Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President (2017)

I’m always looking for that one tag that will get a lot of hits.  It seems that while Donald Trump may not get me the most, I do usually garner at least one comment.  (If Trump appears in the motion picture, that comment is less than flattering.)  Meet the Trumps is about Donald Trump, as well as his father and grandfather.  I suppose that the comment section should get interesting.

We start with Friedrich Trump, who started out in Bavaria.  He did all manner of things in America, including running a brothel and selling hamburgers made from horse meat.   When he came to America, he did so without the permission of the government, nor had he completed his military service.  That meant that he couldn’t get his citizenship back.

He married in America and had Fred Trump, who took to real estate.  His big thing seemed to be getting ever last penny out of his property.  When it came to Eisenhower’s plan to build housing for troops, Fred Trump seemingly overbilled.  (When caught, he claimed that the money was resting in his account, so I think it was more than a simple markup.)

When it came time to pass the business on to Fred Trump, Jr., it became apparent that Freddie wasn’t cut out for the ruthlessness that was expected of him  I mean, he actually thought that upgrading windows was a good idea.  Who improves their properties?  Thus, the business was passed along to Donald Trump, future president of the United States of America.

This appears to be an episode of a TV show called The Passionate Eye.  It’s not particularly hard hitting.  There are no big revelations  It seems to give more of an overview of the life of the three Trumps.  There wasn’t much that really surprised me.  I didn’t know anything about the grandfather, but it doesn’t really surprise me that he wasn’t let back into Bavaria.  (I am curious about his business selling horse burgers.  Did any of the customers know where the meat came from?)

This is one of those things where fans of Trump will decry it as fake news.  Those that don’t like him will probably know much of the stuff.  It seems to show a lack of empathy running back several generations.  Take Trump’s father making money off of a government project.  Yes, that is how business is run.  It seemed to me that he was profiteering.  If you’re building for troops, it’s not the kind of thing you make excessive profit on.  It should probably be viewed as steady work rather than a cash cow.

You could probably get several documentaries out of this.  The grandfather is probably interesting enough to get his own.  There are enough housing scandals that you could probably get a short documentary on each.  This is about what I would expect from an episodic documentary.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Madame Tutli-Putli (2007)

There’s a certain amount of symbolism that most people can handle.  Sometimes, you get it right away.  Other times, it may take a week or two.  Then, there are some things that, even when explained, don’t really make sense.  Madame Tutli-Putli tends towards that last group.

The movie starts with a woman waiting to board a train.  She has a lot of luggage, which the train is apparently willing to take.  She’s stuck with an oddball group of people, including an offensive man who seems interested in her.  The lady tries to ignore the others, hoping ot be left alone.  While they’re asleep, someone comes into the compartment and takes the internal organs of one of her fellow travelers.  She escapes from the room, but has difficulty running away.

The running time is only 17 minutes and was included on a DVD of 2007 Oscar-nominated short films.  I’m still not entirely certain what to make of it.  I did try to look up explanations of what it means and there are a few that at least make sense.

It’s made a little more confusing by the fact that it starts out somewhat normal.  It looks like it could be on any train anywhere.  There’s no dialogue to give any hint of what’s going on.  We never learn why Madame Tutli-Putli has all that luggage.  Is she moving?  Is it to symbolize emotional baggage?  Maybe she’s smuggling luggage.  I’ll never know.

From a technical standpoint, it’s a great short.  The stop motion seems flawless.  My one complaint is the eyes, which were actually filmed and superimposed on the figures.  It looks kind of creepy.  Imagine having a doll with realistic eyes.  It does give a high level of expressiveness, but I think it would freak out most people.

This short is not going to be for most people.  I think if you were confused by the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, you’re probably going to be confused by this one.  It’s not for anyone who likes a simple, straightforward plot.  I don’t know if it was meant to be obscure, but it does come off that way.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Eames: The Architect & The Painter (2011)

As a child, I became fascinated with a short film called Powers of Ten.  It started in Chicago and zoomed out to show 10^24th meters.  The trip then reversed, going down to show a single proton in a man’s hand at 10^-16th meters.  (The full title was Powers of Ten: A Film Dealing with the Relative Size of Things in the Universe and the Effect of Adding Another Zero.)  I began watching some of their other shorts, many of which are available through YouTube or The Eames Office.  I had wanted to know more about the people behind the film, mostly because they aren’t known by most people as directors.  Whenever I tell people who made my favorite short, they always ask, “The ones who did the chair?”

