Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Occhi dalle stelle/Eyes Behind the Stars (1978)

There are two kinds of bad movies:  Some seem to aim for bad while others don’t seem to aim for anything.  Eyes Behind the Stars seems to be the latter.  It’s a story of a photographer that stumbles on evidence of aliens, but seems to be put together somewhat hastily and doesn’t make much sense.

It starts with the aforementioned photographer and a model doing their thing when they start to get a weird feeling.  Their watches stop working, so they stop with the modeling.  Later that day, the photographer is taking more pictures.  He somehow manages to capture images of space ships without seeing any.  (I’m not sure if he had some indication of where the ships were or happened to capture the images by accident.)

While developing the pictures, an alien comes and takes all evidence from the photographer.  How do we know it’s an alien?  He has this weird metallic suit and a motorcycle helmet.  He also has fisheye vision.  Fortunately, a reporter has some of the evidence.   The reporter talks to people and goes places to hopefully put a story together.  Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen.  The aliens are on to him.  There’s also a group called The Silencers that don’t want the public knowing about aliens.  (I never understood why fear of public panic has always been the go-to excuse.)

There are also members of the Royal Air Force involved in this.  (At least, I think they were British.  They may have been American.  Or Italian.  Or maybe aliens.)  Somehow, information was leak.  The bas commander wants answers.  I’m not really sure how it fits into the rest of the narrative, except that I think they found the aliens’ landing site or something.

Oh, and the photographer and model were abducted by the aliens.  The model is returned, but not the photographer.  What’s a reporter to do?  He hires a psychic to probe the model’s mind for answers.  The psychic feels that the model saw something that fried her mind.

The movie ends with some text saying that the entire thing was based on real events.  Well, a set of real events.  Everything supposedly happened, although not necessarily as the same series of events.  That would at least explain why the writing was so bad.  Someone hobbled together a conglomeration of narratives to come up with something that sort of made sense to them.  The movie is sort of like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but without the scene at Devil’s Tower to bring everything into focus.

The entire plot is barely cohesive.  I kept waiting for something to tie it together.  That never happened.  I also thought there might be some big reveal, like who the aliens are or what they might want.  That never happened, either.  It’s just some reporter chasing a story and the aliens chasing down the evidence.  The least they could do is maybe spend some money on makeup.  Give us some idea of what the aliens look like.

I think that this is going to be a frustrating movie for anyone that watches it.  If you go into it expecting a normal movie, you’ll be sorely disappointed.  If you’re in to bad movies, like I am, I wouldn’t get this movie by itself.  I’d get it as part of a set of movies, which shouldn’t be hard to do.  I was able to watch it as part of a collection my brother had.  (The DVDs were so disorganized, I’m not really sure which collection this was part of.)  This is definitely among the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Extinction (2018)

I remember learning that Netflix doesn’t necessarily produce its original movies.  The company may buy the rights at some point during or after production.  This is good for movies that might not otherwise make it to a screen.  This can be bad for viewers who don’t always get the best movies out there.  It ends up padding Netflix’s offerings with mediocre movies.  Take Extinction.  The movie was going to be released in theaters.  When distribution fell through, Netflix stepped in.

The movie takes place at some point in Earth’s future.  No date is shown, but technology has advanced considerably.  Peter and Alice are two normal parents.  Peter works at a factory and Alice has some sort of public-works job.  Their kids seem like normal children.  They even live in a nice apartment building.

Peter and Alice have just finished hosting a party.  Suddenly, attacks come from above.  No mention is made of a foreign nation and the ships are unfamiliar, so it must be aliens.    One guest from the party remains, so the adults find their kids and try to think of a way to safety.  The factory where Peter works is a safe place, but it’s ten blocks away.  Alice knows enough about the sewer system to get them there.  Along the way, they have to fight off the aliens.

Yes, we do get the big reveal.  We find out who the invaders are and what they want.  I found it wasn’t really enough to support a feature-length film.  It’s the kind of thing that would be better suited for a Twilight Zone episode.  Unfortunately, we don’t really get enough suspense (or anything else, for that matter) to support the movie.

