Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 35 (The Mighty Casey)

Being the last in the league can make you do desperate things.  You want to do well, but there comes a point where it would take a miracle to make any sort of progress.  "Mouth" McGarry is the manager of  the Hoboken Zephyrs, a baseball team in dead last.  If they’ve played five games, they’ve lost six of them.  That’s how bad they’re doing.  They could really use that miracle.

The good news is that it comes in the form of a great pitcher named Casey.  He can throw a really fast fastball or a really screwy curveball.  The one thing every pitch has in common is that no one can hit them.  The catch is that Casey is actually a robot.  (I think he’d technically be called an android.)  Since the team needs Casey, no one needs to know what he is.

He’s signed immediately and the team does well.  All good things must come to an end, as they say.  When Casey is hit during a game, the physician discovers that he has no heartbeat.  It comes out that Casey isn’t human and is banned from playing.

A deal is made with the commissioner that Casey will only be suspended until he can be given a heart.  This proves fatal to Casey’s baseball career, as he can’t bring himself to strike out the opposing players.  He doesn’t want to ruin their careers.  Casey leaves the team to pursue social work.

Casey is, without a doubt, mighty.  The episode?  Not so much.  I’m not saying it was bad.  It’s just one of the few Twilight Zone episodes that seemed out of place.  The twist was ironic, but not as much as other episodes.  You can sort of see it coming and it just didn’t have the same impact that I would have expected.

It could be that times have changed.  I’ve grown up in a time where human-looking androids were commonplace in fiction.  They’re almost a reality.  (We may actually get an actual Casey within my lifetime.)  The episode first aired almost 60 years ago.  I would imagine that the audience was different.

To me, it seems like a script they bought just in case they needed one more episode to round out the season.  (There was one more after this.)  It was a little weak.  For instance, Casey feels that he’d ruin the careers of the opposing players.  No attempt is made to dissuade him of this notion.  Losing to one pitcher, especially one as good as Casey, probably wouldn’t cause a player to get dropped from a team.  There are plenty of other games for the opposing teams to do well in.

If you’re binging the series, it’s not a horrible episode.  It’s worth at least one viewing.  However, I wouldn’t expect a lot from it.  The Twilight Zone is like any other series; sometimes an episode is a home run and sometimes it‘s not.   I just have to wonder: Why is Casey left-handed?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 34 (The After Hours)

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

During the first season, The Twilight Zone had some very good episodes.  Some made you think.  Others had that plot twist the series became associated with.  This wasn’t one of those episodes for me.  The plot is strange, but it seems somewhat uncharacteristic of the series.

The episodes would seem to be about Marsha White.  She’s in a department store looking for a gold thimble for her mother.  She’s directed by the elevator operator to the store’s ninth floor.   The problem is that the elevator would seem to only go to the eighth floor.

Marsha is let out on a deserted floor.  There are empty display cases and unused mannequins, but there don’t seem to be any employees or product at first.  She is eventually greeted by a rather hostile female employee who sells her a gold thimble for $25.

It isn’t until Marsha is back on the elevator that she notices damage to the thimble.  The elevator operator directs her to customer service.  Customer service is insistent that there is no ninth floor and that thimbles are sold on the third floor, but Marsha has a very clear memory of what happened.

She’s allowed to lie down for a whole, but is eventually locked in the store.  She can’t get out of the building, but manages to find her way back to the ninth floor.  She’s understandably agitated and afraid.  It doesn’t help when the mannequins start talking to her.  It turns out that she’s a mannequin.

Each mannequin is allowed a month on the outside and Marsha’s month was up yesterday.  She comes to accept this and returns to her normal ‘job’.  The next mannequin to go out is the ‘sales lady’ that sold her the gold thimble.  The episode ends with the customer service manager seeing Marsha as a mannequin, wondering what the heck just happened.

The episode seems to work more with suspense.  We see two store employees (the sales lady and the elevator operator) who seem rather hostile.  Both help her, but both seem short with her.  Even if you’ve never seen a Twilight Zone episode before, you get the sense that something is up.  It’s just a question of what.

