Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Masters of the Universe (1987)

I didn’t watch a lot of Saturday-morning cartoons as a kid, mostly because I liked to sleep late.  I do remember two:  Thundercats and He-Man.  I was able to rent one of the Thundercats DVDs from Netflix, but returned it after the first episode.  It didn’t really hold up that well.  Perhaps some memories are better left as memories.

A few months ago, I saw a cover for Men’s Fitness with Dolph Lundgren.  The only thing I knew him from was the live-action Masters of the Universe (He-Man) movie.  I knew that I probably wouldn’t want to bother with the series, but the movie might be worth it.  It would only be a matter of time before Netflix had it streaming.  Lo and behold, Netflix started streaming Masters of the Universe recently.  Despite a few complaints, I remembered liking the movie as a kid.  What could go wrong?

The story starts with He-Man, Duncan and Teela talking about how Castle Grayskull has been taken over by Skeletor.  His plan is to take its power and rule the universe as evil overlord.  How is this possible?  Simple:  He’s tricked Gwildor into making a Cosmic Key that can transport the user and/or friends to any point in space and time.  Skeletor can send his troops to any planet and take it over.  In the process of stopping Skeletor, He-Man, Gwildor, Duncan and Teela are transported to Earth, promptly losing the Cosmic Key.  They don’t have much time to stop Skeletor, who has sent several mercenaries to find and capture He-Man.  Yeah, that’s pretty much the plot in a nutshell.

You know how movies meant for kids now have something for adults?  (How nice that the writers thought of the people who are paying for the tickets.)  Masters of the Universe wasn’t made with that consideration in mind.  The movie was designed to sell the toy line.  This is really where my perspective has changed over the years.  The movie was great for a kid that enjoyed the cartoon and would probably sit through anything that stayed moderately true to the cartoon.

That’s really where my complaints were.  They didn’t have He-Man change from his alter ego, Adam.  They also totally left out Battle Cat and Orko.  In fact, I thought Gwindor was supposed to be a version Orko.  That much I understood.  I could see not wanting to have a floating, vaguely ghost-like character due to budget concerns.  It could also be difficult to have a talking cat in the movie or to have Adam transform into He-Man, as per the TV series.  The $17 million budget was huge for them.  The director had to fight to get a decent ending.

This is one of those movies that I would totally understand if modern audiences skipped.  My watching it was pure nostalgia.  I knew Courteney Cox and Robert Duncan McNeill were in it.  There was also Billy Barty (Noodles MacIntosh from UHF) playing Gwildor.  I also recognized James Tolkan and Frank Langella.  Still, the main draw was having watched both this and the cartoon as a child.  I honestly feel bad for any parent that was dragged to see this.

I think the big drawback was the plot.  It was very underdeveloped to the point where I think the studio was using the characters as a draw.  this came across more as a bad in joke.  There were a few lines that were delivered like you were supposed to know the back story or were a reference to the TV show.  (Think “I have the power!”)     Instead of a standalone movie, like many of today’s movies based on TV shows, it seemed like the finale to a TV show that was cancelled.  (Speaking of which, a planned sequel was scrapped due to the studio losing the movie rights.  Legend has it that the proposed script became Cyborg with Jean-Claude Van Damme.)

The story seems to rely too heavily on cliché.  How is it that as soon as Skeletor locks in on the Cosmic Key, it moves?  Why is it that when anyone finds something of great importance, they instantly assume it’s something else and immediately start playing with it?  It’s amazing that Kevin didn’t send the entire planet into an alternate dimension or something.  I’ve also noticed that the main evil guy always gets really crappy henchmen.  Here’s a guy that took over a planet no problem, but he can’t find someone to do a simple search and retrieval.

