Friday, December 07, 2018

Robin Hood (2018)

Robin Hood and any associated character has long since passed into the public domain, so it’s easy enough to write a new story around them.  (This is the fourth version I’ve seen if you include Robin Hood: Men in Tights.)  Is it too much to ask, though, that someone come up with something a little better?

The basic story is the same.  Robin of Loxley goes off to fight in The Crusades.  He comes back to find that his lands have been seized by The Sheriff of Nottingham.  You see, Mr. Sheriff had Robin declared legally dead.  This means that the lands could be taken to beef up the war fund.  (I‘m not sure how that was supposed to work, as the lands have fallen into ruin.)  Also, Marian gave up on waiting for Robin and has taken up with Will Scarlet.

Robin is stopped by the father of a boy Robin tried to save overseas.  The father’s name proves too difficult to pronounce, so he agrees to go by the anglicized version of John.  The two agree to do what Robin of Loxley is known for:  Take from the rich and give the money to the poor.  Since Robin’s castle is abandoned, they can use it for training.

Do I regret seeing the movie?  Not really.  It was entertaining.  However, it was so anachronistic that I have to wonder what they were trying to do with this movie.  It looks like someone took the Robin Hood story, added a J. Crew catalog, added a pinch of Supercuts and put the whole thing on blend for 30 seconds.  Every time I saw one of the main characters, I couldn’t help but think how nice and neat they looked, as if they had just stepped out of the house.

There’s also nothing particularly new or great about the film.  It seems like it’s supposed to be a vehicle for something, but I’m not sure what.  There aren’t many lines that could be considered quotable.  There are some action scenes, but nothing spectacular.  In fact, it seems to just use familiar names to tell a familiar story.  It looks like no one was really trying.

The story has been redone so many times that you really have to up your game to stand out.  This version seems to have gone in the opposite direction, offering a stripped-down version.  I think that I’ll probably have forgotten about it by this time next year.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

The Grinch (2018)

There’s a part of me that didn’t want to write this review.  I wasn’t sure I’d have much to contribute that a hundred people haven’t said before.  This is The Grinch, after all.  Between the book and the coming attractions, there won’t be too many surprises in the movie.  Aside from which, it’s not like I get many page views anyway.  I’m not sure this review will be the deciding factor for a lot of people.

There’s also the compulsive part of me that has to write a review.

The Grinch follows Dr. Seuss’s basic story pretty closely, from what I can tell.  (It’s an 86-minute adaptation of a relatively small book, so there are going to be a few embellishments.)  The Grinch doesn’t like Christmas.  He decides to steal Christmas from Whoville by stealing all of the presents and decorations.  In the end, he realizes the true meaning of Christmas.

I’m not sure why we need another adaptation.  There’s the 1996 version, with Boris Karloff.  There’s also the 2000 version with Jim Carrey.  There’s even a 1992 version that I hadn’t heard of.  The problem with calling the movie into question is that I risk seeming a little grinchy myself.  However, it does seem like a pretty safe movie to make, especially right before Christmas.

This version makes the Grinch not so mean.  We even get a little back story as to why he is what he is.  Benedict Cumberbatch plays him as someone who just doesn’t like people, which is understandable to anyone who has had to deal with a lot of people.  He’s the personification of that impulse to just stay away from everyone.  (It’s sort of like that Mark Twain quote, “The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.”)

I went into the theater wondering if it would be a cash grab, but it was a fairly good production.  It might be bearable for most adults, but it’s definitely going to be enjoyed more by the children.  This movie comes across as a viable alternative to the 1966 movie.  I think the older version is going to come across as dated, especially considering that it’s over 50 years old.  I could definitely see a TV station or two playing this version for Christmas next year.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Out of Time (1988)

There are a few TV shows and movies that aren‘t available on DVD or streaming.  In some cases, like Doctor Who, the tapes were wiped.  New episodes are made available as lost tapes are found, but many are still missing.  Other productions don’t have enough demand to be released on DVD.  It’s a shame because many of them were good enough to at least be worthy of streaming.

One made-for-TV movie that I remember watching was called Out of Time.  It was about a police officer from the future who chases a criminal back to what was then the present.  It was exactly what you’d expect of a failed pilot episode, but I remember liking it.  My only option, apparently, was to watch it streaming on Amazon.

