Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Dark (Season 3)

I remember when I was in high school; a normal season of American TV would consist of 20 to 30 episodes.  Now, it seems that a season might run 8 or ten episodes.  Granted, I have access to a lot of European series.  A run of 20 episodes would seem too much for one stretch.  However, I’ve noticed it with Star Trek: Picard and Stranger Things.  Dark’s entire three-season run of 26 episodes would be one season for a show like Star Trek: The Next Generation.

For those who haven’t seen the first or second seasons, Dark is a German series.  It centers on a small, fictional town named Winden.  There seems to be a bit of a temporal knot.  People can access points in the city’s history at 33-year intervals through a tunnel.  There’s also a machine that seems to allow for shorter jumps.

At the end of the second season, we find out that there’s an alternate dimension.  One of the key factors in the city’s history is a boy that not only goes missing, but becomes displaced in time.  There are a few differences that add up to big changes.

The season deals with going back and forth between the two universes and trying to undo the entire thing, which requires going to a third, main universe.  If you think this is confusing, you’re right.  It’s often difficult to keep track of who belongs in which universe.  This is even true in cases where there’s only one version of a character.  Sometimes, it seems like there should be three or four versions of a character.  This is because they’re bouncing around in time like ping pong balls, covering a span from 1888 to 2053.  (It’s hard enough keeping track of the family trees.  Now this?)

There is a religious/spiritual influence, with one character being named Noah.  The two characters believed to have started the two universes are Adam and Eva, each belonging to a different universe.  It’s also difficult to tell where everything begins.  (Beginnings are endings; endings are beginnings and all that.)

As with the first two seasons, lies factor in to the narrative.  This added to my confusion a little.  Characters realize that they have to be manipulated into maintaining the correct order of events.  Is there even really a way out?  Is there free will enough to end it all and prevent all this suffering or are the characters fated to go around and around for infinity?

This is not a bright and cheery series.  There’s a missing child, time travel, dimensional travel and plenty of secrets to go around.  There’s also the apocalypse hanging over everyone’s head and the knowledge that averting doomsday means that a good chunk of the population might get erased from existence.  Oh, and the fate of three universes hinges on a car accident.  Being erased from existence might be a blessing.

If this hasn’t dissuaded you from watching it, there is a satisfying ending at the all of it.  There is a nice, even pace to the series, even if it is a bit slow.  One good thing about our modern technology is that you could, and probably should, watch them all in one binge.  Don’t do it halfway and take a break.  Watch the entire thing over the course of a week or two, which will probably make it easier to keep track of.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

My Spy (2020)

There are a lot of deep, meaningful movies out there.  You have Life of Pi.  Limitless and The Adjustment Bureau come to mind.  You might even include Inception on the list.  These are movies that give you something new to think about.  They may not be perfect, but they’re intended for an audience who doesn’t mind a complicated plot.

Then, you have Hallmark movies.  They tend to follow a similar plot.  Someone has to go back to a small town where they meet someone and fall in love.  They eventually realize what’s important.  They hit all the marks and you can generally predict what’s going to happen.

My Spy tends towards the Hallmark movies.  I don’t think anyone is going to be surprised by this movie.  In fact, I hesitate to include a trailer because that would give away a lot of the plot.

Take JJ.  He’s a former member of Special Forces.  He’s really good with explosives.  He’s not so good with other people.  When he goes to work for the CIA, he botches his first mission.  Yes, he stopped some bad guys, but the idea was to use those bad guys to catch the even worse guys they were working for.

He’s given one more mission to redeem himself.  He’s partnered with Bobbi, a tech expert, and sent to Chicago to watch Kate and her daughter, Sophie.  Kate’s husband, Victor, was killed by his brother, David.  The hope is that David will contact Kate, who doesn’t realize that she has some important files.

