Thursday, June 21, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 2 (Charlie X)

I never really considered how many omnipotent or extremely powerful adversaries the Enterprise faced over the years.  In the original pilot, Christopher Pike faced a race that could put any image in his mind.  The he and the ship managed to get away because the race in question realized that humans weren’t worth the effort.

The second episode of the first season had the Enterprise, this time under James Kirk’s command, transporting Charles Evans to a Federation colony.  At first, he seems like any normal 17-year-old male human.  He somehow survived on a planet called Thasus, alone since the age of three.  It’s highly improbable, given that the planet had no humanoid life and that the food rations should have run out in about a year.  However, he seemed to do just fine.  He’s well nourished and is able to easily communicate with the crew.

Most of his problems seem to be interacting with the crew.  He becomes infatuated with Yeoman Janice Rand, which is understandable.  What bothers her is that Charlie has no impulse control.  He’s aggressive towards her and he doesn’t like having to compete for her attention.  It isn’t until someone laughs at him that the extent of his powers become evident.  Charlie can make people and objects disappear.  He can injure someone with little effort and heal them just as easily.

There are legends of a Thasian race, but all that is known is speculation.  It would seem to be the only viable theory, which is confirmed at the end of the episode when the Thasians come to take Charlie back to their planet.  They know that he’ll either destroy any world he’s on or be killed in self defense.  The only way out is for the Thasians to take care of him.

It’s a decent episode, but it never really sat well with me.  Part of it is the crew having to deal with an all-powerful teenager.  As with any antagonist with that kind of power, how does a mortal crew stop him?  It would be extremely difficult at best to integrate Charlie into society and would take so long that he’d pose a real danger to anyone making the attempt.  The resolution here is basically deus ex machina.  The crew can’t contain or kill Charlie, so the gods who created him have to resolve the issue for them.

I do wonder, though, if the Thasians could at least make the attempt.  They can’t take Charlie’s powers away, but they could have at least been a guiding force over the years.  I suppose they would have had no expectation that anyone would be along to find him, but they seem to have made no attempt at all.

I’d say the episode had potential, but it’s kind of difficult to say how to improve it.  It’s difficult to build tension when the power imbalance is so great.  The crew has to live in fear of Charlie, who would eventually kill anyone who he comes in contact with.  It’s not easy to make something like that believable.  Charlie is tempered only by his inexperience.

As if one omnipotent being weren’t enough, the very next episode is the second pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before.  We end up with not one, but two humans that develop god-like powers.  Fortunately, most of the rest of the series wouldn’t be dealing with this kind of plot.  It’s a good thing, too.  I’d hate to think that the galaxy is filled with all-powerful creatures.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Tag (2018)

When I saw the coming attractions for Tag, I knew it would go one of two ways.  It might very well be a buddy comedy where the main characters bond and learn about themselves, all while having a good time.  If not, it would probably be a series of lame jokes held together by a weak plot.  Unfortunately, it tended towards the second one.

The movie starts with Hogan 'Hoagie' Malloy applying to be a janitor, despite being a veterinarian.  It seems strange, but the company really needs the position filled.  Thus, Hogan gets the job.  He only does this to get close to his friend, Bob Callahan, so that Hogan might tag Bob.  You see, it’s May and every May, the five friends get together for the eponymous game of tag.

Hogan wants Bob to leave immediately, despite being in the middle of an interview with a Wall Street Journal reporter, Rebecca Crosby.  Bob finally relents.  Rather than reschedule the interview, Rebecca decides to come along.  Next to be brought into the game is Randy 'Chilli' Cilliano, who is a bit of a stoner.  After that comes Kevin Sable, who’s right in the middle of a therapy session.  They all head back to where they grew up.  The last member of the group lives there.

Jerry has never been tagged.  Never.  Even if you corner him, he finds some impossible way out.  Hogan has told Bob, Randy and Kevin that Jerry will be retiring from the game at the end of the month.  This is their last chance to make him It.  The game is on.

The only complication is that Jerry is getting married to Susan.  The guys are a little hurt that they weren’t invited, but Susan had to have a May wedding and didn’t want the game interfering with that.  There’s also the added pressure of her being pregnant.  The guys agree not to interfere with anything wedding related, which only serves as a plot point.

During the rehearsal dinner, Hogan, Bob, Kevin and Randy make plants to block the exits to the building.  That goes awry when Bob is distracted by a former crush.  This leads to an elaborate chase in the woods that leaves the other three in varying degrees of pain.