The thing that becomes distracting is some of the questions I ended up having.  If she’s a mannequin, does she really have a mother?  Where does she live during the month?  Do the mannequins have an apartment or house that they use?  If so, how do they pay for it?  Do they have to get a job?  Do they eat like a normal person?  How is it that the store never notices the rotation of a missing mannequin?  These are all questions I had while viewing the episode recently.

I’m not saying that it’s a bad episode.  It’s just kind of weak.  The story doesn’t seem to have a clear moral, except maybe that you can’t run from your responsibilities forever.  I’ve seen it in Twilight Zone marathons.  The funny thing is that if I had to choose episodes for a marathon, I’d probably leave this one out. 

Monday, April 09, 2018

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 33 (Mr. Bevis)

I don’t imagine many people like wearing a suit and tie.  People might get used to it.  People often see the value in it, but I don’t think anyone has ambitions of fitting in.  James B.W. Bevis certainly never did.  He’s goofy and absentminded, to say the least.  He doesn’t have the latest car, but he likes what he likes, whether or not anyone agrees.

The neighborhood children seem to like him.  Bosses?  Not so much.  He’s had several jobs in the past several months.  In fact, the episode begins with him getting terminated, his car getting in an accident and his landlady evicting him.  Although you might feel empathy for Mr. Bevis, you can see where he could do better.

Today’s his lucky day, though.  J. Hardy Hempstead appears and offers to help Bevis.  Who is J. Hardy Hempstead?  Hempstead is Bevis’s guardian angel.  Hempstead offers to let Bevis relive the day, on the condition that he give up anything that makes him unique.  No more zither music.  No more figurines on his desk.  He won’t be popular with the children anymore, but he won’t be fired, either.

Bevis decides to give it a try.  He now has a new car that actually works.  When he gets to his job, he finds his desk is clear and the boss gives him a $10/week raise.  His landlady even loves him, as he’s paid his rent in advance.  Bevis tells Hempstead to put it all back the way it was.  Bevis realizes what he’s known all along:  It’s not worth an extra $10 every week if he can’t be who he is.  He’s been homeless before and he’ll survive it again.

The episode has been called the opposite of It’s a Wonderful Life and with good reason.   Bevis isn’t particularly despondent, but he gets help anyway.  After the help is given, he refuses it.  According to IMDb, this was supposed to serve as a backdoor pilot.  Since Burgess Meredith declined the title role, Rod Serling dropped the idea.

I thought the episode was a bit extreme.  I’m not sure why the Bevis was written with so many eccentricities.  There were some things that could be toned down, like listening to zither music.  I don’t think they had portable CD players back then, but they did have headphones.  Stereo headphones had been invented two years prior, so I would think that some compromise could be found if Bevis was a halfway decent employee.

The episode seems to be more about accepting who you are regardless of the consequences.  However, I don’t think most oddballs are as odd as Bevis.  I’m not sure how much of it is exaggeration.  (Why is it that people like Bevis go through so many jobs?)  I suppose some of this would have been explored if the episode had been made into its own series.

I had never seen this episode before, which surprises me a little.  It was a good episode, even if it was somewhat thin.  The problem with the half-hour format is that the episodes don’t go into much detail.  Still, if you can still get it streaming on Netflix, I’d recommend watching it.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 14 (Bedazzled)

Friday the 13th: The Series followed a certain format, at least so far in the series.  Micki, Ryan and Jack would be sitting around Curious Goods when they would randomly come across a cursed antique that Lewis Vendredi had sold to an unsuspecting customer.  They’d then spend the rest of the episode trying to get it back.

In Bedazzled, the episode starts with Jack and Ryan retrieving the cursed lantern and bringing it back to the vault for safekeeping.  The problem is that Jonah isn’t done using it.  He manages to get the license plate of the car that Jack and Ryan drive off in, allowing him to track them down.

Cut to Jack and Ryan going to an astrologers’ convention, leaving Micki all alone in the shop.  This wouldn’t be so bad, except that its raining.  She gets a call from a friend asking her to baby-sit the friend’s kid, which is good.  At least Micki will have some company.  However, Richie is old enough to not want to be there.  Plus, he’s going to be someone for Micki to worry about when Jonah finally shows up.

Micki manages to deal with Jonah effectively enough to keep the lantern in the vault.  Richie makes it safely to the end of the episode, too.  He even seems to have a little respect for Micki, who didn’t seem to see fit to tell Ryan or Jack what happened.