So, JJ and Bobbi set up some cameras in Kate’s apartment.  And it doesn’t take long for Sophie to figure out where they are.  Once she has a camera, she’s able to triangulate where JJ and Bobbi are.  Armed with only her cell phone, she’s able to blackmail JJ into being her friend.

If you’ve ever seen a Hallmark movie, you know that JJ has a lot of learning to do.  He gets good enough that he can survive a few dates with Kate, who is still clueless about who JJ really is.  Kate does eventually figure it out and isn’t too happy about the lie.  Sophie makes friends at her new school because of her association with JJ.  When JJ’s boss discovers what’s going on, JJ and Bobbi are fired.  In the end, everyone is where they want to be.

I have to wonder what actual CIA agents would think of this movie.  First, I don’t think the CIA generally operates on America soil.  Something like this would probably be handled by the FBI.  Honestly, there’s no reason why it couldn’t have been the FBI.  It would have been just as easy to have the opening scene take place somewhere like Detroit.  It wouldn’t even have to be nuclear weapons.

Then, there’s the issue of JJ and Bobbi setting up in the same building as Kate and Sophie.  The same building?  Really?  I think they were on the same floor, even.  Wouldn’t that increase the odds of Kate or Sophie getting to know them?  I get that they would have to be close for the Wi-Fi cameras to work, but there has to be a way around that.  Like, hook it up to a phone line or something.  There has to be an industrial-grade transmitter that they could buy.

I also have to say that Dave Bautista is the weakest link, acting-wise.  He looks the part, but he doesn’t really own the part.  He doesn’t make you think he’s the only one that could play the role of JJ.  It’s a shame because I’ve liked him in other roles.  Chloe Coleman, for instance, plays Sophie to the point that I honestly believe Sophie would make a better CIA agent than JJ.

When I first heard of this movie, I figured it would be a lot like Léon: The Professional, and I wasn’t wrong.  It was more like Léon meets Kindergarten Cop.  It’s one of those overly generic feel-good movies that has a few mild laughs, some gratuitous explosions and a happy-enough ending that no one will really dislike it.  It’s not great, but there are worse movies you could be forced to sit through.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Supergirl (1984)

There were a few times in television and movies where something seemed inexplicable.  It wasn’t until years later that something came along that put things in perspective.  It always seemed odd to me that in Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Best of Both Worlds, only Captain Picard was assimilated.  Then, it came out that Patrick Stewart had thrown out the idea of not coming back for the fourth season.  Picard’s assimilation offered a way out, if necessary.  I’m not sure how true it is, but it made sense.

Supergirl was an interesting movie, but it provided me with a lot of similar questions.  It starts in Argo City.  Argo City survived the destruction of Krypton by hiding in some sort of fold in space.  It’s powered by a small orb called the Omegahedron.  It’s not a toy, but Kara Zor-El is allowed to play with it.  After a few minutes, it gets blown out into space and lands on Earth.

The man who lent it to her is sent to the Phantom Zone for all of eternity.  Kara chases after it, hoping to get it back.  If she doesn’t, the entire population of Argo City will die.  You’d think with something so important, it would be better protected.  For that matter, you’d think the city walls would be made of something stronger.  Then again, we wouldn’t have a movie.

When Kara lands on Earth, she happens to land near where the Omegahedron is, but not close enough to actually get it.  Instead, Selena finds it.  She’s a witch that’s looking for an easy way to take over the world.  She dumps the warlock Nigel and goes about plotting world domination.

Again, this Omegahedron thingy is really important.  Kara is trying to find this to save her city.  To her advantage, she’s instantly given the same powers as her cousin, Superman.  In fact, she miraculously has a Supergirl outfit on once she’s on Earth.  Rather than set out to look for the orb, she flies around and takes a look at the planet.  It’s not clear where Argo City is in relationship to Earth.  She could have been travelling for five minutes or two months.  Either way, she has no time to lose.