I felt like it was a very minimal effort.  Peter and Alice had just enough of a history to make it so that the story could move along.  We don’t even know exactly what they do.  We just know that Peter does something technical in a place that could provide shelter and that whatever Alice does means that she can get them there.  Even having children seemed to be a way of giving them something to protect.

A lot of things seemed cliché about the movie.  The main group has to make it down the side of a building on one of those window-washing perches.  Seriously, though:  Has that ever worked?  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie where no one was in danger of falling off.

At the risk of sounding cliché, myself, the movie looks like it could set up a series or at least a sequel.  It’s like a pilot episode that had additional material put it to bring it up to 95 minutes.  I think maybe a sequel was planned, but I’m not counting on it ever being produced.  I think maybe Universal had the right idea in not distributing it.

IMDb page

Thursday, August 09, 2018

The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018)

The Spy Who Dumped Me is a fairly descriptive Title.   Audrey gets dumped by Drew only to find out that Drew is a spy.  Not only that, Drew needs Audrey to deliver a package (in the form of a fantasy-football-league trophy, no less) to someone in Vienna.  He’s shot before he can give her details, like what her contact might look like.  So, Audrey is off with her best friend, Morgan, to Vienna.  It just so happens that they have their passports in their glove box, so they can basically go straight to the airport.

If you’ve seen other movies with unwilling spies, you could probably figure out how the movie will unfold.  Morgan and Audrey have no idea what they’re doing, no idea of who to trust and are put in several dangerous situations.  Somehow, they manage to survive and do what’s best.

Had I not had MoviePass, I probably would have skipped this one.  I really don’t think I would have missed anything.  I don’t feel like the movie did much that was new or different.  There were a few good jokes, but most of those were in the first half of the movie.

The movie seems to take a certain number of liberties.  For instance, I’ve always wondered how someone could get on an international flight so easily.  It was a bit of a stretch that the two main characters happened to have their passports available.  According to the US State Department, they wouldn’t need a visa to go to Vienna if they’re staying under 90 days, but they still had to pay for the ticket, which probably weren’t that cheap at the last minute.

Morgan also seems to have a very big skill set.  Given all of the things she claimed she could do, I assumed she might have been exaggerating.  However, she did seem to actually know Edward Snowden and was able to handle herself on the trapeze.  (Even though she was telling the truth a few times, it’s difficult to tell where she draws the line.)

To say that the movie was better than I expected would be an understatement.  Plotwise, it was almost exactly what I expected.  Even though there were no real surprises, it was at least entertaining.  While I don’t think the trailers give away the entire plot, I don’t think anyone will be surprised coming out of the movie.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Death of a Nation (2018)

When I was a child, I remember hearing that a lot of people would vote along party lines.  Republicans would go and select any name with (R) beside it.  Democrats would select anyone with (D) by their name.  It confused me because it meant that winning a race usually meant getting your party to turn out.  How could we become so partisan?  Then, Obama got elected and Republicans stonewalled.  Trump got elected and Democrats stonewalled.  Is this what politics has come to?  Sadly, the answer is yes.

Enter Dinesh D'Souza.  I hadn’t heard of him, but he apparently has a few movies out.  (I only knew about this one because of a poster at my nearest AMC.)  The movie opens with a reenactment of the final moments of Adolph Hitler’s life.  There are all sorts of segments with people not believing that Trump will win the primary or the general election.  There are calls for impeachment.

D’Souza draws a comparison between the current Republican president and the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln.  You see, both are hated by Democrats.  Lincoln, for wanting to free the slaves and end the way America operated at the time.  Similarly, Trump is working to make America great.  Democrats will whine, sure, but we’ll survive.

The only problem I have with the documentary is that it’s basically propaganda.  There are way too many shots of flags or the Statue of Liberty for me to say otherwise.  There’s also a lot of the usual rhetoric, like how Democrats are evil and believe in eugenics because, you know, Margaret Sanger.  D’Souza also compares Democrats to Hitler and Mussolini because both dictators wanted to take away people’s guns, just like Obama.

Yes, D’Souza invokes reductio ad Hitlerum.  Because Hitler and Mussolini did it, it must be bad.  I’ll admit, it is similar to saying that Trump is like David Duke because both used America First.  It’s a like that a politician might be inclined to use if they were running for president.  It’s a little more complicated than that; Trump has done other, more serious things like demonize the press.  (No leader should do that.  The free press is necessary to a free society.)

