Wednesday, December 17, 2014

TransAct Ithaca 153 Point of Sale Dot Matrix Printer

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

A receipt printer isn’t necessarily something you would normally purchase in the course of a day. Most people can go their entire lives without asking what they should look for in a receipt printer. Some people do need to look for one. The only reason I’m writing this review is that we use two of them at work. Had it not been for that, I probably never would have thought of receipt printers, either.

The Ithaca 150 printer is pretty standard. You put in a roll of receipt paper, load it in and press the reset button. Loading the paper is a little tricky for us since we use paper that’s taped in place. To start a new roll, we have to tear the paper, which makes it a little harder to load. If you feel like working, you can use a pair of scissors or a paper cutter. If not, you can just fold it over and load it in. My only real complaint about loading paper is that you’ll end up wasting a few feet of paper between tearing off the outer layer and the amount of paper that it feeds through when done. Also, you have to remember to hit the reset button on the far right, or else it won’t work.

Once that’s done, you don’t really want to have to think about the receipt printer. You just want it to work. That’s why I decided to write the review in the first place. We have two of these printers and one works well whereas the second doesn’t. The one that works is on the primary register, which I suppose is good.

The one on the secondary register has a bad habit of freezing up whenever there’s a power spike. I often have to call someone to get it working again. This isn’t good. I hate seeing the lights go out for a second and hearing the printer making that distinct sound for a second. It means I have to call it in and get the printer working again.

I can be pretty certain that it’s not the printer, though, because we’ve replaced that one. (If I recall, it had one too many power spikes and crapped out permanently.) The old one had the same set of problems. Not only did it freeze up, but it also seems to print a little more slowly. There are also some minor things that escape me at the moment, but I think many of them stem from the register, which we’ve had for a while. I’ll bet if we switched the printers, they’d take on the characteristics of the other instantly.

Overall, they’re reliable printers. As I said, we’ve had the same major problem with one, but the other has never given us any grief. I’d give the printer four stars. 

David Wilton - Word Myths: Debunking Linguisitic Urban Legends

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

There are many theories on where words and phrases come from.  Few are entirely correct.   For instance, there’s a certain four-letter word that’s said to stand for Fornication Under Consent of King.  Or is it Fornication Under Command of King?  Or, maybe it’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.  (No, wait… that last one’s a Van Halen album.)  Whatever your acronym of choice is, you’re wrong.  The word goes way back to a Germanic root.

Word Myths deals with all sorts of urban legends and stories concerning words, terms and phrases.  The whole nine yards is said to have to do with the amount of cloth necessary to make a kimono or a kilt or some other garment.  It may also refer to the length that machine-gun bullets come it, meaning that to go the whole nine yards is to expend all the rounds.  There’s no proof that any of these are true.

The book goes deals with so many different myths that it doesn’t really spend much time on any given term.  At most, you may get a page or two and the pages aren’t really that big.  It doesn’t seem to be meant as an in-depth study of anything.  Instead, it’s more for a casual reader that’s interested in word origins.  (If you want something with more detail, there are other books and movies you might want to look into.  The aforementioned curse word has its own documentary, as does the N word.)

The introduction was a little boring and repetitive.  It took me several false starts to get into the book for that reason.  Once I got past that, it wasn’t so bad, mostly because of the short sections.  That and the small size of the book make for an easy read.  I could see where it would get boring, though.

I apologize for the short review, but there really isn’t much to review.  As it’s nonfiction, there’s no real plot to discus.  The subject matter is pretty basic.  It’s not like I can give you a rundown of characters or a brief plot description.  If I were to go into even a small amount of detail on each myth covered, there would be no point in reading the book.  The best I can do is give you a general idea of what the book is like.

This is one of those books I’d recommend getting from the library rather than buying for yourself.  If you’re going to buy it, get it as a gift for someone else.  Yes, it could be used for reference, but there’s not enough detail on each myth that I think it would be worth it.  I think the overall theme of the book and the message I took from it is to bee a little more skeptical when someone tells you a story or forwards a story to you.  You never know how much of it is true.


Evil in Clear River (1988)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Lindsay Wagner plays Kate McKinnon, the mother of a high-school student who loves his history class. Most of the students worship Peter Suvak, played by Randy Quaid. Suvak is also the mayor of the small town in which the movie is set. Clear River, Alberta, is a close-knit community. That’s why it’s so hard for Kate and her husband to believe that Suvak is spreading what’s called revisionist history.

