Tuesday, July 17, 2018

How It Ends (2018)

I’d like to review this movie with no spoilers, but I don’t know if that’s possible.  I’m going to have to give away some detail, even if it’s minor and vague.  The first such detail is that How it Ends is a misnomer.  Not only do we never really find out how everything ended, the movie doesn’t have much of an ending, itself.

It starts with Will and Samantha looking at an ultrasound of their baby-to-be.  Will then goes to Chicago to meet with Sam’s parents, Tom and Paula.  Tom and Will don’t seem to get along that well, which is a shame, as Will wants to ask for Sam’s hand in marriage.  The evening ends with Tom and Will arguing.

As Will’s waiting for a flight back to Seattle, all the flights suddenly get canceled.  He gets back to Tom and Paula; Paula will be staying with a friend while Tom and Will drive to Seattle to find Sam.  Being that the apocalypse has now begun, it should be no surprise how the drive plays out.  Their trip is punctuated with scenes that alternate between someone trying to hurt them and someone that can help them.  Along the way, they pick up Ricki, who’s good with cars.

We never get any sense of what happened.  People speculate, of course.  It might be aliens.  It could, of course, be a natural disaster, but that wouldn’t affect the entire country at once.  It might even be China and/or North Korea attacking us.  Some people head to Canada, but there’s no evidence that things are better there.

This is another Netflix movie that would make more sense as part of a larger story arc.  It has better-than-moderate production values.  However, it’s basically a weak road-trip plot with a disaster as a backdrop.  Speaking of which, I find it odd that America went from all normal to roving bands of outlaws overnight.  Yes, people will steal your gas and leave you for dead and it didn’t even take two days.

We also don’t get to see many characters for more than a few minutes.  It’s mostly about Tom, Will and Ricki.  Even Samantha gets maybe 15 minutes of screen time total.  This means that three actors have to do all the heavy lifting.  Their characters seem to be somewhat generic.  Tom is a former Marine, which is just enough to give him combat skills to protect Will.  Will is sort of a stock husband/boyfriend who cares about the person they’re going to meet.  Even the dynamic of a man at odds with a potential father-in-law is nothing new.  It’s like the writers took some basic elements and used that for a fairly generic movie.

If you do put this on your Netflix list, I’d save this for last.  You might think that it’s good that Netflix gives you a decent selection, except that many of the options I’ve seen aren’t that good.  Altered Carbon and Lost in Space seem to be fairly good, but I’m still waiting for Netflix to hit one out of the park.  This isn’t going to be the one that makes you sign up for the service.

IMDb pge

Monday, July 16, 2018

Sorry to Bother You (2018)

When deciding whether or not to include spoilers in a movie review,  I take into account whether or not it would serve any purpose.  After thinking about it, I don’t know that giving specific details about the movie’s ending would benefit anyone.  Aside from which, I’m not sure there’s any way I could properly explain the plot if I wanted to, as I’m still trying to figure it out, myself.  But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Sorry to Bother You focuses on Cassius “Cash” Green.  He’s so broke, he’s filling up his gas tank 40¢ at a time.  He’s four months late on his rent to his Uncle Sergio.  This is why a crappy telemarketing job with RegalView looks great.  Despite being caught faking both a trophy and an employee-of-the-month plaque, he’s hired.  He’s selling encyclopedias, but there’s the promise of being promoted to power seller if he does well.

Cash does do well enough to earn the promotion, but it comes with several tough choices.  His fellow telemarketers unionize and strike, meaning Cash has to choose between money and principle.  When the job puts a strain on his relationship with his girlfriend, Detroit, she gives him an ultimatum:  Either he leaves the job or she leaves him.  It’s easy to say that you’d support your friends, but it is a lot of money he’s being offered.

I don’t want to say anything more about the plot than this.  For those that may have read other reviews of the movie, I will say that the rest of the movie is bizarre.  It’s as if Spike Lee directed a Monty Python film.  There is a fair amount of seriousness and commentary on society.  Consider that Cash and other employees of color have to use a white voice to be successful.  (David Cross, Patton Oswalt and Lily James provide voiceovers.)   However, there is a fair amount of bizarre elements.  These elements are what I don’t want to give away.  It’s probably better that you go into the movie unaware.  This isn’t to say that the movie is bad.  It is unexpected.  I did see a couple walk out of the theater when the movie started down the rabbit hole.

This isn’t a Hallmark movie.  If you tend towards more mainstream entertainment, you will likely be put off.  I was going to say that the movie is like an avant-garde art piece, but the movie is avant-garde in its own right.  I’m not entirely certain what the movie is trying to say, other than it’s tough needing money.  When you’re that in need of it, there aren‘t really any good options.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 6 (What Are Little Girls Made Of?)