There are a few interviews, some of which seem more skewed than others.  An interview with Richard Spencer seemed overly edited.  It may be coincidence; choices had to be made given how many people were interviewed.  Still, the entire argument is skewed towards the right.  D’Souza points out that the Democratic Party was founded to oppose slavery and that the Republican Party tended to be more liberal.  He then tries to say that nothing has really changed.  Democrats still oppress minorities and Trump would welcome anyone of any nationality.  Yes, Mr. Shithole Nation, the same guy who wanted Mexico to pay for the wall, would welcome everyone regardless of origin or background.

Oh, and apparently, Hitler learned everything he needed to know about genocide from Andrew Jackson.  I’m not saying that Jackson was a great president.  He did try to forcibly relocate Native Americans.  But to blame Hitler on Democrats seems like a bit of a stretch at best.  Add to this the claim that Hitler was pro-homosexual, as he tolerated gays among the Sturmabteilung.  There are a lot of claims in the movie that seem unbelievable.

Everyone is welcome to hold their own views and canonize anyone they want, but it will always amaze me that Trump will have as many people voting for him as he did.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Vampire Hunter (2004)

I had started this blog with two goals.  First, I had wanted to repost as many of my reviews from Epinions as I could.  The second goal was to review as many bad movies as I had the patience to sit through.  I had also wanted to review better-known movies, as well.  However, I wanted to specialize in those films that were of lower quality.  I found these movies to be easier to review on a certain level.

I came to realize in recent months that I was getting away from this.  I was reviewing a lot of TV shows and short films.  I’m not going to stop doing this, but I wanted to get back to the crappy movies that I loved.  Then, I met Vampire Hunter.

The movie is part of a six-pack of movies, which usually tells me that it’s going to be bad.  The same person wrote, produced, directed and starred in the movie.  This is almost always the mark of a stinker.  If those two things didn’t scare me off, the bad video and audio quality should have.

As the name implies, it’s about a man who hunts vampires.  We start with John O'Ryan doing some sort of martial-arts/exercise routine. We find out that he’s pretty good at drawing pin-up girls and has an awesome action-figure collection.  He’s also about to cross paths with Morgan Bane, art dealer and vampire extraordinaire.

Bane is hundreds of years old and is bored with life.  He’s looking for a new woman to have a fling with and maybe find someone to fight.  He’s already gone up against Ramone, having turned his one true love.  When John’s wife, Heather, makes an appointment with Bane, Heather becomes Bane’s next infatuation.  With Ramone’s help, John might be able to defeat the evil vampires and save Heather.

This movie is of such low quality that it’s actually impressive that it found any distribution.  It has the telltale audio and video distortions of a VHS tape that’s been sitting around for a decade or so.  I knew early on that I wasn’t going to be able to make out most of the dialogue.  Fortunately, I was able to follow the basic plot.  This isn’t saying much, though.  It’s the garden variety of crosses, wooden stakes and garlic that’s common with low-budget vampire movies.

The quality was so low that I’m actually wondering if it was deliberate.  Many of the main actors do have other credits, although many of those credits aren’t for acting.  Sean Gallimore, who stared as John O’Ryan, has fifteen credits in the art department, including The Lion King.  Leonardo Millán, who played Bane, did Voicework for Grand Theft Auto V.

I’m not really sure what the impetus was for making the movie.  Was it something that Gallimore wanted to do?  Did he want to show off some skills or try something different?  IMDb shows an estimated budget of $5,000.  It’s possible that he just had some spare time.  Despite there being talent here, it doesn’t look like a lot of effort was put into it.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Future Man (Season 1)

If you watch enough time-travel movies, there are certain things that would be good, like stopping Hitler before he becomes the leader of Germany.  If any of us invented a time machine, that’s probably the first thing we’d look in to.  The problem is that there’s no promise that this would be effective.  There were a lot of other factors at play, so there’s no guarantee that someone much worse wouldn’t have come along and done the same thing.

Such is the problem that Wolf and Tiger have.  They live in a world where genetically modified people known as biotics rule.  Regular humans have no hope except with time travel.  They’ve traced the Biotics’ origin to Doctor Elias Kronish,  All they need is a savior.

