Sunday, March 24, 2019

The OA (Season 2)

I’ve been thinking about what level of spoilers I want to put into this review.  On the one hand, talking too much about Part II would reveal a lot about Part I.  If you haven’t seen the series at all, it might be unfair to ruin the experience.  (Note that I will be discussing the first part here, so be warned if you haven’t seen it yet.)  It would also entail a lot of reading.

On the other hand, it’s not the kind of show where spoilers would necessarily turn you off.  The first part was known for being a bit supernatural.  If you’ve seen it, you’ve probably already made up your mind whether or not to come back.  I will say that the show has turned up the strangeness, leaving behind any doubt as to the nature of the storyline.  (If I mentioned that one episode featured a telepathic octopus, would you even care?)

I imagine that there are a few people that have forgotten about The OA.  Part I was released December 16, 2016.  Part II was released a few days ago on March 22, 2019.  We’ve been hearing hints and rumors during the intervening years, hoping that the new episodes would live up to their predecessors.  If you let your Netflix membership lapse during that time, you might want to consider renewing.  Part II has taken the story to the next level.

It starts right after the end of the first part.  However, the first half hour deals with Karim Washington, a private investigator that was hired to find a missing teenager.  It isn’t until the second half that we get any continuity.  Prairie finds herself on a ship, having some sort of chest pains.  She wakes up in a hospital to find out that her name is still Nina Azarova.  (She was adopted by the Johnsons and renamed Prairie.)

She comes to realize that she’s in an alternate dimension, where many of the same people exist.  Joe Biden is the president, for instance.  Hunter Aloysius "Hap" Percy is there, too, and it’s the version of him from the main dimension.  So, her story was real.  And several characters made it over.  So, what does that mean for getting back?  That much, I don’t want to give away.  It is discussed, but is a minor point.  Instead, it focuses on the mysteries of an unnamed game and a strange house meant to guard psychedelic spring water.

In case you may have been on the fence for Part I or reading about the show for the first time, Part II seems to have refined the writing a bit.  It is a much better narrative that doesn’t really drag as much.  There’s no ambiguity.  We know what’s going on.  It takes on the metaphysical aspect head on.  Instead of asking if there’s another dimension, we wonder what that means.  There’s even a traveler who has been to many dimensions.

This isn’t for someone who likes simple stories.  This isn’t Law & Order or the Hallmark Channel.  This is full-on Twilight Zone/Outer Limits stuff.  (Did I mention the telepathic octopus?)  I would recommend starting from the beginning.  I do recommend it for people who are looking for something different.  Netflix took a risk on such a strange show and it paid off.  I look forward to Part III.  Unfortunately, we’re left with another ambulance-chasing cliffhanger which promises to be interesting.  I just hope we don’t have to wait another 2½ years for it.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

There’s something about the future these days where it usually involves humanity’s downfall.  It’s odd how many movies have the planet’s population technologically worse off and a lot smaller than it is today.  In Alita: Battle Angel, there seems to be one city left.  There aren’t many people living there and the ones on the ground (Iron City) seem to live in relative squalor.  However, there is a great city in the sky (Zalem) where the people have it good.

It’s the 26th century.  The residents of Iron City produce goods for those in Zalem.  Many live in hope that they my get to move up, but that sort of thing doesn’t usually happen.   In fact, the only way to get up there is to be the best a roller derby-like competition.

Enter Alita, or what’s left of her.  Dr. Dyson Ido finds her head in a scrap heap.  By head, I mean a cybernetic skull and face with a human brain.  Amazingly, the brain has suffered no damage, despite having been there for who knows how long.  Dr. Ito is able to attach the head to a robotic body and revive her.  Unfortunately, she has no memory of her past life.

The movie comes across as the first part of a larger story.  The movie is based on the first few of a series of books.  Even if I didn’t know that, there would seem to be too many loose ends and not enough of a resolution.  Alita wants answers about her past.  We also never get to see much of Zalem.  (Everything is a wide shot and is usually from below.)

Comparisons to other movies aren’t undeserved.  Whenever I saw Zalem, I thought of Elysium.  The big difference is that we don’t actually see how the people live above.  The entire movie takes place on the ground.  The movie sets up a sequel and I have read that more movies are planned, so we probably will get to see Zalem at some point.  Still, having a population that’s divided based on class is nothing new.

The entire movie seems to be a vehicle for the 3D format.  I’m not saying it wasn’t entertaining, but it seemed to rely more on the visuals than the narrative.  In fact, I probably would have been disappointed if the movie wasn’t setting up Part II.  There are too many unanswered questions, like where Alita came from or how she managed to survive 300 years without a body.  This would seem to be the first act of a larger plot rather than a self-contained story.

