Saturday, February 24, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 9 (Root of All Evil)

One of the things about Friday the 13th: The Series is a lack of explanation as to how the cursed items work.  In the pilot, it’s said that Lewis Vendredi made a deal with the devil and that, as a way for fortune and immorality, he sold those cursed items to unsuspecting customers in his antiques shop. After his death, his niece and nephew were left to clean up the mess with the help of an old business partner of his.

This episode starts with a mother and son doing some yard work.  The son becomes possessed with rage and shoves his mother into a mulcher/wood chipper.  The next scene is in curious goods some time later.  Jack, the old business partner, finds a letter addressed to Lewis.  In it, he finds references to knowledge from below, indicating that the writer knew about the cursed items.  Also enclosed is a $100 bill.

This leads Jack, Micki and Ryan to track down the sender.  They find a vacant house, but they know that the item is the aforementioned mulcher, as the return address matched an entry in their ledger of items that Lewis sold.  They are able to track down the mulcher to the maintenance crew at n estate that’s about to become a park.

Smitty is the new owner of the mulcher.  He has no idea what it is.  However, Smitty has an employee named Adrian.  Adrian becomes possessed much like the son did in the opening scene.  When someone tries to hit Adrian up for some hush money, Adrian feeds the guy to the mulcher and receives a few bills, all dated 1937.

For those wondering, there is no Series 1937 American currency in any denomination.   There is Series 1937 Canadian money.  Given that the currency shown is American and the show is filmed in Canada, I think the person checking facts for the show might have gotten the countries mixed up.

At any rate, Adrian soon realizes that the richer the person is, the more money he gets.  Adrian is in luck, as the estate he works on has lots of rich people walking around.  He tries to mulch people as quickly as he can, resulting in a bag full of cash.

During all of this, Micki’s fiancĂ©, Lloyd, pays a visit to the antique store.  At the beginning of the series, Lloyd and Micki were engaged to be married.  Inheriting the store put that marriage on hold.  It’s somewhat surprising that it took this long to deal with it, but it was bound to happen.  Micki tries showing Lloyd around, as he has a right to know what she’s doing.  He doesn’t buy any of it, even when he sees her help get the mulcher back.  In the end, she decides to stay with Jack and Ryan; Lloyd goes home without Micki.

Overall, the episode is still a little thin.  The episodes seem to be relatively self-contained so far, with this one being a notable exception.  If not for the engagement aspect, you could have watched a lot of the episodes out of order.  There’s very little continuity so far between each episode.  In fact, if this was the first episode you watched, it would probably be easy to figure out what’s going on.  (There wouldn’t be many revelations going back and watching the pilot episode.)

Also, it seems like much of the episode is spent trying to contain the artifact.  Jack, Ryan and Micki seem to find the mulcher rather quickly, meaning there has to be a good deal of chasing people around.  (I suspect that this is why this episode was chosen to deal with Micki’s engagement.  They held off until they needed the filler.)

This episode, like many of the others, probably could have been shortened to a half-hour format.  Either that, or find something else to fill the time.  Some of the items have a historical connection, but little is said about it.  Here, we just have a garden tool that seems to spit out money.  There’s no debate on what determines a person’s worth.  The resulting cash is simply a function of their net worth.

I’ve decided that I’m going to finish out this season.  I’m really hoping that the episodes get better.  This one at least shows some promise.  I hope that it’s not misplaced.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 29 (Nightmare as a Child)

Helen Foley doesn’t remember much about her childhood.  This is why it’s odd when she comes home one day to find a little girl sitting outside her door.  What’s so odd about that?  The girl, who identifies herself only as Markie, seems to know a lot about Helen’s youth.  Markie questions Helen about the scar she has on her arm and about the strange man she saw stopped at a red light.

Markie runs out the back door just before another visitor arrives.  Funny thing is that it’s the strange man, one Peter Selden.  Peter worked for Helen’s mother.  He saw Helen outside of the school where she works.  He decided to look her up and ask some questions about what she remembers from her childhood.  Helen doesn’t recall much during the conversation, but the memories do come back to her.  It also becomes evident just who Markie is.

This episode is unusual in that it’s probably the least supernatural of the series, at least so far.  The only exception to this would be the pilot episode.  Everything could be explained by normal psychological conditions.  Loss of memories pertaining to a traumatic event is understandable.  At least one element of the story could be attributed to hallucinations.  I’d say that this is the most forthright episode so far.