She finds out about it when her son is studying for history class. She notices that there are a lot of references in her son’s notes to Jews and a Jewish conspiracy. She confronts Suvak about it and he plays it down like it’s no big deal. He even offers to lend her some books on the subject. After reading them, she knows that Suvak is trouble. She takes the matter to the principal, who doesn’t really seem to want to do anything about it. She takes the matter to the school board twice and eventually gets Suvak fired.

Along the way, McKinnon finds that there are three groups of people in the community. First are the people that agree with Suvak. This includes most of his students and fellow teachers. The second group is made up of people that don’t want to get on the bad side of the first group. McKinnon’s neighbor doesn’t like Suvak, but says that she and her husband depend on the first group of people for business. The third group of people is made up of those that don’t really see what the first two groups are talking about. They don’t really know what’s going on.

The last group is the first group to join McKinnon’s cause, but there really aren’t that many willing to risk everything. McKinnon and family have to endure the hatred of the community. Some people from the second group join, but many of the second group are only made more afraid seeing what the McKinnons have to go through. Eventually, Mrs. McKinnon gains momentum. The matter eventually catches the attention of the media. This leads to a visit from a prosecutor who informs McKinnon that Suvak has violated the law. Jews are a recognized minority in Canada and Suvak has incited hatred of them. He’s arrested and people begin to see the light.

The story is one of good versus evil. Suvak believes that evil has taken the form of the Jewish people. McKinnon believes that evil has taken the form of Suvak, who she voted for twice because she felt that he’s a good man. He’s been good for the community for many years and everyone is able to look up to him.

I’m guessing that this was a made-for-TV movie. First, some scenes fade out and another fades in; this occurs about every fifteen minutes. (Essentially, the DVD is missing the commercial breaks.) Second, the movie ends with Suvak stripped of all power and the son, despite hating his parents, realizes the error of his ways. There’s definitely a feel-good sense to this movie.

There’s also some blatant and some subtle references to the good-versus-evil debate. McKinnon is focused on bringing down Suvak. She’s as convinced that she’s right as he is that he’s right. The thing that separates Suvak from McKinnon is that Suvak is in a position of authority. He has a responsibility to teach his students to think rather than to feed them his version of history. (Every major book on the subject, by the way, refutes his version of history. Suvak claims that the media are censored.)

I have to wonder if she went too far by trying to bring him down as mayor. It’s not that I think he wasn’t a bad man. To me, it seemed like more of a personal vendetta at that point than anything else. I know that he was evil and McKinnon couldn’t trust him, but as she had pointed out, many of the people felt that they could trust him as mayor even if he couldn’t be trusted as a teacher. McKinnon was trying to totally ruin him. Suvak’s conviction on the charge brought against him led to his downfall. Even though McKinnon’s effort to recall him had failed, Suvak had eventually been removed as mayor.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Robot and Frank = Abort Fond Rank [Robot & Frank (2012)]

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Frank Weld used to be a burglar.  He’s what’s called a second-story man.  (Basically, he’d try to gain entry using unconventional means, like through a second-story window.)  He’s retired now and somewhat forgetful.  He can remember where he lives, but seems to forget that a favorite restaurant of his closed and is now a beauty shop.  His son, Hunter, visits every week, but is worried about him.  Enter, Robot, an unnamed robot that’s meant to serve as Frank’s personal assistant.

Yes, robots are usually given names, but Frank is understandably upset about his gift.  He doesn’t want this machine telling him what to eat, when to wake up and how to spend his free time.  This changes when Frank realizes that Robot knows the law, but doesn’t understand it.  He can define breaking and entering, but doesn’t realize that he’s not supposed to do it.  This means that Frank can use Robot to break into a library and steal a book.

You wouldn’t think that a book would be worth stealing, even if it is an antique copy of Don Quixote, but the library is being made into a community center.  (The movie is set in the near future; books have become obsolete.)  He wants to steal it to impress the librarian, Jennifer.  Frank and Robot go on to burglarize the home of a pretentious developer and his wife.  This draws the attention of the police, mostly because the developer doesn’t seem to like Frank.  It’s up to Frank and Robot to do what they can to foil the police.

When I saw the page for the movie on Netflix, I figured it was one of these odd-couple buddy-type movies where the two grow closer to each other, or at least Frank comes to accept the robot.  Robot points out several times that he’s really the sum of his programming.  Anything else is in service to his primary directive of keeping Frank healthy.  (This leads to a dilemma: Does Frank wipe Robot’s memory or risk getting caught?)

