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?

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

LEGO House - Home of the Brick (2018)

After having watched The Toys That Made Us, I noticed two different documentaries.  Each seemed to be an expansion of one of the show’s episodes.  The first one I watched was on the He-Man franchise.  The second was LEGO House.  My first impression was that it was about all things LEGO.  I soon realized that it was only about the museum.

The documentary specifically covers construction of the museum in Billund, Denmark. You might ask yourself, “Why Billund?”  That happens to be where the company was first founded 60 years ago.   Sure, a major city like New York or Tokyo might have attracted more visitors.  I don’t think of Billund as among the world’s major tourist destinations.

That’s where the documentary is probably going to attract people.  I don’t think I’m going to fly to Denmark just for the museum.  It at least gives you an idea of what it’s like.  In fact, it comes across more like the video version of a brochure.  There’s a very shiny feel to the transitions.  It hits a lot of the main features, like the cafeteria and the basement.  It shows how people interact with the different areas.

The movie does acknowledge adult fans of LEGO, or AFOL.  I wouldn’t think that most adults would feel comfortable there without bringing there kids, but there is a grown-up segment to the LEGO fandom.  Adult users of LEGO do seem like a largely misunderstood segment.  Mostly, it seems to be people who do larger builds.  The museum houses a few of the better ones.

I could see a lot of people watching a few minutes of this documentary and moving along.  It’s not going to be for everyone.  I think most people who never used LEGO will just shrug.  I’m not sure how many fans of LEGO will watch the documentary, as anyone who might be interested in the subject would probably be inclined to just go.  Basically, it’s the perfect documentary for streaming.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 18 (Brain Drain)

They say that the devil is in the details.  Part of having a good story is giving the right amount of the right kind of information.  Unfortunately, Friday the 13th: The Series didn’t do that.  Some episodes were better than others, but all we really know is that Uncle Lewis left an antiques shop to Micki and Ryan.  When they discover that many of the items are cursed, they enlist the help of Jack Marshak to retrieve them.

In Brain Drain, Harry goes from having an IQ of 58 to being a genius.  His secret is something called the Trephanator.  It pokes a hole in the back of the neck of both the user and a victim.  The camera shows a neat shot of some liquids flowing and suddenly the user has the intelligence of the victim.  Harry magically becomes Dr. Stewart Pangborn, who continues the work of his victim, Dr. Robeson.

It’s not really clear why he does this.  He could easily skip town.  Granted, the trephinator isn’t the kind of thing you throw in your trunk.  It’s this big contraption and we wouldn’t have much of a plot if Harry didn’t use it again.  Enter Dr. Viola Rhodes, former love interest of Jack Marshak.  Has any former love interest ever made it to the end of an episode?  Even if she lives, there’s no chance that she’s going to stick around.

As with many of the previous episodes, the trio of antique hunters is able to get the cursed item back to their shop where they can store it safely.  Intelligence for the user comes at a price.  The victim is reduced in intelligence greatly and eventually dies.  (Harry becomes the item’s final victim, as is tradition in this series.)

As I mentioned, not many details are given.  It’s an interesting premise, all right.  Who wouldn’t want to be smarter?  However, Dr. Robeson is working on perfecting AI by teaching a gorilla’s brain to speak.  He’ll then transfer the intelligence onto a chip or something.  It’s not really explained how this works.  I’d imagine that this is one of those things were an expert on AI was sitting at home watching the episode, sarcastically wondering why they didn’t think of that.   (“Oh, yeah.  Just hook a primate brain up to a chip.  Why not?”)

It’s kind of a shame that all of these gifts come at a high cost.  I understand that they’re cursed, but every victim seems to have to die.  It’s not enough that the victim winds up with the mental capacity of a two-year-old.  It’s also an all-or-nothing proposition.  Someone can’t transfer just a little.  It might have made for a better story if Harry took a little at a time and worked his way up.

I’d say that the series so far has had as many marginal episodes as it has had horrible ones.  I’m kind of hoping that it picks up.  I really don’t remember a lot of these episodes.  I’m not sure if my memory is bad or if I didn’t watch it that much while it was first on.  Either one should tell me something.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 17 (The Electrocutioner)

I sometimes wonder how some older movies and TV shows ever made it to market.  Were audiences less demanding?  Did studios and networks not actually watch what they were letting through?  Friday the 13th:  The Series had some good episodes, but there were a few that required you to suspend disbelief.   I think The Electrocutioner has to be the least plausible yet.

The episode starts in 1978.  Eli Pittman is being electrocuted for a crime he maintains he didn’t commit.  They throw the switch, but the chair doesn’t work.  Since they can’t electrocute the same man twice for the same crime, they let him go.  It eventually turns out that he really was innocent.

In 1988, Ryan Jack and Micki are hunting down cursed antiques that Lewis Vendredi sold to people.  Next up is, lo and behold, the electric chair.  It turns out that a doctor has come into possession of it.  That doctor happens to be Pittman, who has changed his name and now become a dentist.  Ten years have passed and Eli is just now getting around to exacting revenge on those that wronged him.

The chair is now cursed.  It can be used to vaporize a victim, who is then turned into electricity.  When Pittman sits in the chair, he can absorb that energy and go out to electrocute someone, such as the warden of the prison he was held at.   Where does he get the victims?  He happens to be the in-house dentist at a reform school.  Many of the students are runaways to begin with, so it’s likely no one will go looking for them.

This seems to me the oddest way of getting revenge.  It might be more difficult to trick someone into the chair, but I would think it’s better than killing some innocent teenager.  One of the teens even admits to liking the dentist, which gives Pittman a reason to pause momentarily.

It also means having to kill twice the people, half of whom had nothing to do with Pittman’s imprisonment and electrocution.  Yes, a man who didn’t kill anyone now kills twice as much as he needs to.  I would think it would have been more efficient to buy a gun.  For that matter, you’d think Pittman would sue the pants off the state and everyone involved.  He probably could have gotten a nice pile of cash.

I also had to wonder why a reform school would have an in-house dentist in the first place.  I don’t know how many children they could have there that it would be worth the effort.  Even if we assume a relatively high turnover rate, it would probably have been simpler to use a nearby dentist.  If they’re going to have a medical staff, I would think psychiatrists.  This seems mostly like lazy writing.  I think they just needed a way to have a large supply of victims that no one would report missing.

Interestingly, they did seem to do some research.  When Pittman tries to electrocute two of the trio in their car, the current doesn’t affect them.  I was under the impression that the rubber tires would prevent something like this, but that’s not necessarily true.  If you’re trapped in a car during a lightening storm, the correct behavior is similar to what is shown in the episode.

This is an episode that I think was supposed to be serious, yet ended up being more laughable.  If you’re watching it, you could probably skip this one.  If it was airing on TV, I wouldn’t feel bad if you were doing something else when it came on.