If this episode is serving as your introduction to the series, you’ll probably find other episodes to be more otherworldy.  The episode is probably not for children, which could be said of most Twilight Zone episodes.  Helen’s memory loss is due to the death of her mother, which is shown briefly.  I’d say for most adults, though, it’s a good introduction to The Twilight Zone.

IMDb page

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 28 (A Nice Place to Visit)

Henry Francis 'Rocky' Valentine is not a good person by any stretch of the imagination.  The episode begins with him running away from a robbery.  He’s caught and shot by the police.  That’s not the end of his story, though.  He’s greeted by Mr. Pip, who informs the former thief that he’s dead.  Pip is to be his guide to the afterlife.

Valentine doesn’t believe it.  He demands Pip’s wallet.  Pip informs Valentine that he hasn’t carried a wallet, but does offer up several thousand dollars in cash.  He then shows Valentine to his new living quarters, which are really nice.  Valentine asks for a beautiful woman.  He gets his wish.  Valentine is shown to a casino where he can’t lose.  Any number he bets on in roulette comes up.  The slot machines will always pay him the jackpot.  He’s confused, as he’d always assumed he wouldn’t end up in heaven.  Pip assures Valentine that there’s been no mistake.

When Valentine asks to see some of his old friends, Pip informs him that it’s not possible.  All of this is entirely for Valentine’s benefit.  In fact, Pip and Valentine are the only two real people there.  Everything else is for effect.  Pip does take Valentine to the Hall of Records, if only to reinforce what a rotten person Valentine was in life.

At any rate, Valentine spends the next month enjoying the afterlife.  When he talks to Pip about the constant winning, Pip offers to let him lose one in a while.  Valentine says that it’s not the same.  Knowing that the fix is in takes the thrill out of it.  Valentine would rather go to “the other place” than spend one more day getting everything he wants.  Pip points out that he never said that this was Heaven.  Valentine is in the other place.

For some reason, this episode seems to make it into the marathons.  I’ve always thought it was one of the weaker episodes.  You probably could cut a few of the scenes out and end up with a more effective episode.  It spends a lot of time showing Valentine getting everything he wants.  I felt the episode could have done without some of it.

It also spends a lot of time establishing that Valentine isn’t a nice person.   Again, much of it is unnecessary.  Valentine calls women broads, which is understandable.  It goes to establishing what kind of person he is.  When Pip takes Valentine to the Hall of Records, it comes off as being for show.  The set was certainly nice to look at, but all Pip does is read off a few of Valentine’s presumably many crimes.

Twilight Zone episodes have never been heavy in the detail.  They’re easy to follow, yet often pack a punch.  This one was kind of thin.   There was way too much setup for too little payoff.  It’s not a horrible episode.  It’s good for at least one viewing.  However, I’m not sure how many people will be watching it repeatedly.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 27 (The Big Tall Wish)

Bolie Jackson has a long career as a boxer.  He certainly has the scars to prove it.  His better days are behind him and he knows it, but he’s still willing to get into the ring with an opponent.  Henry Temple is a boy who lives in the same building as Bolie.  Henry would seem to be Bolie’s biggest fan.

While talking about the fight, Henry tells Bolie that he’ll be making a big tall wish that Bolie wins.  He even says that it won’t hurt at all.  Bolie would pass it off as a kid’s wishful thinking, except that Henry’s mother, Frances, had received a $15 check right after Henry made one of his big tall wishes.  The funny thing is, that was exactly the amount that she needed.

Before the fight, Bolie breaks four of his knuckles, putting him at a disadvantage.  He fights anyway, as that’s what he came to do, but finds himself laying on the mat.  He’s just about down for the count when time freezes.  After a few moments, it’s his opponent that’s on the wrong end of the ref’s count.  Bolie stands victorious, not sure how I happened.

Everyone tells Bolie what a great match it was.  They all say that he never went down.  When he asks Henry about it, Henry admits to having used his wish to make Bolie the winner.  Bolie denies this; he must have won all on his own.  They go back and forth, with Henry saying that Bolie has to believe and Bolie saying that magic isn’t real.

The camera fades back to the ring.  Bolie again finds himself looking at the ceiling of the boxing venue.  He’s been counted out.  When he goes home for a second time, Henry still seems to admire him, although he admits that maybe there’s no place for magic wishes.  Bolie admits that maybe more people should make room for such things.

The episode is a good one.  I’m surprised that I’ve never seen it before.  It actually works on many levels.  On one, you have a child who still believes in magic and an adult who’s been around long enough to know better.  Even when Bolie is given his second chance, he can’t really accept it, either physically or mentally.  Did he really win the match?  Even if he did take the win, what about the next match?  What about the one after that?  Even though it would crush Henry’s belief, he has to reject it.