The movie starts in the year 2088.  Channing Taylor is a Los Angeles police officer who doesn’t trust a computer to do a human’s job.  He’s after Richard Marcus, who is up to something.  Taylor comes to realize that Marcus might have a time machine.  It’s the only thing that makes sense.  Taylor figures out when and where the time machine will appear.  Marcus shows up just in time to get the machine, himself.  The two end up back in 1988, where Channing Taylor meets his great-grandfather, Max Taylor.

The movie wasn‘t quite as good as I remember it.  (I can see why it wasn’t picked up for a full series.)  Channing is your typical fish out of water.  Even in 2088, he’s a police officer mostly because Max Taylor was such a great police officer. (No mention is made if any other Taylors made the force.)  When Channing tries to navigate 1988 Los Angeles, he seems to know just enough to get what he wants.  He’s able to use future technology to win money in a scratch-off lottery, but has no idea what a tie is.  He also seems ambiguous on what a bank is, even though Marcus is going to rob one.

The movie is somewhat generic and cliché.  Part of this could be attributed to the fact that it was supposed to be a TV series.  The writers may not have wanted to use up all of their good stuff in one episode.  Other things, I can’t let off so easily.

For instance, Channing has to use his last bit of fuel to save Maxwell.  Since the fuel won’t be invented for a while, it’s used to strand Channing in the past.  Couldn’t the writers have found another way?  Maybe have enough to make one trip back, but have Channing decide to stick around.  He was suspended, so I could understand there being no rush to get back to 2088.

I’d say that it could make for a good TV show, but a similar concept was used for Time Trax.  (This is another TV series I’d like to see released on DVD.)  I think Out of Time may have suffered from more than a few setbacks.  Part of it is the writing.  I’d like to think the movie would have made more sense as part of a series, but it just doesn’t work as a standalone release.  Channing and Maxell seem just too goofy to take seriously.

Also, I suspect that there wasn’t enough of a budget to make it work.  There are almost no special effects to speak of.  We see a laser effect maybe two or three times.  When we do see it, it comes across as just this side of obvious.  The props look like rejects for kids toys.  Channing’s gun looks like someone found a piece of acrylic somewhere and found a way to make it vaguely look like a gun.  I’m really not surprised that it didn’t get picked up for a full season.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Green Book (2018)

In the 1930s, African-Americans were becoming a sizable part of the middle class.  This meant buying cars.  In turn, this meant traveling to different cities.  Victor Hugo Green created and published The Negro Motorist Green Book, which listed establishments, such as restaurants and hotels, that were welcoming of people of color.  If you were in an unfamiliar area, it was a good idea to know which hotels that would take you for the night or if you should just skip the area altogether.

By the late 1960s, the book had become unnecessary.  This isn’t to say that discrimination had stopped.  The passage of the Civil Rights Act made it more difficult to discriminate.  This puts The Green Book near the end of the book’s publication.  It’s 1962 and Frank Anthony Vallelonga, a.k.a. Tony Lip, is working at the Copacabana as the muscle.  When the nightclub closes for renovation, he faces a two-month gap where he won’t be working.  Money’s already tight, so he’s in no position to refuse work.

Someone knows a doctor that’s looking for a driver, so Tony goes in for an interview.  The doctor is Dr. Don Shirley, a pianist that’s going on tour through The South.  Tony is reluctant at first.  It’s evident that the two will be the epitome of odd couples.  The two are opposite in almost every respect.  Don does take the job on the condition that he be able to be back for Christmas Eve.  Before they leave, the record studio gives Tony a copy of the titular book.

I’m amazed, although not surprised, that something like the Negro Motorist Green Book existed.  Apparently, it was one of many similar publications for minorities.  I remember a gym teacher telling me about Miami Beach during the time.  Blacks had to be off The Beach before sundown if they didn’t have a work permit.  Entertainers like Sammy Davis, Jr., could perform in the hotels there, but had to stay on the mainland.

Much of the movie is what you’d expect.  We get those subtle hints that Tony’s hard up for cash, like the fact that he has to pawn a watch.  Tony also has to bribe a police officer after Don and another man are found naked at a chapter of the YMCA.  As you might imagine, it’s not a movie for small children.  Not only would they not understand a lot of the subject matter, Tony’s not one to hold back on the racial slurs.

I once heard a good definition of an odd couple, which is that they are two people that remain friends despite being opposites in terms of personality.  Don and Tony are the epitome of odd couples.  Don is everything that Tony is not.  They look down on each other at first, but come to respect each other a little more by the end of the movie.  A post script reveals that they kept in contact after the events of the movie.

