he's being pigheaded or flouting his ego about. Unlike the books, however... they have a throwaway line of the Horned King wanting to use Eilonwy's magic to find the Black Cauldron, which kind or works but also kind of doesn't considering how a majority of magic works in Prydain, but having to go by Rule of Adaptation I'm willing to let it slide. Needless to say, she - like Gurgi and Taran - pretty much fills the same role as in "The Book of Three".

And last, but certainly not least, we have the most excellent Bard in the world - Fflewddur Fflam. Though he's portrayed as being much older in this version, he is pretty much the exact same character as he is in the books - a bard who likes to...test the elasticity of the truth and has a harp that calls him out on it by its strings breaking when he does so. Even more so than Gurgi, he's a source of comic relief, but it works enough for a Disney film.

So, they, the Fab Four - that is to say, the main four characters - are pretty fairly well adapted from the story, so I can't ding the movie any points there. Wherre I can ding the movie is for the adaptation of two books into one film instead of just doing two separate films, which they could have very easily done. Of course "The Book of Three" admittedly doesn't have the same ring to it as "The Black Cauldron" for a grand adventure. Nevertheless the story, for what they gave, isn't too bad. It's an interesting hybrid, if nothing else and - again - the Rule of Adaptation applies. To adapt a book to film, you occasionally have to juggle things around, we've seen it many a time.

Unless you're Peter Jackson, in which case you look for more material to turn what should be one film into three...but that's neither here nor there.

So, why exactly did this film not do well when it was released? Most because, design and feel wise, it was completely out of Disney's wheelhouse at the time. Many of the scenes are very dark and even grizzly when they're not intending to be. I mentioned before the opening scene of the Horned King, the dark castle littered with corpses and draconic creatures flying about shrieking. There's even notably a few scenes where actual blood is seen, something that one wouldn't even think of in a Disney movie today.

Ultimately, they didn't know what to make of it because it was something that Disney hadn't tried before. Sure, they'd done dark before with films like Sleeping Beauty, but the dark didn't really come in until Maleficent conjures up "all the powers of Hell" and the tone was still fairly light and pretty much Disney-esque throughout. The tone remains fairly consistent in "The Black Cauldron" to the end, trying to create a very dark and gritty world, even to the point of the Horned King being destroyed by being sucked into the Cauldron - the flesh literally flayed off of his bone in one of the goriest Disney

...which is kind of jarring when, right after it, the Horned King's comedic goblin sidekick runs off making faces that would make Woody Woodpecker look subtle and laughing like a maniac in what was clearly supposed to be a gut-busting moment for the audience.

So, there were moments where this film was clearly trying to do something rather dark more mature, and then clear moments where the directors remembered it was a Disney film and comedy and merriment are shoved in. It makes for some awkward mood whiplash and I can understand why many people were turned off by it. Like many things, it's gotten a cult following since and I admit to liking it as a kid...but this is really a case where the books are better.

Still, it isn't all that bad. The voice acting is good - particularly that of John Hurt as the Horned King are amazing - and the moments where the dark is allowed to be played up without comedic relief are great...it's just a shame that there are so few. A lot of work clearly went into the designs of both the characters and the environments - and even objects, as The Black Cauldron stands as the first Disney film to ever use computer generated animation - particularly the Cauldron itself. And, as I said before, the main characters that appear at all adapted pretty faithfully, with some quirks thrown in because it is a Disney film. While the Chronicles of Prydain do deserve a good film adaptation and I'd be the first in line to see them when they do come out, this was definitely not the best way to go about it.

The Black Cauldron is now available from Walt Disney Pictures.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Sliders: The King is Back"

"Thank you, thank you very much..."
We all know musical artists who have lived on beyond their time through the fame they gathered by their songs, but so few have been able to really do it. Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and Johnny Cash are three names that come immediately to mind. Fame is indeed a very fickle thing, but what happens when an artist or a song lives beyond that? Where is the turning point when an artist truly becomes a legend?

The episode begins with a woman in business dress and carrying a suitcase walking down the concrete hallway of a prison, being let into a cell where she tells an individual that the judge will be passing sentence tomorrow. A camera cut reveals that it is none other than Quinn Mallory imprisoned. The woman, no doubt his lawyer, urges him to take the insanity defense.  However, using the truth of his sliding from universe to universe is apparently not an option for Quinn, and he has an unnerving amount of calm...for the lawyer, at least.

The rest of us, of course, know the score by this point.

So Quinn is brought into the courtroom where Arturo, Rembrandt, and Wade are all in attendance. According to the judge, Quinn will be getting the death penalty for his double spray painting graffiti. By lethal injection, no less! Really makes me wonder what the penalty for jaywalking is on this world. Castration?

After the title sequence, Quinn's lawyer tries to appeal the sentence and is rejected. She attempts further, whilst the other three Sliders note that they have only seventeen seconds before the next Slide. As the cops begin to drag Quinn away, the Slide portal is opened and a mistrial is surely called as Arturo and Remmy lay a smackdown to free Quinn and they escape.,,appearing in the same courtroom set sans actors as a cost-saving measure.

As they discuss the fact that other worlds may have taboos they're not aware of (such as graffiti being a capital offense), the group heads out to scope out the world that they've landed on and find some handcuff keys for Quinn. If this isn't their Earth, they have three days before the next window opens.

As they head out, a couple that passes them by has a chuckle at them...which understandably makes them quite uncomfortable. As they head down the street and even more individuals laugh at them, they quickly come to realize that they're laughing at Rembrandt. Then a passerby asks if they're here for the "Crying Man" convention, where apparently all the top Rembrandt impersonators are gathering.

To do a little backstory that I didn't go into back in the Pilot, Rembrandt was originally a member of the doowop group "The Spinning Topps". Back on Earth Prime, after going solo...his career promptly tanked. However, on this Earth, it seems that the exact opposite happened. So much so that when a woman spies him on the street, she mistakes him for the real Rembrandt (which...he is...) and a riot is started, forcing the Sliders to run for the hills.