The acting was somewhat decent.  Langella was best as Skeletor.  For those that have seen the Back to the Future movies and Top Gun, Tolkan was pretty much what you’d expect as Detective Lubic.  (Is it too much to ask that he call someone a slacker?)  Most of the rest of the acting is about what you’d expect of an 80s movie based on a toy line.  I’m not saying it’s bad, but a lot of it wasn’t memorable.

One of the advantages of Netflix streaming is that I didn’t have to wait for a disc.  The downside is that I couldn’t get any features.  I might rent the disc just to be able to see some of the commentary.  (Much of the information I get is through IMDb.)  I guess nostalgia is a funny thing.

There’s supposed to be another live-action movie coming out.  I don’t know if it’s supposed to be a sequel, a remake or a reboot, but I’m not sure how I’d feel about it.  I imagine it would be similar to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, which is also currently available streaming.  Perhaps some memories are better left as memories.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Predestination (2014)

It can be difficult to alter the sequence of events in a story.  In the case of Memento, it makes sense.  Telling the story backwards mimics the main character’s amnesia.  We get insight into the character by not knowing what came before.  I don’t always like stories told in flashback, but it works in Forest Gump.  Lost also used it to give background on the characters.  Sometimes, a linear format doesn’t really make sense.  You have to pick somewhere to start and tell the story from there.

Predestination starts with a temporal agent (played by Ethan Hawke) trying to stop a fugitive called The Fizzle Bomber.  The agent fails to apprehend the bomber, but at least mitigates the effects of one of his bombs.  He has surgery to repair his face and is reassigned.  He now works as a barkeeper.  This is how he meets The Unmarried Mother, who’s played by Sarah Snook.  Barkeep and The Unmarried Mother start talking.  She writes confession stories for a magazine.

She’s got a heck of a story of her own, which Barkeep is perfectly willing to listen to.  Not only was she put up for adoption at an early age, but she has a child of her own that was taken from her a few days after the child’s birth.  The latter ordeal really affects her, as she can’t mother a child any more and the father of the child hurt her.  It’s not all bad news, though.  Barkeep may be able to help her in more ways than one.

I don’t want to go into a lot of detail.  Explaining the plot is a slippery slope.  The more I explain, the more I have to tell to explain that.  It’s one of those mysteries that unravels itself as the story goes along. Everyone has a secret and everyone has their own perspective and context.  When you figure all of that out, the story becomes clear.  (In that regard, you have to pay attention.  It’s a lot to take in.)

The movie is based on the story All You Zombies by Robert A. Heinlein.  The movie seems to stay pretty close to the source material.  If you’ve read the story, there shouldn‘t be any surprises.   This isn’t to say it’s not worth watching.  I’ve always liked stories with a twisted plot.  I enjoy waiting for the next piece to fall into place.

I’m not sure if it’s that I knew the story coming in, but the movie seemed well paced.  It wasn’t rushed and I wasn’t overly eager to find out what happened next.  There were a few aspects that seemed odd, but not to the point of being confusing or contradictory.  For instance, the Unmarried Mother had applied to be in a space program.  I don‘t recall such a program existing, but it wasn‘t distracting.  Overall, it was a great movie. 

Official Site

IMDb page

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Time Lapse (2014)

One of the Twilight Zone episodes I find more memorable was called A Most Unusual Camera.  In it, three people find a camera that can see several minutes into the future.  They use it to win lots of money at the race track, as they can simply take a picture of the scoreboard and bet on what it shows.  It’s a fairly simple, straightforward story.  I doubt any of us would pass on such an opportunity.  However, such an opportunity isn’t without consequences.

In Time Lapse, a similar scenario is presented.  Finn is the maintenance guy for a rental complex.  He lives with Jasper and Callie, who help out.  Callie will sometimes check on people.  Jasper’s main contribution seems to be betting on races.  This is not an unimportant contribution.

When Finn gets the call that Mr. Bezzerides hasn’t paid the rent in two months, Callie goes over to check on him.  She doesn’t find Mr. B right away, but she does find a large camera aimed at their place.  How they never noticed it before isn’t mentioned, but it there is a large collection of Polaroid pictures on two walls.  Many have some combination of Callie, Finn and Jasper.

