Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Last Starfighter (1984)

I remember a lot of movies from my childhood.  Some hold up pretty well.  Others don’t.  I think in a lot of cases, I was more easily entertained.  Take The Last Starfighter.  I remember liking it.  It wasn’t one of my favorites, but I was entertained by it.  I recently had the chance to rent it from Netflix to see how it held up.

The movie centers on Alex Rogan.  He’s an average kid in a trailer park.  His one hope to get out of there is college, but he can’t seem to secure the funding.  His one distraction is a game called Starfighter.  He’s pretty good at it.  In fact, he beats the game’s high score of 1,000,000 points.  (To give you an idea of how boring it is in this trailer park, everyone gathers around to witness this with great excitement.)

It isn’t long before Alex is visited by a mysterious man calling himself Centauri.  Centauri is the one who designed and placed the games as a test.  He takes Alex for a ride, promising a surprise when they reach their destination.  It turns out that a war is on and the game is testing for those with The Gift.  Those that pass the test on their respective planets are recruited to become actual starfighters.

Alex immediately wants to go home. The game said nothing about being recruited for an actual war.  So, Centauri begrudgingly takes Alex home.  After Centauri leaves, Alex is attacked.  Fortunately, Alex is able to call Centauri back.  They go back to the military base only to find it attacked.  Alex is now the only starfighter left.  It’s up to him and his navigator, Grig, to defend the galaxy.

The movie deals mostly with Alex being recruited and eventually fighting.  There’s no real commentary on war.  The closest thing is Centauri being reprimanded for recruiting on Earth, which is an unaligned planet.  Even the fact that Alex was essentially tricked into fighting is downplayed.  This is something that may have been dealt with if the movie had been made into a TV show or something.  Each week would have been some aspect of war.  It’s also possible that the movie was aimed at kids.  With the exception of one or two scenes, most of the violence is video-game violence.  Even the fighting with real ships is kind of cheesy by today’s standards.

When I first watched the movie, it seemed like a pretty decent story.  (I suppose for a 9-year-old, it was.)  Watching it now, it seems more like it was meant to set up either another movie or a TV show.  (There are rumors of a sequel to the movie, possibly detailing the adventures of Alex’s child.)  Yes, Alex saves the day.  He returns to Earth to get his girlfriend and let everyone know he’s ok.  In this regard, the story seems incomplete.

Had there been a TV show shortly after the release of the movie, I probably would have viewed the movie differently.  The story would have made more sense in that context.  As it is, I’m wondering if a planned sequel was cancelled or if the movie was released unfinished.  (Both scenarios have happened with other movies.)  If a series came to television based on this movie, I’d definitely give it a chance.


I’m always looking for ways to make some extra cash.  When I cam across Ibotta, I was hesitant.  You got rebates for buying stuff, but I’m not the one that does the shopping for the household.  It didn’t seem like I’d be redeeming a lot.  I downloaded the app just to see what it was like.

It’s a fairly simple concept.  When you go shopping at various stores, like your local grocery store or drug store, you go through the app to find items you’ve purchased.  If there is something you purchased, you scan the barcode, photograph the receipt and submit the information.  (You can also get a special link for shopping at certain online retailers.)  If the rebates are accepted, you have the corresponding rebates deposited into your account.  When you reach $10, you can have the money transferred to your PayPal account or you can save up for a gift card from retailers like Amazon or Best Buy.

You can also get bonuses through teamwork.  If you refer someone, that person is automatically on your team.  (You also get a few dollars after they redeem their first rebate.)  If you link your account to Facebook or Twitter, the app will search your accounts for people who have already signed up.  If you and your team meet certain goals, you get a bonus.  Usually, those on your team will have to pass a certain dollar amount in rebates whereas you might have to redeem a certain number.  (Each month, you’ll be given a new set of goals.)

With an app like this, I’d normally recommend just downloading it and trying it out.  However, this is one of the more time-consuming programs that I’ve tried.  First off, you have to unlock rebates.  This may mean watching a video or taking a short survey.  Some products have one task while others might have two.  (This shouldn’t take more than a minute per product.)

Then, scanning products can be difficult.  Some products, like bananas, you just check off and they look for it on the receipt.  If you do have to scan a bar code, you have to line it up within a box almost exactly.  I’ve had cases where I’ve had to stand there for a few minutes trying to get it right only to find out that it didn‘t scan right or that product didn‘t qualify for the rebate.

Some rebates are for specific products.  It might be for a certain brand of deodorant.  In other case, it might be for any brand.  If you tap on a product, it will give the details on what’s included.  Bread might include buns.  Peas may or may not include frozen peas or canned peas.

Dollar amounts vary.  Most products will have rebates around 25¢.  Others can have rebates north of $1.  If you buy a lot of beer or wine, it won’t be unusual to see rebates of $4-$6.  There are also certain stores, like Best Buy or Sephora, that simply give a rebate for total purchases.  American Eagle Outfitters, for instance, has a $5 rebate on a single $50 purchase.  Best Buy has a $5 rebate on $100 that can be across several in-store purchases.

The first few months, I was getting several dollars per week from my parents’ purchases at Publix.  Now, I’m lucky if I get a dollar.  I’ve also noticed that it seems like rebates for products are available on the weeks that my parents don’t buy those products.  I’ve seen them buy milk one week only to see the rebate the next week.  They’ll buy bananas that week and have the rebate two weeks later.  If you’re not buying alcohol or electronics, don’t expect a lot of cash.

The good news is that when you do cash out, the money comes pretty quickly.  Since no gift card allows for payment under $10, I’ve always done PayPal.  It seems like it’s always been at most a day or two to get the payment.  Gift cards may take longer.  I really don’t know.  Also, I’ve never had a rebate rejected.  It may take a while for me to reach the threshold, but I do get the money.

If you do most of the shopping, I’d recommend downloading it and at least trying it.  Right now, I may cash out every month or two and I don’t do a lot of shopping.  If you’re lucky enough to get one or two big rebates per week, you shouldn’t have to go more than a few weeks before cashing out.  At least there doesn’t seem to be any expiration on money earned.

The Pee Wee Herman Show (1981)

I once referred to Pee-Wee’s Playhouse as a kid-friendly show.  My mother disagreed.  I had remembered the TV show as being more silly than anything else.  It may have been that I was missing stuff that was intended for adults.  It may also have been that my mother had come across The Pee-Wee Herman Show, which is a different beast altogether.

Before Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Paul Reubens had a stage show called The Pee-Wee Herman Show.  In 1981, HBO recorded and aired one of the performances, which was very similar in appearance and style to the playhouse, except that the humor was more adult oriented.  I had never heard of this, hence my confusion.