There is a message of friendship in the movie, but it gets buried beneath the physical humor.  It isn’t until the latter part of the movie that they have any serious discussion about drifting apart over the years.  Many of the scenes show just how far the group will go for the game and how nothing is sacred.  For instance, Jerry is in AA.  The other four friends think nothing of infiltrating the meeting to tag Jerry.  Jerry eventually locks himself in a room, where he waits for Susan to come and bail him out.  In this scene, she seems to have a miscarriage.  She and Jerry leave, both angry at the others.

That one scene tells me a lot about the movie.  I’m not saying that a movie should shy way from AA or miscarriages.  Instead, either topic should be handled with a certain level of respect.  Both are going to be sensitive topics for those affected by it.  The movie uses both as a way to show how serious the characters are about game.  I felt it was the one scene where the movie stumbled.

I think this is going to be a hit-or-miss movie for a lot of people.  The good thing is that the trailer is representative of the movie.  There were a few things I didn’t expect, but I have to say that I wasn‘t really surprised by anything.  If not for MoviePass, I would not have seen this movie in the theaters.  I probably wouldn’t have even rented it on DVD.  I think I would have waited for it to become available streaming if I saw it at all.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 1 (The Man Trap)

WARNING:  I’m going to give away details, including the ending.


When Gene Roddenberry first made a pilot for Star Trek, it was rejected as being too cerebral.  When he made a second pilot, the series was picked up.  However, NBC chose not to air Where No Man Has Gone Before first.  Instead, the second pilot aired as the third episode.  The first aired episode was The Man Trap, having aired on September 8th, 1966.  Thus, the first few episodes produced were aired out of order.  (For the sake of simplicity, I’ll be going with the order in which they aired.)

The episode has the crew of the Enterprise checking in on Professor Robert Crater and his wife, Nancy.  What’s interesting is that Nancy once dated the ship’s chief medical officer, Dr. Leonard McCoy.  When Kirk and McCoy beam down with Crewman Darnell, each see her differently.  Kirk sees her as she should be: a woman about the same age as McCoy.  McCoy sees her as he once knew her.  As for Darnell, he could swear he met her on a pleasure planet.  He sees a beautiful woman who differs in appearance from either Kirk or McCoy’s version.

At any rate, McCoy conducts his evaluation while Kirk and the professor talk a little.  Darnell manages to wander off to look around the ruins that Professor Crater is studying.  When Nancy finds Darnell, he’s dead.  She claims that it’s from eating a poisonous plant, but Kirk and McCoy aren’t buying it.  The poisonous properties of the plant wouldn’t explain the red circles on his face.  Oh, and both Mr. and Mrs. Crater insist on salt tablets.  Something seems a little off.

Back on the Enterprise, McCoy discovers that Darnell’s body is missing salt.  He and Kirk can’t imagine how someone could miss something so basic.  Besides, what does it mean?  Why is he lacking the one thing that the Craters were asking for.  (What I want to know is what Darnell was doing on the planet in the first place.  He was a science officer.  There’s a reason newly deceased crewmembers wear red.)

Well, it turns out that Nancy has a secret:  She’s not Nancy.  She’s actually a salt vampire that Robert was hiding.  She’s the last of her kind.  It’s not clear how they were killed.  I would assume from lack of food, although the planet seems like it’s been dead for a while.  I’m not sure how long the extinction took.  It’s also not mentioned what Robert was doing with the salt vampire for the years they were living together.   (I suppose some things are better left to the imagination.)

The mission of the Enterprise was to seek out new life and in the first episode to air, the first new form of life we see is killed by Dr. McCoy.  Granted, the salt vampire was a threat, although it was more from being desperate to survive than from wanting to do harm.  As I said, we’re not given an exact timeline of how the species died off.  We don’t know if the one impersonating Nancy was there alone for months or decades.  There is a certain shame in not being able to learn more about it.

One issue I had with the original series was a lack of continuity.  You could almost watch the series out of order and not be confused much.  In some respects, this is good.  With this episode, you don’t lose much by not having much of a history to work with.  You get all the basic ideas.  McCoy has to meet the one that got away.  The Federation and Starfleet tend towards exploration and research rather than battle.  Sometimes, tough decisions have to be made.  It’s not desirable to kill the last of a species, but it was necessary.  This was a new show, and one that would become iconic.  Some things can be forgiven.



