Sunday, June 16, 2019

Men in Black: International (2019)

I was so excited for a new Men in Black movie.  It didn’t have Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones in it.  Ok.  Fine.  That’s not the end of the world.  Emma Thompson’s there, offering some bit of continuity.  Frank the Pug has a cameo, as do The Worms, so there’s that.  Even thought it’s a mostly new cast, this could still work out.

The Men in Black are facing two threats.  One is from the Hive, an insidious organism that absorbs races rather than kill them.  The other is from an apparent mole in the organization.  When Agent M and Agent H are tasked with protecting an alien dignitary, said dignitary is killed under their watch.  Agent M is understandable, as she’s the probationary agent.  H is more experienced, although it doesn’t really show.

So, the two go off on a planet-wide adventure to figure out what’s going on and to protect the Earth from aliens that might do it harm.  Not everything is what it seems, though.  Friends might be enemies.  Enemies might be ordinary people just trying to protect themselves.

While the movie was fun, it didn’t quite capture the magic of the first three movies.  K was a straight man to J’s comedic personality.  The first three movies seemed to flow naturally as almost a single story.  This seems to be a case of trying one too many times.  Yes, it hits a lot of the marks, like fast action sequences and interesting aliens, but it’s just not the same.

Part of it might be that the first three movies had a clear enemy.  (Edgar the Bug, Serleena and Boris The Animal, respectively.)  The Hive is a little too amorphous and hidden to be taken seriously.  I get that having your own people pose a threat is something in itself, but the movie focused too much on the chase scenes and not enough on any real sense of urgency.  Agents M and H get to spend the night in the desert repairing an alien motorbike.

I also get that the stories for J and K had an arc and that arc came to an end, but it seems kind of sudden to simply replace them as lead characters.  It might have worked better to replace one or the other first.  Having cameos by other characters isn’t enough.  It’s too much of a clean break to really carry the momentum.

The London branch seems like a pale comparison of the New York branch.  How, exactly, did H become an agent, anyway?  He seems too laid back to be taken seriously.  I get that he does have skills, but the first time we see him, he’s “meditating” on the job.

While we’re at it, it’s evident that there are more than 26 agents.  New York didn’t seem to have that many agents and could have done with letters for names.  London has a lot of people.  Do they reuse letters?  MIB 3 had an agent AA, if I recall, but all of the characters shown on screen have a single letter: Z, J, K, O, M, H or C, for instance.  It’s also possible that people just use their first initial.  James D. Edwards became Agent J.  Molly Wright became Agent M.  Dealing with two agents with the same letter might be like dealing with two agents with the same name.  It also might explain why Liam Neeson’s character is called High T.

There are a few other issues that I have with the movie, some of which can’t be asked without spoiling the ending.  While it was a fun movie to watch, I was a little let down.  It’s just not the same.  I suppose another installment might do better, but this could very well be a case of a franchise going one movie too far.  It might have been better to leave well enough alone.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Happy! (Season 1)

There are some characters that may get to the right place, even if they’re willing to bend or break a few rules.  In 24, Jack Bauer is framing his actions as part of the greater good.  What’s a few broken fingers if millions of lives are saved?  He’s the guy you send in when conventional means aren’t an option.

To be clear, Nick Sax is no Jack Bauer.  Nick used to be a cop, but he made a series of bad choices, like sleeping with his partner.  He’s become about as apathetic as one can get.  He’s working as a hit man when he gets an unexpected visitor:  Happy.

Who is Happy?  Happy is a purple winged unicorn who happens to be the imaginary friend of Hailey Hansen, who has been kidnapped by Very Bad Santa.  She sends Happy out to find her father to help her and the other abducted children.  Nick is reluctant to help, mostly because it’s hard for an imaginary friend to be that persuasive.  (He’s also reluctant to believe that he has a daughter.)  Nick eventually comes around and starts tracking Hailey.  Also on the case are his former partner, Meredith McCarthy, and his ex-wife, Amanda.