There’s also the issue of worrying about a parent that has deteriorating health.  Frank’s memory is going.  Hunter doesn’t like the prospect of leaving his father home alone, but the alternative is a ‘brain center’, which is basically a nice way of saying nursing home for people with mental issues.  The solution is Robot, but even that has issues.  Frank’s daughter, Madison, has moral objections to having robotic help.

I found the premise to be very interesting.  It’s a problem that we’ve all had to worry about if we have older relatives, making the story relatable.  Frank’s memory loss isn’t to the point where he’s a joke.  It’s not a string of forgetful-old-man jokes.  Also, the robot does seem to mimic human behavior quite well, to the point that you can accept it as a character.  When Frank leans back against a wall to avoid being seen, Robot does the same.  It also has the ability to learn what Frank likes and is even able to negotiate.  Robot is aware that Frank may be caught and sent to prison, but is also aware that his cognitive health is getting better now that he has purpose.

There’s also not a lot of futuristic stuff.  Frank lives in a normal house with some moderately advanced technology.  (He has a flat-screen TV with the ability to have a video conference.  Cell phones look like transparent iPhones.)  It doesn’t try to oversell us on the futuristic stuff.  The two recurring reminders of that are the presence of the robot and the looming absence of the library.

I think most of all, it’s a simple story.  If you’re looking for something without a lot going on or things you might miss, this is a good movie to watch.  I’d like to get a friend or relative to watch this only because I’d like to talk about it with someone.  There are aspects of the ending that might leave you wondering. 

Official Site (Japan)

THX 1138 (1971)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Imagine a world where love and sex are both crimes. Instead of names, people are assigned an alphanumeric designation. Deviation from the norm is either ‘cured’ or results in the abnormal person being isolated from society.

THX 1138 is an average ‘person’ in such a society. He works in a factory making robots. His roommate, LUH 3417, monitors things. He and she both lead the life that the state wants them to, for the most part, until LUH starts altering THX’s diet. He starts to notice a change. He goes to a cookie-cutter confessional, where an image resembling Christ lights up and a recorded confessor plays. It’s very generic; people don’t seem to notice that it’s the same thing every time. (“Yes…Yes…I see…Please explain…”)

Eventually, THX gets to a point where he’s able to love his roommate and even have sex with her. SEN 5241 knows what’s going on. He wants to be THX’s roommate, so he reassigns LUH and puts himself put in her place. (He’s not supposed to be able to do this, but he’s very good at hacking into the computers.) THX and SEN end up turning each other in; both end up separated from society with a group of people that are deemed incurable. (Basically, everyone is medicated. I assume that these are the people that have problems that can’t be medicated.)

SEN wants to lead the people back into society, or at least to establish himself as their leader. THX simply wants to get out. Anyone who wants to come along is more than welcome to follow so long as they don’t bother him. SEN and THX set off to find the way out. The trick is that their prison is pure white in every direction. You can’t even see where the floor meets the horizon. Eventually, they meet a hologram who is able to show them an exit. (I’ll explain about the hologram later.)

The three of them leave and find themselves in a busy walkway. SEN gets separated from the other two and manages to get as far away as possible. THX and the hologram go in another direction and find their own way somewhere else. I won’t tell you what happens because I don’t feel it’s necessary to do so in order to discuss the movie. (Why should I ruin it for you?)

The society that you see in THX 1138 is a cross between Gattaca and 1984. Everything is controlled by a government or authority. There’s little or no room for deviation. Those that have seen Gattaca will remember it as being a very dark, dismal portrayal of the future. THX 1138 is a very bright, well-lit portrayal of the future, but is still rigid. Everyone is bald. Almost everyone is white and wears white clothing. One exception is the previously mentioned hologram, who’s black. I don’t think that he’s an actual hologram, per say. Rather, he’s an actor on a program that’s projected as a hologram. (He’s being called by what he does rather than what he is.)

It’s a very sterile-looking society. Almost everyone looks the same with very little differentiation between the genders. One of the recurring lines throughout the movie is that consumption is being standardized. Everything is ordinary, down to what people eat and what people watch. (Well, ok. Entertainment does some variation, but there don’t seem to be too many choices.)