The entire show takes place in his playhouse with Pee-Wee interacting with various human and puppet characters.  Captain Carl and Miss Yvonne are two such characters that stop by.  (She has a thing for him, yet he doesn’t seem to reciprocate.)  Also visiting from time to time is Mailman Mike, who doesn’t seem to take his job seriously.  There are even the singing neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Jelly Do-nut.  When Pee-Wee gets a wish from Jambi the Genie, he really wants to wish for the ability to fly.  However, he feels compelled to use it to make Captain Carl fall for Miss Yvonne.

If you’re wondering about the humor, a lot of it would be safe for teenagers and above.  There’s one scene where Pee-Wee and another character use show mirrors to look up a skirt.  In another, Jambi receives a pair of hands he had ordered.  (He’s portrayed as a disembodied head.)  That’s probably on par with the worst of it.  If you’re old enough to watch Beavis and Butt-Head, you’re old enough to watch this.

I got this on DVD from Netflix, but I probably would have gotten it streaming had I been given the option.  The disc had no special features, nor did I see another disc.  I don’t know that this is the kind of thing that would have necessarily supported features.  Those that are watching it are probably more familiar with the other movie and TV show.  I had only gotten this to see what it was like.  I’m not sure what kind of features I would have wanted.  (This isn’t the kind of thing that would lend itself to a director’s cut or anything.)

From what I’ve read, this was supposed to parody kids’ shows of the 1950s and 1960s.  I’m not sure most people would necessarily get the humor.  I found it amusing, but I suspect that there was a lot of stuff that went over my head.  I think part of why I remember liking the TV show was that I was a child and the show was aimed at that age group.  This is probably aimed more ad adults that grew up in the 1950s.  I don’t think kids that were born 50 years later would really like it.  Honestly, I’m not even sure how many of the target audience would like it, as Pee-Wee Herman is one of those hit-or-miss characters.  Either you love it or you’ll never understand how someone else could.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Jupiter Ascending (2015)

Note:  This review contains spoilers.  If you’re not into that, you might want to skip the review until after you’ve seen the movie.

I remember seeing the coming attraction s for Jupiter Ascending.  It looked like something that was epic.  A woman finds out that she’s an important figure and is thrust into a position of power.  It turns out that I was sort of right.  I was mostly wrong, but I was sort of right.  The movie was visually epic, but wasn’t much on the story.

Jupiter Jones is the woman in question.  Her father died before she was born.  She was born in the middle of the ocean and finds herself without a nation.  Fast forward a few decades.  Jupiter is cleaning houses with her aunt.  She hates her life, and rightfully so.  She’s always wanting money for something that she doesn’t want.  She wants and advance, but can’t get it.  Her solution?  She lets her cousin talk her in to selling her eggs.  At the last minute, she’s attacked and subsequently rescued by Caine.

Caine explains that Jupiter is genetically identical to the deceased matriarch of the Abrasax family.  Said matriarch left her title and certain possessions to any human that matches her genetic code or something, meaning that Jupiter now owns Earth and that she’s some sort of queen.  One of the kids wants to marry Jupiter, which she agrees to.  It sounds kind of incestuous, since she’s an exact genetic match to his dead mother.  But, it’s ok since he plans to kill her and claim Earth as his own.  Yes, the kids each got planets of their own, but Earth is the mother lode.  It will make its owner rich beyond their wildest dreams.

It turns out that instead of this grand epic I was expecting, it was mostly Caine fighting to save Jupiter.  Yes, we got some nice visuals and stuff, but it wasn’t as strong on the story as I expected.  Jupiter Jones ends up being more of a McGuffin than a hero.  At first, I though that might be a bit harsh, bit it’s not.  She’s only there to move the story along.  She’s something pretty for the antagonists to fight over.

On that note, why would you leave something to someone who happens to end up with your genetic makeup?  Even though there are a lot of planets with humans, it seems hard to believe that we’d end up with that kind of convergence, and that quickly to boot.  Stuff like that always gets my attention.  It seems very improbable.  This isn’t even getting in to the fact that Jupiter has no idea what’s going on.  (Jupiter was supposed to be the reincarnation of the Matriarch.)

This is one of those movies that I ended up finding major flaws with.  As I said, Jupiter is a genetic match to the matriarch.  Ok.  I’ll admit that long shots come through.  It’s not impossible.  Still, why is she not freaked out at marrying her doppelganger’s son?  She seems taken in by the whole thing rather easily?

For that matter, she seems rather at ease selling her eggs during the beginning of the movie.  Yes, it’s a really nice telescope she wants, but this is her chance at having kids.  She’ll be getting $15,000.  Her cousin will be keeping $10,000, which is even more offensive.  When she calls him on it, he offers up a lame excuse, which she accepts.

If you like action films and don’t like thinking much about the plot, this might be your movie.  If you’re expecting something with a story or a reason to think about it afterwards, keep moving.  There’s nothing for you to see here.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Mindwarp (1992)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Most of the movies I watch, I find through advertisements or coming attractions.  Some, I find while wandering through a store looking at multi-movie packs.  Occasionally, I’ll look through Netflix for movies to watch and review.  I think I found Mindwarp while looking for Bruce Campbell movies.  I had never heard of the movie before and for good reason.

The movie takes place in 2037.  As you might expect from a post-apocalyptic movie, the ozone has been depleted, the Earth’s surface is uninhabitable and humanity is split up into two groups:  Those that live in a biodome hooked up to a virtual reality and those that live outside the biodome, either as a mutant or trying to avoid the mutants.  Judy lives in a biodome, sharing a room with her mother.  She spends most of her time in the VR system, disconnecting to eat and (presumably) perform other necessary biological functions.  She can experience anything she wants, which gets old.  She realizes it’s all fake and longs for something real.

When she accidentally kills her mother, she’s kicked out of paradise and sent to live outside.  She’s nearly attacked by some mutants, but is saved by Stover.  (Stover is played by Bruce Campbell.)  Mutants are unintelligent.  They can’t speak and spend most of their time mining what used to be landfills.  Stover is one of a handful of people left that are still what we would think of as human.  Eventually, both are captured by mutants.  Stover is put to work in the mines while Judy is taken to be sacrificed, but is saved by the Seer.

The Seer’s girlfriend, Cornelia, doesn’t like Judy, mostly because The Seer seems to have a special affection for Judy.  Cornelia tries to infect Judy with these mutant parasite leeches, which the Seer stops.  (If you’re at all squeamish, you don’t want to know what The Seer does as punishment.)  Meanwhile, Stover attempts to escape with Judy, which fails.  The seer puts Stover in a semi-submerged cage, causing him to become infected with several leeches, which is not good for Stover.

It’s also revealed that The Seer is Judy’s father, which isn’t so bad until he reveals that he wants them to have lots of normal little children to lead the mutants.  Another escape attempt is made with similar results.  This time, Judy manages to take find a more permanent solution to her problem.  (Again, those that are squeamish probably won’t want to know the details.)

I’m not going to give away the ending in case your stomach has the fortitude to make it through the entire movie.  However, I think it should be obvious by now that this is not a movie for children.  I think anyone younger than 10 will get nightmares.  Imagine if you took elements from The Matrix and the original Total Recall and tried to make it in the style of Mad Max.  You would end up with something roughly like this.