Enter Eames: The Architect and the Painter.  Charles and Ray Eames were a husband-and-wife team known for making chairs.  He was trained as an architect and she started out painting.  Thus, Charles Eames was good with form and Ray Eames was known for adding color.  The first part of the documentary deals with the furniture, however there were other aspects to their career.  They did design a house, usually referred to as the Eames House.  (It’s also known as Case Study House No. 8.)  The documentary also covers films that they did for various clients, including Powers of Ten.

From the documentary, it would seem that they were very dedicated to their work.  One example is given of Charles Eames eating the cost of project overruns.  He was also the kind of person that would seal a deal with a handshake.  Ray Eames seemed to stay more in the background.  I’m not sure if that was a product of the era, wherein women weren’t necessarily at the forefront.  It didn’t seem to sit well with her, but it doesn’t seem like there was much she could do about it.

It’s pointed out that Charles and Ray Eames were often assumed to be brothers.  It was a mistake I made when I first heard the names.  (She was born Ray-Bernice Alexandra Kaiser.)  I think someone of my age is going to look at something like that differently.  I grew up after the sexual revolution, so it’s a little more alien to me to see a woman not step up to take credit for something.  (I’ve occasionally asked my mother how accurate Mad Men was in depicting the office dynamic.)

I was able to get the documentary on DVD from Netflix.  My parents now have the disc and plan to watch it soon.  It would be interesting to talk about the documentary with someone, as I don’t really have much of a concept of the couple outside of their short films.  I was also born in 1976, so much of what they produced came out before I was born.  This puts a slightly different spin on how I saw the documentary.  Much of it is history to me.

I would think most art students would probably be aware of this documentary.  It’s worth watching for anyone.  Given how much they produced, I think most people won’t be aware of it all.  I could see a lot of people being surprised.  I can see a lot of people knowing them either for the furniture or the movies, but not both.  Even if you were aware of a particular film, you might not know that the Eameses were behind it.  If you have Netflix, put this in your queue.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Même les pigeons vont au paradis/Even Pigeons Go to Heaven (2007)

I’m always looking for stuff to stream on Netflix.  Sometimes, watching something interesting means renting the DVD.  When I saw The 2007 Academy Award Nominated Short Films, I decided to give it a shot.  I hadn’t heard of any of the films, but it meant getting several of them.  And the were all contenders for the Academy Award in 2007.  How could I go wrong?

The first film I watched was this one, Even Pigeons Go to Heaven.  (Or Même les pigeons vont au paradis, if you prefer.)  The short is about an old man, Mr. Moulin, who is about to have a very serious accident.  It starts with a priest, called simply Le curé, racing to get to Mr. Moulin in time.

He does, saving the man before he hits the ground.  The priest takes the opportunity to offer Mr. Moulin the XV-750.  It’s a spherical object that takes the occupant to heaven.  Given Moulin’s list of sins, his life savings would be a small price to pay.

The animation is CGI, but has the look of wooden puppets.  The action is pretty quick, but works.  I don’t think this would have worked as a feature-length film.  The lack of extraneous details makes for a fairly efficient story.  You get the message without a lot of exposition.  You’re given just enough detail about the characters to know what’s going on.

On the one hand, it does look like an indictment of organized religion.  The priest is trying to take Moulin’s money for the promise of eternal life.  The priest has a long list of Moulin’s minor sins.  And Moulin can’t take it with him.  (Then again, neither can the priest.)  It becomes obvious that the priest is just after the money.

