Sunday, July 21, 2019

Stuber (2019)

I remember someone once saying about the character, Frasier Crane, that no psychiatrist would ever act that way.  Any professional therapist would lose their license if they did a tenth of what Dr. Crane did during the run of the series.  This isn’t to say that the show wasn’t funny.  Much of the humor came from someone so intelligent being largely clueless.  The humor came from that disparity.

I don’t think that Stuber was going for that dynamic, though.  Vic Manning would seem to be your typical renegade police officer.  He shoots from the hip and maybe grunts out a few questions later.  The movie starts with Vic and his partner, Sara Morris, trying to take down Oka Tedjo, who sells drugs to kids.   Tedjo gets away, leaving Sara to die.

Cut to some time later.  Tedjo is still on the run.  Vic is still on the job, but his vision isn’t what it used to be.  This leads him to get laser eye surgery, which does require some down time.  Wouldn’t you know it?   Someone gets a lead on Tedjo, prompting Vic to spring into action.  Since he can’t drive, he has to rely on the Uber app, which his daughter thoughtfully installed for him.

Enter Stu, a driver with a 4.1 rating.  His main job is at a sports store; he does Uber for some extra cash.  Vic has Stu drive all over town looking for the next clue that will lead them to their target.  I doubt very much that any police department would allow an officer to put a civilian in the line of fire like this, to say nothing of paying for it.  But, here Stu is, desperately hoping for a five-star rating.

The main problem with the story is that there isn’t much of one.  Movies like Beverly Hills Cop had a pretty solid storyline.  This looked like someone wanted to see how closely they could stick to a template and still get greenlit.  I’d worry about giving away the plot, but anyone watching the movie could probably guess what’s coming next.

For instance, there are two running gags: Stu’s rating and Vic’s eyesight.  The entire reason Vic can string Stu along is the threat of a low rating.  (Stu states that dropping below a 4.0 average gets him kicked off the app.  I don’t know if this is true.)  The entire reason Vic even needs someone is that he literally can‘t see well past his nose.  There’s also Stu’s friend, Becca, who constantly calls him to hook up.  Stu promises that he’ll be right there, thinking that Vic couldn’t possibly need him that much longer.

The funny thing is that the movie doesn’t really feel like a rip off of a particular movie.  It’s more like the most basic entry possible into the genre.  This puts me in the awkward position of sort of liking it because I can’t find any particular fault with it.  It hit many of the marks, but was also kind of basic.

Vic and Stu get into a fight at the sporting-goods store, which sort of deals with toxic masculinity, but doesn’t do a great job of it.  Vic is also not a great father to his daughter, Nicole.  She’s thoughtful enough to put the app on her father’s phone.  Vic isn’t thoughtful enough to try to make it to his daughter’s art opening.  (He winds up there by chance.)

When I left the movie, I felt entertained.  However, it didn’t really have anything new or clever about it.  This isn’t going to make my list of top-ten police movies.  I don’t think it will make any of my top-ten lists.  It’s the kind of movie I’d tell you to rent if your Netflix queue is running low or Redbox is out of your first choice.  It’s probably going to be better than watching nothing, but I don’t expect you’d rent it a second time.


Friday, July 19, 2019

Anima (2019)

It would be nice if Netflix had a category for shorts, or at least a way of limiting movies by running time.  I don’t always feel like dedicating an hour or two to watching something.  Maybe I just want to watch something that’s 15 minutes or so.  Occasionally, I will come across a short film, like Anima, but this is mostly because the film, itself, is featured.

In the case of Anima, it’s one of Netflix’s own offerings, featuring a man in a world of similar people.  The nameless character appears to be heading home when he notices a woman forget what appears to be a toolbox.  He’s able to return it to her, and they would seem to go off on an adventure together.  There’s no dialogue, but it’s all choreographed and set to music.

It’s a hard film to place.  There are components that would seem similar to other things I’ve seen.  Overall, the story and style might seem similar to The Bothersome Man, but not really.  Another tenuous connection might be Daft Punk’s Interstella 5555, in that both films feature a single narrative set to several songs.  Anima would seem to be its own project, though.  It’s trying to tell its own story and is distinct from other films I’ve seen before.