It’s the kind of movie that you can enjoy if you don’t expect too much.  I had wanted to watch it mostly to see Bruce Campbell in something other than Burn Notice.  Had I not been able to get this streaming, I probably would have held off, though.  There’s a low-budget look to the movie, partly in film quality and partly in the set design.  It was made in 1992, but it looks like something out of the ‘80s.  Also, the biodome sets look kind of generic and basic, which may be the point.  I don’t think that they quite pulled it off, though.  It’s kind of hard to do in this movie without looking like they couldn’t afford anything better.

If you have Netflix and are able to stream movies or you can get this on demand, I’d say give it a try.  It is different and isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen.  However, I wouldn’t recommend getting it on DVD or paying for it on demand.  At least I got a review out of it. 

Stargate (1994)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I was just out of high school when this movie first came out. I don’t remember hearing much about it, but I hadn’t really been to the theaters for a while. Years later, I would catch parts of it (usually the end) on Encore or The Sci-Fi Channel. It wasn’t really until the fifth season of the TV show, Stargate: SG-1, that I really got into it. I knew the basic premise of the movie, so the show wasn’t that hard to follow.

Stargate starts out in Giza, Egypt, in 1928. An archaeologist arrives on a dig site to see this amazing discovery. There’s a big ring with all of these symbols and no one has ever seen anything like it. As far as anyone knows, it’s the only one in existence. 60+ years later, Dr. Daniel Jackson is giving a lecture about ancient Egypt. He has all of these wacky ideas about alien influence. What few people there are walk out and Jackson has no idea why. As he’s leaving the building, he’s approached by a woman who wants him to work on a secret government project. He accepts, seeing as how he has little else to do. He’s being asked in to help decode the Stargate, which is now sitting under a mountain.

Then there’s Colonel Jack O’Neill, played by Kurt Russell. He’s getting over the loss of his son, who accidentally shot himself with the Colonel’s gun. He’s called in to oversee the military aspect of the Stargate program. O’Neill and Jackson don’t hit it off at first. O’Neill is a military officer having to deal with the loss of his son; Jackson is a brainy researcher who isn’t really even accepted in his own field.

Dr. Jackson finally gets the gate working and a probe is sent through. They discover a similar Stargate on the other side, along with a device for controlling it. The Stargate is a means of transporting people across space. The connection doesn’t stay open for very long, so there isn’t much information to go on insofar as the other planet is concerned. The deciding factor is Dr. Jackson’s belief that he could get a team back. He, Colonel O’Neill, and several others go through the gate to the other planet and are told to assess the situation and report back. The trouble is that Dr. Jackson can’t get the team back. He had made the assumption that there would be instructions waiting for him on the other side.

To Dr. Jackson’s amazement, they find pyramids similar to the ones on Earth, which supports Dr. Jackson’s theories. The downside is that if they can’t get back, he won’t be able to tell anyone about it. Things start to look good when they find people living on the planet. Things take a serious turn for the worse, though, when Ra shows up. (For those that don’t know much about Egyptian mythology, Ra is the Egyptian sun god.) Ra is played by Jaye Davidson, who you may remember from The Crying Game. Dr. Jackson discovers that Ra is actually ‘possessing’ a host. Ra has simply taken on the persona of a god and has everyone on the planet worshiping him. Things get much worse when Ra discovers that O’Neill brought a bomb with him; Ra decides to modify the bomb and send it back to Earth. The race is on.

Of Jackson and O’Neill, I felt that Jackson was better developed in the movie. O’Neill came across as a military zombie. He’s made a career in the military and doesn’t seem to plan on making it back. Jackson, on the other hand, tends to be more optimistic. He thinks that there’s a chance of getting home and wants to work towards that end. There is a great deal of naivete in Dr. Jackson, which he’s able to overcome to an extent.

The special effects are going to seem dated . There were times when the effects looked patchy or inconsistent. Some of the lower-budget effects came across pretty well. The movie is driven more by trying to make a coherent story than a vehicle for the special effects. The thing that the story had going for it was its overall simplicity. Get the gate working, go through it, and then get back in one piece. The technical explanations of the gate and what Ra is didn’t really appear until the series began on Showtime.

I got the Ultimate Edition, which has both the director’s cut and the theatrical cut. The difference is that the director’s cut has a few additional minutes of footage. I don’t know that you’d even notice most of it. The real benefit is the other special features. You get the theatrical trailer, audio commentary and some behind-the-scenes stuff, which I found interesting.

Those that have seen the series are going to find some discrepancies. The gate program is housed in Creek Mountain in the movie, but in Cheyenne Mountain in the series. In the movie, Abydos (the planet that the team goes to) is in another galaxy whereas the series has it in our own galaxy.

Despite the inconsistencies and special effects, I’m going to recommend this movie. If you’re looking for a great movie, this is it.

IMDb page


Saturday, November 07, 2015

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

April O'Neil: So, you're…Ninja Mutant Turtle Teenagers?
Donatello: When you put it like that, it sounds ridiculous!

It seems like everything I grew up with is being made (or remade) as a movie.  There’s supposed to be a new live-action He-Man movie.  Pee-Wee Herman is getting a new movie courtesy Netflix.  Star Trek has a reboot of the movie franchise and will apparently be getting a new TV series.  Even Battleship was made into a movie, and a somewhat decent one at that.  I guess it should come as no surprise that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was rebooted.  You get to use a proven idea on a whole new audience.

I don’t recall the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a kid.  I remember watching the show, but not regularly.  I wasn’t even sure I wanted to watch the new movie.  However, like a lot of movies I’ve seen recently, the fact that Netflix had it streaming played a big part in my decision.  I didn’t have to wait for the DVD to come by mail and I didn’t have to pay for it at Redbox.  I could watch it the first chance I had a few hours to spare.

The basic story is the same.  Four turtles are mutated and subsequently trained by a mutated rat.  The turtles are named for Renaissance artists:  Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Donatello.  (For some reason, the rat is called Splinter.)  A reporter named April O’Neil discovers their secret and helps them in fighting Shredder and his Foot Clan.

A good chunk of the movie is buildup.  We get to see how the Turtles (and Splinter) came from their humble beginnings in a lab experiment.  At a young age, they were dumped in the sewer and left to fend for themselves, which they did.  Splinter has always been protective of them, but the Turtles feel that they’re ready to go out and fight crime, being that they’re teenagers and all.  Enter Shredder and his Foot Clan.  Shredder is very evil and very powerful while the Turtles have very little practical experience of their own.  Ready or not, the Turtles have to step up.  Will they save the day and live to see a sequel?

Like the prior media, this movie is geared towards a younger audience.  I don’t recall much that would have been geared towards adults, but I don’t think most adults would be watching the clock.  I understand having to introduce the universe to a new audience and have April find the Turtles and all.   At least it was handled well.  If this is your first TMNT movie, I don‘t think anything will drag.