It’s actually pretty surprising that none of the main characters saw this coming.  Yes, it’s a little sudden.  (How did Jonah get the information for Curious Goods that quickly?  It was nighttime, so I doubt the DMV was open that late.)  Still, no one mentions anything about preparing for Jonah’s eventual arrival.  Many of the antiques’ previous owners wind up dead before the antique makes it back to the vault, so I guess no one really expected it.

I also found it a bit odd that Micki made no attempt to restrain Jonah.  She’s able to incapacitate him several times, but never thinks to get some rope?  During the episode, a police officer enters the store and is shot, meaning that she should have access to handcuffs.  I get that it’s a stressful situation, but still…

At the very least, it’s a twist on the usual format.  It’s definitely nice to see the show mix it up a little.  This was the last episode on the third disc of the first-season set.  I got the fourth disc when I returned the third, so I’ll be seeing if they keep up the trend.

IMDb page

Saturday, April 07, 2018

901: After 45 Years of Working (1990)

After seeing Powers of Ten, I had wanted to see more movies by Charles and Ray Eames.  The good news is that many of their short films are available.  The bad news is that only a few are available streaming.  Powers of Ten can be seen on YouTube, either directly or through the Eames Official Site.  Another is this video, 901: After 45 Years of Working.  (Both movies make up the first disc of The Films of Charles & Ray Eames.)

The movie documents the closing of the Eames workshop after the death of Ray Eames.  It’s narrated by Eames Demetrios, the grandson of Charles Eames and features several people that were working at the workshop at the time of its closing.

The film documents the way the office looked as everything was being moved out.  There were a lot of slides that were being donated to the Library of Congress, which Ray Eames had been helping to catalogue.  There was also a lot of art and furniture.  Much of it was to be distributed, but I don’t recall if it was mentioned exactly where all of it was going.

The film is meant for people who have an interest in the Eames.  It doesn’t appear to have a rating, but I would say that it’s safe for all audiences.  There’s no cursing or violence.  I don’t recall any nudity, but if there was, it would have been as artwork hanging in the background.  It’s not a particularly exciting movie, but it is at least informative.  It’s exactly the kind of movie you could show in an art class one day if need be.

If you don’t have an interest in the Eames or in furniture, I’m not sure if you’ll make it through the entire video.  However, it is available streaming, so it’s worth at least a few minutes of your time.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 13 (The Baron's Bride)

Frank Edwards is looking for a room to rent.  He approaches a house, newspaper in hand, apparently responding to an ad.  We get a good view of the for-rent sign as he walks in and knocks on the door.  He’s greeted by Mrs. Marie Simmons.  She has a room to let since her Mr. Simmons passed away.  She leaves him to examine the room, where he finds a cloak and brooch.  When he tries it on, he finds that he’s irresistible to Marie.  Of course, that was her plan all along.

Jack, Ryan and Micki show up just in time to see Marie biting Frank.  Yes, she’s a vampire and she just turned Frank into one.  Ryan manages to run out and get the for-sale sign, which is conveniently mounted on a handy wooden stake.  Unfortunately, Frank activates the brooch while holding Micki.  Ryan grabs them just in time to be transported back to London, 1875.

Frank escapes, leaving Ryan and Micki to meet two passersby, husband Abraham and his wife Caitlin.  Upon hearing that Ryan and Micki have no money and nowhere to stay, Abraham and Caitlin offer to put them up.  Oh, and you can just call him Bram.

Well, there’s a vampire on the loose in London and Ryan has to use all the conventional means to stop him.  By conventional, of course, I mean a wooden stake, lots of garlic and whatever sunlight happens to be available.  Micki, on the other hand, is pretty much useless.  She’s been entranced by Frank and spends most of the episode pining over him.

It seems that we actually have two cursed items this week.  The brooch is used for time travel, but the cloak can make a man irresistible to women.  (It’s not stated what effect it has if a woman wears it.)  It’s not clear if the brooch does all the work, though.  It’s been stated that cursed items can’t be destroyed, but Frank meets his end when he gets stabbed in the back, quite literally.  The angle isn’t that clear, so I’m not sure if the cloak was pierced or if it had slipped to the side or something.  No one mentions it being damaged.