You might wonder how a show about an imaginary friend would work.  There are some rules, like imaginary friends disappearing when the child dies.  (If the child stops believing, the imaginary friend still exists, unseen.)  It would also appear that imaginary friends are more real than one might expect.  Happy is able to relate information to Nick that Nick might not otherwise have access to.

Nick and Happy make for an extremely odd couple.  Nick is about as jaded as you can get.  Happy is about as optimistic as one could make a cartoonish character.   Nick can’t stand Happy and Happy is mostly doing this for Hailey’s sake.  In fact, may of the relationships can be defined as unwanted.  His ex-wife and ex-partner don’t want to work together, but do.  McCarthy is also being pressured by the show’s main antagonist, who is, in turn, being pressured by a client in a giant bug suit.  I’d say they only two characters that want to interact with each other are Hailey and Happy, who see the least of each other during the first season’s eight episodes.

It’s surprising that SyFy put out such a dark show.  It’s a lot closer to Breaking Bad than 24.  It’s almost like Breaking Bad and 24 were put into a blender with a heavy dose of sarcasm.  Even though it features a kids’ show, this is definitely for adults.  There’s plenty of graphic violence in each episode.  There’s also more subtle imagery, like two teletubby-like characters, shooting a rainbow between their respective places where the sun doesn’t shine.  (You may not even want to know where Smoothie got his nickname.)

The first season was ridiculous in a few areas, but generally worked pretty well.  The plot twists seemed to be in all the right places and none of them seemed unnecessary.  Part of this is probably because the season was so short.  You can only miss the bad guy so many times before it becomes a cliché. 


John Wick (2014)

I got the DVD out of the library in preparation for John Wick 3.  (I’ll be seeing John Wick Chapter 2 in the next few days.)  the story is very action oriented.  There‘s an XKCD where two characters are discussing Summer blockbusters.  One laments that there haven’t been any good action films.  At best, the films were at least 60% non-action.  While John Wick isn’t River Tam Beats Up Everyone, it’s probably the closest I’ve seen so far.

The movie starts with the title character grieving for the loss of his wife.  In anticipation of her death, Helen Wick arranged to have a puppy named Daisy delivered to John after her death.  She knew that the only other thing in this world that he paid attention to was his car.  The puppy would allow him to have someone there for him as he grieved.

Enter Iosef Tarasov.  He’s the entitled son of mob boss Viggo Tarasov.  When Iosef sees Johns nice, shiny car, Iosef wants it.  John rebukes Iosef, which ;leads to Iosef breaking into John’s house one night.  Iosef steals the car and kills Daisy.   Normally, this might be the end of the story, but John Wick used to work for Viggo as a hit man.  As Viggo points out, John’s not the bogeyman.  He’s the one you send after the bogeyman.  That’s who Iosef pissed off.

The rest of the movie is John seeking revenge on Iosef.  Viggo tries desperately to protect his son, including putting out a $2,000,000 bounty on John’s head.  Viggo has essentially sentenced his entire organization to death.  Anyone who gets in John’s way is shot.  Both of the people who take the contract also end up dead, even though one is John’s friend.  (I suspect that John Wick will be the only one who will make his way to Chapter 2.)

The world that John lived in is pretty complete.  There’s even a cleaning crew that takes ‘dinner reservations’ when bodies need to be disposed of.  Services are paid for in gold coins.  There’s even a hotel where hit men can rest without fear of being killed.

I suppose if you’re going to do a movie like this, you’d better do it well.  I didn’t really have many issues with the movie that weren’t to be expected.  Yes, it’s cliché when one person manages to kill dozens of armed people that are chasing him, but John Wick is supposed to be that good.  I was a little surprised that he didn’t sleep with a gun under his pillow.  (Granted, he wasn’t expecting someone to break into his house, but still…)

My only other question deals with the end of the movie and I’ll probably have it answered shortly.  I don’t want to ask it here so as to not potentially ruin the ending.  However, I may ask it in the next review if the answer isn’t clear.