The second half does have some nice action sequences.  Being that they’re Ninja Turtles, this is to be expected.  My only complaint would be that they saved the one big battle for the end.  You’d think we’d get to see more fighting than we did.

There were a few scenes that I think were meant for 3-D.  I wonder how hard it would be to make a set of durable 3-D glasses that could be used for DVD rentals.  I’m thinking that the big obstacle is that 3-D movies are far enough between that people would lose them before using them a second time.  There’s also the issue of possibly needing to have a separate disc for the 3-D version.

It’s kind of hard for me to pan the movie.  For what it is, it was pretty good.  I doubt many people my age will be renting it for themselves, except out of curiosity like I did.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  (When you can get the movie streaming, it’s a lot easier to give it a try.)

I wondered if this was another case of someone trying to cash in on the name.  I don’t know that I’m far off.  There are a few throwaway references to the TV shows.   (Vernon Fenwick: So, they're heroes in a half shell?)  For the most part, though, it seems like the movie is trying to stand on its own ad set up a new franchise.  I’m not sure I’ll be sticking around for the sequels, though.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)

They say in art, context matters.  It refers to the fact that the artist imparts a certain amount of meaning to the art piece.  Take two different artists.  Even if they create the same work, it’s not the same.  Then again, no two artists will generally create the same piece.  This tends to be more evident with certain actors and directors.  Take Paul Reubens.  Anyone that grew up in the 80s (or raised a kid in the 80s) knows him primarily as Pee-Wee Herman.

From what I gather, Rubens was given an HBO special way back in 1981 called The Pee-Wee Herman Show.  This was supposed to have had more of an adult spin to it.  (It’s available on Netflix, but not streaming at the moment.  I’ll have to check it out some other time.)  In 1985, Tim Burton directed the more kid-friendly Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, which apparently led to the TV show that I remember watching as a kid.  (For some reason, I remember thinking it was the other way around as a kid.)

Anyway, the story goes that Pee-Wee is a really big kid.  He lives in a house that Rube Goldberg would be proud of.  We get to see an overly complicated breakfast routine before Pee-Wee goes to see his beloved bicycle.  He takes the bicycle into town to pick up a few things, most notably a bike horn modified to be really loud.  When Pee-Wee goes back to his bicycle, he finds that it’s been stolen.  He files a police report, but is told that there’s not much they can do, due to lack of evidence.

There’s only one person that could have stolen it, though:  Francis Buxton.  Francis is a similarly adult-sized child who seems to have a thing for Pee-Wee’s bicycle and it’s Francis’s birthday.  Francis oh so desperately wants the bicycle.  In fact, it turns out that Francis paid someone to steal it.  Now that it’s hot, though, Francis has to get rid of it.  With the help of a psychic, Pee-Wee believes that his bicycle is in the basement of the Alamo.

This is one of those movies that people will either love or hate.  I can deal with surreal humor.  I can even deal with a movie that takes a while to get going, assuming the buildup is good.  However, I’ll admit that part of watching the movie was the nostalgia.  I didn’t remember much of the film’s beginning except for Francis‘s pool/bathtub.  I remember the dinosaurs, which apparently still exists in Cabzon, CA.  I remember the scene at the drive-in, which apparently doesn’t still exist.  (It’s also safe to say that I remember the Alamo.)

I think part of the problem is that it’s geared towards kids, almost to the point of excluding parents.  Like Masters of the Universe, I can also see a lot of parents sitting through this, begging for a quick end.  The childishness of Pee-Wee is over the top throughout the entire movie.  In fact, it wasn’t the 1991 incident in Florida that did the character in.  Rubens had decided to retire the character due to exhaustion.  (I remember seeing once that all public appearances during that period were in character.)

The movie is goofy and will probably appeal to anyone willing to give it a chance.  Not everyone can take that kind of intensity, though.  There are a few scenes that make it worth it.  The bar scene alone is memorable.  (Just shout “Tequila” to anyone who’s seen the movie.)  I’d recommend getting it streaming.  You’ll probably know in the first five minutes whether or not you can take the rest of the movie.

Interestingly, there appears to be a new movie scheduled for 2016 called Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday, set to be released through Netflix.  I’m hoping it will be streaming, as I’d like to check it out.  It will be interesting to see how the character does, considering that he hasn’t been on air much over the past 20+ years.  Paul Rubens will be reprising his role.  To be honest, I doubt any other actor could portray Pee-Wee Herman.  Except maybe James Brolin.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

I remember seeing the coming attractions for Kingsman: The Secret Service.  I have a vague recollection thinking it looked interesting, but I never got around to watching it.  When my parents got it from Netflix, they managed to watch a whole five minutes before turning it off.  I was intrigued.

The story starts in 1997.  A team is trying to extract information from someone.  It’s a dangerous situation.  One member of the team sacrifices himself to save the rest of the team.  The leader of said team, codenamed Galahad, visits the family to inform them of the death, but can’t go into detail.  He does give them a medal with a phone number, should they wish to call in a favor at some later point in time.  The widow refuses it, so Galahad gives it to her son, nicknamed Eggsy.

Almost two decades pass.  Eggsy’s mother has remarried a total loser.  He now has a half sister that he has to worry about.  Eggsy finds himself in trouble with the law and uses the favor to get himself out of jail.  That’s where Eggsy’s adventure begins.  Galahad has recently lost another member of his team named Lancelot.  He sees potential in Eggsy to fill the spot.  Eggsy and several other candidates are tested by Merlin, all competing to become the next Lancelot.

Meanwhile, several important people go missing.  Galahad meets with one abductee who has been mysteriously returned but that turns out to be of little help.  One Richmond Valentine is behind it, but to why?  Much of the plot alternates between finding out what Valentine’s end game is and seeing Eggsy train to hopefully become the next Kingsman.  It’s not easy.  He has to go through several trials, like the water-filled room you may have seen in the coming attractions.

There is a Bond-like element.  Colin Firth is able to pull off the gentlemanly thing as Galahad.  I didn’t quite see it in Taron Egerton as Eggsy, but that may have been intentional.  His transformation may not be complete, as there is apparently going to be a sequel.  Also, this isn’t meant to be Bond.  The movie makes several reference to it not being that kind of movie.  Yes, Valentine is a billionaire in charge of a company that can do great harm, but he’s not over the top.

The movie’s not quite a spoof, but it’s not exactly taking itself too seriously, either.  I think this may be where I like the movie the most.  I’ve never been a huge fan of the spy movie.  Sure, I’ll watch a Bond film if it’s on.  However, I won’t always go out of my way to rent it.  In fact, I had watched The Kingsman when my parents rented it, but realized early on that it wasn’t for them.  Rather than return the movie and let the rental go to waste, I decided to watch it.  (I had seen the coming attractions, so I knew what to expect.)  I may see the sequel, depending on the sequel's coming attractions.)

