Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 9 (Perchance to Dream)

Edward Hall knows that he’s a dead man.  He has a heart condition that allows for no excitement and little stress.  The episode takes place in the office of Dr. Eliot Rathmann, a psychiatrist.  Edward wants pills to stay awake.  He’s been having dreams of a woman that would have him go on a roller coaster, thus ensuring his demise sooner rather than later.  Edward knows that he’s going to have to fall asleep eventually, but he wants to put that off as long as possible.

Edward recounts recent events to Dr. Rathmann, telling of how he could make a picture of a boat look like it was moving.  He even tells of the woman, Maya, who’s very attractive, but won’t leave him alone.  Dr. Rathmann points out that it’s just a dream, but it doesn’t matter.  Edward asks if pain is any less painful if it’s imagined.

When Edward eventually realizes he’s not getting any help from the doctor, he leaves only to find Maya is the receptionist.  He turns around and jumps out the window.  We cut to Dr. Rathmann calling said receptionist into the room where Edward is lying on the couch, having laid down and screamed two second later.  Dr. Rathmann says that at least Edward went peacefully in his sleep.

This is one of those episodes that I didn’t quite get as a small child.  It seemed like just a basic story with the twist ending.  What I’ve come to realize in time is that we all are Edward.  We’re all trying to avoid the inevitable.  We all feel like we’re about to die.

The thing is that it never comes the way we expect.  We spend so much time worrying about the obvious things, like taking our vitamins and exercising, that we never see the bus we’re about to step in front of.  Granted, Edward does have a rather immediate threat.  He has a real dilemma in that both options will lead to an immediate demise.  Still, no one gets out of life alive.  The question is how you spend what time you have.



Saturday, December 09, 2017

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

A Christmas Carol has become so ubiquitous that it’s almost impossible to do a new take on it.  There seems to be no shortage of listings on IMDb, including the Muppet version and a Disney video game.  Everyone knows who Ebenezer Scrooge is.  Everyone could tell you why there are three ghosts.  So, how do you do something that’s new?  One way is to do the story behind the story.

The movie is based on  Les Standiford’s book detailing the months before the publication of the now-famous story.  Christmas wasn’t what it is now.  Dickens’s publisher is reluctant to publish a book about a minor holiday, especially considering that he’s had three flops since Oliver Twist.  Dickens is intent on writing this book, even if it means self-publishing.  The fact that he hasn’t written a word yet doesn’t seem to deter him; he kind of needs the money.

As you might expect, he has all sorts of distractions.  His house seems to be in a state of renovation, despite the lack of funds.  He has a wife, four children and several servants, all of whom require some degree of attention.  On top of that, his parents decide to drop by, despite the fact that Dickens doesn’t really want them there.  Not only does he have an entire book to write, he also has to get his book printed.  What’s an author to do?

Since the story became famous, I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that the book does get published.  I don’t know that the rest of the movie is known by as many people.  It goes into Dickens’s childhood and why he doesn’t get along with his parents, particularly his father.

To an extent, we also get to see what went on as to the inspiration for the book.  I’m sure a bit of it is fictionalized.  I’ve seen that Dickens did ‘talk’ to his characters, as shown in the movie, but movies do occasionally take liberties with certain facts.  (For instance, to what extent did Dickens ’invent’ Christmas?)  Truth can sometimes be mundane.  I don’t necessarily mind.  It’s just one of those things I always wonder about.

This isn’t a movie I’d have seen on my own.  Having a Christmas-themed movie out for Christmas is just a little cliché.  Having a movie about a Christmas-themed book out just in time for Christmas and releasing it just before Christmas is a bit much.  I will say that it did entertain.  It’s probably not a movie for the kids.  There are scenes of mild violence and there are a few scenes that might be overly scary.  I think mostly, it will be the kind of movie that children would feel that they’ve been dragged to.  This is more a movie for the adults.





Friday, December 08, 2017

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 8 (Time Enough at Last)

Henry is a man who likes to read.  That wouldn’t be a problem except that he’s surrounded himself with people who don’t like to read.  His wife crosses out all the words in a book of poetry.  His boss reprimands him for reading on the job.  He even has really thick glasses.  Henry Bemis just can’t catch a break.

