Sunday, January 26, 2020

Sex Education (TV)

Sex Education
Created by
Laurie Nunn
Starrring Asa Butterfield, Gillian Anderson, Emma Mackey, Ncuti Gatwa, Connor Swindells, Alistair Petrie, Tanya Reynolds, Patricia Allison
IMDB Entry

Netflix has such a vast array of show that some excellent ones get lost in the shuffle. One that I’ve heard very little buzz about is Sex Education, even though it’s absolutely delightful.

Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) is a teenager in the UK equivalent of a high school. His mother, Jean (Gillian Anderson), is a sex therapist, and Otis has overheard a lot of her sessions through an air vent by his bed.  A classmate, Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey) sees him answering questions from other classmates and offers a business arrangement:  She will book appointments and Otis will counsel the other students. It, of course, leads to complications.

The show manages to mix uproarious comedy with powerful drama. It’s extremely frank and very realistic in the way it shows teens dealing with sex and emotions.*

The strength is in the characters. Otis is well-versed in the theories of sex, but has no actual experience, complicating matters. And his mother is portrayed as very open and sex positive – but with no respect for Otis’s boundaries, bringing up subjects that no teen boy wants to talk about with his mother. Some of the funniest scenes are her trying to be so completely understanding of things that Otis does not want brought up.

Maeve is smart, but categorized as a bad girl because she doesn’t go along with the rules of the school. Eric Effiong (Ncuti Gatwa) is gay and open about it, leading to bullying and other issues. Lily Inglehart (Tanya Reynolds) writes fan fiction porn, and is the one most willing to cut through other people’s bullshit.

You can’t really single out any one person in the cast. All are excellent, but it’s especially gratifying to see Gillian Anderson do deadpan comedy.

The second season just dropped and seems to move in a more dramatic direction,** but it’s still showing the difficulties of sexual and romantic relationships.
*The frankness may be offputting to some, but it can be extremely funny.
**Though I laughed hardest at a scene in the first episode of the second season when Jean is trying to advise Otis.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Man Who Could Work Miracles

The Man Who Could Work Miracles
Directed by
Lothar Mendes, Alexander Korda (uncredited)
Written by H.G. Wells
Starring Roland Young, Ralph Richardson, Ernest Thesiger,
IMDB Entry
I’ve been poking around the Internet Archive, looking for movies to write about and came upon The Man Who Could Work Miracles. I’d seen parts of it over the years, but this was my chance to see the entire thing.

It starts out with a group of Celestial Beings who wonder if the human race would be better off if they could perform their own miracles. The pick George McWhirter Fotheringay (Roland Young), a clerk in a department store, as their first experiment. George discovers he can merely request something and have it come true. It starts out small, with candles and rabbits. George thinks it might be the basis for a magic act. But, as he learns more, he begins to think bigger.  The Vicar, Mr. Madig (Ernest Thesiger), thinks he should use it to help humanity, while Colonel Winstanley (Ralph Richardson) feels it will be a disaster.

It is based on a story by H.G. Wells, who is the only writer credited. The movie is filled with discussions of miracles and their pros and cons, reflecting Wells’s politics.

Young portrays George as a slightly thick character, with a blinkers on about the possibilities of his gift.He can’t seem to work out the implications of possibilities of his gift without others pointing them out to him.* Thesiger** plays the role of the Vicar with earnest idealism, while Richardson hams things up at bit as Winstanley.

One scene that I remember well from when I first saw it was when George gets mad at a cop and tells him to “Go to Blazes!” The policeman finds himself in a very hot place, and starts to take notes.***

The movie’s special effects were top notch for their time, and somewhat innovative. There’s a lot of things appearing out of nowhere, of course, a trick that dates back to George Melies, but other scenes were state of the art for the time. There’s one where George tidies up the store that is particularly impressive.

The movie got mixed reviews when it opened, and I can see that – it gets bogged down in philosophy while the humor is generally mild. But overall it’s a fairly entertaining concept.
*Young is best known for portraying Cosmo Topper, the same sort of befuddled character.
**Best known as Dr. Pretorius from Bride of Frankenstein.
***The original story has “Go to Hades,” but the censors wouldn’t allow that.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Pay Off

The Pay Off
Directed by
Arthur Dreifuss
Written by Edward Dein (screenplay), Arthru Hoerl (story)
Starring Lee Tracy, Tom Brown, Tina Thayer, Evelyn Brent
IMDB Entry
Full Movie at the Internet Archive
Many people don’t understand what a B movie was in the days of the studio system. Since the studios owned the theaters, they were in constant need of product and a B movie was one with a lesser-known cast, cut to run in a shorter time to make for a double feature, often in small, neighborhood theaters whose audiences were all within walking distance.That didn’t mean they were necessarily bad, and there are always some nice little films in that classification.  The Pay Off fits into this category.

It starts out with the murder of a special prosecutor and one of the suspects has an airtight alibi: he was playing poker at the home of wisecracking reporter Brad McKay (Lee Tracy). McKay goes on the case and discovers Tina Thayer (Phyllis Walker) may have an important clue. Aided by Guy Norris (Tom Brown) and distracted by femme fatale Alma Dorn (Evelyn Brent), McKay slowly ferrets out the mystery.

The role fits Lee Tracy like a glove. He made a career of playing wisecracking reporters, both on screen and on Broadway.* He definitely takes center stage and it’s surprising that his career didn’t make more of a splash, other than perhaps because the stereotype grew old after WWII.

Like most movies of this type, the plot moves along briskly with a few twists here and there.

Director Arthur Dreifuss made a few dozen B movies, but never moved on to anything more. Most of the cast didn’t break through, but the result is a nice little bit of entertainment.
*He played HIldy Johnson in the original production of The Front Page.