Identity Matrix -- Jack L. Chalker

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Victor Gosner was your average social outcast. He never had many friends and had no real connection to society. He was just some guy camping in the back woods of the Yukon when some government agents and a Native American girl stumbled upon him. Before he knew it, Victor Gosner was that girl, trapped inside of her body. His former body had been taken over by an alien that was residing in the girl’s body. Gosner didn’t know how lucky he was to be alive. Usually, when one of the aliens switched bodies, the old body was killed along with the personality that used to inhabit the new body.

He found out rather quickly, though. He was on the run as a new person, without much money and any sense of a legal identity. He made it to a ferry where he met up with Dorian Tomlinson, a 19-year-old college student. Unfortunately, another encounter with one of those aliens put Victor in Dorian’s body and Dorian in that of the girl. That’s where things start to get complicated.

One of the agents that were initially with the girl, Harry Parch, takes the alien in for questioning. He also takes Victor and Dorian with him. After what happened, he couldn’t really just leave them. He explains that Earth is at war with the Urulu, which is what the alien race calls itself. There’s apparently also another alien race, but Parch has as of yet been unable to actually meet one. (It also has the ability to switch bodies at will.) Dorian and Victor are recruited to help Parch fight against the aliens, whatever they may call themselves.

Parch is in charge of a government project called the IMC. Its their job to find a way to do what the aliens do, which would give Earth an advantage. After a while, Victor and Dorian realize that Parch can’t be trusted. It’s up to Dorian, Victor, one of the aliens, and an old friend of Victor's to stop Parch before we become the enemy.

The book seems to alternate between science fiction and erotica. Victor had always wondered what it would be like to be a woman, and he got his chance to find out. There was also a part of the book where he and Dorian had to be “disposed of” for knowing too much. Since he is now a very attractive woman, he’s reprogrammed to be a stripper. Dorian is sent to a reservation.

Aside from that, it’s a very exciting book. No one can trust anyone, really. Harry Parch is the only character that has immunity, yet there are other reasons not to trust him. He really is the perfect character given his role. He is the lead government agent in charge of the facility; he needs a certain amount of detachment. Many of the characters worked out well. Even the erotic elements can be thought of as a necessary part of the book.

It turns out that there really are two alien races. The other race is called, simply, The Association. The Urulu are thought of as good guys and the Association is thought of as the bad guys. The Association essentially creates hordes of mindless zombies, which take the form of a huge cult on Earth. (It’s actually the result of a few smaller cults coming together.) It’s a little cliche, but it gets the point across.

The trouble is that it’s hard to think of a victory against The Association as a victory. We now have the ability to do what they can. It’s really a matter of what we’ll do with that ability. We’ll either become like the Association or like the Urulu. In the end, will we become a species that we can live with?

Butterfinger Candy Bar

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I don’t like crunchy things. When I eat cookies, I like them soft. If I have to choose between potato chips and French fries, I usually tend towards fries. If you’ve seen my other candy bar reviews, it might come as a surprise that I’d even take a second look at a Butterfinger. It’s a layer of chocolate around a hard peanut butter-like inside. Imagine that you were able to make a crunchy version of a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup, only it’s heavier on the peanut butter and lighter on the chocolate.

I don’t really think of the flavor as being like peanut butter, though. I think mostly it’s the texture. Peanut butter is normally soft and tastes something like peanuts. This is crunchy. The bar has used this in advertising. It doesn’t even really taste much like a peanut, even. I’m sure someone will tell me that I’m missing something or that I must be reviewing a different candy bar or something, but I just don’t get the connection.

That’s not to say I don’t like Butterfingers. These used to be a favorite of mine. I think a big part of it was the size. I remember these being somewhat longer than regular candy bars. This may be memory playing tricks on me, as I haven’t actually had one in a while. I do remember Butterfingers being different. I can’t think of another bar that is crunchy. Some have some degree of crunch, mostly because of peanuts, rice or some other hard substance. Nothing I can think of is crisp all the way through.

This makes it difficult to explain to someone who’s never had it before. Imagine if you took a Twix bar or a Kit Kat and were able to make the wafer much denser. Not so dense that it would break your teeth, but dense enough that you had to work at biting the bar. Now, imagine that it had an off-peanut flavor. Keep the chocolate, but get rid of the other stuff like caramel. Make this into one long bar and you’ve got a Butterfinger.

It’s tempting, I know. But the trouble is that I can see a lot of people loving it or leaving it. My fascination with the bar lasted only a year or two. I’ve since moved on to other bars. I think I’d take one if it were offered to me, but I’m in no real rush to try one again. I’d give it three stars.

Gary Larson - The Far Side Gallery

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I was going through my collection of books and found The Far Side Gallery.  I grew up reading the single-panel comic, which ran from 1980 until 1995.  (Gary Larson, who penned The Far Side, decided to retire all those long years ago.)  That means that there are a lot of kids in high school now that have never seen it as a first-run panel.

How do you explain the comic to someone who has never seen it before?  The humor is definitely a little strange.  I don't think there's anything that someone wouldn't be able to get.  I can't recall any political humor or humor at the expense of any group.  Even though it was made a while ago, most of it could still be understood today.

For some reason, Gary Larson used a lot of ducks and cows.  (In one case, a professor at a lecture realizes that he's forgotten his duck.)  Most involved people, though.  One panel depicts a couple showing slides of their trip to Hell.  (Even though the phrase ‘to Hell and back' isn't as popular as it once was, most people would understand the impossibility of such a trip.)  In another Panel, a group of ‘primitive' people are hiding modern conveniences upon seeing that some anthropologists arriving.

There's no commentary in this book; it's just the panels.  Sometimes, it's nice to have some comments about the stuff, but it's also nice sometimes just to have a collection of the work.  In some of the other Far Side books, Larson explains what he liked about some panels or what didn't work about others.  Some of those panels appear in this book, so you may be a little confused about some of them.  Don't worry; you're in good company.

Because of the lack of commentary or any other new material, it's kind of hard to review the book.  I don't want to recount every single panel.  Then again, it's hard to talk in generalities because that takes up all of two sentences.  It's especially hard since the comic isn't running any more.  There's really nothing modern that I can really compare it to.

There was no continuing story like many modern comics have.  Each panel was its own story, so you could very easily pick up the book, look at one panel and get everything that was intended for the reader in one glance.  Some modern comics, like Bizarro, are like this, but it's still hard to compare.

I grew up on The Far Side, which probably explains why I look at the world a little differently.  The Far Side will be missed and I don't think will ever truly be replaced.  I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone.  As I said, anyone can enjoy it.  It would definitely make a great gift for someone.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Blood: The Last Vampire (2000)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Vampires are usually portrayed as the antagonists and with good reason.  They have a tendency to go around biting people and draining them of their blood.  Most non-vampires don’t really go for that sort of stuff.  Sometimes, you have no choice other than to work with a vampire.