...or just to the hotel they've been staying at on almost every world (again, to save the budget) safely, they get confirmation that Rembrandt is not only famous, he's super famous to the point of taking Elvis Presley's position as "The King" on this Earth. As the group settles into their room, we get a few moments of hilarity with Wade giving a knowing smile when Quinn asks how she learned to remove handcuffs so well, and a few bits of dialogue that implies that - on this Earth - the roles of Gilligan and the Skipper on Gilligan's Island are reversed.

However, we have some time for the mighty Television of Exposition to come in and give some of it's favorite device for advancing the plot - namely the knowledge that Rembrandt "Crying Man" Brown died eight years ago on this world. The news report also lets them know that someone was recording their walk through San Francisco before the mob attacked (in footage that's surprisingly high quality for 1995) and that the entire world knows now that the King is back.

We then cut away to an older man, Jack Brim, chastising three elderly women with guitars following an acoustic version of Devo's "Whip It". He gets interrupted by his secretary, who informs him that a woman from the news is here to see him. Jack makes an attempt to sell new talent, but the anchor reveals that she's really only interested in Rembrandt, who he - apparently- was the agent for. But the anchor informs him that she's not here for a walk down memory lane, asking him if he's heard the news about the King being back in town.

Back with the Sliders, we get a Blue Hawaii joke before the news picks up again for more jokes at their expense - it's believed now by the media that Quinn is Jim Morrison and Arturo is Luciano Pavarotti - and Jack Brim shows up in an interview where Rembrandt gives a little background. Apparently, he had begged Rembrandt to take him on as an agent when he'd split from the Topps, but Rembrandt had turned him down. On the interview, Jack says he remains a "hopeful skeptic" about Rembrandt being alive...

...however, as soon as the cameras are turned off, he's absolutely overjoyed at the prospect that the King has returned. He plots to get back into Rembrandt's good graces.

Once more back with the Sliders, the hotel is under siege as the mob has grown and found where they are staying. Instead of doing the rational thing and heading out the back door to once more head for the hills, Rembrandt decides he's going to give his fans a little taste of the Crying Man. Having an ego that could blot out the sun, he is - of course - swept up in the mob and Arturo comes to save him, being likewise swept up.

Rembrandt escapes, but Arturo is sent crowd surfing much to his protests. When he returns, he gives the desk clerk nine kinds of British hell until he goes to call them a police escort. But before they can get that escort, Jack gets into the building (with a throwaway line about Michael Jackson rejoining Public Enemy) and with the promise of being able to get them out of the building alive, he's taken back to meet Rembrandt.

Apparently, Jack has a gig set up with the providers offering up one million dollars per song. Not that I have a completely intricate understanding of all of this, but I find it hard to believe that anyone could get this sort of thing worked up as quickly as Jack claims to have it ready by. That is...tomorrow. The Sliders talk it over, Quinn expressing his fears that the show comes too close to the Slide. Which makes we wonder how exactly three days turned into just one when the pacing is way off, but I said before that it's really just best to give the show a pass for that at this rate.

The group heads off, Rembrandt stopping to reminiscence over a Cadillac that looks suspiciously like his own. As the rest head off without him, Rembrandt is met by one of his impersonators...who strikes him over the head with a wine bottle. Somehow, the impersonator is able to phase the Cadillac through the building, as he doesn't seem to throw it in reverse before taking off down the alley. That or he warped reality so he could go right to the alley.
Either way, Quinn catches them departing and gets the tag number "KRI BABY".

We later cut to a cabin on a lake, apparently the next morning as it was night time when we left the Sliders. The Rembrandt of this world (played by Cleavant Derricks's real-life twin brother Clinton Derricks-Caroll) learns of the concert and is none too pleased.

Oh, and since it's going to happen...lemme throw this up...

Times the Sliders Have Run into Parallel Versions of Themselves: 6
Back with the group - apparently the night before given the lighting outside - Jack is mourning the loss of the money that Rembrandt would be bringing in, However, he doesn't want the police called and rather stupidly believes that Rembrandt was just kidnapped due to someone's vested interest and not just because they wanted to make him put the lotion in the basket. He starts to head down to line up some replacement acts while Quinn, not being a complete idiot, does the rational thing and calls the cops.

Meanwhile, Rembrandt finds himself in one of the Cryptkeeper's sets at the mercy of Maurice Fish, a former member of the Spinning Topps. He presents Remmy with a piece of paper, which he only has to sign to be free, where Remmy would be giving Maurice credit for all of his fame and fortune after stealing all his songs from him. Rembrandt, of course, breaks out in a laughter fit. This apparently makes Maurice very angry indeed.
Back at the office of dear old Jack, the Sliders are having no luck with the San Francisco police. Quinn, however, has taken a proactive stance and has been spending the whole night (if the lighting outside is to be believed) hacking into the government database for the DMV records. Because Maurice apparently had the only vanity license plate in California, Quinn is able to pull the address just in time for them to leave and run into this world's version of Rembrandt, who demands to know where Jack is. He treats them with the smug attitude we've come to expect from Rembrandt before he recognizes them from the video footage. Yes, indeed, Rembrandt on this world faked his own death and demands to know their little secret.

In the words of Sam Beckett: oh, boy...

Wade gives him the one-liner Cliff Notes, and we learn that Rembrandt apparently had Maurice institutionalized. The King, putting two and two together, proves to be not a complete asshole and agrees to let them use his car, going with them to save Earth Prime's Rembrandt.

Back at the Casa di Skinflaying, Rembrandt is about to get the hose again when he tries to talk Maurice out of killing him by explaining the usually "I'm from a parallel Earth" story. However, as expected, crazy old Maurice finds him crazy (ironic) and threatens him with a straight razor. However, to make sure that Remmy's last moments are happy ones...Maurice serenades him.

We get a wonderful "I am Spartacus!" moment with some Rembrandt impersonators as apparently, in spite of getting the address for Maurice the other Sliders haven't actually started heading there to save Rembrandt. They needed to inform Jack to keep putting impersonators on...which is what he was already doing anyway...which makes the entire scene completely pointless.