I’ll admit that it was a little esoteric for me.  I can see a lot of people enjoying the film for the movements and whatnot, but I do sense that there is a deeper meaning most people won’t get.  I had to look up what Anima means.  Dictionary.com has it as “the part of the psyche that is directed inward, and is in touch with the subconscious.”  So, yeah.  There’s that.  (In a way, that does sort of make sense.  There was a sort of dreamlike quality to the story.)

I sometimes wonder if reviews like these are useful, at least in the same way other reviews are.  I’m not sure how one might gain access to the film outside of Netflix, and once someone has access to Netflix, this is probably going to be featured prominently on the main page.  In that sense, this is going to be most useful for people who don’t subscribe to the streaming service at the moment.  At the very least, one might get the impression that Netflix is expanding into things beyond TV and movies.

Then again, it’s possible you may have given it a pass or missed it altogether.  After all, new things will come in and replace this.  So, maybe by reading this review, you might be tempted to give it a try.  After all, 15 minutes isn’t a huge investment.  It’s the perfect thing to watch if you’re waiting for something else to happen.


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Stranger Things (Season 3)

I grew up in the 1980s.  I remember Back to the Future and The Soviet Union.  I remember New Coke being a thing.  Since I live in a major city, I had a few malls to choose from.  For the residents of Hawkins, Indiana, many of these things are new.  (Back to the Future was released on July 3, 1985, during this season’s time frame.)  They also have a new mall in town, which has all but killed Main Street.

Speaking of killing, The Mind Flayer is back, so Eleven, Dustin, Lucas, Jonathan and Co. have their work cut out for them.  Add to this the discovery of another menace:  Soviet operatives underneath the new Starcourt Mall.   In fact, they’re the reason that the Mind Flayer is active.  They’re trying to drill a hole to the Upside-Down.  To what end isn’t made clear, but the Mind Flayer is up to something.  It starts with rats consuming fertilizer and becomes stranger from there.  All of this is happening while Mayor Larry Kline just wants to put on a nice Fourth of July show.

When you’re trying to use several elements in a story, you have to find balance.  Here, there’s definitely nostalgia.  We even get to see several clips of Back to the Future. Observant fans will notice stores at the mall tht still exist, like Burger King and The Gap, and those that are no longer with us, like Sam Goody and RadioShack.

There’s even a Jazzercise studio.  It’s a franchise that uses jazz music to set the tone for the exercise.  It started in 1969, but became big in the 1980s.  Oh, how I would have liked to have forgotten that.  I think I was in the fifth grade when they had my entire elementary school do it.  It must have been in shifts, but all of the students had to participate.  I remember some being enthusiastic about it.  I remember doing the bare minimum necessary to look like I wasn’t just standing there.

Anyway, I digress.  Many of the nostalgic elements blend into the background.  You might see an old logo or something.  The big thing is the Soviets.  I think we’re to assume here that the Soviet Union somehow built a huge secret underground base, put a mall on top of it and hoped no one would notice?  Well, someone noticed.  Dustin happened to build a receiver that picked up one of their transmissions.

The other side of this is the tension.  You have good against evil.  Those that were fighting for good are still doing so, only in different groups.  But even the bad guys are nostalgic.  (How many old movies and cartoons had Soviets as the enemy?)  I mean, it works.  They are a pretty solid enemy.  However, it seems odd that they have that large a base with that many people (in uniform) that went unnoticed except for some pesky kids.

From what I’ve read, the show was meant to last three to five seasons, although there is talk of a fourth.  Given how this one plays out, I’m not certain what the next will look like.  Each season so far has focused on going between dimensions.  If I recall, the first season was the only one not to take place on a holiday, although it does happen between Halloween and Christmas.  Will the next one take on Thanksgiving?  Will there be a new enemy from another dimension?  I’d settle for an explanation of the whole Soviet angle.  And please, don’t tell me it was Moose and Squirrel.


IMDb page

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Yesterday (2019)

One could be forgiven for not having heard of Jack Malik.  He’s a musician who sings his own songs.  He has a loyal fan base of his manager and a few friends, but that’s it.  He has absolutely no chance of becoming famous.  It’s frustrating because he really believes that he could.

Just when he’s about to give up, Jack is hit by a bus during a blackout.  When he gets out of the hospital, he comes to find out that no one knows who the Beatles are.  Everyone knows who the Beatles are.  Except that no one does.  He goes home and finds no references to the band.  (Searching for The Beatles brings up the insects.)