Then, one day, he hides in the bank vault at work to read.  Suddenly, the ground shakes.  When Henry picks himself up and dusts himself off, he comes to realize that the bomb has been dropped -- and he seems to be the only survivor.  Henry starts to bemoan his bad luck until he stumbles upon the library.  That’s when it hits him:  He now has nothing to stop him from reading.  Alas, this is The Twilight Zone.  Is it ever that simple?

Time Enough at Last is one of the better-known episodes.  I remember the final scene being parodied in an episode of The Drew Carey Show.  Why is this episode so widely viewed?  I think that stems from simplicity and accessibility.  Henry is a man that wants one thing:  To read.

Even if you don’t like reading, you can relate to having something that you love doing, even if it’s not popular.  I’ve noticed that bombs tend to be popular for wiping out populations.  I’ve always found it odd when a small group survives.  No one else happened to find shelter?  Still, it’s what the story needs.  Henry finally has time for what he wants.

This is what makes the ending so cruel.  It’s as if there’s some conscious force that wants Henry to suffer.  Why else would he be surrounded by so many people that hate reading?  I can see taking a job at a bank as an act of necessity.  You would think a job at a library would better suit him, but you can’t always get the job you want.

As for his wife, you’d think Henry would find someone with a similar love of reading.  I get the impression that his love of reading isn’t anything new.  How did he end up with someone who would actually deface a book of poetry to spite her husband?

The only major concern for younger viewers would be the annihilation of the surrounding population.  No deaths are shown, nor are there any bodies shown.  The actual act is only implied, but Henry still has to deal with some of the aftermath.

There’s also the running theme of life not being fair, but I’d say that’s a minor point that most children can handle.  When I first saw the episode, it struck me that Henry was practically left with nothing at the end.  Henry Bemis just can’t catch a break.


IMDb page

Thursday, December 07, 2017

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 7 (The Lonely)

Isolation is not an easy thing.  James A. Corry was convicted of murder and sent to live alone on an asteroid.  (At least, it’s called an asteroid.  Gravity seems normal enough.)  Sure, he claims it was self defense, but that doesn’t make him any less alone.  His only contact with other humans is Captain Allenby and his crew.  Allenby is a nice enough guy.  He was able to bring James a car, even if it was in several parts.  It’s not said where James gets gas or exactly where it is he has to go.  However, James is appreciative nonetheless.

The installment of The Twilight Zone begins with Allenby bringing James a special gift.  James is instructed not to open the box until the crew is out of sight, which James does.  What’s in the box?  It’s a woman.  Well, actually, it’s an android made to look like a woman.  James is desperate for any sort of companionship.  He begs Allenby for a game of chess, but orbital mechanics prevents Allenby from staying too long.  He has other stops to make and waiting too long will screw up his schedule.

James is a little resistant to his new companion, but he eventually warms up to her.  She even has a name: Alicia.  She’s programmed to be friendly, which is exactly what James needs.  He even forgets that she’s a robot.  When James eventually gets his pardon, he’s allowed only 15 pounds of personal possessions.  He insists on bringing Alicia, but it’s not meant to be.  Allenby has several other prisoners to pick up and there’s not that much space to go around.  It pains James to leave Alicia, but James is made to remember that she’s artificial.  He leaves with what few belongings he needs.

This isn’t one of the better episodes of The Twilight Zone.  It’s not one of the worst, but I don’t think it will be making my top-ten list.  The episode would seem to be a study in loneliness, but has a few flaws, at least one of which will become obvious as you watch the episode.  The first is how cruel it is to put prisoners on asteroids like that.  The episode doesn’t give many details about James’s crime.  I’d like to know who he murdered that the prison system saw fit to give him his very own asteroid.  The cost of sending him there and supplying him every three months or so can’t be cheap.