The special edition contains two discs. One has the movie and some commentary on the audio. The other has trailers and all sorts of commentary on the movie. I definitely recommend watching the commentary on both discs. When watching the movie, you’ll find no explanation provided as to where the society is or how it got that way. It’s simply presented to you. The viewer is left to interpret the society and figure everything out. The commentary goes into what the filmmakers wanted and how they were trying to present the movie to you. There’s also some history of the film company, American Zoetrope, and how THX 1138 came to be as a movie.

This isn’t a movie for children. There’s not much nudity and what nudity there is isn’t really that erotic. However, I don’t think that many children will be able to understand the movie. (It took me maybe about five or ten minutes to really start understanding what was going on.) Also, even though everything is bright, there is a depressing aspect to the movie. Much of the movie deals with wanting to break free, either in a literal or figurative sense. This society is controlled. There’s almost no room for individuality. People just eat, sleep and work. I really don’t think a child would be able to handle this.

Even among adults, I don’t think that this movie is for everyone. I’m actually going to recommend this movie to my brother, who I think will like this. However, most of the people that I know would probably wouldn’t really be able to fully appreciate it. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Bill Moyers - Welcome to Doomsday

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I decided to look for some small books that I could read at the library without having to check out and take home.  I came across Welcome to Doomsday, which is apparently a transcript of a speech given by Bill Moyers.  In the lecture, he speaks of the religious right and their presence in American politics.

He feels that such a presence is dangerous because someone who believes the rapture is upon us doesn’t have proper motivation to protect the environment.  Forget the belief that God gave us a planet to use as we pleased.  If Jesus is going to come tomorrow and take you to Heaven, what do you care if the planet is shot today?

The speech refers to it being Bush’s sixth year, which would make it about four years old.  Things have changed a little.  We have a different President in office, but we do have a midterm election coming up, if I recall.  The president isn’t the only one with political influence; Moyer points out  that there are plenty of senators and representatives that have strong Evangelical constituencies.

There’ s a preface by Bill McKibben.  McKibben seems to agree with Moyers in that the Republicans worry him.  The book seems to indicate that Evangelicals and/or Republicans are solely to blame for the environmental mess we’re in now.  The Bush Administration, according to the book, is the one that wants to roll back all of the environmental legislation like regulations governing clean air and water or protection for endangered species.

I’m a liberal atheist.  I don’t belong to any political party.  I think it’s too easy to blame Republicans or Democrats or Evangelicals.  What we need is elected officials that will help protect the planet.  I’m also curious as to how many Evangelicals actually believe in rapture and how many of those don’t actually think it’s necessary to protect the planet.  (In other words, how do Evangelicals feel about how they’re portrayed in the book?)

One of the problems with a speech, especially such a short one, is that you can throw out some facts and innuendo.  There may be truth to what Moyers says, but I’ve learned not to take one person’s take at face value.   The book is worth reading, but I wouldn’t stop here.  I’d recommend getting several viewpoints on the subject.

It’s a very short book, which is why I chose it for review.  It’s only 56 pages; each page is relatively small, making the book easy to read in one sitting.  This book doesn’t really give any solid facts like statistics.  It’s more of a warning not to take the Bible literally as some people have.  It seems to be the opinion of Bill Moyers.  I’m not saying that this is good or bad.  As with any subject, I’d recommend getting at least a few different sources, whether or not this is one of them. 
Bill McKibben's Web Site

The Human Stain = A Hint: Shun Mate [The Human Stain (2003)]

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Life is full of difficult decisions. It's also full of foolish mistakes that you wish you could undo.

Anthony Hopkins plays Coleman Silk. He's got a great position at a college that he is said to have taken from being mediocre to being great. One day, he's teaching class. He calls on two students who happen to not be present that day. It's the fifth week of class and Silk can't recall having ever seen them. He asks if any of the students have seen these two mystery people or if they're simply "spooks." He uses the word to mean ghost, but both of the students (both of which are African-American) take great offense at the word, which also has a derogatory use. Despite the fact that Silk couldn't have possibly known what the two students looked like, a hearing is formed. Silk resigns in protest. When he tells his wife what happened, she can't handle the stress; she dies of an aneurysm several hours later. Thus, the story is set in motion.

Silk contacts a reclusive writer, Nathan Zuckerman, who is played by Gary Sinise. Zuckerman encourages Silk to write his own story, but Silk can't get the words right. In the meantime, the two men form a friendship. Silk also meets Faunia Farley at the Post Office where she works. (She also milks cows to pay for rent and has another job at the college where Silk worked.) The two end up sleeping together, which isn't a good idea considering her psychotic and possessive ex-husband, played by Ed Harris.