They come to realize that each picture shows what happens 24 hours in advance.  Jasper immediately realizes the potential to make money on races.  The catch is that Mr. B’s body is in his storage room.  Jasper wants to call the police and let the law take its course.  They agree to a compromise:  They wait for the next photo and see what happens.  If it shows yellow police tape, they call it in.  If it shows race results, they call Jasper’s bookie.

As you might imagine, the next photo shows sports scores.  Finn, Callie and Jasper become rich.  There is a catch:  Mr. B kept a journal stating not to deviate from what’s in the picture lest something horrible happen.  (Again, details aren’t forthcoming.)  This isn’t an issue until one photo shows Callie and Jasper making out.   Callie and Finn are a couple, which puts them on edge, but they go through with it.  They don’t want to risk deviating from the picture.

Then, Ivan appears in one of the photos.  Ivan is Jasper’s very paranoid bookie.  Ivan’s curious how Jasper has gone from a loser to a winner so quickly.  Jasper tries to pass it off as a lucky streak.  Even a broken clock is right twice a day.  Right?  When Ivan finds out about the camera, he takes over their little operation.  Ivan’s muscle, Marcus, will take possession of the photo so that Ivan can place the bets directly, compensating the trio for their troubles.  I don’t know that I’d be ruining anything by giving away the ending, but I won’t risk it.  All I’ll say is that the last picture any of them sees is of police tape.

There seems to be two paths you can take when presented with knowledge of the future.  As I said, this isn’t the first movie to show the main characters giving in to greed.  The Brass Teapot managed to handle it well.  The other extreme would be something like Early Edition, which showed how a good person might handle such knowledge.  Given to someone that realizes the humanitarian potential, a lot of good could be done.

To be honest, I’d probably want to make money given a crystal ball like this.  I’d probably find a way to pass along sports scores or lottery numbers.  I’d like to think I’d play it conservatively.  There’s no talk in the movie of attracting the wrong attention.  If you make the money at a track, you’re going to be noticed by the IRS at the very least.  The track (or, in this case, the bookie) is bound to ask some questions.  Jasper didn’t take this into consideration.

The big question is whether or not we have any sort of free will.  Seeing the picture creates a bootstrap paradox.  Anyone in the picture that’s aware of the picture has to replicate what they did.  Are they doing I because they know they have to or would they have done it anyway?  (Finn also gets to see his paintings, meaning he may not actually be creating them.  Then again, who is he copying from?)  The roommates had gone for months without ever knowing about the pictures, but the pictures were there.  There future had been foretold.  Mr. B essentially plays the role of Wigner’s Friend.

Ultimately, those who live by the camera die by the camera.

Area 51 (2015)

Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if my mother’s being series.  She’ll make something with broccoli and swear that I love it.  I suspect she may be trying to use some psychological trick to get me to eat it.  It may also be that because she’s seen me eat it before that she honestly thinks that I like it.  I keep telling her that not complaining isn’t the same thing as liking.  Netflix seems to have a similar problem.  They seem to think that sitting through a movie is the same thing as liking it.  Just because I didn’t set my computer on fire while watching one movie doesn’t mean that I’ll like other similar movies.

Take the movie called Area 51.  It’s a found-footage movie about a guy named Reid who wants to break in to, of all places, Groom Lake.  (Groom Lake is commonly referred to as Area 51.)  Reid brings along two friends, Darren and Ben.  Darren is eager to go while Ben doesn’t think that Reid will go through with it.  They’re a little hesitant to meet Jelena, but her father worked in Groom Lake until he started asking questions.  She has information that could be useful.