I do think it’s a good start and is worth seeing in the theater.  I just wouldn’t go in expecting it to be like other movies.  In this regard, I think it’s a little unfair to compare it to other movies.  It does seem to be setting up a larger experience.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Behind the Curve (2018)

Of all the conspiracy theories out there, flat Earth seems to be the hardest for me to accept.  With the anti-vaccine theories, Stuff is being injected into your child’s body.  It’s natural and understandable to be concerned.  However, there’s a point where I accept that the medical establishment knows what it’s doing and the specter of the threat of autism is outweighed by the fact that we no longer had to worry about polio and smallpox.

However, we’ve sent probes up into space.  We’ve sent people up into space.  We’ve seen the curve.  Granted, it’s a small group that has actually seen the curve, but people have seen it.  I have to ask why NASA and other agencies would perpetrate that kind of hoax.

To be fair, it’s easy to look from the outside and ridicule.  Behind the Curve does present those that believe in a flat Earth without trying to judge or ridicule them.  Most of the people seem to be regular people that have a belief outside mainstream science.  The documentary focuses on Patricia Steere and Mark K. Sargent, who have done videos about flat Earth.  Both would seem like normal people.

There are those that are more hard core about it.  One person even accuses Steere and Sargent of being CIA shills.  (Yes.  A flat-Earther accuses others of the same mind of being in on the conspiracy.)  However, most of the people in the documentary are much less emotional about it.

The documentary doesn’t really offer much in the reasoning of a flat planet.  I’ve often wondered why we can’t see the entire planet if it’s flat.  Couldn’t I see Toronto or Tokyo from Miami if there’s no curvature?  Much like the Spirit Level Flight Experiment video, much of the ‘evidence’ would seem to be anecdotal.  It lacks the rigor and structure that science has.  Those that say, “Do your research” seem to think that a Google search would replace centuries of trial and error.

The flat-Earth theory seems to be a self-reinforcing delusion in which contrary explanations are dismissed.  I’m not really sure how a flat Earth theory would explain things like time zones and eclipses or even gravity.  Would something fall off the edge of the Earth?  If the Earth is flat, then why are other planets round?  I’ve never had a really satisfying answer to any of these questions.

There’s a part of me that wants to let people believe what they want, assuming it doesn’t hurt anyone.  Vaccines do provide herd immunity and protect us from outbreaks, so not getting a vaccine can hurt people unnecessarily.  Then, there’s a part of me that feels like the whole thing is maybe a little backwards.   It seems like there’s so much evidence that the Earth is round and so little that it’s flat.  If it were flat, wouldn’t there have been some sort of major revelation?  Wouldn’t someone have found the edge by now?  A conspiracy seems like an awful lot of effort for something like this.

IMDb page

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Cold Pursuit (2019)

I think that, at this point, Hollywood should just get it over with and release a film called Not Another Liam Neeson Movie.  Actually, this movie would have been a good candidate for that name.  Here, Neeson plays Nelson Coxman.  He’s told that his son, Kyle, died of a drug overdose.  Like most parents, Nelson and his wife, Grace, never saw any signs of addiction or use.

The funny thing is that Kyle wasn’t a user.  Nelson eventually finds someone involved with Kyle’s death.  This leads to two things happening:  Nelson kills the person and gets another name.  This leads to Nelson finding and killing the rest of the people involved, leaving Trevor 'Viking' Calcote.  Viking is the nearly untouchable leader of the local drug cartel.  Of course, that means that Viking will meet an untimely end and that Nelson will somehow be involved.

The movie is a remake directed by Hans Petter Moland, who also directed the original.  You might be forgiven for thinking that it was directed by the Coen brothers, though.  It’s not quite a comedy, but it’s not serious enough that you can take it seriously.  Every time someone dies, for instance, a title card pops up announcing it.  Add to this that many of the bad guys have nicknames like Speedo and The Eskimo.

I also noticed that Nelson murders quite a number of people, yet never gets a drop of blood on his clothing.  He gets blood on the wall of a bridal shop, but never on his clothing.  For that matter, it would seem to be very easy to get away with murder where he is.  We don’t even get one of those scenes where someone walks in on him or he’s pulled over by the police and the officer almost opens the trunk of the car.  He’s in a bridal shop and yet no one walks in on the act.  He fires several shots and no one turns a head.

There are several things I would tell a potential audience member.  First, don’t bring the kids.  I think that should be obvious by now.  Second, don’t expect too much of it.  It’s a straight-up revenge movie.  It doesn’t seem like the script tried to deviate too much from that.  Nelson only wants to kill those who killed his son.  Grace is the one to show any sign of emotion over the loss of Kyle.