Once she’s done flying, she sets herself up at an all-girls boarding school.  She calls herself Linda Lee, saying she’s Clark Kent’s cousin, and is roomed with Lois Lane’s sister, Lucy.  This baffles me.  She can forge a document in seconds.  Why not set herself up with a house?  Why bother with classes and whatnot?  I get that she’s young, but there has to be another option here.  Given a choice, I’d pick the one that doesn’t involve doing homework or taking tests.

A whole bunch of stuff happens, giving Selena the chance to figure out how the orb works.  Kara makes exactly zero effort to find it until it’s too late and Selena has already taken over a small town.  Kara is banished to the Phantom Zone, herself, but escapes.  The final battle ensues and everything is put right again.

The entire movie stinks of a project that someone had to make.  It’s like an executive wanted a superhero movie with a female hero and passed it off to a team of people that didn’t think it was a good idea.  In fact, the movie looks like it may have been written more as a comedy, but was played more as a drama.

Even the writing has bare-minimum effort all over it.  Why does a city have only one power source?  You’d think they’d have a second one as a backup.  This wouldn’t even be a plot killer.  Kara could still have to retrieve it.  Do you really want it falling into the hands of someone like Selena?

Then, there’s the whole issue of witches and warlocks.  Really?  That’s the best you could come up with?  I don’t know if this idea ever showed up in the comics, but I think I would have come up with a better adversary.  You’re already doing a gender-swapped story.  Why not just have a female evil genius, much like Lex Luthor.

There’s a lot about the movie that doesn’t look right.  For a movie where a city’s population is on the line, there’s no sense of urgency.  The flying sequences are way too long.  Superman gets a cameo by way of a poster.  The only crossover is Jimmy Olsen.  I suspect that having one character cross over was a way of not sinking the Superman franchise if this movie tanked, which may have been a good idea.  If you can’t find a copy of this movie to watch, don’t worry about it.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 14 (Wolf in the Fold)

There were times that Star Trek could be progressive.  It dealt with issues such as race and war.  It even had a woman of color as a bridge officer.  Unfortunately, she never got to command a ship during the show’s three-year run.  There were times that the show didn’t go as far as it could have.

Then, there were times that they dropped the ball entirely.  I understand that the times were different, but some things make me tilt my head and ask what I just watched.

Kirk, McCoy and Scotty seem to be having a good time on shore leave.  They’re watching women do some sort of belly dance.  Scotty leaves with Kara, one of the dancers.  While Kirk and McCoy are walking around the town, they hear a scream.  Scotty is found standing over hear dead body, weapon in hand.

We’ve all seen enough Matlock and Murder She Wrote to know Scotty didn’t do it.  The authorities detain him anyway.  So, it’s up to Kirk and McCoy to prove him innocent, which is no easy task.  They even have someone beam down to run a test on Scotty.  Of course, Scotty is sent to a room with her where she can mysteriously wind up dead.

So, another young lady is brought in to interrogate Scotty.  You might think that she would wind up sequestered in a room with Scotty and wind up dead.  You’d be wrong.  This time, the lights go out, but there are other people in the room when she dies.

This is where it goes off the rails.  It wasn’t Scotty, after all.  It was some sort of malevolent force that was once known on Earth as Jack the Ripper.  This force has been inhabiting men for the purpose of killing women.  And all this time Kirk and McCoy thought Scotty had a problem with women.

I wish I was kidding on that one.  I’m not.  Apparently, a female engineer gave Scotty a bump on the head.  Now, he’s a full-blown misogynist.  It kind of makes you wonder what passed for progress back then.

While we’re on the subject, why leave Scotty alone with women?  If they’ve noticed the pattern, wouldn’t it make sense to assign a security guard to Scotty?  Even if he didn’t do it, it’s an awful coincidence.  (I know that it would ruin the surprise to have a security guard report back, but given the show’s track record with security officers, they have an easy out.)

On top of all this, the episode ends with the murder of an individual.  To get rid of the entity, they beam the person, with the entity inside, out into space.  No mention is made of the fact that they had to kill an innocent person.  There’s no debate or remorse or anything.  They just do it.