Monday, June 18, 2018

Coco (2017)

Life’s not easy for Miguel.  He desperately wants to play music, but happens to be born into a family that despises the profession.  It all goes back to Miguel’s great-great-grandmother, Imelda.  She was abandoned by her husband, who wanted to go out into the world and entertain people.  She turned to making shoes to raise her daughter, Coco.  It was a profession passed down through the generations, meaning that Miguel does have a career waiting for him.  It’s just not the one that he would have chosen for himself.

The Day of the Dead is coming up, meaning that his family is preparing an ofrenda with pictures of deceased relatives.  At the very top sit’s a photo of Imelda, Coco and the great-great-grandfather.  (Being that the great-great-grandfather is persona non grata, his face is missing.)  When Miguel breaks the frame, he comes to realize that the man in the photo is dressed like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz.  He’s even holding Ernesto’s iconic guitar, which Miguel plans on stealing so that he might play in a talent contest.

The catch is that Miguel becomes invisible once he has the guitar.  He is seen by the dead, who have come over from the Land of the Dead.  Miguel is escorted over to the Land of the Dead, where he meets his deceased relatives, including Imelda.  The only way he can get back is with the blessing of a family member, which they are happy to give him, provided that he never play music again.  This sets off an adventure for the 12-year-old boy, who is set on meeting Ernesto, believing him to be the only family member that would give an unconditional blessing., as the rest of his family is kept in line by Imelda.

For those familiar with Pixar movies, I don’t know that there are going to be a lot of surprises.  Ernesto is a hero to Miguel and to a lot of other people.  It soon becomes clear that Ernesto has a past that he wants to keep hidden.  (Sometimes, heroes make the best villains.)  Then, there’s Héctor.  He offers to help Miguel if Miguel can take a picture back to the Land of the Living.  Héctor has only a daughter to remember him.  In the Land of the Dead, beign forgotten leads to a second, possibly real death.  Héctor would seem to have more to offer than would meet the eye.

There’s also the time limit set by having to return by sunrise.  If Miguel can’t do this, he’s stuck in the Land of the Dead.  It’s somewhat cliché to have it run down to the buzzer, yes.  But I’m not sure it would have been as much fun if Miguel had made it back with time to spare.

You might think that death and the afterlife wouldn’t be good for children.  The dead are portrayed as dressed skeletons, with the most obvious skeletal feature usually being the skull.  There are scenes with the skeletons coming apart and reforming, so this may be a judgment call for parents of younger children.  However, I don’t think it was meant to be scary.  Most of it comes off as being silly.

I hate to say that a studio’s output is safe, but I do think audiences can expect a certain level of quality from Pixar.  The movie is rated PG, but I would imagine a lot of this deals with the depictions of the afterlife.  (The only really gruesome death is when Ernesto is killed by a falling bell.)  I would think that children and adults alike could enjoy the movie.  The story of a boy trapped by familial expectation is one everyone can understand.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

My brother left me a bunch of movies on DVDs.  These weren’t great movies, mind you.  They were those 50-movie packs filled with all sorts of public-domain movies.  That’s why it surprised me to find The Little Shop of Horrors among the titles.  My mind immediately went to the version staring Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene.  No.  This one predates that version by 26 years.  This one was directed by none other than Roger Corman.

If you’ve seen the 1986 remake, you won’t be surprised much by the plot of the 1960 original.  Seymour Krelborn is a klutz, so much so that he gets fired for ruining an arrangement.  He is able to redeem himself by bring in an unusual plant.   Gravis Mushnick, who owns the show, agrees to tie Seymour’s fate to the plant’s.  If Audrey, Jr., can bring in customers, Seymour can stay.  (The plant is named for Seymour’s coworker, Audrey Fulquard.)

The plant becomes a local celebrity.  Seymour finds that this comes at a cost, though.  Audrey, Jr., needs blood to grow.  The bigger the plant gets, the more blood it needs.  This leads Seymour (and Mushnik) down a slippery slope, as the missing victims attract the attention of the police.  Seymour eventually becomes a victim of his own success, quite literally.  The movie ends with Seymour being eaten by the plant, which eventually dies.