This presents an incredible opportunity.  Since no one has heard of any of their songs, Jack could pass them off as his own.  Since they were never published, copyright wouldn’t be an issue,  No one would know.  So, that’s what he does.  He records a few of the songs that he can remember and waits.  And he waits.

Again, despair sets in.  Maybe he really is a crappy artist.  He can’t even get attention with songs that got lots of attention.  To be fair, context does matter.  The actual song is as important as who is singing it.  When it’s released also has an effect.  Songs released 50 years ago won’t have the same impact on modern audiences.  This is why it’s surprising that the songs do attract attention.

Ed Sheeran invites Jack to go on tour.  This leads to the long-awaited contract, which leads to the inevitable guilt.  Remember when I said no one would know?  Jack knows.  He comes to realize that he’ll always be waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I came into the movie expecting it to be like Bohemian Rhapsody, and in a way, it is.  The movie showcases the music of The Beatles, but does so in a much different way.  Everyone has that moment when they think no one would know, but Jack has no way of knowing what caused John, Paul, George and Ringo to not form a band.  It’s possible that the music was written, but never released.  It’s possible that one or all of the band members were never born or that they simply never met each other.  Some version of the songs might exist out there.

On the one hand, the movie is enjoyable.  I think most people can relate to someone who wants to make it big.  Those that try and don’t make it often question how someone else made it.  As both a comedy and a fantasy, the movie would have us believe that Jack can make the songs work.  Yes, they’re great songs, but it is a bit odd that it just happens.

It’s also odd that so much of the alternate universe is the same.  Cigarettes and Coca-Cola don’t exist, but it’s never really explained why.  (A search for Coke turns up Pablo Escobar.)  However, there are no small differences to drive Jack mad.  There are no restaurants on the wrong side of the street.  The Eiffel Tower isn’t in Germany instead of France or known by some other name.  I suppose that’s just as well.  Many movies and TV shows have stated that stuff like this is done for simplicity.  Focusing on too many extraneous details can make the movie drag.

Given that the movie has a plot, it’s going to have much broader appeal than Bohemian Rhapsody.  The movie focuses more on Jack’s journey and his ethical dilemma, which it does well.  The script isn’t heavy-handed with it.  It’s exactly the kind of movie you could reference to show the difference between legal and ethical.  There are also shades of grey.

His other options are to be honest all along or to not release the music and go about his life.  If he’s honest, people would think he’s crazy.  If he remains silent, the world is denied some beautiful music.  But, if you do release the music, how do you do it?  You could credit the music to the right people, but they may not exist.  And if they do, they would have no memory of having written it.  So, there is some room for discussion.  I think this is really where the movie works best.


Monday, July 08, 2019

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

It’s natural to long for what we once had, especially if we know we can never get it back.   We tend to remember the good times and wonder where they went.  Jimmie Fails goes to a house and paints it, despite the constant objections of the couple living there.  He just hates to see it in disarray.  One might wonder why Jimmie is so interested in this particular house.

He grew up there.

Jimmy spends his much of his time working at a nursing home or hanging out with his friend, Montgomery.  They live with Montgomery’s grandfather.  Jimmy and Montgomery go to the house when they feel certain that the husband and wife won’t be there.

One day, opportunity knocks.  The house is actually owned by the wife’s mother, or at least was.  When the mother dies, the house is now in dispute and, more importantly, unoccupied.  Due to the situation, it could sit unoccupied for years, giving Jimmy plenty of time to squat.

The problem with a drama is that it’s never that easy.  If it were a comedy, Jimmy would have found a way.  Maybe he would have won the lottery.  Someone would have found some clause in a long-forgotten contract that would have set things right.  Even the squatting might have come through.

Jimmy is not a man in control of his circumstances.  He was just a child when his parents lost the house.  Now that he’s older, he’s denied access by the current occupants.  When that obstacle goes away, he’s presented with more obstacles.  It would seem that any attempt to look for help only leads to someone pulling the rug out from under him.

Add to that the fact that his neighbors would hold him back.  The grandfather and Montgomery would seem to encourage him, but Jimmy doesn’t seem to have many options.  There’s pressure from outside the community, but there’s pressure from within, as well.  The four or five guys that Jimmy sees every day deride Jimmy for being too soft.  He dresses better than them.  On the other hand, he’ll never have the millions of dollars necessary to buy the property.  Even when he promises to do everything he can to get the money, it’s not enough.