It’s really hard to think of this as a good episode.  It’s not particularly scary or tense by today’s standards.  I think that it would have been a totally different episode had it been written for one of the modern series.  Come to think of it, I don’t think any of the spin-offs ever reused the plot.  This is saying something, given that there were quite a number of recycled plots.  If you’re looking to watch all of the Star Trek episodes, this is one you’re just going to have to sit through.


Thursday, July 02, 2020

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 13 (Obsession)

I’ve come to realize that Star Trek had a lot of contrivances that the subsequent series didn’t have.  For instance, The Enterprise encountered a lot of one-of-a-kind creatures.  There were also a lot of emergencies that could have easily been handled by some other means.  Add to this reused plot devices and you have an episode of Star Trek.

In Obsession, The Enterprise is due to pick up some perishable medical supplies from the USS Yorktown.  For some reason, they’re doing a planetary survey first.  On that planet is a gaseous life form that can drain a person of hemoglobin.  Kirk recognizes this as the same creature that killed half the crew of the USS Farragut, Kirk’s first assignment out of Starfleet Academy.  Kirk is determined to kill the thing before it manages to spawn thousands more like itself.

Ok, so how do they know that there’s one of this thing?  If it goes back to its home planet to reproduce, it’s conceivable that there are thousands or even millions of these cloud creatures draining the hemoglobin out of unsuspecting people.  For that matter, how does it survive like that?  There are plenty of life forms that don’t have iron-based blood.  The Enterprise’s first officer is one such life form.

So, Kirk puts off meeting with The Yorktown.  Why can’t the Yorktown deliver the supplies if it’s so important?  Why schedule two ships to meet up in the first place?  It’s to give Kirk a deadline.  That’s why.

The entire episode seems built around Kirk getting revenge.  You’d think at least one other Starfleet officer would have the same concerns.  Half of the crew of The Farragut survived.  Isn’t there someone Kirk could talk to who would understand?  I’d think Kirk would call one of the surviving crewmates or the relatives of the fallen crewmates to let them know what happened.  Even a passing comment in a later episode would have been nice.


Wednesday, July 01, 2020

La Jetée (1962)

It’s strange how many movies are based on something else.  The Shawshank Redemption, Scarface and Total Recall are all based on books.  There are all manner of remakes.  TV shows like Charlie’s Angels and Mission: Impossible are made into movie franchises.  That’s not even getting into comic books and graphic novels.  I suppose it’s true that there’s very little originality anymore.

One of the movies that surprised me was 12 Monkeys.  The film that spawned a TV series was based on a shorter film called La Jetée.  Both movies follow the same basic plot.  A man is sent back in time to help save humanity.

For those that have seen 12 Monkeys, La Jetée has a few notable differences.  The most obvious is that La Jetée is a story told through a series of still images.  The narration tells of a man who is repeatedly sent back in time to help save humanity.  He’s eventually sent to the future to make sure we turn out ok.  In the end, he finds out that everything was predetermined.  The event that made him the right candidate happened because he was the right candidate.

Normally, I don’t go for the whole predestination paradox.  It seems kind of simplistic to me.  I would make an exception in this case because the entire project goes for simplicity.  At 28 minutes, the movie doesn’t really bother with a lot of details.  The characters are simply given descriptive names.  (A woman from the future or The Experimenter, for instance.)  It’s not even entirely clear what exactly the experimenter hoped to do.  What was it about going to the past or the future that would have been gained?

I don’t think I would have even known about this movie had it not been for 12 Monkeys.  It’s like one of those overly artistic movies I remember from school.  Every so often, when we had a free day, we’d get one of those short videos with the boring narration and whatnot that was generic enough to get a G rating.  I think if you’ve never seen 12 Monkeys or are not a fan of science fiction, this will be on your must-miss list.