I can see people liking it and I can see people not liking it.  The movie wasn’t exactly what I expected, but I was able to see it with AMC’s A-List.  I think had it not been for that, I would have waited for it to come out on DVD.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

What Men Want (2019)

Every so often, I see a TV show or movie that makes me think that there are no original ideas left.  I ask myself if we’re almost at the point where it will be impossible to write a script that doesn’t borrow heavily from something else.  A few years pass and something else comes up.

To be fair, I don’t get the impression that What Men Want is presenting itself as anything new.  It’s a remake of What Women Want, except the genders of the main characters are reversed.  Instead of a man being able to hear women’s thoughts, a woman is able to hear men’s thoughts.

Ali Davis is the woman who gains psychic powers.  She’s a sports agent that wants to make partner.  Unfortunately, she doesn’t quite get how to connect with men.  This is a problem, since most of her coworkers are male, as is the big star her agency wants to recruit.

As is usually the case with newfound thought-reading abilities, the inability to control the ability proves too much.  Ali is hit with all manner of male thoughts from getting a prostate checked to the usual lewd thoughts.  She’s scared until she realizes that she now has an in.  She can sneak into the secret card game that no one wants her to attend.  She can read the mind of Jamal Barry, the would-be client.  She can even read the mind of her hot neighbor with the patently adult nickname.

Ali wants to get an edge only to realize that many of the men are just as worried and insecure as she is.  The movie plays the concept for laughs, though.  There’s a doctor with a drug habit.  Ali is able to get two male coworkers together.  She even takes the lead at a meeting to recruit Jamal.  Stuff like that.  If you’ve seen the trailers you’re going to be in for absolutely zero surprises.  There’s even a case where Ali lies and it comes back to ruin a potential relationship.

Most of my problem with the movie is that it wasn’t as nuanced as it could have been.  Even if say it’s a comedy, jokes tend to be better when there are several layers of meaning.  Here, there’s very little that you could understand differently on a second viewing.  It’s a fun movie, but I don’t think there’s going ot be a lot of replay value here.  I’d wait to rent it on DVD.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 29 (Operation - Annihilate!)

Star Trek could be a little inconsistent at times.  This was most notable in The Original Series.  Most episodes were commentary on some sort of issue.  Many were about war.  Some were about power imbalance or racial intolerance.  A few were a little harder to figure out.  Take Operation - Annihilate!  (Yes, there’s really an exclamation point at the end of the title.)  A swarm of pancake-like aliens has attacked Deneva.  It’s not only a Federation colony, but it’s where Captain Kirk’s brother, Sam, lives.  (Sam happens to have a wife and child to add to the tension.)

By the time the Enterprise gets there, it’s too late.  The colonists are already infected.  However, one colonist is in the final stages of piloting a ship into the system’s sun.  His final words are that he’s free.  On the planet, a horde of colonists attack the landing party.  When Kirk checks in on his brother, Sam is already dead.  Kirk’s sister-in-law, Aurelian, is acting irrationally and her son, Peter, is comatose.

Aurelan is able to tell Kirk that the pancake-like creatures use humanoid hosts to build ships to get to the next system.  It’s implied that the Federation, or at least Starfleet, knew about the pattern of civilizations disappearing.  The ship is able to come up with a solution to cure the planet in time, as the next planet has over a million inhabitants.  (It’s implied that someone knew the pattern before the organisms attacked Deneva.  Even if no one knew the cause, why not show up in advance of the problem?)

The previous episode, The City on the Edge of Forever, was a great episode.  It’s a shame to have followed it up with this one.  My big problem is that the subplot of Kirk’s family seemed unnecessary.  One would think that it’s enough that the planet is facing the crisis.  You could have any child affected by the organisms.  There’s no need for it to be the captain’s nephew.

On that note, that angle is never followed up on.  I don’t recall any of the later series having a relative of Kirk on board.  You’d think at some point, someone would have been Kirk’s great-grandnephew or something.  Nope.

Another thing I noticed was that the aliens went in a straight line.  There was no mention of the aliens spreading out.  If they have a concept of space travel, you’d think they’d split into two or more groups to increase their odds of survival.  Reproduction of the organisms isn’t discussed.  For that matter, this is another angle of the episode that’s not followed up on.  (For all I know, they do split off.  If that were true, you’d think that there’d be some mention of it happening elsewhere.)

This was the final episode for the show’s first season.  I’m kind of wondering if they needed one more episode and found this script lying around.  It’s not terrible.  It’s just that it doesn’t really seem to have the impact that other episodes had.  It’s just a case where the Enterprise has to deal with an enemy.  There’s little talk of morals or ethics.  They have to find a way to protect the next planet if they can’t at least protect this one.  I just wish I knew what to make of it.

