Friday, March 16, 2018

A.I.C.O. Incarnation (Season 1)

While looking at a list of new offerings from Netflix, I found A.I.C.O. Incarnation.  I tend to put off watching series, as it’s difficult for me to binge.  I don’t like leaving too late for work and I can’t always watch a full hour before leaving the house.  When I saw that A.I.C.O. was only 25 minutes per episode, I decided to give it a shot.

The story is about a young girl, Aiko, who is bound to a wheelchair.  We see her going through rehab and eventually learn that she was in an accident.  The story is set in 2035, several years after a scientific project went awry and created The Matter.  People called divers go in, but don’t always come back out.  Aiko is mourning the loss of her parents and her brother, who we learn were killed because of The Matter.

Aiko’s class gets a new transfer student, Yuya Kanzaki, in her class one day.  It’s odd, as there are two days left in class.  It turns out that this transfer student is there for Aiko.  He manages to escape with her and take her into a border zone, where she meets people that try to fill her in on her past.

I don’t really want to go into too much detail, as the revelations are what the show seems to have going for it, mostly.  There are fight scenes and some politics, but it’s mostly about Aiko and what she might really be.  There was very little character development.  In some ways, it almost came across like a soap opera.  The characters seemed to exist just t move the drama along, with Aiko being the ultimate McGuffin.

Each episode might have a few minor details doled out or might have one big bombshell.  Not much time is spent on each detail.  I almost expected some dramatic music to play, as something was revealed and the story just moved on.  For instance, it’s revealed that Aiko’s mother and brother might still be alive.  This serves mostly as motivation for Aiko to continue, but she won’t know if it’s the truth until she gets there.

We don’t really learn a lot about what The Matter is, other than it’s a collection of cells that goes after people.  (We do learn the origin, but not much else.)  Yuya has hired two teams to escort him and Aiko to the lab where it all began.  Their objective is called Primary Point, where Yuya believes he can eliminate The Matter.

The government isn’t so keen on this.  Yes, it kills people and there’s a risk of it spreading, but they feel that it’s worth studying.  Yuya’s motives for wanting to rid the world of The Matter are somewhat downplayed.  He does seem determined to get to Primary Point.

I’m not sure why this was made into a full season.  12 episodes at 25 minutes each is about five hours of material.  It seemed like there was a lot of filler that could have been left out.  It seems like the story would have been better served with a two-hour movie.  (It’s always seemed a little odd when a group has to go through a dangerous passage when going around it seems much easier.)

Speaking of which,  calling it a season (as opposed to a miniseries) implies that there’s going to be a second season.  With other shows, like Stranger Things and Dark, there’s at least one loose thread that would make way for something next year.  This story seems to wrap up nicely.

I would hope that the second season is a little better than the first.  I get the impression, with names like The Matter, the project may have been rushed to development.  If that is true, it would explain certain aspects that were lacking.  It’s possible that this story sets up something else entirely or that the writers might not have had anything specific in mind yet.  I am curious as to what a second season would look like.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

El Ministerio del Tiempo (Season 1)

Way back in 2016, I was excited about a TV series called Timeless.  It was about three people who travel through time, chasing a rogue agent bent on changing history for the better.  I was saddened to find out that the series had been canceled after only one season.  A few days ago, I found ou that I could at least watch El Ministerio del Tiempo on Netflix.

El Ministerio del Tiempo, which translates as the Ministry of Time, is about three agents who travel to different years through doors.  Julián Martínez is a paramedic recruited from the present.   He is a widower who hasn’t gotten over the loss of his wife.  Amelia Folch is a woman from the 19th century.  She’s studying to be a doctor when it wasn’t common for women to do so.  Rounding out the main agents is Alonso de Entrerríos, who was recruited right before his execution.  He was a solder from Seville in the 16th century.

The idea is to keep history as close as possible to what is recorded in books.  Sometimes, this means making sure things go as planned.  In the second episode, a writer named Lope de Vega is found to have enlisted on a ship that is known to have sunk.  If he’s not put on another ship, he’ll die before he becomes famous.  In other cases, it’s a little less certain.  The three agents have to find a receipt that may not actually exist, leading to some thinking outside the box.

The TV show comes from Spain.  In fact, the show is limited largely to that country, as the Ministry’s jurisdiction is limited to Spain’s history.  As such, a few of the historical characters will be familiar.  One of the recurring characters is Diego Velázquez, who is employed by the Ministry to do facial composites.  Pablo Picasso is central to one episode while Salvador Dalí appears in another episode.