For most people, I would recommend waiting for the movie to come out on DVD.  It’s not one of the more spectacular films, but it does have that somewhat uplifting ending.  (Comparisons to Planes, Trains and Automobiles aren’t that far off.)  My only real complaint is that I would have liked to see a little more exposition on what the Green Book was.  At the very least, I hope it gets people looking it up.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 25 (The Devil in the Dark)

It’s no fun having to meet a quota.  There’s always that pressure to perform.  Falling behind often entails a lot of worry and stress.  When the miners on Janus VI come across a deadly creature, their operation has to come to a halt.  Thus, the Enterprise is called in to investigate.

The enemy is a mysterious one.  Anyone who has gotten a good look at it has died.  (50 people have been turned to a stain on a cave floor.)  Thus, it’s impossible to formulate a good defense, much less any sort of offense.  Kirk and Spock are at odds on how to handle the situation.  Once it’s realized that the creature is the last of its kind, Kirk is determined to kill in self defense.  Spock, knowing that it’s a silicon-based life form, wants to study the creature.  The problem is that the creature has taken a vital component.  Without it, the mining facility will run out of air.

When the time comes, Kirk doesn’t kill.  Instead, Spock is able to use the Vulcan mind meld to communicate.  It turns out that the creature is the last of its kind, save a lot of eggs.  Every generation, the species lays eggs.  All but one of the adults die, leaving the sole Horta to care for and protect the newborns.  An agreement is made wherein both parties will leave each other alone, for the most part.  The Horta will do most of the mining and the humans will collect what they need.

This is one of those episodes where the messages were somewhat clear.  First, there can be a balance between business and the environment.  Second, aggressors aren’t always bad guys.  For the second time during the first season, it appears that the Federation was encroaching on someone else’s territory.  A simple conversation could have avoided a lot of conflict.  (Ok.  So, the conversation isn’t so simple here.)

A few thing stand out.  First, how does a mining operation allow 50 people to die?  I would think that they’d evacuate the facility after only a few deaths.  I would call it irresponsible to let that many people die.  Yes, they have a quota and all.  Still, I think there would have been a revote by that point.

Another thing that confused me was how the Horta evolved to reproduce like that.  I would think that it’s not a very good survival strategy to entrust the entire population to one individual.  If anything had happened to Mother Horta, all would have been lost.  I’m assuming that there is at least one other population on the planet.  It would also make sense that there are no predators for the Horta to worry about.

There were some things that Star Trek did well.  Some things, like costumes and props, not so much.  The costume for the Horta was a bit obvious.  It seemed very much like a guy with a carpet over him.   One thing I will say is that Janus is a very appropriate name for the planet.  According to Wikipedia, Janus was responsible for the beginning and the ending of conflict.  We get to see the miners transition from a warlike state to one of cooperation.

This was probably one of the better episodes in terms of message.  It didn’t get too preachy and you could see both sides of the story.  The miners just want to do their job and the Horta is trying to protect the next batch of Horta.  It’s definitely one of the episodes I’d recommend watching.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

If there’s one defining characteristic of Ralph, it’s that he wants to be the good guy.  In the first movie, he comes to terms with the fact that he’s cast on the role of his game’s villain.  People start to respect him.  He even makes a friend of Vanellope.

If there’s a second defining characteristic of Ralph, it’s that he doesn’t want things to change.  Six years later and he has his routine down.  He spends his days as the bad guy in Fix-It Felix, Jr. and his nights drinking root beer with Vanellope.  She wants change, though.  She’s beaten all of the courses in her video game.

In a way, she’s having the same crisis that Ralph did in the first movie.  There has to be more to life than what her video-game world has to offer.  She wants to try something new, which Ralph helps her with.  Despite the good intentions, this leads to a broken controller on the Sugar Rush game.  All of the characters make it out before the console is unplugged.

There is a possible save, though.  A replacement part is available on eBay.  Granted, it would cost more than the game could ever make, but it gives Ralph the means by which to save Vanellope and her friends.  Luckily, Mr. Litwak’s video arcade just got wi-fi.  So, Ralph and Vanellope head off to eBay in hopes of putting things back the way they were.

If you haven’t seen Wreck-It Ralph, you should.  It’s an awesome movie that happens to have an awesome sequel.  It’s not necessary.  I don’t think that this movie would have anything that would be a major spoiler.  Yes, the presence of a sequel implies that everything works out in the first movie.  Like you wouldn’t have known that going in, anyway.