When they do arrive, they find that Maurice's wife is living in their home and holds the group at gunpoint for breaking and entering. Thanks to the powers of plot convenience, she hasn't seen Maurice but knows where he is, thus the group heads there after some padding in the episode. Back at the Lecter residence, Maurice is about to teach Rembrandt not to stick his neck out but is interrupted by the group arriving for a Big Damn Heroes moment. Maurice being utterly confused at the sight of two Rembrandts allows Quinn to put to use his quarterback skills and take him down.

As Quinn and Wade drag him away to...out of the plot...Rembrandt and the King meet and discuss their differences. Apparently, the King "was full and had to leave the table" when it came to fame, seeing leaving the business as the only way he could be a normal person again. Rembrandt, however, is not daunted by it until the King hatches a wicked scheme - Rembrandt will take his place while he heads off into the sunset once again.

And we have come down, at last to the last ten minutes of the episode.  The crowd is sick and tired of the impersonators and is demanding the real deal. Backstage, Rembrandt is getting ready and the other Sliders are expressing fears that he'll lose track of time...Remmy drops the bombshell that he won't be sliding with them this time, and that he hopes they'll just be happy for him, just as he would be for them if they found their paradise world.

Jack comes in to see him to the stage and they head out to a hungry crowd demanding the King. The other Sliders say their goodbyes in a very, very touching moment where Rembrandt even apologizes and takes back what he said to Quinn about this whole messing being his fault, and it seems to be taken, signifying just how far they've all come since the trial of the dreaded ice-nado six episodes ago.

But introduced, Rembrandt nonetheless takes the stage to his beloved public. The Sliders think he's making a terrible mistake, and notice that the King has returned (no, not that one) seeing as he wants to be sure that Remmy has the chops to take his throne. However, as soon as Wade lets slip that Remmy will be getting a million dollars per song, he is...less than pleased and heads off, where I'm sure we'll neveeeeeeeeeer see him again...

...yeah, as you can predict, Remmy starts to play to the crowd and the King powerslides onto stage to take it all back. There's a bit of Dueling Rembrandts before the King proclaims Remmy "the greatest Rembrandt impersonator of them all". The Sliders get Remmy off the stage just before the slide, though he's clearly beyond pissed. The group gives him some platitudes, Wade saying that he's the only Crying Man for them.
...I don't have a joke here, I just like the image.
The portal is opened and they slide through...

...and cut to later, where a child asks Rembrandt if he's the real King. Quinn and Rembrandt have taken up working an ice cream cart with a royal theme on whatever world they've landed on, closing the episode out with a laugh...

"The King is Back" is actually a pretty good episode. It has it's problems in the pacing - three days seeming more like a day and night at best - and the fact that the moral it's trying to preach...isn't really brought across all that well: that fame is a monster all its own. We see some consequences of that, such as the mob that attacks the group in the beginning and the actions of Maurice, but we never see any real negative consequences for anyone. Indeed, even as the King warns Rembrandt about the dangerous of fame, he's more than happy to jump right back into his old life for one million dollars a song.

Ultimately, the episode is dragged down a bit by a Broken Aesop, but it also serves - in my opinion - as the start of Rembrandt's character arc through the seasons where he goes from an egotistical jackass into being a loveable, approachable everyman who is tempered by his experiences in Sliding and overcoming the adversity therein.

Mind you, there are points where that arc gets twisted around to ridiculous angles, but let's cross that bridge when we come to it.

Overall, it's a relatively light-hearted episode, with some good humor and a fantastic double act of Cleavant Derricks and his brother Clinton. What's not to love?

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Sliders: Eggheads"

Don't mind that, the subtitle is just misleading.
We live in a world where physicality is touted above intellectual superiority. It sucks, but that's the world we've been given. Nobody wants to date the chess club champion or the drama geek, but everybody wants to get a shot at the quarterback. Now, that's generalizing a fair bit, but a great deal of it is quite true in that most people have a great deal of respect for figures in Sports and can't even name a scientist who isn't Bill Nye. But what if there were a world where such a thing was reversed? What if brains did indeed prove to be superior to brawn?

Well, this episode doesn't give us a pure version of that concept, but it's the closest we're going to get to it, so we might as well enjoy it.  This is "Eggheads."

We begin with some scenic shots of some world's San Francisco pulling down to a sidewalk where a familiar vortex opens and everyone's favorite quartet emerge. Immediately, they once more think they've arrived home...only to find some things out of place. A light up sign declaring "Longer Library Hours" and a person walking by with a boombox playing Tchaikovsky (as Remmy points out, impressing Arturo), and an ad of Einstien wearing khakis from the "Cap" before they lock eyes on a billboard of Quinn in "Nikke" sneakers.

Yes, as the crowd that surrounds them upon realizing who they are indicates, Quinn Mallory is a famous mental athlete. Apparently, Arturo is also renowned on this world - apparently with text books and several lectures on tape. As the pair are swarmed by a hungry public for autographs, Wade and Rembrandt get pushed aside and are told that Quinn and Arturo are known as the "Sliders", apparently having had some sort of relationship on this Earth as well. The two quickly move to liberate their friends from the mob.

After getting into a cab, the driver apparently happy to just sit there for a while and let them talk, and Wade fills Quinn and Arturo in on the knowledge of their doubles on this Earth. Quinn suddenly realizes that if his double is a Slider as well, then he must have created a Sliding device as well - the group is going home!

After the title sequence, they arrive at the house to find that Quinn on this world has put the house up for sale and his mother apparently forced to move east. When they get inside, Quinn has a moment of dumb and doesn't immediately go to the basement, flopping down on the couch so he can called by Wade to come down and have the reveal that...Quinn's on a "Weeties" box.

The amount of not-product placement here is going to get somebody sued somehow.

But they journey down into the basement, which they should have done from the beginning...and find no sign of any of the equipment. Though Arturo suggests that the device might be at the university, given the relationship of their doubles in this universe, the gang instead decides to muck around in Quinn's basement until Arturo brings up the suggestion that they might pose as their doubles to seek out the technology they need to return home safely.