Take Saya.  In Blood: The Last Vampire, she’s the last of the original generation of bloodsuckers.  She’s sent to a school on an American Air Force base in Japan to find and destroy some demons.  (Apparently, she’s the only one with the skill set and ability to do so.)  She’s old, but looks young enough that she can pose as a student that just transferred in.

There’s really not much more than that to the plot.  Part of the problem is that it’s very short, clocking in at under 50 minutes.  According to the Internet Movie Database, this was supposed to be the middle part of a trilogy.  Due to budgetary constraints, only this episode made it to production.  This is why there’s little back story or character development and the movie doesn’t seem to really resolve at the end.  It definitely comes across as part of a bigger storyline.

Apparently, there’s a TV series called Blood+ which may resolve some of this.  There are also other versions which may not have had the limitations in the first place.  I’m going to have to check these out at some point.

It’s very short and intense.  The main focus seems to be action.  I should also mention that it’s very bloody and violent, making it something that children probably wouldn’t enjoy so much.  Of course, what do you expect with vampires?  Regardless of how a production treats the mythology, vampires have fangs and usually like to use them.

The movie takes place on Halloween, which seems to have to do with the fact that the demons don’t have to worry as much about disguising themselves.  Regardless, I’ve always found this to be a little cliché.  I that it goes back to this being part of a trilogy.  The other two parts may not have taken place on the same day.  It’s just luck that the one that made it out takes place on October 31.

For those that like action movies, I’d say that this is worth renting or even buying.  Since it’s so short, you don’t have to give up as much of your time.  I was able to rent it from NetFlix, but you should be able to find it at your local video store.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Masters of the Universe (1987)

I didn’t watch a lot of Saturday-morning cartoons as a kid, mostly because I liked to sleep late.  I do remember two:  Thundercats and He-Man.  I was able to rent one of the Thundercats DVDs from Netflix, but returned it after the first episode.  It didn’t really hold up that well.  Perhaps some memories are better left as memories.

A few months ago, I saw a cover for Men’s Fitness with Dolph Lundgren.  The only thing I knew him from was the live-action Masters of the Universe (He-Man) movie.  I knew that I probably wouldn’t want to bother with the series, but the movie might be worth it.  It would only be a matter of time before Netflix had it streaming.  Lo and behold, Netflix started streaming Masters of the Universe recently.  Despite a few complaints, I remembered liking the movie as a kid.  What could go wrong?

The story starts with He-Man, Duncan and Teela talking about how Castle Grayskull has been taken over by Skeletor.  His plan is to take its power and rule the universe as evil overlord.  How is this possible?  Simple:  He’s tricked Gwildor into making a Cosmic Key that can transport the user and/or friends to any point in space and time.  Skeletor can send his troops to any planet and take it over.  In the process of stopping Skeletor, He-Man, Gwildor, Duncan and Teela are transported to Earth, promptly losing the Cosmic Key.  They don’t have much time to stop Skeletor, who has sent several mercenaries to find and capture He-Man.  Yeah, that’s pretty much the plot in a nutshell.

You know how movies meant for kids now have something for adults?  (How nice that the writers thought of the people who are paying for the tickets.)  Masters of the Universe wasn’t made with that consideration in mind.  The movie was designed to sell the toy line.  This is really where my perspective has changed over the years.  The movie was great for a kid that enjoyed the cartoon and would probably sit through anything that stayed moderately true to the cartoon.

That’s really where my complaints were.  They didn’t have He-Man change from his alter ego, Adam.  They also totally left out Battle Cat and Orko.  In fact, I thought Gwindor was supposed to be a version Orko.  That much I understood.  I could see not wanting to have a floating, vaguely ghost-like character due to budget concerns.  It could also be difficult to have a talking cat in the movie or to have Adam transform into He-Man, as per the TV series.  The $17 million budget was huge for them.  The director had to fight to get a decent ending.

This is one of those movies that I would totally understand if modern audiences skipped.  My watching it was pure nostalgia.  I knew Courteney Cox and Robert Duncan McNeill were in it.  There was also Billy Barty (Noodles MacIntosh from UHF) playing Gwildor.  I also recognized James Tolkan and Frank Langella.  Still, the main draw was having watched both this and the cartoon as a child.  I honestly feel bad for any parent that was dragged to see this.

I think the big drawback was the plot.  It was very underdeveloped to the point where I think the studio was using the characters as a draw.  this came across more as a bad in joke.  There were a few lines that were delivered like you were supposed to know the back story or were a reference to the TV show.  (Think “I have the power!”)     Instead of a standalone movie, like many of today’s movies based on TV shows, it seemed like the finale to a TV show that was cancelled.  (Speaking of which, a planned sequel was scrapped due to the studio losing the movie rights.  Legend has it that the proposed script became Cyborg with Jean-Claude Van Damme.)

The story seems to rely too heavily on cliché.  How is it that as soon as Skeletor locks in on the Cosmic Key, it moves?  Why is it that when anyone finds something of great importance, they instantly assume it’s something else and immediately start playing with it?  It’s amazing that Kevin didn’t send the entire planet into an alternate dimension or something.  I’ve also noticed that the main evil guy always gets really crappy henchmen.  Here’s a guy that took over a planet no problem, but he can’t find someone to do a simple search and retrieval.

The acting was somewhat decent.  Langella was best as Skeletor.  For those that have seen the Back to the Future movies and Top Gun, Tolkan was pretty much what you’d expect as Detective Lubic.  (Is it too much to ask that he call someone a slacker?)  Most of the rest of the acting is about what you’d expect of an 80s movie based on a toy line.  I’m not saying it’s bad, but a lot of it wasn’t memorable.

One of the advantages of Netflix streaming is that I didn’t have to wait for a disc.  The downside is that I couldn’t get any features.  I might rent the disc just to be able to see some of the commentary.  (Much of the information I get is through IMDb.)  I guess nostalgia is a funny thing.

There’s supposed to be another live-action movie coming out.  I don’t know if it’s supposed to be a sequel, a remake or a reboot, but I’m not sure how I’d feel about it.  I imagine it would be similar to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, which is also currently available streaming.  Perhaps some memories are better left as memories.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Predestination (2014)

It can be difficult to alter the sequence of events in a story.  In the case of Memento, it makes sense.  Telling the story backwards mimics the main character’s amnesia.  We get insight into the character by not knowing what came before.  I don’t always like stories told in flashback, but it works in Forest Gump.  Lost also used it to give background on the characters.  Sometimes, a linear format doesn’t really make sense.  You have to pick somewhere to start and tell the story from there.

Predestination starts with a temporal agent (played by Ethan Hawke) trying to stop a fugitive called The Fizzle Bomber.  The agent fails to apprehend the bomber, but at least mitigates the effects of one of his bombs.  He has surgery to repair his face and is reassigned.  He now works as a barkeeper.  This is how he meets The Unmarried Mother, who’s played by Sarah Snook.  Barkeep and The Unmarried Mother start talking.  She writes confession stories for a magazine.