It’s a bog universe.  There seems to be a lot of planets that were once inhabited.  Exo-III is one such planet and it’s being studied by Dr. Roger Corby.  Or, at least it was.  He hasn’t been heard from in a while and landing parties have been at a loss to locate him.  He’s also engaged to be married to Nurse Chapel, who signed on to the Enterprise in hopes of finding him.  When the Enterprise approaches Exo-II at the start of the episode, Korby does respond.

Korby insists that Kirk beams down alone.  When Chapel identifies herself, Korby allows her to beam down, as well.  Kirk and Chapel do beam down, but with two security officers.  (This begins the trend of security officers who won’t see the end of the episode.)  Kirby has made an incredible discovery.  He can duplicate a person and transfer their memories and consciousness into the newly formed android.  This would allow everyone to become immortal.

Kirk doesn’t seem to like the plan and tries to stop Korby, who duplicates Kirk and sends the android back to the ship.  Korby reveals his plan to infiltrate some colony, preferably one of Kirk’s next few stops, and test out the procedure there.  He can do it incognito and see how it goes.  Fortunately, Kirk is able to thwart Korby.

This is one of those episodes that raises questions rather than attempting to answer them directly.  My first question would be why Chapel signed on to the Enterprise thinking that she’d be the one to find Korby.  At best, it would give her an inside track if someone did find here.  There’s on reason to believe she’d be on the ship to locate him, assuming he’d be located at all.

The big question, though, is what it means to be human.  Assuming the transfer were successful, is it still the same person?  How much does the duplicate Kirk resemble the actual Kirk?  Korby also mentions that undesirable traits, like fear and jealousy, could be edited out, meaning that the androids would be less like an actual human.  (It’s not mentioned if the offer of immortality would be extended to other races.)

There’s also the problem of humans not being able to reproduce again.  The androids aren’t immune to everything.  (Phaser fire seems to be a notable weakness.)  There might come a point, even with the androids, where humans would no longer exist.  Consider that a civilization died off, despite having this technology.

It’s hard to think of Korby as being a villain, but he is.  He seems to genuinely want to help humanity.  It would remove the threat of disease.  It’s more his desire to do it outside of official channels that makes him the antagonist.  He could submit his findings to Starfleet Medical or some other agency for further study.  Instead, he wants to do experiments covertly.

I would call this one of the better episodes, despite the familiar elements.  We have someone studying a long-dead planet.  Kirk is duplicated.  The use of androids is new, but would be no stranger to the franchise.  It uses familiar elements to tell a new story.  It does leave you wondering about certain things.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 6 (Mudd's Women)

Any advanced society is going to have an undesirable element.  There will be places that aren’t safe.  There will be people who are less than reputable.  The United Federation of Planets is no exception.   Harcourt Fenton “Harry” Mudd is one such example.  He tries to evade Starfleet’s flagship only to be brought aboard with what would seem to be his crew, except that the three beautiful young women are not his crew.  They‘re his cargo.  You see, he supplies lonely men with wives.

In rescuing Mudd, The Enterprise burns out it’s dilithium crystals.  They can get more, but Mudd sees an opportunity.  Dilithium miners tend to be especially wealthy and especially lonely.  He’s able to contact the miners and do his own negotiating, knowing that the ship is in no position to negotiate.  If Captain Kirk refuses, the ship will stay in orbit of the planet indefinitely.  What’s a captain to do?  Kirk is able to eventually get his crystals and help both the miners and the women.  As for Mudd, he’ll be brought to justice.

If you’re wondering, yes, the women really do appear to be that attractive.  All the men, with the exception of the half-Vulcan Spock, fall for them.  In fact, Mudd is able to use the women to get information from various male crewmembers.  The catch is that the beauty comes from a pill.  Without the pill, the women seem much more plain.  Herein lies the moral:  Attractiveness need not come from a chemical.  It’s not clear if Mudd’s pill is a fake, but Kirk is able to get the same effect through a placebo.

One thing I find odd, at least from a modern perspective, is how it would seem that almost all of the male crew fawn over the women and the female crewmembers don’t.  Yes, it’s the 1960’s.  That may have been a bit too daring for Star Trek at the time.  Still, to even have that kind of attention paid to beauty is a bit much.  Humans are supposed to be more evolved than that.

Speaking of which, it was a minor miracle that Mudd was as likable as he was, considering that he was trading in people.  He’s trying to use women to turn a profit, which would seem to be a rather inappropriate way to make a living.  This is mentioned, albeit briefly, since it does put Kirk in an awkward position.  He doesn’t want to use the women to get the crystals he needs, but he has little other choice.