They go to the university to find that the Cigarette Smoking Man apparently works for the Professor, who is apparently the Chairman of the University and - unlike Doctor during Trial of a Timelord - hasn't been deposed in his absence. They get into Arturo's office and find a poster for the Professor's live lectures at the Mirage in Las Vegas and Arturo finds a phone bill with his home number...which he calls to hear a woman on the other end and hangs up. She calls back, he hangs up again, and determines that they really ought to get out of there.

However, first, Quinn has to attend practice...apparently word of his "return" has spread across campus like wildfire.

"What do you mean 'they have Bugs Bunny on defense'?!"
As stated before, Quinn is apparently a star athlete in the "Academic Decathlon", a game that requires as much brain as it does physical force and apparently uses various squares and a ball to some degree that the show doesn't really bother to make all that clear and doesn't have to, because this is a one-off episode.

Apparently the Coach is happy to see him, but literally nobody else on the team is, including Wilson - a teammate who will be taking the bench now that Quinn is back.

Wilson heads off to make a call to a "Joey", who the Quinn of this world did not take seriously the threats of...

After the commercial, we're treated to the "Library Rap" - aka the whitest rap ever performed by three black men ever - which Remmy and Wade rightfully mock while Quinn consults with the Mindgame rulebook for the upcoming championship and decides that the entire thing is completely insane.

Apparently, he's never heard of Blitzball.

He plans to completely blow off the game against Havard, but Wade and Rembrandt tell him that he has to go through with it until they can find the slide device.  Odd, because those two things really aren't remotely related and they could probably find the device more easily with another body around to do searching...but we need to have a sports montage, apparently.

Arturo returns to his office to learn that he apparently keeps all his files related to the Sliding project on his home computer, his agent has hired a PR expert...and there's a young woman waiting in his office for him. What appears at first to be a woman falling for that rugged British charm is apparently a court processor - Arturo's being divorced.

We then get thrown, without any sort of warning, into what appears to be a live broadcast of the semi-finals of Mindgame. The commentators start to blabbering on about the game much as actual sports commentators do, and to give the actors credit they do make it believable even though a great deal of what they're speaking is complete and utter nonsense.

While the game goes on, we cut to Wade, Rembrandt, and Arturo in a bar watching. While Wade and Rembrandt try - much like myself - to figure out what in the hell is going on in the game, Arturo reveals that he knows the woman involved - a woman by the name of Christina Fox. On their world, they were married only a few short years before she tragically died of a brain aneurysm. He considers her the one great love of his life.  And once again, not to completely lavish the man with my praise, but John Rhys-Davies absolutely sells the completel heartbreak that Arturo feels without even saying a word.

Unfortunately the game of Mindgame rears its ugly head and we're thrown back into the loud and confusing chaos, the contestants having to name things such as the craters on the dark side of the Moon or units of measurement beginning with "P" and so on and so forth.  And following some supposed drama that we're supposed to care about, Quinn's team wins by one point.

We also get a humorous scene right after where Wade calls Rembrandt an idiot for betting on a game he doesn't understand the rules of, which only serves to illustrate that Arturo left at some point during the proceedings. Rembrandt ends up telling Wade and Quinn that he had, in fact, lost all their money on the bet, and as they enter the kitchen in Quinn's home, Wade breaks rule number one "Never say, 'at least it can't get any worse'."

Thus, the mob. Apparently Wilson's phone call from earlier brought Joey in to collect this Earth's Quinn's "million dollars in gambling debts". After classing up the mugging of Quinn with some Latin...he mugs Quinn. Apparently, he brings an alternative to him paying off the debt - if Quinn throws the finals with MIT, he'll call the whole thing even stevens. Or Quinn can refuse and he'll be "mortis maxima". That is...morte...mortis...dead.

Apparently, Joey is a thug who loves his Latin. Which I suppose does make sense in this world.

Meanwhile, Arturo has apparently driven through the night to reach his estate so that he might see Christina...who believes him to be his double from his world and thus wants nothing to do with him as one might expect. After getting a rather vicious chewing out from the woman, he returns to Quinn's house and the others...who also chew him out. Wade also makes the point that it's not Christina of their world, though Arturo comes out as being quite a romantic and having a hope that he might have a second chance with the woman he lost.

Quinn, meanwhile, is heading for the hills - literally - after the meeting with the mob. When the slide device is brought up again, and Quinn brings up that they haven't found a trace of it, Arturo proposes a theory that it all might just be a hoax. He theorizes that both his double and Quinn's have disappeared for reasons of their own. Wade and Quinn are both discouraged, noting that this world, for all it's intellectual prowess, is just as twisted as back on their Earth. Arturo puts it succinctly with the quote "Intellectual refinement is one thing, moral refinement is something different."

I would like to think my way to a better episode, can I do that?
Quinn is still about to GTFO when a member of his team shows up to try and bring him back after missing practice. Because he can't deliver Quinn's message that he's off the team, Quinn has to go do it himself. The coach, being completely offbase from any sort of reality, eventually just tells him to get out of his sight...and Quinn is immediately taken aside by two FBI Agents, who apparently want to arrest him for tax evasion as well as his gambling debts. Quinn barters, bluffing that he's just a small part of a bigger game.

Elsewhere, Arturo has actually managed to get Christina to agree to meet with him, and he does his best to explain the situation. He begs her one last chance so that he might be able to set right all that has gone wrong between her and his double, and we don't get her response...but it's very strongly implied that she agrees and will halt the divorce proceedings.

Meanwhile, it's time for the big game and Quinn is there to take the field. More commentary, more jargon, etc. Wade and Rembrandt are onscene this time...as is Joey and the mob.

However, back to the actually interesting part of the plot, Arturo is leaving a video message for his double in the event that he ever returns. He tells his double that he has fame, wealth, success, and a wife that loves him, but still calls him a fool. Arturo tells that when Christina died in his world, he had lost everything that had given his life meaning, and promises if this Arturo loses his Christina, the same will happen to him and urges him not to let that happen. After recording, he gives his secretary the tape with the explicit instructions to give it to him when he returns.

It's a very short scene of almost entirely John Rhys-Davies monologuing to a camera, but you can see the man completely wrought with several conflicting emotions: joy, sorrow, anger all at his double and the life he has created for himself, and all that he stands to lose, tempered by his own experiences of that loss in his own world. It's poignant and powerful.