She’s got a heck of a story of her own, which Barkeep is perfectly willing to listen to.  Not only was she put up for adoption at an early age, but she has a child of her own that was taken from her a few days after the child’s birth.  The latter ordeal really affects her, as she can’t mother a child any more and the father of the child hurt her.  It’s not all bad news, though.  Barkeep may be able to help her in more ways than one.

I don’t want to go into a lot of detail.  Explaining the plot is a slippery slope.  The more I explain, the more I have to tell to explain that.  It’s one of those mysteries that unravels itself as the story goes along. Everyone has a secret and everyone has their own perspective and context.  When you figure all of that out, the story becomes clear.  (In that regard, you have to pay attention.  It’s a lot to take in.)

The movie is based on the story All You Zombies by Robert A. Heinlein.  The movie seems to stay pretty close to the source material.  If you’ve read the story, there shouldn‘t be any surprises.   This isn’t to say it’s not worth watching.  I’ve always liked stories with a twisted plot.  I enjoy waiting for the next piece to fall into place.

I’m not sure if it’s that I knew the story coming in, but the movie seemed well paced.  It wasn’t rushed and I wasn’t overly eager to find out what happened next.  There were a few aspects that seemed odd, but not to the point of being confusing or contradictory.  For instance, the Unmarried Mother had applied to be in a space program.  I don‘t recall such a program existing, but it wasn‘t distracting.  Overall, it was a great movie. 

Official Site

IMDb page

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Time Lapse (2014)

One of the Twilight Zone episodes I find more memorable was called A Most Unusual Camera.  In it, three people find a camera that can see several minutes into the future.  They use it to win lots of money at the race track, as they can simply take a picture of the scoreboard and bet on what it shows.  It’s a fairly simple, straightforward story.  I doubt any of us would pass on such an opportunity.  However, such an opportunity isn’t without consequences.

In Time Lapse, a similar scenario is presented.  Finn is the maintenance guy for a rental complex.  He lives with Jasper and Callie, who help out.  Callie will sometimes check on people.  Jasper’s main contribution seems to be betting on races.  This is not an unimportant contribution.

When Finn gets the call that Mr. Bezzerides hasn’t paid the rent in two months, Callie goes over to check on him.  She doesn’t find Mr. B right away, but she does find a large camera aimed at their place.  How they never noticed it before isn’t mentioned, but it there is a large collection of Polaroid pictures on two walls.  Many have some combination of Callie, Finn and Jasper.

They come to realize that each picture shows what happens 24 hours in advance.  Jasper immediately realizes the potential to make money on races.  The catch is that Mr. B’s body is in his storage room.  Jasper wants to call the police and let the law take its course.  They agree to a compromise:  They wait for the next photo and see what happens.  If it shows yellow police tape, they call it in.  If it shows race results, they call Jasper’s bookie.

As you might imagine, the next photo shows sports scores.  Finn, Callie and Jasper become rich.  There is a catch:  Mr. B kept a journal stating not to deviate from what’s in the picture lest something horrible happen.  (Again, details aren’t forthcoming.)  This isn’t an issue until one photo shows Callie and Jasper making out.   Callie and Finn are a couple, which puts them on edge, but they go through with it.  They don’t want to risk deviating from the picture.

Then, Ivan appears in one of the photos.  Ivan is Jasper’s very paranoid bookie.  Ivan’s curious how Jasper has gone from a loser to a winner so quickly.  Jasper tries to pass it off as a lucky streak.  Even a broken clock is right twice a day.  Right?  When Ivan finds out about the camera, he takes over their little operation.  Ivan’s muscle, Marcus, will take possession of the photo so that Ivan can place the bets directly, compensating the trio for their troubles.  I don’t know that I’d be ruining anything by giving away the ending, but I won’t risk it.  All I’ll say is that the last picture any of them sees is of police tape.

There seems to be two paths you can take when presented with knowledge of the future.  As I said, this isn’t the first movie to show the main characters giving in to greed.  The Brass Teapot managed to handle it well.  The other extreme would be something like Early Edition, which showed how a good person might handle such knowledge.  Given to someone that realizes the humanitarian potential, a lot of good could be done.

To be honest, I’d probably want to make money given a crystal ball like this.  I’d probably find a way to pass along sports scores or lottery numbers.  I’d like to think I’d play it conservatively.  There’s no talk in the movie of attracting the wrong attention.  If you make the money at a track, you’re going to be noticed by the IRS at the very least.  The track (or, in this case, the bookie) is bound to ask some questions.  Jasper didn’t take this into consideration.

The big question is whether or not we have any sort of free will.  Seeing the picture creates a bootstrap paradox.  Anyone in the picture that’s aware of the picture has to replicate what they did.  Are they doing I because they know they have to or would they have done it anyway?  (Finn also gets to see his paintings, meaning he may not actually be creating them.  Then again, who is he copying from?)  The roommates had gone for months without ever knowing about the pictures, but the pictures were there.  There future had been foretold.  Mr. B essentially plays the role of Wigner’s Friend.

Ultimately, those who live by the camera die by the camera.

Area 51 (2015)

Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if my mother’s being serious.  She’ll make something with broccoli and swear that I love it.  I suspect she may be trying to use some psychological trick to get me to eat it.  It may also be that because she’s seen me eat it before that she honestly thinks that I like it.  I keep telling her that not complaining isn’t the same thing as liking.  Netflix seems to have a similar problem.  They seem to think that sitting through a movie is the same thing as liking it.  Just because I didn’t set my computer on fire while watching one movie doesn’t mean that I’ll like other similar movies.

Take the movie called Area 51.  It’s a found-footage movie about a guy named Reid who wants to break in to, of all places, Groom Lake.  (Groom Lake is commonly referred to as Area 51.)  Reid brings along two friends, Darren and Ben.  Darren is eager to go while Ben doesn’t think that Reid will go through with it.  They’re a little hesitant to meet Jelena, but her father worked in Groom Lake until he started asking questions.  She has information that could be useful.

Well, she gets Darren, Reid and herself in while Ben waits for them in the car.  Amazingly, they just run past security and manage to get all sorts of shaky footage of top-secret stuff, including a UFO.  It all comes to an end when they trip an alarm and have to run out while being chased by armed guards and what I assume is a tall, thin alien.  As you might guess from the found-footage status, things don’t end well for the four main characters.

The Blair Witch Project seems to be the go-to movie for found footage and for good reason.  When it came out in 1999, it was all new and edgy and people were so scared and everything.  While movies before it had used the plot device, The Blair Witch Project was the first to get some attention.   Area 51 came out in 2015.  It doesn’t seem to have contributed much to the idea.  It’s the same concept of someone finding footage and presenting it to the public.