What does it take to become a savior?  That’s what Josh “Future Man” Futturman finds out when he beats Biotic Wars, a game that no one else has beaten.  Wolf and Tiger show up in his room to recruit Josh into their war.  You see, in their time, warriors play video games for training.  What they don’t realize is that Josh thought it was just a game.  Yes, in a giant nod to The Last Starfighter, they used a video game as a recruitment tool.

The first episode should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect.  There are plenty of references to major time-travel movies, like Terminator and Back to the Future.  There are all manner of sexual situations, like Tiger and Wolf having sex to relieve tension.  This is not a TV series you want to watch with your children.  Or your parents, for that matter.

The series has 13 half-hour episodes, meaning that it’s very easy to binge watch.  I was worried that the series might drag, as several other series have.  This isn’t a problem.  In fact, the series was originally developed as a movie.  It was eventually realized that they needed more time to tell the whole story.

Part of this is that they have several setbacks.  Josh is insistent on not killing Kronish whereas Tiger and Wolf would simply kill him as a baby.  Many of Josh’s attempts result in either failure or making the situation worse. I kind of wonder why Tiger and Wolf needed Josh in the first place, since it should be relatively easy to get that information.  It’s pure chance that Josh works at Kronish’s research facility.

It seems like much of the plot revolves around paying homage to various tropes of the genre.  In terms of time travel, very little is original.  Josh points out that killing Kronish at an early age is the central plot of the first Terminator movie.  There is also an episode that loosely resembles Back to the Future.  This isn’t to say that it’s not entertaining.  Wolf has an instant attraction to pickles and eventually takes up cooking, which leads to an interesting episode.

The series is at least maybe a little more realistic if that can be a thing with science fiction.  The amount of culture shock experienced by Tiger and Wolf is believable.  I also think most people in Josh’s situation would also teeter between wanting to go on an adventure and not waning to screw things up royally.

It did end up being a fun series.  (Yes, I know I’m a few months late in reviewing it.)  I don’t want to ruin the ending, but it looks like there will be a second 13-episode season.  I’ll be looking forward to it.

IMDb page

Monday, July 30, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 9 (Dagger of the Mind)

Simon van Gelder is very eager to leave the Tantalus penal colony.  He pulls what amounts to hiding in the laundry cart and winds up in the Enterprise transporter room, but is eventually captured.  When the ship contacts the colony, Dr. Tristan Adams informs Captain Kirk that van Gelder isn’t an inmate; he’s a doctor there.

As you might imagine, it’s all very suspicious, which leads Kirk to beam down with Helen Noel, who has a background in psychiatry.  (The two had met during the ship’s Christmas party, of all places.  Go figure.)   It’s all very easily explained by Dr. Adams.  Tantalus has a mind-altering device.  If one simply sits back in the chair, the machine makes the person very susceptible to suggestion.  Adams implants in Kirk unyielding desire for Noel.

We get a very interesting plot twist in that Dr. van Gelder, who would seem to be the antagonist, is actually the protagonist.  Dr. Adams, who would seem to be the good guy, is actually running less-than-ethical experiments on the patients.  Leave it to Kirk and the Enterprise to save the day.

The episode’s strong suit here is the acting.  The way Morgan Woodward portrays van Gelder, you’d think he had really gone off the deep end.  Many of the other people at the colony do seem just off enough that you know something is wrong, but it’s not overdone.  (Well, maybe a little.  This is the original series.)

I thought that the plot was a little lacking.  The episode shows a doctor running experiments that he shouldn’t.  I felt like the episode was a little weak on trying to make it a teachable moment.  It’s almost like it’s just saying, “Here’s someone doing something bad.  What a shame.”  Yes, we know that altering someone’s mind is bad.  I didn’t feel like there was any attempt to mitigate or expound upon that.  You could argue that people are being made better members of society, but that it’s still making someone act against their will.

I suppose that may be the reason the colony was named Tantalus.  In Greek myth, Tantalus was punished by having food and water always out of reach.  I suppose that it would have been too obvious to name one of the doctors Tantalus.  Maybe the moral is that a true cure for psychological problems will always be just beyond our grasp.