Then, there’s the inhumanity of a 50-year prison sentence.  It would be bad enough having a roommate.  Could you imagine being on an asteroid for 50 years?  You’d think he’d at least be allowed visitors.  Speaking of which, there’s no mention of guards.  Couldn’t a friend of Frank’s follow the supply ship and figure out which asteroid Frank is on?  That would have to be the easiest jailbreak ever.  You could probably make a business of putting a tracking device on the ships and offering to spring all the prisoners for a price.

This is another episode that might have benefited from the hour-long format.  A good portion of the episode is spent giving James the android and another good chunk is spent taking the android away from him.  This doesn’t leave much time for bonding.  It seemed kind of rushed.  I don’t know what else could have been added other than maybe some details on how James ended up on the asteroid.

As I said, it’s not a horrible episode.  (I don’t recall The Twilight Zone ever having an outright miss.)  This one usually makes the marathons.  Even given its flaws, it’s still an enjoyable episode.  The episode is generally safe for children.  There’s no sex.  The only possibly objectionable part is the android being shot with a gun and the wiring exposed.  If you’re watching on Netflix or catch it in a marathon, it’s worth watching.  I wouldn’t go out of your way to find it, though.


Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 6 (Escape Clause)

WARNING:  This review gives away major details including the ending.


There’s a saying that has several variations:  When the gods wish to punish us, they grant our wishes.  Such is almost the case for Walter Bedeker.  He’s a hypochondriac.  Escape Clause even begins with Walter’s doctor making a house call.  As the doctor leaves, he tells Walter that he’s in perfect health.  That doesn’t seem to satisfy the patient.  Walter remains in bed as the doctor leaves, as does his wife, Ethel.

Enter Mr. Cadwallader, a man with an offer that Walter can’t refuse: Immortality.  Walter is, of course, curious about the details.  Walter never get sick.  He’ll never have to worry about being hurt or injured.  Mr. Cadwallader even throws in a stipulation that Walter will never visibly age.  Walter eventually figures out who Mr. Cadwallader is.  He’s the devil.  All Walter has to give up as payment is his soul.  If, at any time, Walter should tire of his new gift, a painless death will be arranged.

Walter doesn’t mind much, as this is the perfect bargain.  He immediately goes out and throws himself under the bus.  Seriously.  And a train.  In fact, he stages over a dozen accidents for the thrill of it.  Of course, the insurance settlements don’t hurt.  However, it doesn’t quite bring the thrill that he expects.\

He goes to the roof of his apartment building and considers jumping.  That’s when an opportunity presents itself.  Ethel follows him up and accidentally falls off the roof.  Rather than tell the truth, Walter says that he killed her.  What better way to get a thrill than to take a ride in the electric chair?  Much to Walter’s dismay, his lawyer manages to secure a sentence of life in prison.   Knowing that he can never leave, Walter activates the escape clause.

Walter is not a man of forethought.  I remember watching this episode with my brother once.  He pointed out something that plenty of other people pointed out in that Walter could easily have outlived any building or government imprisoning him.  People have also pointed out that Walter should have expected prison.  He has no reason to believe that surviving the electric chair would spare him prison.

My question is why he gave up so easily.  He wanted a thrill?  How about the thrill of trying to escape prison?  He doesn’t have to worry about death.  Even if he was recaptured, he could try as many times as necessary.  (Actually, if he were looking to use death as an escape, he could have faked his death while escaping.)

It seems that all of Walter’s plans are short sighted.  He never considers hang gliding or bungee jumping.  I’m not saying I wouldn’t consider insurance fraud given this opportunity, but I think I would space it out with some more mundane ways of excitement.  There are plenty of things normal people do for thrills.  Maybe he could swim with sharks.  He’d probably be great at alligator wrestling.  Instead, he sticks to accidents.

The big problem here is that Rod Serling only had 30 minutes to work with.  There’s so much more that could have been done given enough time.  This probably would have been a better episode had it been done during the fourth season, when episodes were an hour each.  Like other Twilight Zone episodes, it’s a story of someone undone by their own desires.


Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Cube²: Hypercube (2002)

Some movies are great and are meant to be left as is.  Cube was just such a movie.  You had several prisoners in a large cube divided into smaller cube-shaped rooms.  Who captured them and why?  The characters could only guess.  Unfortunately, several more movies were made.  From what I can tell, there’s even a remake in the works.  Sigh.  Oh, well.