Perhaps the hardest part of growing up is realizing that no matter how hard we work, we don’t always get exactly what we want.  Sometimes, we can.  Sometimes, it means coming close or finding something else that would give us joy.  Like the Rolling Stones once said, you can’t always get what you want.  That doesn’t mean you have to focus solely on what you need.  It just means you have to decide what’s important and come to terms with what’s possible.


Sunday, July 07, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 15 (Will You Take My Hand?)

Star Trek: Discovery was a good news/bad news kind of situation.  The good news was that there would be a new Star Trek series after many years.  The bad news was that you’d have to pay for it.  Alas, my local library saved the day with the first season on DVD.  I had to put in a hold and wait, but I was still able to get all 15 episodes of the first season.

So, here we are at the last of those episodes.  It would seem that there’s a resolution to the Klingon War at hand.  Starfleet has a plan to send a probe to the Klingon home world and maybe find a way to threaten the Klingons into submission.  Only, it‘s not really a probe.  It’s a bomb intended to destroy the planet.  And when I say intended, I mean that it’s what Starfleet actually planned to do: Destroy the home world so that the Klingons would realize how serious the Federation is.

I’m not sure I like this plan.  There is a parallel to the United States dropping the bomb on Japan.  It shows that Starfleet is serious.  I had never thought of Starfleet being that serious, but this is what they get for putting a Mirror Universe Emperor in charge of the war effort.  It puts an admiral on the verge of selling Starfleet’s soul just for the sake of winning.

Given that there’s a Klingon home world in the other series and that this is the second-earliest Star Trek series, it’s safe to say that it doesn’t come to that.  The question is how and why it doesn’t come to that.  This is where Discovery has a chance to redeem itself.   The previous series had been about exploration.  Deep Space Nine had a wormhole, which led to a new part of the galaxy to look at.  Even Voyager, which was stranded 70,000 light years from home, took time to look at a new planet or meet a new race.

Discovery was mostly about conflict and war.  It’s almost a darker version of Deep Space Nine.  I am hopeful for the second season.  I know I’ll have to wait a few months if I don’t want to fork over the money, but I waited this long for Season 1.  I’ve also seen some spoilers for Season 2, which have me curious.  Despite what I may have felt before, there is some Star Trek in Discovery.


Thursday, July 04, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 14 (The War Without, the War Within)

Life is rarely fair.  Ash Tyler turned out to be a Klingon spy.  To cover his secret, he killed the chief medical officer and nearly killed Michael Burnham.  He’s allowed to walk around the ship unsupervised.  Also, Michael Burnham saves the Emperor of the Terran Empire.  She’s the most ruthless product of a ruthless version of humanity.  Rather than lock her up, they make her captain of the Discovery.  Makes sense.  Right?  That’s how this episode goes.  But, hey!  We’re back in the Prime Universe!  There’s no more evil humans or Vulcans with goatees to worry about.

The crew can focus on the Klingon war again, which has progressed nine months since they left.  Things aren’t going too well for Starfleet.  20% of Federation territory has been lost.  About a third of the Fleet is no more.  Starfleet Command needs something major and Emperor…er…Captain Georgiou might be the one to give it to her.  They do have the Klingon T’Rell in holding, so she might provide something useful.

The fact that they let two major threats walk freely through the ship is my major issue here.  You might say that there’s some major plot point that will require both Georgiou and Tyler.  And you’d be right.  I have seen the finale.  However, use of those characters would be done grudgingly.  Someone would be forced to let them out of prison to accomplish something.  That’s not the case here.  It would seem that being human, or at least appearing human, has its advantages.

It’s also a bit of an insult to Saru to make Georgiou the captain.  Saru has done a great job commanding the Discovery.  You can’t even argue plot point here.  First off, doesn’t the entire crew know what’s going on?  Why the pretense of saying that it’s the Prime Georgiou other than to remind the crew that they have to keep up an act?  Why even make her captain?  They could just as easily keep her on as an advisor or something.  If anyone asks, you could say that she’s taking time off to recover from being held captive or something.  The fact that she’s given direct command of a starship means that she could take over the Prime Universe.

So, yeah.  The first season of Discovery will end with some major questions.  I’m sure the writers have something planned for Tyler and Georgiou, but many of the details seem forced or unnecessary.  Basically, there are three people on the ship that shouldn’t be trusted and two of them are trusted in this episode.  I’m not sure any explanation would be sufficient, but I am curious to see where the characters go in season 2.


IMDb page