It took me a while to get into the movie. It had gotten to the point where I was so invested in the movie that I simply watched the rest of it because I didn't have that much time left in the movie. It isn't until the end that you really begin to appreciate it.

It's a very complicated plot. The movie has a lot of flashbacks as Silk tells his story to Zuckerman, but it's not hard to keep track of. The timeline is either pretty evident or becomes evident quickly. You do have to pay attention to the movie. You really can't watch it while doing something else.

There's also a very depressing aspect to it. Silk had a lot of decisions to make and a lot of his choices brought him enemies. "Spook" may have been a poor choice of words, but no one stuck up for him. When it came down to it, he was on his own and a lot of Silk's isolation had to with the decisions he made.

If you think that I've given away too many details, then you haven't seen the movie. There are still a few surprises left for you. Do not take your children to see this movie. There's sex, derogatory terms, violence and all sorts of adult themes. Children couldn't possible understand much of the movie. It's also not for everyone. This isn't a feel-good movie. It's a movie that's going to make you look at certain things and really think about them. 

Official Site (Mirimax)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Clue (1985)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Being born in 1976, there were a lot of movies that I was aware of.  Some were movies that were talked about, but I was too young to see.  (The Godfather was released a few years before I was born, but I had to wait to be able to see it.)  Others, I saw, but didn’t remember that well.  Clue was one such movie.  The movie is based on the board game of the same name.  I think most of what I remember of the movie came from having played the game.

For those that have never played the board game, the basic idea is to figure out which of several characters committed a murder.  You also have to figure out which of several weapons were used and which of several rooms the murder took place in.  It was one of those games that I never cared for, mostly because I could never really get the hang of it.

The movie borrows the characters, weapons and rooms.   It’s set in 1954.  We start with a butler named Wadsworth, who wasn’t in the game but is used for the sake of the story.  He’s invited several people to the house where he works, but for secrecy, he’s decided to give each person a pseudonym from the game.  (Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum, etc.)  He then reveals that Mr. Boddy has been blackmailing each of them for various reasons.  (Colonel Mustard was a war profiteer.)  An assortment of weapons (gun, lead pipe, etc.) are provided.  When the lights go out, several expected sounds (a gunshot, a thud, etc.) are heard.  The lights come back on and we have a dead Boddy.

To add to the suspense, several other murders take place.  (A police officer, a distressed motorist and a singing telegram show up, putting them in mortal danger.)   It’s up to the remaining people to figure out who did what to whom with what and where.  Not only do the main characters know each other, but the three uninvited guests are not random.

The game carries over well to a movie.  This is probably because the game was one of mystery.  All you’re really doing is taking the names, weapons and locations provided and working them into a story, which could easily have been written as a independent concept and modified slightly to fit the details of the board game.  There’s also a lot of comedy, which is a bit unusual for a murder mystery.

There are a few adultish aspects to the movie.  Many of the secrets are somewhat adult in nature, although nothing explicit is mentioned.  (Miss Scarlet tends to the desires of men.  Mr. Green is gay, which was probably more of a big deal for someone in a position of power in the 1950s than today.)  Also, there’s a maid that grownups will probably react differently to than children.  Again, there’s nothing explicit, but it is worth mentioning.  We’re talking PG-13 at worst.

One thing that I wondered about was the multiple endings.  Those that have seen it on TV or on home media know that there are three endings, each with a different set of murderers.  The movie, with all three endings, runs about an hour and a half.  (IMDb has it listed at 94 minutes.)  From what I’ve read and heard, the movie was released in theaters with each ending separately.  (Theaters had the endings marked as Ending A, Ending B or Ending C.)  This would have made the movie much shorter.  I realize that there’s no law saying that a movie has to be of at least a certain length, but the endings take up about half of the movie.  I was thinking that the movie would have had to have been something like 60 minutes if you took out two endings.

I was able to get the movie streaming through Netflix.  The only option is to watch all three endings, although you may have the option to play the endings individually if you get the DVD.  It looks like the option is available on DVD, but I’m not sure if this is something only available on certain versions.  I’d say watch it streaming or, if you get the DVD, watch the combined version.  I don’t know if you’re going to want to sit through three iterations of the movie just watch the endings separately. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Explorers (1985)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

There are a lot of movies that I remember from growing up.  The problem is that I don’t remember any of them well enough to write a review of them.  This is where Netflix comes in handy.  I’ve recently been going through movies that I remember from years past.  I had actually all but forgotten about Explorers.  One day, while goofing around on Wikipedia, I came across the movie and decided to look it up.  Lo and behold, there it was, available for streaming.