As with other public-domain movies, you’re probably going to find this movie readily available.  (YouTube seems to have several different versions available.)   I don’t imagine that too many will have great sound or video quality.  Many are packaged with profit in mind.  In fact, Roger Corman was known for knocking out a lot of movies, presumably for the same reason.  IMDb has him listed as producer for 415 titles and director for 56.  This is an example of what happens when you favor quantity over quality.

The movie was made in under two days for about $28,000.  A lot of this shows.  Charles B. Griffith, who wrote the script, filled in for the voice of Audrey, Jr., during shooting.  According to IMDb, Corman decided to keep his voice in the final print.  Part of this was because Griffith did a pretty decent job.  Not having to spend the money also factored in to the decision.

The movie is on par with other b-movies that I’ve seen.  It’s not going to be great, but it will probably be watchable, even if just once, by most people.  For me, a lot of that had to do with having seen the 1986 version.  I kind of wanted to see how it played out.  It’s also interesting to note that Jack Nicholson appears as the masochistic dental patient, so there was that.

If you have to decide between renting the two movies, I’d say watch the 1986 version.  The humor in this one is very different and seems to be more a product of its time.  I did feel like a lot of the humor was going over my head.  The two police officers, for instance, ask for just the facts.  It would seem to be a play on Dragnet, but I wasn’t necessarily prompted to laugh at it.  It seems like there‘s a lot I don‘t understand about the movie.

Aside from the print quality, the only thing of concern would be the plant eating people.  This is shown on screen.  There’s no blood, but it’s pretty clear what’s going on.   (It’s the kind of thing that maybe impressionable children might have a problem with.  I don’t imagine too many adults having a problem with it.)  I’d really only recommend watching this version if you can get it streaming for free.  I’m not entirely sure it would be worth the price of one of those 50-movie sets.



Saturday, June 16, 2018

Gotti (2018)

I don’t know for certain that having a lot of executive producers is a sign that the movie will be bad, but it’ can’t be good.  Consider Gotti, which has 30 names listed on IMDb:  Noel Ashman, Barry Brooker, Peter Capozzi, Fay Devlin, Maurice Fadida, Linda Favila, Thomas Fiore, Ted Fox, Arianne Fraser, Phillip Glasser, Wayne Marc Godfrey, Norton Herrick, Marty Ingels, Anthony Jabre, Robert Jones, Corey Large, Rob Logozio, Randi Michel, Keya Morgan, Vance Owen, Delphine Perrier, Rick Salomon, Steven Saxton, Kirk Shaw, Mark Stewart, Dt Thomas, John Travolta and Stan Wertlieb.  These aren’t associate producers or line producers.  These names are all listed as executive producer.

As you might imagine, Gotti is a movie about John Gotti, the famous crime boss.  It’s framed by John Gotti talking with his son, John Gotti, Jr., about a possible plea deal the son is considering taking.  Senior recounts his life story as a way of informing Junior’s decision.  Yes, it shows him as a crime boss, but it also shows his family life.  I didn’t really get the impression that it played up either aspect that well.  If anything, it portrays John Gotti, Sr., as a horrible storyteller.

The movie is fairly disjointed.  We have two or three scenes about any given aspect of his life.  When his son is hit by a car, there’s a (barely) suspenseful scene of a car approaching the child on a motorize bicycle where we all know what’s coming.  The son is buried.  Gotti tells everyone they’re going to Florida for a while.  Then, Gotti tells his wife that it’s time to move on.  That’s pretty much the end of that.

Because of this, you don’t really get the chance to connect with the characters.  After leaving the movie, I commented that it was like watching a two-hour coming attraction.  There’s no real tension.  I never felt as if I should like or hate anyone.  When one character, Angelo Ruggiero, was kicked out, I didn’t even feel any emotion about it.  This was a major character and that was the end of his part.

I don’t often talk about acting in my reviews.  I feel that if the actors are working best, their acting should go unnoticed.  You shouldn’t even think about acting.  In this case, I felt that John Travolta stuck out like a sore thumb here.  He was way to hammy for a production that was trying to take itself this seriously.  I never really noticed it until now, but it seems that Travolta has been channeling his character from Welcome Back, Kotter in most of his films.  If his character isn’t a grown version of Vinnie Barbarino, it’s at least someone that could be related to him.  His portrayal of Gotti could best be described as Vinnie with anger issues.

I really feel bad for MoviePass.  MoviePass Ventures, a subsidiary of MoviePass, acquired part of the ownership of the movie in hopes of having some sort of revenue stream.  Oh, man.  Did they pick a stinker.  This is not a movie that I can recommend.  My parents and I used MoviePass to see this movie and it was still overpriced.  If I had fallen asleep ten minutes it, I would have considered it a blessing.  I’d watch something else if you’re given a choice.