Many aspects of the episode are either meet or fall below a low standard.  1988 wasn’t necessarily a great year for special effects when compared to modern-day stuff, but the end scene was obviously some sort of split screen.  Also, the accents were exactly what you’d expect.  We have several British and Irish accents delivered by actors who were apparently aiming for what an audience might expect.

The one thing that strikes me is that neither Ryan nor Micki asks that much about Bram, like his last name or anything.  “Hmm…  Your name is Bram, you happen to be a writer and you just found out that vampires exist.  Would your last name happen to be Stoker?”  This isn’t pointed out until the end of the episode, when Jack pulls out a copy of Dracula and opens it to the dedication, which happens to be to Caitlin.

There are two problems with this.  First, Bram Stoker was married to Florence.  There doesn’t seem to be any reference to him being married to a Caitlin.  The second problem is that the dedication actually reads:  TO MY DEAR FRIEND HOMMY-BEG.  The text of the book is available on Project Gutenberg, as the book has since fallen into the public domain.  You can check it out for yourself.  I’m assuming this was done for the story’s sake.  I don’t know that most people would bother looking this sort of stuff up.

I think this may be the first wasted opportunity of the series.  It’s usually been the case that cursed items have a downside, but this one doesn’t.  I would imagine that the cloak wouldn’t be used due to it interfering with consent and all, but the brooch doesn’t require much to activate it.  Most items need someone to be killed to operate properly.  Not this one.  A drop of blood each from  two different people activates the time travel.  You don’t even have to be a vampire to use it.

You may be asking about interfering with time travel.  Apparently, that’s never brought up.  There’s no case of Frank attacking an important person.  No one worries that he’s changed history by killing anyone at all.  There’s no mention of any sort of consequences at all.

Overall, it’s one of the more average offerings.  I’m wondering if this was made to pad the episode count.  It’s almost like they were just barely trying to get the episode made.  It’s enjoyable if you don’t think about it too much, but I don’t think it’s going to make my list for memorable episodes.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Love, Simon (2018)

It always bothers me when a movie is based on a bad decision.  Someone has to decide between a wise chouce, resulting in no movie, or an unwise choice, resulting in a movie.  This isn’t exactly the case with Love, Simon.  You can understand why Simon chooses what he does.

Simon is a teenager in high school.  By all accounts, he’s a normal teenager.  He does all the things most of us did at that age.  The crucial difference is that he’s gay.  The story starts when Simon starts an email conversation with an anonymous poster on a message board.  The other person, who goes by Blue, is presumably another student at Simon’s school.  However, there are no clues as to who Blue might be.  He might not even be a current student.

The turning point is when Martin discovers Simon’s conversation with Blue.  Martin is that annoying/creepy kid who tries to hard to be liked.  He wants to date Abby and Abby is Simon’s friend, so Martin uses the information to blackmail Simon.  This is where the decision has the potential to make for a much shorter film.

Simon could very easily admit to being gay.  His friends and family would be supportive.  Simon isn’t necessarily opposed to the idea, but he doesn’t like the fact that straight people don’t need to come out.  If Simon does this, it will remove any power that Martin holds over him.  The drawback is that there is real harassment at his school.  Ethan is a student at Simon’s school.  He came out and faces harassment, so it’s understandable that Simon would give in to Martin’s demands.

If you’ve seen similar movies, you know that things will only get more complicated for Simon.  You may also know that there will come a point where Simon’s secret will come out.  The question is how it will work out for everyone.  Fortunately, the movie doesn’t make this part of the story overly awkward.  Martin is aggressive in getting what he wants, especially once Simon gives in.  This leads to maybe two cringe-worthy moments.

Love, Simon is similar to many other movies aimed at young adults.  It’s almost like watching Hallmark movies in that they only differ in the details.  It is a well-written story.  You have a clear antagonist and protagonist.  The tension wasn’t over the top, like I would have expected with blackmail.  My only real issue is with Gmail.  Yes, they do really leave you logged in when you close the browser.  You have to manually log out, even if you’re in a public place.  (I imagine that a lot of people find this out the hard way, as Simon did.)  It was a fun movie to watch, but I don’t know if I’ll be going back to another young-adult movie any time soon.