Sunday, June 28, 2020

Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)

I’ve often wondered if it’s wrong to go through IMDb’s Bottom 100 list.  With access to several streaming platforms, I could probably find a few of them.  I have already watched Birdemic: Shock and Terror through the magic of Amazon Prime.  Several other titles are available for me there.  I can watch plenty more through Netflix, either streaming or on DVD.  If I tried hard enough, I could probably find all of them.  The question is whether or not I should.  Do I really want to subject myself to that many horrible films?

Eh.  Why not?

Some, like Birdemic, are tried and true stinkers.  There are no redeeming qualities.  If some effort was put into the project, it wasn’t to make a movie.  Others, like Manos: The Hands of Fate, do seem to have been an honest attempt to make a film.  This isn’t to say it wasn’t a stinker.

The movie starts with Michael and Margret on vacation.  They’re driving through the countryside with their daughter, Debbie, looking for the Valley Lodge.  We see all sorts of nice scenery.  They get pulled over for a broken taillight, but aren’t given a ticket.

Instead of finding their hotel, they come across a mysterious house.  The only occupant is Torgo, a man with a funny walk.  It’s only stated that he serves as the groundskeeper.  We never find out why he walks that way.  Michael pleads with him to stay the night.  Torgo eventually relents, stating only that Master won’t like it.  There’s also a strange painting of Master and his evil-looking dog. 

What follows is an hour of bizarre events.  Mostly, it’s Michael and Margret arguing over whether or not they should stay, but there doesn’t seem to be any way out.  They can’t find their way back nor can they make their way onward.  Also, Torgo keeps looking in on Margret, mostly without her knowledge.  He’d like to keep her as his wife, saying that Master has enough wives.  He also makes some creepy advances towards her. 
Debbie escapes only to find the evil dog.  They stumble upon Master and his wives.

Master and the wives eventually wake up.  They chew out Torgo for letting the family stay and slap him around as punishment.  The Maser decides that Margret and Debbie will become his new wives while Michael must be killed.  While The Master goes out to deal with Michael, the wives debate as to whether or not Debbie should be a wife.  They can’t kill her, but she’s just a small child.  She has no business being anyone’s wife.  This eventually leads to the wives pushing each other around and whatnot.

Michael, Margret and Debbie run, but realize they can’t escape.  They go back to the house, thinking no one would look there, only to find The Master waiting for them.  We then cut to two women driving in the same area.  They happen upon the same house only to find that Michael is the new groundskeeper.  Margret and Debbie have become The Master’s new wives.

So, there’s very little about the movie that makes sense.  How, exactly, did the family come across the house?  The Master doesn’t seem to like visitors and the family very much wanted to be somewhere else, so there was no reason not to help them leave.  If it was that big of a deal, you would think that Torgo would be sure to know the local roads.  This would at least facilitate unwelcome guests leaving as quickly as possible.

From what I’ve read, the camera used could only shoot 32 seconds of film at a time, which would explain some of the limited shots.  Still, filmmakers have been able to work wonders with little or no resources.  This shouldn’t be a limiting factor.

There was always that one kid in class that could always hit it out of the park.  Maybe they’d write amazing stories or be able to draw really well.  Yes, I know it takes practice, but this film is full of things that make you wonder, like blurry shots that never should have made the final cut.

Some movies are made by incompetent people with lots of money.  Others are made by competent people with limited funds.  This movie comes across as very amateurish.  The dialogue is very basic.  The music is like something you’d find out of the dollar store.  It’s like something you and your friends might put together one weekend if you borrowed a movie camera from a friend’s parents.

It comes across as a half-baked idea.  The basic premise isn’t that bad.  Getting lost like that could make for a good horror movie.  But the move isn’t a good horror movie.  It just goes nowhere.  There’s even a kissing couple that seems to be used as filler.  I’m not even sure why it was included, as the movie would have been just as good without it.  And to think, this movie spawned two sequels.  At least I have a remake to look forward to.