Both characters are relatable.  Those that have been around long enough can relate to someone who’s better days are behind them.  At some point, we have to move on from the things we want.  I would think that many of us have had Henry’s optimism at some point.  Some of us still do, although we’ve probably found out that optimism will only get you so far.  There are certain things you can’t wish in to existence.

Having seen the previous episodes, it strikes me that The Twilight Zone waited this long to have a majority of African-American characters.  Granted, the episode first aired in April of 1960.  Such a thing would have been groundbreaking, even for one episode.  Still, for someone born more than a decade after the original run of the series, it’s glaring how many of the actors throughout the series were Caucasian.  (Some could argue that this is still a problem in television and movies.  I can’t say I would disagree with them.)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 26 (Execution)

There seem to be two motivations for using a time machine.  In Back to the Future, Doc Brown builds a time machine with the intent of furthering our knowledge of history and humanity.  He can see how we’ll progress.  Biff Tannen, on the other hand, has no problem using the modified DMC-12 for his own use.  He steals Marty’s idea and makes himself rich and powerful.

Execution starts with the execution of Joe Caswell way back in 1880.  Just before Caswell can be hanged, he’s pulled to 1960 by Professor Manion.  By all accounts, Professor Manion is more like Doc than Biff.  He built the time machine to study people.  Caswell is his first attempt.  The problem is that Manion has no idea what Caswell is like.  He could be a saint or the devil.  Given that he’s admitted his guilt and lack of remorse to his would-be executioners lets us know that Manion is more like Biff than Doc.

One thing I’ll say about The Twilight Zone is that it seemed to have mastered brevity early on.  It did this by finding good writers.  Either Rod Serling adapted a short story or he let another writer pen the episode directly.  David Orrick McDearmon seems to have made a decent career directing for television.  This would be the first of three Twilight Zone episodes he’d direct.  IMDb also lists credits for Bonanza, Gilligan's Island and Bewitched.

Like other Twilight Zone offerings, this one doesn’t deal much with the mechanics of time travel.  We see the time machine, but the professor doesn’t mention how it works.  He’s more interested in questioning Caswell.  It takes Manion a few minutes to realize that he may have made a mistake.

What strikes me as odd is that Manion was smart enough to build a working time machine, but didn’t see fit to hire security or build some sort holding cell.  It’s one of those minor details that are forgivable.  Without it, we wouldn’t have a story and it believable that someone focused on the science wouldn’t consider the risks until it was too late.  If someone did invent a time machine, I would think that they’d be more prudent about it, though.

My big concern is that Manion doesn’t seem to have any control over who he brings forward.  It was lucky that he found someone on the verge of being killed.  Even though there were three people who noticed that he vanished, Caswell would likely be little more than a footnote in some county courthouse.  There would be little risk of influencing history.

This was the beauty of The Twilight Zone.  Many of the important details were there, even if they were subtle.  I’d recommend watching this episode if you can get it streaming.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Black Panther (2018)

Context matters.

It‘s true for art as well as people.  How a movie is interpreted depends on where it came from and who made it.  Also, what I bring to a theater will differ from what someone else brings to the theater.  I doubt that any two people will see Black Panther the same way.  (For instance, those that have studied history will probably pick up on certain aspects of the movie.)

There’s also the fact that there’s a majority-black cast.  As someone of European descent, I’m viewing the movie more as a comic-based action movie, which it does well.  However, it also has a hero who’s African.  It didn’t come off as an African hero movie to me.  It came across as a movie that used Africa and its culture as an effective backdrop to a great story.

Black Panther starts in 1992 with the then-king of Wakanda, T'Chaka, calling out his brother, N'Jobu, on assisting an arms dealer named Ulysses Klaue.  Cut to a small boy on a basketball court watching the king‘s ship leave.  In the present day, T’Chaka has died.  T’Chaka’s son, T'Challa, ascends to the throne after a ritual battle.  Meanwhile, Erik Stevens is helping Klaue steal vibranium.

Wakanda is a technologically advanced nation that uses vibranium as the basis for much of its technology.  It presents itself as a developing nation, keeping the technology hidden from the rest of the world.  Klaue is one of a few outsiders that know of the truth.  It was N’Jobu’s plan to share the technology to help oppressed people everywhere.  Klaue and Stevens have picked up the torch.