...but to hell with subtlety like that! Let's watch a bunch of people run into each other for a ball!
Quinn's team starts winning, and Quinn gets himself taken out a round. With the time for the slide growing closer, Arturo on the roof waiting, Wade and Rembrandt make their way out and Quinn goes to follow...with the mob hot on his heels as they cross the court in pursuit. Thus, an epic chase to the roof where the mob forget they have guns happens.
It's okay, Quinn, I'm still trying to figure it out, too.
With only thirty seconds to go, the mob corner them on the roof and suddenly remember that they have guns...only to be caught by the FBI, who likewise have guns and actually remember to pull them out as their first move. However, as Arturo opens the vortex, everyone forgets they have guns and Quinn gets to throw a "So long, suckers!" in Latin at Joey before they escape.

As you can probably tell, this is not one of my favorite episodes. The Mindgame aspect is entirely unnecessary to the plot and only serves to add an action aspect - which could have easily been solved by expanding on Joey and the Mob or the FBI Agents, both of whom seem tacked on and the latter of which feels even more so as an afterthought - and provide some padding. It's a neat idea, don't get me wrong, but when even the characters in-universe are calling it completely confusing and guano, it calls into question why we should care.

If it had any basis in some actual sport, I could understand. Something that helps fans of sports connect with them is an understanding of the sport. We don't get that here. Sure, jokes are made to that effect about no one being able to understand the game who doesn't come from the universe in question, but that doesn't change the fact that the game only makes sense to the people of the univers in question!

And yes, for the third time, it's really the acting of John Rhys-Davies that saves any part of this episode that can be. Give the man due credit, even when he has terrible writing (which isn't really the case here), that man sells it with raw confidence as though he were preaching holy writ. Arturo's few scenes involving Christina run the gamut of emotions from happiness at seeing his beloved alive again to sorrow at the complications that have befallen them and the frustration at his double for having let things go so bad.

Sadly, we don't really get a resolution for this, per se. After that last scene with Christina where it's implied she'll halt the divorce proceedings...we never really get an answer for what happened next, not even so much as a goodbye. Even though the idea is teased in the episode, it's obvious that Rhys-Davies was not going to be leaving the show, and we're never given any confirmation as to why he chose to remain with his fellow Sliders.

Though if I had to hazard a guess, given the scene with him recording the message for his double, Arturo decided that this life was ultimately not his and decided that all he could do was leave that message for his double in the hopes that he might fix things up properly between the two of them. In some small way, he could at least honor the one true love of his life and make her happy one last time, which is ultimately all he could ask for given the circumstances.

Powerful stuff in what is otherwise a mildly humorous, but not really all that good episode.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Monday, May 11, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Friday the 13th" (1980)

With Mother's Day just passed, let us take a moment to muse on what makes a mother a mother - her children. A mother's love for her child is unconditional, reaching depths that no one who isn't a mother can never really understand. A mother would do anything for her children, even risking life and limb and possible imprisonment to make sure that nobody crosses her babies. Seriously, there's a reason why the trope of the Mama Bear exists: if you piss one off, she will cut you.

...at least this was what the makers of this film had firmly in mind while creating this film, though you wouldn't know that in the beginning and it's actually the big twist at the end - spoiler alert. But yes, Friday the 13th was one of many films that came off the success of Halloween (1978), becoming the second of the three biggest franchises in the newly minted  "Slasher Film" subgenre of horror. Indeed, much like Halloween, this movie was responsible for setting into place many of the cliches and plot devices used by slasher films even to this day.

Indeed, Friday the 13th seems in many places like Halloween: Summer Camp Edition with many of the first person views from the killer to obscure their identity until the dramatic reveal. However, the body count is quite a bit higher than in Halloween, which will - of course - set the standard for later films that will be high death tolls and buckets of blood and gore that Slasher fans love and I personally rather loathe, but that's a topic for another day. And that's not to say there aren't some creative deaths in this film - such as a woman getting axed in the face, Kevin Bacon getting an arrow through the neck (yes, Kevin Bacon. That Kevin Bacon. He's the guy), and another one getting a death so gruesome we don't even get to see it onscreen by see the body after Kevin Bacon has sex (no, I'm not kidding, it's actually Kevin Bacon).

Which brings me to the actual characters themselves. To the film's credit they do try to give them at least a little personality, but not so much any backstory except for Alice (Adrienne King), so gets a few piecemeal remarks in the beginning but that's later thrown to the wayside when the killing starts. Then again, you aren't really supposed to care about the people being killed off - that's not what we're here for.

But the film stands up as a classic with good reason. It's an enjoyable watch and, for those who haven't seen it, it's a legitimate twist at the end with someone other than the iconic hockey mask-clad killer known as Jason Voorhees showing up to deal out some of the hurt. I won't spoil just who it is in case you haven't seen the movie, but it's not Jason and it's not his father and it's his mother.


Yes, Betsy Palmer plays Pamela Voorhees in the first of only two appearances she's had as the character outside of archive footage. I'm here to tell you, folks, for a film that she reportedly thought was a piece of shit (exact quotation there) she really doesn't seem like she's phoning it in at all and is absolutely horrifying as the killer in question - a mother having completely slipped right into coconut and arsenic sandwich crazy over the death of her little boy. Spare me your silent, menacing lunk of a serial killer, I'll be too busy running from the sweater-clad angel of vengeance who wants to see Crystal Lake and everyone in it burned to the ground for what they did to her sweet, innocent Jason.

Of course, even with Pamela's end, the franchise has only begun. Despite a machete-wielding psychopath running around killing for Mommy, summer camp numbers never seem to suffer at Camp Crystal Lake and many, many more sequels were made that we'll no doubt get to at some point in the future. As for this film, I say it still holds up. Though the cliches and tropes that are commonplace in most slasher films are here in full force, it is important to remember that this is one of the films that originated those cliches, and that's likely why this doesn't have the rather jaded and tired feel that other films later on in the series do.

It also is an entry in the series that gets away with very little nudity and a lack of the buckets upon buckets of gore that later entries in the series are known (and loved) for.