This brings me to a third point.  It would seem that Kirk has some time in orbit before it would decay.  It’s not mentioned whether or not he could call for backup.  (At the very least, another ship might be able to bring some dilithium crystals.)  Space is big, so it’s conceivable that the nearest ship would take too long to get there.  Kirk does also point out that there would be consequences for the miners if they insist on taking the women as payment.  It’s not a major issue, as Kirk is able to deal with the situation himself.  It’s just one of those things I wondered about.

The episode did pretty well considering that this is only the sixth episode of the first season.  It could have been better, but I’m saying this with the advantage of fifty years of hindsight.  There are certain aspects of the episode that are undoubtedly a product of the era and it did manage to get a message across effectively.

Roger C. Carmel is also able to sell the character of Harvey Mudd.  Had he been played any other way, the episode might not have come across as well.  Carmel also plays well off of William Shatner.  Mudd is as goofy as Kirk is serious.

If you’re watching the series streaming or on DVD, I’d say it’s worth watching.  Mudd will make an appearance later in the series.  It’s worth noting that he doesn’t seem to have learned his lesson.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Tau (2018)

I think many of us have had a teacher or boss that valued quality over quantity.  It’s better to have one great idea than a lot of bad ones.  I’ve noticed the same thing about Netflix’s movie.  They seem to be putting out mediocre movies.  (Bright comes to mind.)  Tau is a movie along those same lines.  It has a decent concept that has potential, but the movie is undermined by a weak story.

When I read the premise, I imagined it would be someone trapped in their own head and forced to go through a series of trials to escape.  It turns out that I was very wrong.  Instead, it’s about a woman who is kidnapped and used as a test subject.  Her kidnapper is Alex, who we gather is working on some new form of AI.  Alex is basically hoping to cheat by scanning people’s brains to use as a template.  Julia is simply the latest such person.

We get to see very little of Alex.  Most of his time spent is spent coming home and going back out again.  (He also has to rebuild the lab that Julia destroyed.)  Instead, she spends most of the movie with Tau, the house’s AI.  Tau is programmed to obey only Alex, but Julia is able to find ways around this.  He has an interest in learning more about the outside world, which she can use as leverage.

The problem is that the story and characters have very little depth.  All we know of Julia’s life before the movie is that she stole stuff for money.  It’s just enough that we know no one will call the police on her.  We know that Alex is some sort of egotistical genius because of all the magazine covers on the wall.  Also, Julia’s not far off when she calls him a psychopath.  He likes to torture Tau and has no reservation about doing the same to Julia.

This is where the character development ends.  Julia makes several attempts to escape, but we learn very little about where she came from or how she grew up.  We have a device that can actually read her memories and all we see is scenes from earlier in the move.  Alex seems motivated only by coming out with the next great AI product.  He’s not conflicted about it.  It’s not from some outside pressure or anything.  He’s just the guy that Julia has to escape from.

It’s almost like someone found a template for a movie and deviated just enough to make it their own.  There’s no real reason to care about anyone.  When a character was hurt or threatened with death, I didn’t react with any sort of panic or empathy.  I would say that this could have been part of a series, or even a pilot.  It does generate some interest in the characters, but doesn’t really deliver on it.

IMDb page

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Uncle Drew (2018)

Many years ago, when MMORPGs first came out, people seemed to be addicted.  The truth was that such games charged by the month, prompting people to play as much as possible.  I’ve noticed that MoviePass has had a similar effect on me.  Since the program charges by the month, there’s little incentive not to see a movie if I’m even marginally interested in it.  Such is the case with Uncle Drew.  My parents and I went out to see a movie and this was one we could all agree on.

The movie is about a man named Dax.  As you may have gathered from the coming attractions, he’s coaching a team entered in the Rucker Classic.  He’s literally put all of his money into the tournament.  Unfortunately, his entire team defects to his archrival, Mookie.  Thus, Dax has to get a new team together.  By chance, he meets a legend by the name of Uncle Drew.  Uncle Drew played in the tournament years ago, but he and his team disappeared before the final game.  Drew agrees to get his team back together for one more game.

I will admit that I probably wouldn’t have seen the movie in theaters had I not had MoviePass.  I probably would have waited for it to come out streaming, if anything.  This isn’t to say it’s bad.  It’s just that with three people going to see a movie, we needed something that we’d all agree on and this seemed the safest choice.

I’d warn of spoilers, but that’s kind of pointless here.  You can see a lot of the plot twists coming.  First, the team is geriatric.  Dax and Drew visit an actual nursing home to pick up one of the players, who’s bound to a wheelchair.  Another is legally blind.  So, yeah.  It’s about people you wouldn’t expect to be able to hold a ball beating those that would seem more capable.  And, yes.  They do quite well for themselves.