Well, she gets Darren, Reid and herself in while Ben waits for them in the car.  Amazingly, they just run past security and manage to get all sorts of shaky footage of top-secret stuff, including a UFO.  It all comes to an end when they trip an alarm and have to run out while being chased by armed guards and what I assume is a tall, thin alien.  As you might guess from the found-footage status, things don’t end well for the four main characters.

The Blair Witch Project seems to be the go-to movie for found footage and for good reason.  When it came out in 1999, it was all new and edgy and people were so scared and everything.  While movies before it had used the plot device, The Blair Witch Project was the first to get some attention.   Area 51 came out in 2015.  It doesn’t seem to have contributed much to the idea.  It’s the same concept of someone finding footage and presenting it to the public.

Lunopolis, which I liked, dressed it up as a documentary.  With Trollhunter, we at least had people making a documentary when they stumble upon the truth.  Europa Report was about a scientific mission.  Here, there’s no compelling story.  The characters aren’t really that likable.  There’s nothing special about the movie other than the topic.  You have three guys that manage to luck their way into a secure facility only to meet an ambiguous ending and I didn’t even care.

Most of it is the lack of a real story.  The first third of the movie is pure filler.  The next third is suspense.  The last third is a bunch of shaky camerawork and some somewhat interesting special effects.  I feel like we could have cut out the first half of the movie and used some minor exposition to explain how we got to Las Vegas.  (“What’s whith him?”  “Oh, he was abducted by aliens and now he’s obsessed.”)

Also, Reid manages to break into an employee’s house and steal a badge and a bottle with a fingerprint.  Ok.  I get that you need a fair amount of suspension of disbelief to get them in, but it seems odd to me that it’s possible to steal and use a badge and a fingerprint that easily.  This isn’t even accounting for the fact that they guy who was robbed probably would have reported the missing badge immediately.  (I guess he was too embarrassed that it was stolen so easily.)

And could someone please tell me how three people can walk around a secure facility without being noticed?  It would make more sense to have them caught and use the found footage during interrogation.  The only problem would be explaining how the footage got out at all, but I don’t think it would be that hard to come up with something.

I had wanted to watch the movie all the way through to see if anything interesting happened.  I was sorely disappointed.  I’d recommend skipping this one.  The shame of it is that Netflix has been recommending other similar found-footage movies.  Those, I’ve stopped watching about halfway through.  I can only hope that Netflix doesn’t count that as a like.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Equalizer (2014)

I have this vague memory of the 1980s.  There were a lot of television shows I had only heard of, mostly because I had to be in bed before they came on.  In 1985, when I was just 9 years old, a show called the Equalizer came on.  It starred Edward Woodward and Robert McCall.  If you were in a bad situation and needed help, McCall would be that help.

In 2014, Denzel Washington took on the role of Robert McCall.  The new McCall was black ops, but is now working at Home Mart.  It doesn’t appear that anyone knows of his past and he’s happy to keep it that way.  He made a promise to his dead wife not to get back into any of that.  Things change when a young female acquaintance of his, Alina, is beaten by her pimp.  He tries to buy out her contract to no avail, leading McCall to take down her pimp and several of his associates.

This might not have otherwise been a problem except that her pimp was affiliated with the Russian mob.  Apparently, they don’t take kindly to their guys being killed.  So, they send in an enforcer to take care of McCall.  This is what takes up the bulk of the movie.  It’s mostly McCall helping Alina get a better life.  There are some side stories to show what kind of man McCall is.  (He helps a coworker pass his security-guard certification, for instance.)

McCall is very calm.  Probably due to his training, he’s capable of taking out the bad guys and he knows it.  He can use what’s available to build disarm or disable his opponents.  There’s a little bit of MacGuyver in him.  He’s basically a man that wants to be left alone.  He really doesn’t want to be drawn back into that world, but realizes that he has to what no one else will.