Definitely worth a watch, be it a Friday the 13th, a Mother's Day, or any other day of the year.

Friday the 13th  is now available from Paramount Pictures, Sean S. Cunningham Films and Georgetown Productions Inc.

Current franchise rights owned by New Line Cinema.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Sliders: Summer of Love"

Get your tie-dye and your Jimi Hendrix vinyls out, it's time to go back to the 1960s...okay, not really. It's more time to go back to a world where the 1960s never actually ended.

...just...go with me here.

This episode is actually the second one, something I don't believe is a problem after the first season, hence part of the reason why I'm not overly worried about it. Still, studio meddling is apparently a massive problem with them, absolutely no idea why. The show's co-creator, Tracy Tormé, had wanted to have the episodes lead into one another to give a sense of continuity, but FOX told him to stow it and aired them in their own order.

Once again, FOX does everything it can to kill a science-fiction series.

But the airing order of episodes aside, we still have quite some time before the entire series goes to pot, so let's get on with "Summer of Love".

We open in the room of one Conrad Bennish, a fellow student of Quinn's back on Earth Prime. A 90s hippie, he's surprisingly not chilling out in his room with some Purple Haze blaring on his speakers when three men and a woman in trenchcoats coming knocking at his door - the FBI.

...really? You guys couldn't spring for a Mulder and Scully cameo?

"Yeah, we couldn't get them, but here's some other guys..."
They take him down to Quinn's basement as seen in the Pilot episode, where Bennish geeks out over Quinn's equipment set up before being shown file folders about the four Sliders who have since all gone missing. After seeing one of Quinn's VHS tapes, Conrad determines that Quinn and the others have travelled to another universe.

We smash cut to the Sliders arriving on a relatively empty street, the Slide timer being broken in the fall. As Arturo complains about his ribs, Quinn begins to work on fixing it and they try to figure out where they are. Oddly, they find that no one is around. In fact, the whole of San Francisco is completely abandoned, something that becomes all the more frightening when a siren blares and a voice booms across the silence to declare that the "Swarm is approaching from the South". Apparently, the city has been evacuated...

The group learns from a television (because there is almost always a television around in Sliders for exposition as we'll soon learn) that a swarm of South American Spiderwasps is coming their way. As far as reactions go, I'm with Rembrandt - "Don't tell me that." We knew that monstrous creations of science were bound to happen eventually on one of the worlds we visited (oh, and it does later, too), but Spiderwasps are just a little bit too nightmare fuel-y.

Needless to say, the Sliders don't need to convince Quinn much to prematurely activate the timer, Wade and Rembrandt heading through...and then the wormhole snaps shut behind them. As the swarm gets closer, Quinn finally gets the portal open again and he and Arturo jump through...bringing three of the Spiderwasps along with them.

When they arrive, the two groups are separated - Wade and Rembrandt arrive at what appears to be Woodstock, surrounded by many hippies of the 1960s variety who begin to worship them as "Prophets". Quinn and Arturo, meanwhile, arrive at a construction site...and find no trace of their comrades. However, Arturo apparently has something he needs to get off his back - one of the Spiderwasps. Quinn gets a hold of a rock and reveals that he once was a quarterback in High School, throwing it and...striking his mentor over the head and killing him.

...okay, that doesn't happen. Arturo gets struck over the head and falls to the ground, but is presumably no worse for wear.

Meanwhile, Wade and Rembrandt mourn the loss of their comrades who have not yet joined them and the realization hits them that, without Quinn, they're stuck. They quiz the hippies to learn where they are, finding out that they are still outside of San Francisco and that Pete Wilson is the governor in the year 1995, thinking that they're home until they ask who the President is...and learn that it's Oliver North.

For those who don't know who Oliver North is, imagine Edward Snowden if he didn't have to go into exile in another country...and had actually done something wrong. Which he did by selling weapons to Iran.

But political commentaries aside, Wade and Rembrandt are disheartened by this news but the hippies offer to take them into their commune so they can get some rest.

Meanwhile, Quinn and Arturo find themselves in the same San Francisco, but in a different part. Arturo makes quips about how the 1960s sucked when they were the 1960s and as in a foul mood about the whole thing.

The hippies discuss Wade and Rembrandt and what they're going to do with them when they wake. Interestingly, they don't decide to have an orgy or to chop them up and eat their brains to gain their knowledge and power. Rembrandt gets tended to by a quartet of sexy concubines like the true player the Crying Man is. He decides to go looking for the others, just in case, and the hippies offer him one of their nine cars and the use of the mansion that one of their fathers' owns.

They are into modern Earth and spiritual values, but they're not stupid.

So Remmy takes a souped up, peace sign-covered Cadillac and goes out looking for Quinn and Arturo...only to come to a house where he used to live and stepping out, finding some kind of party going on there. To his shock...Rembrandt walks into his own wake. Apparently, this universe's Rembrandt went missing in action while serving in the military, leaving behind a wife and a son. And a brother, who says a few words about how he forgives him for being the underachiever of the family, Rembrandt making snide comments from the other room...until his brother insults his musical talent...whereupon he angrily outs himself.

As Rembrandt settles into what seems like a loving family, Quinn and Arturo are heckled by cops for Arturo's headband (which was used to bind the injury Quinn inflicted on him earlier) and they meet Bennish who in this universe is a clean-cut die-hard young Republican for the War. A rather humorous aside given his double on Earth Prime, leaving both Quinn and Arturo with mouths agape over the sight.

Meanwhile, Rembrandt's wake has turned into a wild party and he and his brother have a little aside where Remmy gives some background. His wife in this universe, Sharon, is apparently a girl that he had a crush on in high school but never had the guts to ask her out. Yes, he just outright tells his brother that he's not from this universe. Luckily, he thinks Remmy is just winding him up instead of the logical jump that his brother has completely gone off the rails.

Remmy learns some of the differences in the universes, including his wife's belief that his duplicate has been fooling around with other women at...wherever he was stationed, but he's going to be getting some "home cooking".

Back with the hippies, Wade learns that astrology does not exist on this world much to her dismay...so she teaches the way of random star alignments actually meaning something in the grand scheme of things. Which is to say, not at all.