I remembered very little about it, except that it was about three teenagers that manage to build a spaceship based on some dreams that one of them was having.  They manage to leave Earth and are taken aboard an alien spaceship, where they make some new friends.  There were a few throwaway lines and jokes, but that was about it.

Ben Crandall is the kid with the dreams.  Ben sees himself floating over what he believes is a circuit board.  He remembers enough of it to show to his nerdy and unfortunately named friend, Wolfgang Muller.  Wolfgang recognizes enough of it to build something.  Along for the ride is Darren Woods, a kid that helped Ben with some bullies.

Amazingly, the prototype is able to work.  It even downloads some instructions.  Wolfgang manages to figure out what’s going on; it’s creating a stable force field.  He can even manipulate it.  They make it big enough for a small home-made vessel to fit in.  When it develops a mind of its own, they shut it down, but make another attempt not long after.

The vessel is brought on to an alien ship.  After being split up, they meet some aliens.  The aliens really like Earth (read: American) culture.  All they want to do is meet some humans.  The five of them hang out for a while before the humans are basically told that it’s time to go.

I have to admit that nostalgia played a huge part in rewatching this film.  I probably would have passed on watching it had I not seen it as a child.  I remembered liking it when I first saw it, but not so much now.  From what I’ve read, it was rushed to theaters, but it does have a complete look to me, even if just barerly.  I’m wondering if there were other scenes that were meant to be filmed but left out.

It’s kind of weird to think of a few teenagers making a functional spaceship off of a lucid dream.  (Granted, they did have help.)  It’s the kind of thing that, if done well, could have spawned a sequel or a TV series.   It seemed to me that the aliens got a small amount of screen time.

It’s definitely a movie that children could enjoy.  There’s not much violence, other than Ben being beaten up.  You don’t have any adult themes.  It’s just three kids going on an adventure.  Do they give up after a few setbacks or do they go into the great unknown?  There is a great deal of trust in restarting the project.

All things considered, I don’t regret rewatching the movie.  It was still kind of fun to see.  I’d recommend checking it out if you have kids.  The aliens are kind of goofy, but I don’t think would be scary for children in grade school. 

Howard the Duck (1986)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Shortly after digital cable was installed in my house last week, I began flipping through the free On Demand stuff. I found Howard the Duck. Now, some movies I see because I want to. Others, I see because others lock me in a room and force me to watch them. Then, there are movies that I just end up watching. Howard the duck is part of the third category. I had seen the movie many, many years ago and vaguely recalled the plot details. I sort of remember liking the movie overall, but disliking a few parts. I decided to give it a second shot, mostly because, as I said, it was free.

The movie is about an evolved duck named, of all things, Howard T. Duck. He lives in Marshington, D.C., on a planet remarkably like Earth. He has an apartment, likes cigars and reads Playduck. Just as he’s settling in for the night, he apartment begins to rattle. He’s ripped out of his building and across the galaxy to our planet. He lands in the middle of Cleveland only to find two guys harassing a woman. As any gentleman would do, Howard steps in and uses his massive Quack Fu skills to save the day.

Grateful, the woman takes him in. She’s the lead singer of a band called the Cherry Bombs and goes by Beverly Switzler. (For those that think she looks a bit familiar, she’s played by Lea Thompson.) Howard tells her of his plight and, despite wanting to go home, knows he’ll have to blend in until he can figure out how he can do that. The thing is that she knows someone who actually knows the guy responsible for bringing Howard to Earth.

Doctor Walter Jenning is more than happy to send Howard back. There’s just one slight problem. Before Howard can get to the lab, there’s a slight accident in which Dr. Jenning is taken over by an Evil Overlord From the Edge of the Universe. The Evil Overlord From the Edge of the Universe is intent on bringing his Evil Overlord friends to rule Earth and they need human hosts to survive in our environment. Howard must stop the possessed Jenning from allowing Evil Overlords to possess Beverly.

Now, Howard the Duck wasn’t a bad movie. It just had a few issues. The one thing kept bothering me about the movie was the obvious duck puns, such as the aforementioned Marshington. The movie doesn’t rely on it, but does occasionally beat you over the head with it. There’s even some duck nudity that might be hard to explain to a small child.