On the other hand, it’s also an interesting story.  It’s maybe not a great bedtime story for children, but I think most adults can enjoy it.  There’s a clear protagonist and antagonist.  It’s also possible to read a few things into it.  I could see this being shown in a class to start discussion.  If you have the ability to see this movie, either through Netflix, the library or some other means, I’d suggest doing so.  It’s only nine minutes and very entertaining.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 16 (The Galileo Seven)

Some plots are seamless.  If there are plot holes, you don’t easily notice them.   Other stories are a little more difficult to believe.  You start asking questions that have no apparent answer.  If you were on your way to deliver medical supplies, wouldn’t that be your priority?

The Enterprise is delivering supplies to a colony that has an immediate need for them.  The Enterprise also has standing orders to investigate all quasars and quasar-like phenomena.  So, when the Enterprise passes near such a phenomenon, Kirk orders the ship to investigate.  This irks Galactic High Commissioner Ferris, but Kirk is the captain and they do have two days to spare.  (It will take them three days to meet a ship that will get there in five.)

So, Kirk sends out a shuttlecraft into a dangerous situation.  The shuttlecraft is promptly thrown off course and makes an emergency landing on a planet.  Sensors don’t work, meaning it won’t be easy to find the seven missing people.  Ferris reminds Kirk that they have to get those supplies to the rendezvous point.  Kirk reminds Ferris that they have two days.

Here’s the thing:  Why send out a shuttlecraft knowing the conditions?  Wouldn’t a probe have sufficed?  It shows extremely poor judgment to send out seven crewmembers when they have someplace important to be.  Ferris might be a bit of a jerk in insisting that they continue to their destination, but he’s right.  If you were one of the people that needed those supplies, would you want to hear that the ship stopped to do scientific research?

On that note, why do they even have two days?  It doesn’t seem like the best plan to have the Enterprise sit around for two days waiting for another ship.  You’d think someone would have picked a better meeting place.  Again, I don’t think I’d want to find out that the ship was sitting around if I needed something that they were carrying.

The episode gives Spock a chance to be in command, which is a whole other can of worms.  I would think that you would have to have some training to be first officer.  However, Spock is out of his element.  He tries to do everything logically and fails.  When defending against giants, he uses the phasers to scare them off thinking that the native inhabitants will act logically.  Spock has pointed out time and again how few races act logically.  An emotional response should come as no surprise.

As for the other crewmembers, this does come as a surprise.  Yes, humans are illogical, but the other six people are Starfleet officers.  They show a high level of insubordination towards the officer in charge.  I can understand the  reaction when two of the officers die, but Spock does have the advantage of being correct.  He is in charge and is responsible for their safety.  Spock is the one that will have to explain everything when they get back and will ultimately face the consequences.  This is how a military chain of command works.

The entire episode seems contrived.  It’s putting Spock in a difficult situation made worse by the scheduling.  It comes across as artificial.  It might have made more sense if the problem arose after the shuttlecraft was lost.  It wasn’t.  It’s a mess created by people that should have known better.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 15 (Shore Leave)

There are certain things that I never noticed about Star Trek when I was growing up.  Mostly, it’s the implausibility of a lot of the episodes.  They had great stories, but would usually break down upon further inspection.  Take Shore Leave.  The crew of the Enterprise finds a planet that seems uninhabited.  After beaming down, strange things start happening.  McCoy sees a white rabbit chased by a young girl.  Sulu is attacked by a samurai.  Not bad for an uninhabited planet

It turns out that the planet is maintained by an alien race, who were underground.  The place is used as a sort of amusement park, only no one bothered to tell the people on the Enterprise.  This was actually the first question I had.  Many of the things that people imagined turned out to be dangerous, like a tiger or a warplane.  Granted, warning signs might ruin the illusion.  However, you’d think there would at least be an automated hail explaining what’s going on.

If a race is powerful enough to read minds and produce what people are thinking of, they have some responsibility to others that visit the planet.  There is an actual caretaker on the planet, and I don’t buy his claim that he didn’t know that the crew didn’t understand.  If the caretaker can read thoughts mechanically, he can also tell that the visitors aren’t members of his race.