There were a few cases where I didn’t recognize a name I felt I was supposed to know.  One was Jordi Hurtado, who is apparently known in Spain.  He doesn’t appear to have done anything outside of Spain, so I don’t feel bad about not recognizing him.  Another episode centered around meeting someone named Lazarillo de Tormes.  I had never heard the name before and I’m not sure how famous the work is outside of Spain.  Apparently, he’s regarded as a fictional character.

Interestingly, there was an American character captured after being able to travel through time.  When asked how the American agency was able to manage time travel, he admits that America has tunnel for traveling through time, a reference to The Time Tunnel.

I found that the cultural barrier didn’t detract from enjoying the show.  I was able to follow the episodes without much difficulty.  I will say that the series does seem to follow the Novikov self-consistency principle.  Whereas Timeless doesn’t seem to have a problem with shifting history, it doesn’t appear that the main characters’ actions have much influence on the present.  No one disappears unexpectedly.  You don’t have authors writing three extra books by the end of the episode.

The series doesn’t really play this up, which is a good thing.  It can get somewhat tedious if not handled well.  I hate to watch a movie go through the motions.  Either it happened the way history recorded or we see how it would at least appear that way.  The series focuses more on the characters and what motivates them.

All three characters have a past of their own.  This comes up to varying degrees.  Julián is having trouble getting over the loss of his wife, for example.  He occasionally goes back to see her.  Also of note, as in timeless, is an implied future between Julián and Amelia.  Apparently, I’m going to have to wait for the second season to see what happens.

There are a few other similarities with Timeless.  Fans of similar shows will probably enjoy it.  Netflix does have English subtitles, which were somewhat difficult to read, mostly because I didn’t have enough time to read them.  If you can’t read quickly, you’re going to have problems following the show.  (In case you’re wondering why I didn’t use English audio, the only two options on Netflix are Spanish and Portuguese.)

I did get some more good news after finding out about this show.  It looks like Timeless was brought back for a second season.  It’s pretty rare to see that happen, but I’m not complaining.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 30 (A Stop at Willoughby)

WARNING:  I’m going to give away the ending of the episode.  I’ll understand if you want to watch the episode before reading this review.

There are some things that change with time.  Sometimes, it’s not the thing that changes, but your understanding of it may evolve.  When I first saw A Stop at Willoughby, I thought it was about a man who found a way out and took it, which it is.  I didn’t quite get the deeper meaning until later.

Gart Williams is an ad executive on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  Misrell, his boss, won’t let up because Gart’s protégé left the agency and took an important client with him.  When he gets home, his wife is no better.  Janie Williams won’t let up about how he has no ambition.  The guy can’t catch a break.

He falls asleep on the train ride home one night and dreams of a place called Willoughby.  From the window, it looks like a nice place.  Before he can get off, the train jerks forward and Gart finds himself in the real world once again.  He asks the conductor if there’s a stop called Willoughby, but the conductor hasn’t heard of one.

The second time Gart dreams of Willoughby, the same thing happens.  He wants to get off, but can’t make it in time.  He resolves to get off if he’s ever given a chance to.  Things are getting worse for him.  Misrell won’t let up, nor will his clients.  It’s implied that Gart is getting no sympathy from Janie.  That night, on the train home, Gart falls asleep.

He gets off and finds that all the people in Willoughby are pleasant and welcoming.  They all know his name and are happy to see him.  Back in the real world, it turns out that Gart jumped off the train, screaming something about Willoughby.  The kicker?  His body is taken away in a car with Willoughby & Son Funeral Home on the back doors.

With a previous episode, Time Enough At Last, I wondered how the main character could have put himself in his position.  I find myself asking a similar question here.  I could see Janie being more pleasant back before they married, but I wonder if Gart didn’t see her as ambitious when they first married.

His entire career seems to have been at her insistence.   Her eyes always seem focused on the next rung up the social ladder whereas Gart sees the value in maybe relaxing once in a while.  I always wonder if there was some point when Gart may have had doubts about marrying her.

One has to wonder if Gart realized that going to Willoughby meant his death in real life.  One can’t blame him.  He went from cold and unwelcoming to warm and inviting.  Who could resist that?  If you had a pushy boss and a controlling wife as one option and a nice, friendly group of people as the other option, which would you go for?

Previous episodes of The Twilight Zone have always shown getting what you want as being either impossible or very costly.  It almost never works out, at least not the way that the main character intended.  Then again, another interpretation could be that you can get what you want, but it may mean paying the ultimate price.

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 fiancé, 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.)