Friday, June 15, 2018

La guerra dei robot/War of the Robots (1978)

Certain things can be forgiven if a movie is at least entertaining.  I can overlook one or two factual mistakes.  Anachronisms can usually be let go.  Sometimes, a movie is so bad that the only entertainment value is in seeing how bad it is.  Take War of the Robots.  Does it have high production values?  No.  Does it have a coherent plot?  Not really.  Is the acting good?  It has its moments, but not many of them.

The movie starts with Professor Carr and his assistant, Lois, being kidnapped by a bunch of guys in blonde wigs.  Normally, this might not be a pressing issue.  However, the professor forgot to turn off his nuclear reactor and it’s going to blow in eight days if someone doesn’t enter a code.  No one on base can make heads or tales of it, so the good ship Trissi is dispatched to bring back the professor.

The good news is that the kidnappers went in a straight line, making it easy to find them.  The bad news is that it will take four days to catch up with them.  This doesn’t leave much room for delays.  Capt. John Boyd and his mostly unnamed crew manage to make it to an asteroid where they encounter a group of aliens led by Kuba.  Kuba doesn’t trust Boyd at first, but eventually agrees to join him in getting the professor back.

It turns out that the professor is being held by a group of immortal aliens.  Their immortality has come at a cost in that they can’t reproduce.  That’s why the kidnapped the professor; he’s perfected the ability to create life at will.  When Boyd encounters Carr, it turns out that he’s willingly working for the immortal aliens.  And Lois?  She’s been made their empress.

Either way, Boyd has to bring them back.  Unfortunately, the professor winds up dead before they can make it back to their star base.  Not to worry, though.  It turns out that Lois might know the code for the reactor.  It’s too bad that she gets killed in battle.  As luck would have it, Kuba grabbed the one memory card that happens to have the code on it.  This enables the ship to transmit the information back to the base and save the day.

Whatever plot the script has seems to serve stringing together a few cheesy fight scenes.  Of course, when I say fight scene, I mean a few of the good guys killing a bunch of the robots with laser pistols and laser swords.  I’m not even entirely convinced that there was a script.  I think that when Alfonso Brescia ’wrote’ and directed the film, he may have just been filming a scene and telling the actors what to do.  (“Ok, you…Um…say something about not hitting the target or something.”)

One thing that sticks out is that the professor left the nuclear reactor on at all.  I mean, if you’re going to kill the entire local population, why not kill them and get it over with?  I imagine that there’s some reason why the reactor is always on the verge of destroying itself.  Maybe it has to do with his work.  Maybe he got a cut-rate reactor.  I don’t know.  If leaving it on was unintentional, why not just give the code to the good guys just to make them go away?

It’s also not clear if the Carr and Lois defected.  It would seem so.  There’s no evidence that they were coerced.  Then again, no explanation is given as to what they were offered.  Carr and Lois didn’t seem to want for anything and no one seemed to make fun of them.  A little detail would have been nice.

As for the special effects, there are none.  The pistols don’t actually seem to fire anything.  A little light goes on and the enemy falls down.  The laser swords seem to be little more than aluminum foil and cardboard.  In one scene, someone has to float from one ship to another.  I’d say that he has a star field behind him except that you can just make out the stars on his space suit.

According to IMDb, this is the third of five movies in a series.  I haven’t seen the other four, so I don’t know what kind of connection there is.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of overlap with the characters.  They might at least give some context, but I doubt it.  Speaking of which, I’ve never seen so many actors credited as something else.   (Writer/director Alfonso Brescia is credited as Al Bradly, for isntance.)

You know a movie is going to be bad when the dub varies and the camerawork is shaky.  In fact, the image was so shaky, the opening credits move relative to the background.  I wish I was kidding.  I was also wondering where the ship got it’s name from.  Apparently, uniforms were provided by Trissi Sports.  Ok.  That’s a bit unusual for product placement, but I can live with that.  However, did Lois reference a General Gonad?  Again, I wish I was kidding.

IMDb might have had this on their Bottom 100 list except that it has about a third of the ratings necessary to make the cut.  I think the ultimate sign that it’s a bad movie is that you can’t even get enough people to sit through it to give an honest rating.