Quinn and Arturo, meanwhile, are working on putting their collective genius together to repair the Slide timer and continue their journey. They find a listing for lodging and have to pass a very strict patriotism test given by an old lady before being allowed to rent an apartment.  Unfortunately, their bluffing gets the better of them and the old lady is suspicious nonetheless and later goes to call the government.

Apparently, she fears they've come to kill the President...who is coming to San Francisco this week.

Quinn and Arturo get to work on formula schematics, taking shifts.

Rembrandt, meanwhile, finds that his domestic life is not remotely what he pictured. Apparently, he's whipped and his wife is a frighteningly domineering, heartless harpy and his son is a disrespectful, smart-mouthed little twerp.

Wade continues to "enlighten" the hippies, who are hilariously idiotic and anvilicious to the point of brain trauma. But hey, that was the 60s...or so I'm told.

Back at the Casa di Brown, a telegraph arrives that reveals that the Rembrandt Brown of this universe...is alive! Apparently, Remmy's wife doesn't take the news well at all and comes after him with a shotgun.

Ah, the bliss of married life.

Returning to the Apartment of Science, Quinn and Arturo eat breakfast and get dressed in some new threads...before the FBI rushes in to put them all at gunpoint. Thanks to Arturo wanting to verbally backhand the lesser intelligent types, they manage to sink themselves into even more trouble when the FBI thinks the formula they have scrawled on a wall is for some sort of pipe bomb.

But Quinn sees Rembrandt driving around after just being shot at - apparently in good spirits once more as he's singing - and Arturo gets the drop on the female agent and takes her gun, holding her a gunpoint so that they can beat a retreat. Catching up with the Crying Man, they ride away from the FBI who rather stupidly try to catch them on foot.

Back at the Hippie Commune, Wade continues to fall into the role of Hippie Yoda and is overjoyed that Quinn and Arturo are back with them. The timer is repaired, thankfully, and there are a little over two minutes before the slide...and because we actually have two minutes left in the episode, we need some last minute drama.

The FBI shows up in their one car instead of an entire SWAT team. But the group escapes before they get to so much as fire off a shot, and they arrive on the same abandoned street from the beginning of the episode...on a different Earth. There is an ominous rumbling that can be heard, and upon turning a corner they discover the cause...a massive tidal wave heading their way...
...yes, this episode was supposed to be the lead in to "Prince of Wails".

This episode is very humor heavy, which is pretty good and makes a nice contrast whether you're watching the episodes in the order Tracy Tormé intended or not. It's a relatively light-hearted romp that pokes fun at the uber-Conversative Right and 1960's hippie counterculture in pretty much equal measure. It also has the first (chronological, anyway) instance of the Sliders "getting involved" for reasons that don't involve saving one of their own as in "Pilot", Wade trying to convince the others that if they can bring a little bit of the good things of their world into other worlds they visit, Sliding could actually do some good, something that was touched upon in "Fever".

Next week, however, we're going to delve back into the darkness. It's time to get braingerous!

...yeah, I'm never saying that again.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Monday, May 4, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "The Avengers" (2012)

The Avengers. A team of heroes who, on a day unlike any other, were brought together to battle the forces of evil that threatened the planet Earth. They are the best of the best, Earth's Mightiest Heroes. When all else fails, they don't, and saving the world is a game that they've been at for over fifty years now. And just a year shy of their fiftieth anniversary, we were giving a film that would completely change everything everyone knew about cinema forever.

This is not me gushing like the Marvel fanboy that I admit wholly that I am, it's a fact. This film is the final play, the crown jewel in a collection that had begun four years prior that made a shared continuity between different films a plausible box office draw, something that was virtually unheard of before this point. The Avengers was proof that it not only worked, but worked amazingly well, and we know this because - as of the time I'm writing this review - it's the third highest grossing film of all time (though, given that it's sequel came out a mere three days ago, this could easily change). While superhero films have always been massive summer blockbusters, this is the film that proved that they could be more than just popcorn movies.

...by being what amounts to a massive popcorn movie.

Yeah, I'm not going to lie. At the time this movie came out, it was the best thing that Marvel had come out with, bar none. Getting to see a group of superheroes onscreen that weren't led and overshadowed by Hugh Jackman? Unheard of. But coming right off their respective films, we have Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth), and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) are brought together by the machinations of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) as the would-be King of Asgard decides to take the logical step to getting his ass handed to him at the end of Thor and attack Earth using the almighty Lite-Brite Cube of Infinite Power.

Also in attendance are Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), and Bruce "Please God, No More Hulk Poodles" Banner (Mark Ruffalo).  Romanoff gets a little bit of her backstory hinted at, but otherwise little development beyond apparently not wanting to be pummeled to death by the Hulk. Barton is barely in the film, much as he was barely in Thor with his cameo having less screen time than roughly all of Alfred Hitchcock's appearances in his movies. Really, Age of Ultron should have been called Age of Hawkeye for all the glorious overcompensation for his lack of exposure in this film.

But alas, that doesn't change that this film barely features him, which is a shame due to Renner being really rather good in the role.

And as for Banner, he's a bit of a strange anomaly. Ruffalo's performance is great and I do like it far, far more than either Edward Norton's or Eric Bana's in the previous two Hulk films, but there are several things about the character that just don't add up: chiefly the statement near the end of Banner that he's "always angry", which as yet still has not been explained or even expanded upon since. Of course, it leads into one of the best shots in the film, so I find myself immediately distracted by that awesome shot of the camera panning around all six of the Avengers as they prepare to apply some liberal boot to some alien ass.

And then there's Loki, once more played by Tom Hiddleston. This time backed by a mysterious entity of great and terrible power, Loki is making a bid to take control of the Earth using the power of a zippy-cool-keen Scepter and the Tesseract from Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor. He's good, though I still am trying to wrap my brain around why he thought a good plan was getting together the six people who could most easily kick his ass and trying to get them to hate one another just long enough for him to take over the Earth.

Though I suppose it's too early in the continuity to try to pull a Justice League: Doom and take them out separately...they saved that for Age of Ultron, spoiler alert.