It also seems to take a while for the landing party to figure out what’s going on.  No one realizes that what they think is what they get.  Sure, finding a gun is a little implausible, but Kirk should have had a stronger reaction to meeting two people that he knew fifteen years ago.  Add to this that McCoy is seemingly killed and dragged off.   This should be the surest sign that their scanners missed something.

The episode is fun, but it’s hard to take the danger seriously.  We know that everything is going to be ok in the end.  I think this may be the strangest, most trippy episode so far.  It does look like something out of the 1960s.  I have to wonder how it would have looked if it was remade as a Next Generation episode.  Would it have been more straight laced? I do see elements of it in episodes from the spin-off series, but a straight-up remake is hard to imagine.

On that note, the planet isn’t ever mentioned again.  The Next Generation had Risa.  I’m curious if anyone ever came back to the planet.  I could see the caretaker having an issue with too many Starfleet people visiting the planet.  It would make for a great way of exploring overuse.  Alas, it seems to be another aspect that will be never be visited again.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Lost Room (2006)

Way back in 2006, a miniseries aired on what was then The Sci-Fi Channel.  It was called The Lost Room and was about an event, called The Event, that separated the titular room (and its contents) from reality.  Detective Joe Miller comes into possession of the room’s key, allowing him entry through any door that has a normal pin-and-tumbler lock.  When exiting the room, Joe finds that he can go anywhere he wants, provided he exits through a hinged door.  (If no location is selected, the room exits to a random door.)

The main action of the miniseries deals with Joe trying to get his daughter back out of the room.  Anna enters the room without the key.  When the door closes, the room resets with her in it.  Joe has to find a way to get her back out.  He has no proof that she’s still alive, but he has to make the effort.

Joe finds that there are at least 100 every-day objects that were part of The Event.  Each was given a special power when it’s taken out of the room.  A comb allows the user to freeze time for a few seconds.  A pencil creates a penny each time it’s tapped.  (There’s a pair of cufflinks that lowers blood pressure, although it’s admitted that it may be a placebo effect.)  All of the objects are indestructible outside of the room, allowing Joe to use an overcoat as a bullet-proof vest.

Different groups have different theories on what actually happened at 1:20:44 p.m. on May 4, 1961.  Some say God died.  Others say that physics broke down momentarily.  It’s not known what would happen if all of the objects were brought back into the room.  I’m assuming that they were all there at some point in the past.  They also lose their powers inside the room.

The miniseries was intended to be a back-door pilot.  The ending does allow the miniseries to stand on its own, but I would have loved to see it picked up.  The Lost Room got among the lowest ratings for a miniseries on Sci-Fi up to that point, so that wasn’t going to happen.  I also realize that it’s been 12 years, so I’m not holding my breath for The Lost Room:  The Next Generation.

This isn’t necessarily a crazy idea, though.  According to an interview, the intent was to have a new protagonist every so often, as the story was really centered on The Key.  It is conceivable that a new miniseries could be attempted with a new cast of characters.  I remember wanting so badly to find out what happened when the room filled up.  It was also great knowing that many of the objects either had no known use yet or had rather useless functions, like hard-boiling an egg.  (I’d love to get my hands on that pencil, if not The Key.)

I’m surprised that the miniseries didn’t do that well.  Friday the 13th: The Series had a similar premise and ran for three seasons.  Warehouse 13 also had a team that recovered wacky items and also ran for several seasons.  I’m not sure why those two had longer runs than The Lost Room.  (Maybe the trick is having a number in your title.)

At least the miniseries was released on DVD, which I was able to get through Netflix recently.  The Lost Room aired over three nights with a two-hour episode shown each night.  On the DVD, it’s broken up into six hour-long parts:  The Key, The Clock, The Comb, The Box, The Eye and The Prime Object.  Sci-Fi aired the first two hours as The Key and The Clock, which is how it’s listed on IMDb.  This is why the episodes alternate between having just opening credits and just closing credits.

I’d be careful about renting the miniseries.  This is one of those programs that if you fall in love with it, you’ll want more.  Like may other great one-season shows, The Lost Room has its followers and the followers want more.  I would love to see at least another miniseries.  Isn’t 12 years long enough?