Similarly, you know everything‘s going to work out fine here.  Both Ralph and Vanellope have some growing to do.  Ralph means well, but he can be a bit suffocating at times.  Vanellope is, technically, a Disney Princess.  (The other princesses actually make a pretty good case for inclusion here.)  She also finds that if she really wants something, it’s ok to go for it.

If you’re a parent thinking of taking a child to see the movie, don’t worry.  There’s plenty in the movie for you, too.  The layout of the Internet is a sight to behold.  There are also a lot of references to the Internet and other movies.  Major sites like IMDB and Google get their own buildings.  Stormtroopers chase the main characters.  Pop-up banners have proprietors, such as J.P. Spamley.  (There’s even a nod to Geocities for those of you that have been around a while.)

I had wanted to see it on opening day, but my work schedule would have none of that.  I was able to see it Saturday in 3D.  I don’t know that it’s going to be worth the extra money for most people.  Given the option, I do like 3D.  (I’ve also recently started using AMC’s A-List, which doesn’t charge extra for 3D if it’s one of your three movies for the week.  If you have A-List, go for the 3D.)

There is a certain lesson to be learned in not reading the comments.  You’ll always end up reading something you don’t want to read.  The irony is that the messages that need to be put out there don’t always get across.  It’s hard to say something necessary to someone you’re close to.  I suppose there’s a certain symmetry to the two movies.  In Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph learned that it’s ok to be the bad guy.  In Ralph Breaks the Internet, he learned that he doesn’t always have to be the good guy,

IMDb page

Monday, November 26, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 24 (This Side of Paradise)

Most of us have dreamed of having no responsibilities.  What if life were one long weekend?  There was no need to clock in or report to anyone.  Even the hardest of workers must have thought it would be nice to have all reward and no work.  Such is the life on Omicron Ceti III.  A group of colonists was sent there with supplies, but weren’t heard from again.  It was later discovered that there was a deadly form of radiation on the planet, meaning that there’s no expectation that they’re still there.

When the Enterprise beams down, it’s soon discovered that the colonists are all alive, but that they’re happy and in perfect health.     The leader of the colony even seems to have grown a new appendix.   What’s stranger is that there’s no sign of their livestock.  The people are in good health, but they have no cattle.

It soon becomes apparent what’s happening.  A flower there produces spores which infect the host body.  The host becomes perfectly happy and content.  The body is also repaired to perfect health and protected from the deadly radiation.  A few members of the landing party are infected.  Then, almost the entire ship becomes infected.  Kirk is left alone on the bridge of an otherwise-empty ship.  He eventually discovers a cure and is able to reverse the effects in Spock.  Together, they reverse the effects in everyone on the planet.

It makes sense.  A stagnant society, like the one that Omicron Ceti III would have had, is exactly the kind that Kirk and crew have fought against in the past.  I have to wonder what would have become of that society had Kirk not snapped out of it at the last second.  Would the children have to be inoculated by the plants?  Would the people even have had children?  Raising one is no easy task.

I also wonder if the plants were ever studied.  Sure, taking the spores as is isn’t great.  However, the ship has found an effective panacea.  I would think someone at Starfleet Medical would be interested in that.  You also have a possible cure for mental issues.  It might be effective against depression or those with homicidal tendencies.  (To be fair, I don’t think it was stated that the plants weren’t studied.)

My one concern with the plot was that it seemed unnecessary to send an entire ship to the colony.  It was known beforehand that there was lethal radiation.  It was assumed that the colonists were dead.  There was no mystery as to what happened.  I’m not sure what warranted sending Starfleet’s flagship.

It also seems a little odd that the entire crew was susceptible.  The crew is majority human, but there are more than 400 people onboard.  I’d imagine that there were at least a few nonhuman crewmembers.  Their physiology should have presented a problem.  The fact that none of the livestock survived would speak to this.  (Speaking of 400 people, there was also no mention of building houses for anyone.  Was everyone going to share one room?)

It’s still a decent episode.  Many of the episodes from The Original Series had similar issues.  However, they seemed to be more about getting a message across rather than worrying about details.  Again, it was never explicitly stated that houses weren’t going to be built or that there wasn’t already enough room.

I have always wondered why paradise was so bad.  In the right context, Omicron Ceti III would have been great.  The planet would have made for the perfect retirement community.  As I said, it could have been great for medical treatments.  It seems a shame to just abandon the planet altogether.