I would say watch this movie only if you like very violent stories.  Consider the death count.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019)

In The Secret Life of Pets, we learned that Max is a very lucky dog to have a home and a human named Katie to care for him.  He’s still lucky.  He has the same home and all and a canine roommate that he learned to get used to.  Things rarely ever stay the same, though.  Max and Duke receive a shock when their human brings home a boyfriend, Chuck.  Chuck becomes Katie’s husband.  Then, Katie becomes pregnant.

Yes, Max is going to have to put up with a rug rat.  After seeing what small children do to other dogs, Max isn’t thrilled.  However, he learns to love Liam.  Max and Duke are like an extra set of parents, doing what they can to help their newest family member.

The trouble is that Max isn’t as good as Duke at handling stress.  Now that Max has to worry about Liam, he sees danger everywhere.  This leads to a nervous habit of scratching his neck, which leads to a visit to the doctor.  And…Max gets The Cone of Shame.

We now have three divergent storylines.  Max, Duke and family go to a farm for a vacation, prompting Max to entrust fellow dog Gidget to watch over his beloved toy, Busy Bee.  Meanwhile, Snowball gets to play hero and rescue a tiger from a circus.  The three stories converge at the end, making for an interesting chase scene.

I’ve been reading complaints about having three story lines.  It’s not that bad.  Each one is at least entertaining and it’s not unusual for a TV show to do the same thing.  (CSI would often have two cases per episode.)  My impression is that the movie was written this way rather than having several otherwise-rejected story lines being merged together.

I could see them having been written as filler.  It’s not clear why Max would need someone to babysit his toy.  It would be more likely that Katie would bring it with them.  That does seem like it’s being done to set up the detour into The Land of the Crazy Cat Lady.  However, that was a pretty epic journey.

Having Snowball save a tiger was also strange.  At this point, circuses are anachronistic.  (Do we even have any traveling circuses any more?)  If I were writing the movie, I probably would have gone with a collector of exotic pets.  It would have made more sense.  It’s also a little odd that the tiger is so docile.  Tigers are wild animals and have been known to attack their captors, even after years or decades in captivity.

It still ends up being a fun movie.  It would seem that many of the errant details are done more for a joke, like having the tiger act like a house cat might.  It’s going to be fun for both kids and adults.  I just wonder how many kids will want a pet tiger.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 22 (The Pirate's Promise)

The premise of Friday the 13th: The Series was pretty simple.  Two cousins inherit an antique shop from an uncle only to find out that some of the items are cursed.  They rename the shop Curious Goods and run it as a front so that they might track down those cursed items that Uncle Lewis unleashed on the world.  They then store the items in a vault so that no more harm can come as a result of those items.

This week, it’s a cursed foghorn.  Cousins Micki and Ryan travel to a coastal town only to find that it was sold to someone who was traveling and can’t be reached.  Well, maybe not.  The guy who sold it, Joe, lures a young lady back to his cool lighthouse only to show her the nifty foghorn that he supposedly sold to some unnamed person.  He then kills the woman, drags her down the stairs and hands her over to a cloaked figure in a rowboat.

The town was founded by the crew of a ship.  They mutinied, setting their captain adrift.  It turns out that the cloaked figure is the ghost of said captain.  He’s using Joe to kill the descendants of the crew, who all miraculously still live in the town.  Oh, and each crewmember has exactly one descendant, each of which is really easy to find and subdue.  (No one has left town nor have they received any martial-arts training.)  Micki and Ryan retrieve the foghorn only after Joe has killed all of the descendants and subsequently died as the final victim of the curse.

My first obvious complaint is that each crewmember had exactly one descendant.  The town was founded in 1720, meaning that something like 12-15 generations have passed.  How is it that each generation had only one child?  Assuming two children per generation, you should be talking 4,000 descendants.  Plus, given that no one seems to move out of town, there might be people descended from several people on the ship.