Another thing that kept bothering me was how everyone was scared of Howard. I’m sorry, but a duck just isn’t that scary. He’s three feet tall and talks. Big deal. Get used to it. He’s going to be around for a while. There are a few passersby that don’t take him seriously. This, I can understand. This would even be my reaction. You see something like Howard and think it’s a guy in a duck costume. (Yes, I know. It is actually several guys taking turns in a duck costume, but you get my point.)

The movie was based on some comics done by Steve Gerber. I’ve never seen the comics, but I’d like to look into them. I don’t think the movie was translated that well. It’s not the acting, exactly, nor is it the fact that the movie is dated. I don’t think it did that well in its own time. I think it’s just that the movie didn’t seem to take itself seriously enough to be a serious contender as a movie.

For instance, none of the science is really explained. You’re basically told that there’s this big ray gun that can suck people off of far-distant planets for no good reason and can even send them back. It can also suck Evil Overlords From the Edge of the Universe and put them inside of a person. You just have to accept this. There’s nothing about transdimensional rifts or space-time anomalies.

It is an interesting story, which opens with a narrator saying that given an infinite universe, an infinite variety of planets exist. Had the movie been done well, I could have seen it being made into a TV show or at least spawning a few sequels. The trouble is that it’s kind of hard to take the duck costume that seriously. It looks unrealistic to the point of being distracting.

Overall, the movie is decent if you don’t take it that seriously. I can’t give it more than three stars, though.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Galaxy Quest (1999)

It’s funny how one show or movie can become a cultural icon while others of similar quality are never noticed.  Even those who have never seen Star Trek would probably know the names of the ship and at least a few of the characters and main races.  This is what makes it perfect for parody.  Everyone gets the joke on some level.

Galaxy Quest starts off at a convention for a show called, appropriately enough, Galaxy Quest.  The main actors didn’t have much of a career outside of doing conventions, promotions and whatnot in character.  (Alexander Dane, played by Alan Rickman, is never seen without his prosthetic forehead, even during the one scene where he’s in normal clothing.)

Tim Allen plays Jason Nesmith.  Jason Nesmith plays the captain of the NSEA Protector.  At a convention, he overhears what a washed-up, good-for-nothing, unpopular person he his.  He realizes that it’s true and takes it out on a group of fans.  On his way out, he talks a group seeking his help.  This group happens to be actual aliens in need of actual help.  When they approach Nesmith at his house, Nesmith is hung over.

He still agrees to go with them, thinking it’s some other job.  Little does he realize that he’s actually supposed to negotiate with a hostile alien named Sarris.  It isn’t until he’s sent back home that he realizes that any of it was real.  His fellow actors dismiss him as drunk until the aliens show up again, requesting further help.  Everyone goes, including an actor who had appeared only as an extra in one episode.

They soon realize that the Thermians are advanced enough to build a replica of the ship from the show, but have no idea that the show was a work of fiction, which apparently doesn‘t exist in their culture.  They refer to the episodes of Galaxy quest as historical documents, thinking that the actors are actually astronauts.

The actors play along until they realize that all Nesmith did was to aggravate Sarris and all Nesmith did was get his ‘crew’ into danger.  The second incident with Sarris goes poorly, resulting in a badly damaged ship, which they do manage to repair.  Sarris eventually attacks the ship again, nearly winning.  With a little help, the day is saved.

Very few of the jokes are specific enough that you’d have to watch the series to get them.  Some of them are more generic, like having to race through an improbable obstacle course.    Some are more specific, like references to particular characters.  (Sigourney Weaver plays Gwen DeMarco, shown to be little more a love interest for the captain.)

The movie is almost like an accidental A-Team movie with a Star Trek twist.  Sure, the abducted-by-na├»ve-aliens thing has been done before.  Sure, coming through despite not really being able to has been done before.  Sure, I’d love to see if they try a sequel.  (So far as I know, the last one is still in the speculation stage.)
It comes across as a movie that makes its point without being preachy.  It pokes fun at the people without being insulting.  (Isn’t it every fan’s dream to help out the star of their favorite show?)  I don’t know that it would make my list of top ten films, but it does find that balance of being fun and being smart.  I’d recommend watching it if you get a chance.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

They Came from Beyond Space (1967)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

You wouldn’t think that meteorites hitting the Earth would be a big deal.  Objects fly through our solar system and tend to hit the outer planets, but do occasionally make it through to ours.  Most of those burn up in our atmosphere, but a few do manage to land on the surface.  When that happens, I wouldn’t think to send out a team of top-notch scientists to investigate.  So, what’s so unusual here?  The meteorites land in a chevron formation.