This is where it would be nice if Netflix had the TV series streaming.  I’d like to see the TV series to compare to the movie.  (I know…they have to pay for the streaming rights.  It’s my problem that I don’t want to wait for the DVDs.)  I’m not really sure how much is the same and how much is different.  I’ve sen Edward Woodward in posters for the TV show holding a gun, but I don’t know how much of the show relied on violence.  The TV series came out 30 years ago, which means that times have changed.  Many of the issues might be similar, but the faces and methods change.

It looks like there may be a sequel, but IMDb doesn’t have any details listed other than it would be Denzel Washington’s first sequel.   I’d definitely like to see it if it does get made.  I might even get around to watching the series.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Click (2006)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

When I first saw the coming attractions for this movie, I had no intention of seeing it. I’m not a fan of Adam Sandler and felt that Click would be too goofy of a movie for me to really enjoy it. Then, a coworker saw it. He said that it was a lot more serious than most of Sandler’s movies, but still had its moments. It was then that I began to wonder how bad it could really be.

The movie is about Michael Newman (played by Sandler) who can’t keep track of all the remotes that he has. One night, he sets out to find a universal remote. He ends up in Bed, Bath & Beyond, where he meets Morty (Christopher Walken) in the ‘Beyond’ section. Morty has a truly universal remote, which allows Michael to control the universe. He can mute his dog, fast forward over arguments with his wife and even make his boss (and everyone else) speak Spanish, French or any other language.

When he gets this remote, Michael thinks that there’s no possible down side. He can skip ahead to the end of an unpleasant dinner or go ahead a few months to that next promotion. The trouble is that he’s missing out on a lot of things. (The wait for his next promotion turns out to be a year instead of two or three months.) It turns out that the remote creates a whole set of new problems, and Morty isn’t willing to take it back.

Now, I have to say that regardless of how serious the movie is, it’s still an Adam Sandler movie. As my coworker pointed out, Sandler just had to make a joke during the most serious point of the movie. This could have been a totally serious movie and Sandler could have handled it quite well without making too many jokes.

I’m not saying that I didn’t like the humor. It’s just that I don’t think that Sandler will ever break away from what I initially expected of the movie. There were a lot of funny parts, many of which made it into the trailers. Come to think of it, this is one of the few movies that I’ve seen where the plot does seem to stick to what was presented in the coming attractions. There was a comedic slant to most of the movie. There were a few things that I won’t spoil for you, but I do think that if you liked the trailer, you’ll like the movie.

I don’t think that the movie is appropriate for younger children. Although there was no nudity, there were a few adult moments. For instance, the Newman family has a dog that’s particularly fond of a plush toy. You might want to watch the movie before deciding whether or not your children should watch it.

As for older audiences, I’ll give this movie four stars. It’s not perfect, but it was definitely better than I expected. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Parallels (2015)

I remember being excited when Sliders first aired.  It was a show about four people who are thrust into different universes, each with a slightly different set of circumstances.  One week might show a world where the United States was still a British dependency.  Another might show a world where advanced technology had been banned.  The concept wasn’t new.  Lots of movies and TV shows have used the concept before and since.

When I saw Parallels, I expected something similar.  Instead of a wormhole, we have a building.  We have three friends, two of whom are brother and sister, going from world to world with a stranger.  The first is a post-apocalyptic world.  It turns out that their father nuked the surrounding area.  They manage to escape to a futuristic world.  The date is the same, but technology has advanced quite a bit beyond what we have.  It’s apparent from graffiti inside the building that there are all sorts of other worlds.  (In one, the attack on the Twin Towers happened on a different date. In another, all live births are twins.)

I had wondered why I hadn’t heard of this airing on TV, as it gives the impression of being a TV pilot.  It turns out that Netflix produced it and has it available streaming.  It could very well be made into a TV series.  On that note, I see a lot of similarities with Sliders.  You have two children finding out that they weren’t born on the Earth that they were raised on.  They’re trying to seek out their mother to find their home world.  (In sliders, they were trying to find both parents.)  They also gain control over which world they go to next.