Another thing I noticed is that Micki and Ryan dropped the ball on this one.  If the curse is that descendants have to die and that Joe seemingly completed his mission, the artifact would be useless.  Even if the curse would allow someone else to use the foghorn, there are no more descendants left.

This curse also seems awfully specific to me.  Most of the cursed items are generic.  Cursed items could be used by anyone and applied to anyone.  I’m assuming that the nature of the curse wasn’t determined until Uncle Lewis’s deal with the devil, but I could be wrong.  It is an interesting curse, at least.

Overall, the episode is fairly decent.  The show at least put some effort into the history of the item.  I just think a few points could have been done better.  At the very least, Joe was lucky that none of the family lines had died out.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 21 (Double Exposure)

If you caught a marathon of Friday the 13th episodes without watching the first few, you might wonder why all of them have to be so evil.  The truth is that many of the items were cursed by Satan.  He’s not going to make a cursed item that shoots out puppies and rainbows.  It’s a fair point, though.  Most episodes involve death.  In fact, many end with a cursed object taking the life of the person that was trying to gain from it.  Even if there was a rainbow-spewing item, it would be better to go after the dangerous ones first.

Double Exposure is no exception to this.  It involves a TV news anchor named Winston Knight who comes across a camera that allows him to make a duplicate of someone.  All he has to do is photograph them with the camera and develop the negative.  The duplicate would then seem to be pliable enough that Winston is able to have his duplicate commit murder.  This is advantageous, as his news program isn’t doing too well in the ratings.  It might be helpful to have a serial killer call in.

As it would so happen, Ryan happens to be on a hot date.  He and the lovely lady happen upon an attempted murder with the killer looking exactly like Winston.  The police don’t by it.  Yes, Ryan is a main character and we know he saw it, but Winston was on air at the time.  Ryan, Micki and Jack are persistent enough to get the camera back.  Unfortunately, Ryan’s girlfriend won’t be seen in any subsequent episodes.  As you might expect, the item is recovered and both Winston and his duplicate are killed as a result.

The stories in the series are getting a little better.  I do have issues, though.  It does seem odd that murder is usually involved in these stories.  With a duplicating camera, one could get creative.  Maybe have the duplicate rob a bank or something.  It would be a great way to set up someone you don’t like.  Love interest turning you down?  Go out with her duplicate.

Also, when Winston develops the negative to create the duplicate, he’s standing awfully close to the fluids.  This is concerning mostly because the chemical is bubbling.  I would take a few steps back.  I might even consider better ventilation.  (Actually, ventilation would be a good idea for any darkroom.)  It’s amazing that Winston didn’t keel over from fume inhalation.

The big thing, though, was that Ryan had a new girlfriend.  We just had a two-part episode where Ryan met the love of his life.  It seems odd that he moved on so quickly.  I know that he’s a popular guy and all, but still…

Overall, it’s a decent episode.  I’d hope that maybe the rest of the season could be as good.  I’m not sure I’ll be renting the second season.  If I do, I may take a rest for a while.  Even with the better quality of this episode, I’m not holding out hope.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 10 (Despite Yourself)

When you have a television franchise, there’s a certain dilemma.  The advantage of having a history like that of Star Trek allows for a lot of stories to be carried over from one series to another.  The Enterprise would occasionally visit Deep Space Nine.  Voyager would call on events that happened in the Dominion War or that happened in the movies.

If you do that too much, you run the risk of seeming uncreative.  True, Discovery has already called upon previous incarnations.  Michael Burnham is the foster daughter of Sarek.  Harry Mudd has already made two appearances.  To do this too often might undermine Discovery as a separate entity.  Then again, maybe not.

The previous episode had the U.S.S. Discovery jump into the Mirror Universe.  This was established in the original series episode Mirror, Mirror.  Instead of a federation, Earth is at the head of the Terran Empire.  The crew of the Discovery finds out that humans are ruthless and will conquer any alien race they come across.  Fighting them are the Klingons, apparently with the help of Vulcans and Andorians.