This is going to be my biggest spoiler:  You also know that one of the players will have to be replaced, most likely due to injury.  It’s just a question of when and how.  We also get not one but two replacements.  This leads to another cliché of Dax having to confront Mookie about their past.  Dax never could get over being denied what would have been the game-winning shot.

I also find it odd that in any movie involving a tournament, archrivals will be seeded so that they’ll have to face off in the finals.  The teams will never face off in the first round and both teams will definitely make it all the way, no matter how many obstacles are thrown at them.

It’s also a noticeably male-dominated movie.  Dax’s initial girlfriend, Jess, seems to be little more than an annoyance for him to move past.  Even the love interest, Maya, is little more than that.  She’s granddaughter to Boots and initially just his caretaker.  Yes, Preacher’s wife agrees to play, but it’s only for the final game.  The women are there, just not as main characters.

The movie was based on a series of commercials that Kyrie Irving stared in for Pepsi, hence Pepsi co-producing the film.  It also explains a lot of the product placement, like Pepsi vending machines and Gatorade-bottles.  (Gatorade and Pepsi are both produced by PepsiCo.)  I even noticed a sign for Oberto, which was distributed by PepsiCo subsidiary, Frito-Lay.  The product placement wasn’t over the top, but it was noticeable.

Despite all of this, the movie is enjoyable.  I wouldn’t call it memorable.  It’s the kind of movie you would probably see in a group because everyone can agree on it.  I don’t know that you’ll get a lot of replay out of it, though.  It’s an excuse to see basketball players star as older basketball players.  This is where a lot of the humor comes from.  Boots is unresponsive until Drew throws a basketball at him.  Later on, he can miraculously walk.  Boots is nearly blind and can’t make a shot at a Dave & Busters.  With corrective lenses, he can do quite well for himself.

There is a certain logic in having basketball players play basketball players.  Shaquille O'Neal is no stranger to acting.  The other basketball players don’t have as many credits to their respective names, but do alright.  I’m not sure I’d rush to see it unless you have one of the pay-by-the-month programs like MoviePass or AMC’s A-List.  I think most people will be happy waiting for it to come out on DVD.

 IMDb page

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

I’ve seen people propose that Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye run on the same presidential ticket in 2020.  If I were to pick two celebrities, I probably would have wanted Carl Sagan for president with Fred Rogers as his running mate.  Both were great communicators.  Both were even-tempered people.  The primary difference is a balanced ticket.  Whereas Sagan dealt with science, Rogers worked more with emotion and feeling.

It actually surprised me years ago to learn that Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister.  He wasn’t known for bringing religion into the show, which ran from 1968 to 2001.  It was a very simple show that dealt with all manner of topics.  It was usually something simple, but there would occasionally be shows on something more serious, like assassination.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor covers Rogers’s adult life, starting with his nearly completing Seminary.  He did eventually go back to become ordained, but felt that his calling was in television.  The movie has interviews from his family and people who worked on the show.  François Clemmons recalls what it was like being asked to play a police officer when he didn’t have a great image of police at the time.

Clemmons also recalls what it was like when someone spotted him at a gay bar.  When the news got back to Rogers, Clemmons was asked not to go back.  The main concern had more to do with advertising.  Being gay wasn’t as welcomed back then and there were certain lines the show didn’t want to cross just yet.  However, Rogers did eventually make it known that he accepted Clemmons just the way he was.  This is the only time the movie shows him being pragmatic.  I really got the sense that Fred Rogers wanted to reach children and give them a safe space.

There aren’t many revelations with this movie.  You’re not going to come out of it thinking of him differently.  The only thing that really shocked me was finding out he was a registered Republican.  However, he’s presented exactly as I would expect him to be presented.  Mr. Rogers wanted to speak to children to let them know that they were special, not in the sense of being entitled, but rather in the sense of having value.  In a sense, that kind of surprised me.  I would have thought that there was more to him, but Fred Rogers was Mr. Rogers.  Despite what others may have thought, there didn’t seem to be much more than was presented in the show.

The movie is rated PG-13, but I’m honestly trying to think of anything that would be overly objectionable.  I think it comes from some historical footage.  One clip shows a hotel owner pouring cleaning fluid in a pool to scare off African-Americans.  Still, I think most of the people seeing this movie will be adults.  It will either be the children who grew up watching the show or the parents of those children.

In a way, the documentary shows how easy it was to just watch Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.  The show was so simple, it was difficult to think that there would be any deeper meaning.  The show was very much a product of its time, but also of Fred Rogers.  He did put a lot of himself into that show, with the puppets representing different aspects of himself.  I’d say that anyone who grew up watching the show should probably watch the documentary.