Well, Stevens moreso than Klaue.  Klaue is an arms dealer who intends to sell the vibranium.  He’s a rather happy guy for an arms dealer.  He really seems to enjoy his job.  Stevens tends to identify with those that were oppressed.  Like N’Jobu, he’d like to see Wakandan technology given to the underdogs.

This isn’t an easy call.  Wakanda has remained hidden for a reason.  To give out the technology would invite questions about where it came from.  There’s also the issue of the oppressed not stopping at mere freedom.  Our history is one of war and oppression.  Who’s to say that it wouldn’t completely reverse the dynamic rather than bring balance?

I do see the comparisons to the Bond movies.  You have a hero who gets great gadgets and cool transportation from a scientific advisor.  In this case, Q’s counterpart is T'Challa sister, Shuri.  She presents him with stealth shoes, communications devices and the suit you may have seen in the coming attractions.

I would say that the primary difference is that you don’t have the sexual innuendo and ironic names.  (Well, there is Killmonger, but I’m going to let that one go.)  I would say that if anything, this is what James Bond might have looked like if the movies were done with more of a serious tone.

For those who are new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the movie doesn’t seem to rely too heavily on other movies.  There were a few scenes that made more sense after looking stuff up, but I was able to follow and enjoy the movie without much trouble.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 8 (Shadow Boxer)

Shadowboxing is the practice of hitting the air to train for actual boxing.  It would seem to be the only form of boxing anyone will let Tommy Dunn do.  He’s the janitor at Manny King’s gym, but he wants to be more.  When Tommy asks to borrow a pair of gloves that Manny has laying around, Manny gets mad.  What does Tommy do?  He sneaks the gloves into the locker room and tries them on.  His shadow comes to life and kills Manny, who wants nothing more than to go home.  Being that there were no reports of anyone else in the area, Tommy isn’t questioned.

Meanwhile, at Curious Goods, the team of intrepid cursed-item hunters finds out about the death and make the connection to an item that Lewis Vendredi sold.  Micki happens to have a camera to document what she does at Curious Goods, which she takes with her to the gym.  She takes pictures of the boxers wearing their gloves to examine later, since the gloves have “killer” on them.  (Why they just can’t look at the gloves there is beyond me.)

Tommy takes a liking to Micki; Micki is instantly repulsed by him.  Just her luck, someone figures out that he has the gloves.  Ryan tries getting them from his locker, but another boxer chases him out of the locker room.  They follow Tommy back to his apartment.  Poor Micki has to lure Tommy out of his apartment on a ‘date’ so that Jack and Ryan can search his apartment.  Not that the gloves are anywhere that they’d look

Tommy makes it back to the apartment before Jack and Ryan can leave.  Micki tries to call them from a payphone with no luck.  Tommy tries to fight Jack and Ryan with the gloves, leaving Mr. Shadow to fight Micki.  That’s when we find out why she has the camera.  The shadow has a weakness for light, of course.  Now, it’s just a matter of time before the good guys beat the bad guys.

This is the eighth episode, which features the seventh artifact to be retrieved.  I think this is the first one where it’s obvious how someone figured out how to get the cursed item to work.  You put the gloves on and your shadow takes on a life of its own.  It’s fairly straightforward.  In fact, I’m surprised that it took something like a camera flash to make anyone realize that light was the weakness.  I would think that the writers could have thought of something less contrived than having one of the main characters suddenly own a camera.

This is also the first episode where Ryan gets to use one of the cursed items.  He subsequently realizes why it’s a bad idea.  He has to beat up Jack, even though it’s to save Micki.  This was a little more understandable. Jack and Ryan are friends, but it was a snap decision, as Micki was in danger.  It’s not clear if he could have use a wall to beat up, as there were no other obvious targets that presented themselves.

We also get the sense that there is an evil inherent to the items.  These are not things that could be used for good or easily studied.  The only option here is to lock them up so that no one can use them to harm someone.  I kind of feel spoiled, mostly because I’m used to shows like Warehouse 13, where there’s more flexibility.  The characters do occasionally get to use items for their own benefit, at least in retrieving other items.  Here, there’s no flexibility.  There’s no real room to explore the nature of the items.

This does make for an unusually dark show.  I only remember it in syndication, as I was 11 when the show first aired.  It’s the kind of show that might have given me nightmares, or at least make me afraid of the dark.  I mean, think about what it would mean to be chased by something that can beat the crap out of you, yet not take any hits in return.  It’s also something that would give someone the perfect alibi.  The show, and particularly this episode, isn’t for everyone.