The episode is spent mostly getting the crew acclimated to the other universe.  Cadet Sylvia Tilly is now the captain of the Discovery.  Burnham’s alternate was presumed dead at the hands of Captain Lorca’s alternate, which provides them with a challenge when hailed by another ship.  Tilly, who’s normally talkative and nervous, has to put on a brave face (or voice, actually) and get rid of the other captain.

It does provide them with an opportunity.  Whereas the U.S.S. Shenzhou was destroyed, the I.S.S. Shenzhou is still out there.  So, the crew has to make the U.S.S. Discovery look like the I.S.S. Discovery an have everyone get used to being more ruthless.  This way, Burnham can take Lorca and Tyler to the Shenzhou and get more information on how to get home.

This is the kind of episode that’s going to be confusing for people that have never watched Star Trek.  There are references to at least two Star Trek episodes.  Even for someone who’s seen the episodes, it can be a lot to keep up with.  Then again, if you’re paying for CBS All Access so you can watch Discovery, there’s a good chance you’re not a casual viewer.

As I’ve noted with other mirror-universe episodes, it’s odd that everyone has a counterpart.  (Well, almost everyone.  No mention is made of Saru’s counterpart.)  It’s not clear when or how this other universe split from ours.  It does go back to Star Trek: Enterprise, to say the least.  How probable is it that everyone has a counterpart in both universes?

This does pose a problem, since Burnham’s alternate is presumed dead and Lorca’s is on the run.  There’s a chance, however small, that either one will show up at some point and create problems for the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery.  There’s also the issue of what happened to the I.S.S. Discovery.  Was it destroyed or was it transported to the Federation’s universe?  I imagine some answers will be forthcoming during the rest of the episode.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 9 (Into the Forest I Go)

Star Trek: Discovery began with a war with the Klingons.  It also began with its central character, Michael Burnham, betraying her captain and effectively ending her Starfleet career.  Both of these plot points have been central to the show so far.  Burnham is not only responsible for the lives lost at The Battle of the Binary Stars, but also those that died in the resulting war.

To figure out how to see through the Klingon’s cloaking device would put a serious dent in their offensive and defensive capabilities.  The crew of the U.S.S. Discovery doesn’t want to let the planet Pavlo be destroyed by the Klingons, but the inhabitants have technology that could cut through the cloaking device.

Fortunately, the crew devises another method that might work.  The catch?  The ship has to use it’s spore drive over a hundred times very quickly.  This wouldn’t be a problem except that Paul Stamets has to be hooked in.  One or two trips take a toll, to say nothing of dozens.  He agrees to do it, knowing that it could end the war.

The mission is completed, but not without complications.  Admiral Cornwell, who had been abducted by the Klingons,  is discovered on the ship and subsequently rescued.  Also, Ash Tyler is hit with PTSD, leaving Burnham to complete the mission by herself.

I will say that the series seems to be progressing better than I expected.  I still have issues.  For instance, the mission requires two huge devices to be placed on the Klingon ship for the cloaking technology to be understood.  How are Tyler and Burnham able to place such a large device out in the open on an enemy ship without someone noticing it?

The good news is that Burnham seems to be getting her sense of duty back.  For most of the series, she seemed to have given up on redeeming herself for an irredeemable act.  Here, she sees that she can not only help, but is necessary for the mission to succeed.

Conversely, we get glimpses into Tyler’s past that raises questions.  We see that he was tortured and raped during his time in captivity.  Captain Lorca has already expressed doubts about how someone could have survived that long.  This might hit at a bigger revelation.

This episode was the mid-season finale.  As such, it ends on an interesting cliffhanger.  Stamets promises one more jump, which leads them to a destroyed Klingon cruiser where a Federation starbase should be.  Yes, it’s the Mirror Universe.

So, I guess that means I’m in for the rest of the season.  I am more hopeful, given that the writing is getting better.  I am getting the sense that there is a bigger plan here.  I also have to see how this plays out.