And, of course, New York gets several blocks taken out as it should in any good summer blockbuster action film, the invading alien army of the Chitauri descending from a wormhole like demons out of Hell itself to wreak some havoc in the name of Loki. Their Phantom Menace-style ending is a bit anti-climactic, but it helps to speed things along and get us to the ending we knew was coming...and sets up for Iron Man 3, which I'm not remotely willing to get into right now. Beyond a few plot holes, which I am more than willing to overlook, I have to say this is a film that I absolutely adore. I'm happy to riff and nitpick with everybody on the minor problems, but this is a great movie. It's very existence is a miracle, and the excellent work of Joss Whedon and the cast and crew give it life, wit, and charm that one characteristically expects given the man's resume.

He knew that he had to tie things together in a way that not only brought Marvel a smash hit, but also allowed them to continue building on what had begun back in 2008, and they're still doing that even to this day.

MadCap's Marvel Retrospective: Phase One is over.

MadCap will return in...whatever he decides to review next.

Stay tuned!

The Avengers is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

MadCap At the Movies - "The Avengers: Age of Ultron"

The Avengers. A team of heroes who...oh, wait, I mixed this up with my review of the first movie in my retrospective. Let me start over...

Joss Whedon once more takes us back to the joined universe of the Avengers on Earth - not seen since Captain America: The Winter Soldier - to see the almighty six taking down HYDRA, finding some new members, and taking on some new foes. Alright, that's inaccurate - it's one new foe due to all the build up of Baron von Strucker (Kai Wulff) in the post-credits scene of Winter Soldier being all for naught since he comes up with a severe case of irrelevant and then a severer case of dead later in the film - Spoiler Alert.

Once more we return to the exciting world of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) as they lay a six-man siege on the base of HYDRA leader Baron von Strucker in order to retrieve Loki's scepter. As they siege, the team is accosted by villainous not-mutants and future Avengers Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and it's clear from the jump that the world has only gotten that much darker with the defeat of the Chitauri.

This is no more clear than in Stark himself, who ends up taking Loki's scepter and discovering something within it - the makings of an artificial intelligence even more advanced than JARVIS (Paul Bettany). And, of course, the creation of Ultron (James Spader) is the impetus that finally pushes the plot along and makes the dark crank right up to eleven.

And dark is something that anyone who has seen a Joss Whedon series knows he does quite well. We're also given more than a few quiet moments that allow us to develop the characters who likely did not receive so much of it in The Avengers. Of particular note are Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Banner. Having been in all of about ten minutes of the previous Avengers film, Renner's Barton is heavily in the spotlight this time around. While I know this was partially to make up for the fact that he's barely had ten minutes of screen time before this point, it really is very jarringly obvious that that's what they were trying to do here.

However, Renner makes Clint likable as all get out, so I can't really fault him or Whedon for that.

Yes, I just said something nice about Hawkeye. Through Whedon, all things are possible.

There also appears to be a romance building between Ruffalo's Banner and Johansson's Romanoff which seemed to come out of nowhere. Apparently they've spent some time offscreen, however, since Romanoff has seemingly completely dispelled her fear of the Hulk and is able to calm him from his enraged state with a "lullaby", a coded series of gestures and words.

And of course, because it's Whedon, it's not a spoiler to say it ends in tragedy. Don't get me wrong, I actually find them a surprisingly good fit as a couple...I just really want to have seen the build up to this. Maybe Marvel could pull a nice prequel movie or something of the kind. Get on that, you people who are too busy counting their millions of dollars to pay attention to random internet critics!

And a Black Widow movie while you're at it!

Also are new Avengers Pietro and Wanda, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. They are basically the same characters as seen in their comic book equivalents...baring origin details that Marvel doesn't currently have the rights to on film. Pietro is a cocky, arrogant speedster who the entire world just moves too damn slowly around and Wanda is a rather demure, reserved individual until she really gets pissed and then it's all over but the mindrape and the screaming.

And of course, a sore subject for many, is Ultron as played by James Spader. Being not that much of a fan of the character (though having no dislike for him), I didn't have a problem with Whedon's usual brand of snarky humor being pasted into the character - especially considering that it's Stark, rather than Hank Pym, who creates him in this universe (which is a sore subject with me, but I'm letting that go). My biggest exposure to Ultron was in the Avengers: EMH cartoon, where he was incredibly cold, analytic, and all about the complete and total annihilation of humanity to save them form themselves which...is touched upon here, but a great deal of his character arc is about "evolution", as gets demonstrated by Paul Bettany's Vision.

Without wishing to spoil, Vision is brought in late in the film but isn't a complete deus ex machima because he doesn't immediately solve the problem of Ultron. And I will say that I like how Bettany has very easily adapted into the same very cold, almost clinical style of analysis that Ultron has of humanity, but tempered by his ethical programming and the knowledge of all the good that humanity can do, given the opportunity. I look forward to seeing more of him in the future, which it seems we will given how Age of Ultron serves as a great deal of set up for Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Oh, yes, the Infinity Stones come fully to the forefront of the main heroes. They had, of course, appeared in several of the films before, but this is really the first time that they have been identified by the Earth-based heroes as what they are and a greater threat being on its way is acknowledged. A threat that appears in a mid-credits scene with a very, very iconic artifact from the Marvel universe that is a total set up for Infinity War.

That's right! It's Kang the Conqueror wielding the Eye of Agamotto!

...okay, no, but you have to admit that would make an awesome movie. If being completely impossible...

In summation, good film. Don't go expecting the more lighthearted tone of the first one, because you aren't going to get that at all. The Sword of Damocles is hanging over everyone's heads, and there are indeed some rather tense moments for just about everybody - baring the people who we know are going to survive because of their place in announced future sequels.

The humor is good, the action is right off the bat and keeps going pretty strong, and we're given some good development of the characters we've come to know and love. Some of the purists might not be happy with it, but I'm sure Marvel is just crying into their piles of money as they weep.

...though seriously, Whedon, why couldn't Cap pick up Mjolnir?

...and why do you have a pathological fear of the word "Assemble"?

Avengers: Age of Ultron is now in theaters from Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter  @MadCapMunchkin.