With Netflix producing original content, I could see this being made into a TV series.  (Since the movie was released earlier this year, I don’t know how long it will be before we hear of any news.)  Constance Wu, who plays the stranger, is apparently staring on Fresh Off the Boat.  I don’t know how that would affect anything.  She wouldn’t be the first character to be recast and/or replaced when a movie was made into a TV series.

The main problem would be the similarity to Sliders.  I’d imagine that there would be a similar slew of alternate worlds being used as social commentary.  The main difference would be that other story lines are introduced from the onset.  Sliders kind of jumped the shark when they started having Cromags and the search for the brothers’ real parents/home world.

Another problem I’ve had with alternate universes is how many of the main characters are in the other worlds.  Yes, I realize that it’s easier to use the same actors.  However, do you realize the odds of the same sperm meeting up with the same egg?  The slightest variation could produce a totally different person or not result in a pregnancy at all.  I always found it odd that each world the Sliders visited had most, if not all, of the main characters.  I’d hope that if this movie is made into a show, it might rely on this less.  Given that there’s the potential for a whole new, potentially expansive, mythology, I might very well get my wish.  That is, assuming it gets made into a series at all.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Brave (2012)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.


As I was thinking about another movie, ParaNorman, it occurred to me that there aren’t many mainstream animated movies that come to mind.  There are a few, like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, that come to mind, but at best are intended for a specific crowd.  You don’t have any animated films that are intended for a general 30-and-older crowd.  My parents will automatically write off a movie simply because it’s animated and with what I will grudgingly admit is good reason:  most animated films are ultimately geared towards a younger audience.  Despite this, I had wanted to see Brave for a while.  I knew it was going to be a more kids-oriented movie, but I like animated films more than my parents.

The movie is about Merida.  The movie starts with her as a young girl, but she grows up and the time comes for her to marry someone from a neighboring clan.  Each potential suitor is vastly different from the others and not particularly to Merida’s liking.  Part of the problem is that she just doesn’t want to marry yet, but her mother is insistent that she follow tradition.  It’s what unifies the four clans.  Merida’s father, on the other hand, tends to encourage (perhaps even enable) Merida’s behavior.

It’s hard to go into the rest of the movie without ruining it, but the bulk of it stems from a misspoken wish that Merida makes and her need to rectify it.  I will say that it’s predictable at times and not so much at others.  (Sometimes, getting exactly what you asked for is the worst thing that can happen.)  It’s basically a goofy movie that children can watch with their parents.  There are a few potentially scary moments, like a bear attacking, but it’s nothing a child wouldn’t understand.  It’s ultimately about a mother and daughter having to understand one another.

The people look exaggerated, which you might expect if you’ve seen other animated films like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  However, there were times when I got lost in the film.  I stopped noticing that it was animated and started noticing the detail in the scenery.

I also empathized with the characters.  It’s pretty easy to relate to a child that doesn’t want to bend to their parents’ wishes, especially when it comes to major life decisions.  This is marriage, after all.  Then again, the king and queen are expected to follow tradition, regardless of their daughter’s wishes.  It may not be right and it may not be fair, but it is the way things have been done for generations.

Maybe I’m just an overgrown kid.  My rooms a mess and I still don’t like broccoli.  With this comes a certain suspicion of people with clean rooms that claim to like broccoli.  I also tend to wonder about people that begrudgingly go to animated films.  I wonder if a few of them are just taking the kids as an excuse to go themselves.

Here’s the thing, though.  This past Academy Awards was one of the few in recent memory where I had seen many of the nominees, one of them being this film, which won.  (The other two are ParaNorman and Frankenweenie, which I’ll get around to reviewing.)  I think I recall an animated film being nominated for Best Film once.

I kind of wonder what it would take for an animated film to be nominated, or at least be considered by the general population.  I’d settle for my mother renting one on her own.  Then again, I’m sure she’d settle for me taking some extra broccoli once in a while.