IMDb page

Monday, February 18, 2019

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 28 (The City on the Edge of Forever)

Star Trek was known for generally not revisiting things.  Useful technology would pop up only to never be used again.  An episode might deal with a very personal issue which, while not resolved by the end of the hour, isn’t dealt with again.  When this happens, it usually raises the question of why.  This was especially true of Voyager, which was looking for a way home.  When something useful came and went, we were left to wonder why it was never explored.

There were a few rare cases where it was obvious why the show wouldn’t want to revisit something.  Take City on the Edge of Forever.  The Enterprise discovers something that can allow people to travel to any point in any planet’s history.  One could understand why the subsequent live-action series would never visit the planet.  (Interestingly, this one time when something was revisited, in this case for The Animated Series.)

Imagine a large, misshapen torus that glows and can speak.  The Enterprise finds itself caught in its wake.  While the ship is shaking violently, Dr. McCoy accidentally injects himself with a drug that makes him crazy.  Before he can be caught, McCoy beams down to the planet where The Guardian of Forever happens to be.  Not only that, McCoy manages to put himself fairly close.

What is The Guardian?   It’s not machine nor living being, but it is sentient.  It’s its own beginning and its own end.  Kirk and Spock are told that they could go to any planet at any era in that planet’s history.  It doesn’t  allow for an exact moment, which makes things difficult when McCoy jumps through.  Not only does he change history, but there’s no way to send someone back to the exact time of place that McCoy landed.

Spock had been recording The Guardian‘s display, which makes things easier.  Still, when Kirk and Spock go through, they could find themselves a year before or after McCoy.  The best they can hope for is to get as close as they can, preferably a little early.  They have only The Guardian’s assurance that they’ll all be returned when history is set right.

Kirk and Spock come out in New York City in 1930.  They eventually find their way to the 21st Street Mission, where they meet Edith Keeler. This is fortunate for several reasons.  She not only sets them up with work and a place to stay, but she happens to be the focal point of whatever McCoy did.  Thus, it’s no surprise when McCoy happens upon the same 21st Street Mission, where he meets the same Edith Keeler.  All becomes clear and Kirk is able to put history back the way it was.

This was one of a handful of Original Series episodes that I remember liking throughout the years.  I’m also not alone in this assessment.  It tends to make a lot of lists of favorite episodes.  It’s funny because I’ve always had a few issues with the episode.

The big one that stood out for me was that someone in the past dies and there seems ot be no consequences.  The character’s name is Rodent, which I’m assuming is a nickname.  He had the unfortunate luck to pick up McCoy’s phaser and shoot himself.  Not only was it questionable that McCoy even hade a phaser, no one mentions it later on.

Not only that, but when McCoy, Spock and Kirk return to their present, the Guardian tells them that history has returned to its original shape.  Is this to say that Rodent was supposed to shoot himself?  The only theory I can come up with was that the Enterprise was supposed to stumble upon the Guardian’s planet and that McCoy was supposed to go into Earth’s past.

Sure, it’s possible that Rodent had no effect on history.  He was a homeless man that most people might have ignored.  It’s even possible that he was supposed to die around that time, anyway.  But why even include the scene?  This episode was said to have had a lot of rewrites.  It’s possible that this was a holdover from an earlier draft.  It’s also possible that it’s a way of saying that you can’t go back into the past without consequence.  However, McCoy is the only possible witness and he was under the influence of drugs.  And, as I said, The Guardian implies that there were no real consequences.

Speaking of The Guardian, what is it he’s supposed to be guarding?  Yes, he’s in the middle of a civilization’s ruins.  I would imagine that there was some sort of building and/or support staff that would have aided in guarding literally all of history.  But the structure is called The Guardian, meaning that there should be some sort of measure to prevent basically anyone from changing history.  The Guardian not only realizes that the landing party is mostly human, but identifies itself and offers up human history without being asked.  Starfleet and The Federation are temporarily wiped from existence as a result.

One could argue that whoever or whatever built The Guardian knew enough to trust that the universe wouldn’t be wiped from existence due to a civilization’s carelessness.  Granted, it did almost happen, but any race smart enough to make it to a distant planet should be smart enough to realize what’s at stake.  This is the one time I can forgive The Next Generation-era shows for not revisiting something from The Original Series.  (I would have like a nod, though.  Maybe have someone mention that The Guardian is too dangerous to use.)

One thing that gets me with the alternate timelines is whether or not the adventure still exists.  I’m assuming that the original timeline still exists after the movie reboot split off.  Still, Voyager and The Next Generation each have their own adventure that might not have happened.  It’s enough to give me a headache.  Maybe I should just stop here.