Enter Cube 2 or Cube Squared or Hypercube.  Eight characters find themselves in various well-lit rooms.  They come together to try to figure out what’s going on.  Again, they’re hiding secrets and numbers abound.  Is there a means of escape?  Possibly.  Oh, and everyone seems to have some connection to the same company.  Coincidence?  Probably not.

I’m not going to go too much into the plot mostly because there isn’t one.  This is a pale imitation of the first movie.  It’s worth noting that there’s absolutely no connection between the two movies.  None of the characters return.  I don’t think any of the people behind the cameras return.  The director is different.  I don’t think anyone involved in writing was the same.

Cube was an independent movie.  It had that low-budget, gritty feeling you’d expect.  This had a more Hollywood feel.  It was bright and slick and perfectly average.  It had a few science terms thrown in for cred.  The traps seem more tame, even if they’re trying to be more imaginative.  For instance, rooms can move at different rates of time.  There also appear to be timelines, meaning the same character can be killed a few dozen times.  One character has his eye stabbed out, only to live for many years.  This, despite the lack of obvious food.

While watching the movie, the word ‘insipid’ came to mind.  I had to look it up to make sure it was the right word.  I got two definitions:  “Lacking flavor” and “Lacking vigor or interest”.  For all its fancy science terms and bright lights, Cube 2 lacks any sort of reason to watch it.  The reason Cube worked was that it was simple.  Rather than go for flash, it went for substance and it did it well.

It’s almost like two people were given the basic plot for the story with various character sketches and plot twists and were told to write a movie.  You have rooms in a large cube, several people kidnapped, someone who was involved in making the trap and a potential for escaping, although most of the characters won’t.  Cube was the clear winner whereas Cube 2 was an honorable mention.  It should have been left alone.


Monday, December 04, 2017

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 5 (Walking Distance)

Martin Sloan is 36 and working way too hard.  While out for a drive, he pulls in to a gas station, where he gets some gas and an oil change.  It just so happens that his home town, called Homewood, is just over a mile up the road.  Since the car will take about an hour or so, Martin decides to walk the distance.

He finds the town exactly as he remembers it.  He’s even able to get the ice cream soda he remembers and for the same price of 10¢.  Walking around, he soon realizes that it really is 25 years ago.  He meets himself at 11 and is able to visit his parents at his old house.   Granted, they think that he’s some crazy person.

It gets dark and Martin has one message for his younger self:  Enjoy your youth while you can.  However, this causes the younger Martin to have an accident wherein he hurts his leg.  He’ll be ok, but the boy will have a limp.  Martin’s father has come to realize that the adult Martin is telling the truth.  The father asks if Martin doesn’t have many of the same things the 11-year-old Martin has.

Martin comes to realize that, although he’s been given the opportunity to go back, it’s not his place to stay.  He walks back to the ice-cream parlor to discover that he’s back in his present and has a limp.  He then makes the journey back to his car and presumably goes back to his life.

This episode, like most of The Twilight Zone episodes, was 30 minutes.  It was written perfectly for that length of time. Had this episode been done during the fourth season, when stories were 60 minutes, it probably would have dragged too much.  What could you have added?  Staying was never really an option for Martin and there’s only so much he can do in a small town before it seems forced.

This seems to be a favorite among viewers of The Twilight Zone and with good reason.  The message is simple and delivered subtly.  It doesn’t try to hit you over the head with it.  It’s actually kind of odd that a series would hit one out of the park so early in its first season.

The episode has changed a little for me over the years.  When I was in high school, I got the message.  However, there is more of a connection having had points in my life that I’d like to go back to.  That’s natural.  I would think most people Martin’s age would like to go back to a time when the summer meant not having to worry about anything.

I would say that this episode is the most relatable of the series.  Everyone reaches a point where they miss being younger.  If I had to pick a few episodes to sell someone on the series, this would be one of them.   They say you can’t go home again.  It looks like you can, although it’s kind of awkward and you can’t really stay as long as you’d like.  At least we’ll always have Homewood.