So, the team goes out.  Dr. Curtis Temple, unfortunately, has to stay back.  He was in an accident and has a metal plate in his head.  His doctor just cannot let him go on the expedition.  So, Dr. Temple stays behind and curses his misfortune.  The biggest find in his lifetime and he has to sit it out.

When the expedition arrives at the site, everything is as boring as you might expect.  They’re taking soil samples and rock samples biological samples and sample samples.  When they closely examine one of the rocks, they’re taken over by aliens.

The aliens apparently exist as energy; they can thus impose their will on someone and use the host’s memories to their advantage.  They can use the scientists knowledge of science to design a space ship.  When they need money, one of the aliens can go to the bank and empty out the host’s bank account or, better yet, take over a banker so that the alien can approve a loan.  They can take over other people for manual labor or whatever else they need.

Dr. Temple’s luck seems to change when one of the other scientists comes back and invites him to visit the site.  He’s assured that his doctor signed off on it, but he becomes suspicious when someone else takes one look at him and says that there must have been some mistake and kicks him out of the car.

Well, doctor’s approval or not, Dr. Temple is going out to the site to find out what’s going on.  When he arrives, his assistant/love interest, Lee Mason, comes to the gate and tells him to get lost.  Of course, it’s so unlike her that Dr. Temple is now very suspicious.  He has to find out what’s going on despite being chased off several times.

He does eventually make it on to the property and learns several things.  For starters, the aliens are building a large rocket ship that launches from a lake.  Second, he’s immune to the aliens’ mind control, presumably due to his metal plate.  Thirdly,  they have a large underground complex where they can hold him until they finish their nefarious plans.  (Speaking of which, they refuse to say exactly what those nefarious plans are.  Go figure.)

So, Dr. Temple manages to escape, take a few of the space pistols and abduct Ms. Mason.  He goes to a friend’s house hoping that the friend can help him.  By melting some silver trophies, they learn that it is Dr. Temple’s metal plate that prevents the mind control.  They also learn that the space pistols have a setting that will rid a host of the alien presence…permanently.  With this knowledge, they can hopefully rid the world of the aliens.

I bought this movie (yes, I paid money for it) as part of a ten-movie set.  All of the movies are public domain, meaning that St. Clair Vision (or its parent company) didn’t have to pay a penny for the rights.  I really wonder sometimes if anyone actually decides which movies to use or if they just take the first nine or ten movies that they can get a hold of.  They Came From Beyond Space wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great either.

The film transfer was decent, but had frequent and obvious flaws.  Those of us that grew up in the 80s will remember seeing a movie in the theater towards the end of its first run or seeing the movie in a dollar theater.  If you waited too long, you’d see a movie that had lots of lines and blips, which were flaws in the actual film from having been run too many times.  It looks like they transferred the movie from one of these reels.  It wasn’t enough that I couldn’t watch it, but it was annoying.

Also, the visual effects left something to be desired.  The rocks glowed, but seemed low-tech.  Also, there’s was the psychedelic knock-out effect used whenever someone was stunned by the ray gun.  This may very well have been cutting edge at the time, but those that grew up on modern effects may laugh at this one.

I also wonder why there’s always one guy who’s immune and he always a theory as to why.  (The theory usually proves correct, or at least close enough to the truth to be of use.)  Also, the person who’s immune is usually the curious type, such as Dr. Temple.  Personally, if I pulled up at a gate and was told by several people (including someone I knew) to go away, I’d probably go away, even if I was suspicious.  If I really felt like pushing the matter, I’d probably get outside help at that point.  I wouldn’t wait until I was captured to consider getting someone.

Also, the movie is 90% buildup.  Now, I’m not saying that I want all the secrets given away in the beginning, but I don’t think that an 85-minute movie should wait until the last five minutes to tell the audience what’s going on.  Whenever Dr. Temple asks anyone what’s going on, he’s told something about the work being very important, but isn’t given any details.  He and his friend literally have to go to great lengths to get any answers.  Once the endgame is in play, the answers come all at once.

I’m not sure where the title comes from.  I mean, there’s the Earth and then there’s outer space.  What’s beyond space?  I don’t know.  At the very least, it’s an interesting way to waste some time.  For a movie released in 1967, it’s pretty good.  I just don’t think that it’s the best movie that science fiction has to offer. (full movie)