Lunopolis, which I liked, dressed it up as a documentary.  With Trollhunter, we at least had people making a documentary when they stumble upon the truth.  Europa Report was about a scientific mission.  Here, there’s no compelling story.  The characters aren’t really that likable.  There’s nothing special about the movie other than the topic.  You have three guys that manage to luck their way into a secure facility only to meet an ambiguous ending and I didn’t even care.

Most of it is the lack of a real story.  The first third of the movie is pure filler.  The next third is suspense.  The last third is a bunch of shaky camerawork and some somewhat interesting special effects.  I feel like we could have cut out the first half of the movie and used some minor exposition to explain how we got to Las Vegas.  (“What’s whith him?”  “Oh, he was abducted by aliens and now he’s obsessed.”)

Also, Reid manages to break into an employee’s house and steal a badge and a bottle with a fingerprint.  Ok.  I get that you need a fair amount of suspension of disbelief to get them in, but it seems odd to me that it’s possible to steal and use a badge and a fingerprint that easily.  This isn’t even accounting for the fact that they guy who was robbed probably would have reported the missing badge immediately.  (I guess he was too embarrassed that it was stolen so easily.)

And could someone please tell me how three people can walk around a secure facility without being noticed?  It would make more sense to have them caught and use the found footage during interrogation.  The only problem would be explaining how the footage got out at all, but I don’t think it would be that hard to come up with something.

I had wanted to watch the movie all the way through to see if anything interesting happened.  I was sorely disappointed.  I’d recommend skipping this one.  The shame of it is that Netflix has been recommending other similar found-footage movies.  Those, I’ve stopped watching about halfway through.  I can only hope that Netflix doesn’t count that as a like.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Equalizer (2014)

I have this vague memory of the 1980s.  There were a lot of television shows I had only heard of, mostly because I had to be in bed before they came on.  In 1985, when I was just 9 years old, a show called the Equalizer came on.  It starred Edward Woodward and Robert McCall.  If you were in a bad situation and needed help, McCall would be that help.

In 2014, Denzel Washington took on the role of Robert McCall.  The new McCall was black ops, but is now working at Home Mart.  It doesn’t appear that anyone knows of his past and he’s happy to keep it that way.  He made a promise to his dead wife not to get back into any of that.  Things change when a young female acquaintance of his, Alina, is beaten by her pimp.  He tries to buy out her contract to no avail, leading McCall to take down her pimp and several of his associates.

This might not have otherwise been a problem except that her pimp was affiliated with the Russian mob.  Apparently, they don’t take kindly to their guys being killed.  So, they send in an enforcer to take care of McCall.  This is what takes up the bulk of the movie.  It’s mostly McCall helping Alina get a better life.  There are some side stories to show what kind of man McCall is.  (He helps a coworker pass his security-guard certification, for instance.)

McCall is very calm.  Probably due to his training, he’s capable of taking out the bad guys and he knows it.  He can use what’s available to build disarm or disable his opponents.  There’s a little bit of MacGuyver in him.  He’s basically a man that wants to be left alone.  He really doesn’t want to be drawn back into that world, but realizes that he has to what no one else will.

This is where it would be nice if Netflix had the TV series streaming.  I’d like to see the TV series to compare to the movie.  (I know…they have to pay for the streaming rights.  It’s my problem that I don’t want to wait for the DVDs.)  I’m not really sure how much is the same and how much is different.  I’ve sen Edward Woodward in posters for the TV show holding a gun, but I don’t know how much of the show relied on violence.  The TV series came out 30 years ago, which means that times have changed.  Many of the issues might be similar, but the faces and methods change.

It looks like there may be a sequel, but IMDb doesn’t have any details listed other than it would be Denzel Washington’s first sequel.   I’d definitely like to see it if it does get made.  I might even get around to watching the series.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Click (2006)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

When I first saw the coming attractions for this movie, I had no intention of seeing it. I’m not a fan of Adam Sandler and felt that Click would be too goofy of a movie for me to really enjoy it. Then, a coworker saw it. He said that it was a lot more serious than most of Sandler’s movies, but still had its moments. It was then that I began to wonder how bad it could really be.

The movie is about Michael Newman (played by Sandler) who can’t keep track of all the remotes that he has. One night, he sets out to find a universal remote. He ends up in Bed, Bath & Beyond, where he meets Morty (Christopher Walken) in the ‘Beyond’ section. Morty has a truly universal remote, which allows Michael to control the universe. He can mute his dog, fast forward over arguments with his wife and even make his boss (and everyone else) speak Spanish, French or any other language.

When he gets this remote, Michael thinks that there’s no possible down side. He can skip ahead to the end of an unpleasant dinner or go ahead a few months to that next promotion. The trouble is that he’s missing out on a lot of things. (The wait for his next promotion turns out to be a year instead of two or three months.) It turns out that the remote creates a whole set of new problems, and Morty isn’t willing to take it back.

Now, I have to say that regardless of how serious the movie is, it’s still an Adam Sandler movie. As my coworker pointed out, Sandler just had to make a joke during the most serious point of the movie. This could have been a totally serious movie and Sandler could have handled it quite well without making too many jokes.

I’m not saying that I didn’t like the humor. It’s just that I don’t think that Sandler will ever break away from what I initially expected of the movie. There were a lot of funny parts, many of which made it into the trailers. Come to think of it, this is one of the few movies that I’ve seen where the plot does seem to stick to what was presented in the coming attractions. There was a comedic slant to most of the movie. There were a few things that I won’t spoil for you, but I do think that if you liked the trailer, you’ll like the movie.

I don’t think that the movie is appropriate for younger children. Although there was no nudity, there were a few adult moments. For instance, the Newman family has a dog that’s particularly fond of a plush toy. You might want to watch the movie before deciding whether or not your children should watch it.

As for older audiences, I’ll give this movie four stars. It’s not perfect, but it was definitely better than I expected. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Parallels (2015)

I remember being excited when Sliders first aired.  It was a show about four people who are thrust into different universes, each with a slightly different set of circumstances.  One week might show a world where the United States was still a British dependency.  Another might show a world where advanced technology had been banned.  The concept wasn’t new.  Lots of movies and TV shows have used the concept before and since.

When I saw Parallels, I expected something similar.  Instead of a wormhole, we have a building.  We have three friends, two of whom are brother and sister, going from world to world with a stranger.  The first is a post-apocalyptic world.  It turns out that their father nuked the surrounding area.  They manage to escape to a futuristic world.  The date is the same, but technology has advanced quite a bit beyond what we have.  It’s apparent from graffiti inside the building that there are all sorts of other worlds.  (In one, the attack on the Twin Towers happened on a different date. In another, all live births are twins.)

I had wondered why I hadn’t heard of this airing on TV, as it gives the impression of being a TV pilot.  It turns out that Netflix produced it and has it available streaming.  It could very well be made into a TV series.  On that note, I see a lot of similarities with Sliders.  You have two children finding out that they weren’t born on the Earth that they were raised on.  They’re trying to seek out their mother to find their home world.  (In sliders, they were trying to find both parents.)  They also gain control over which world they go to next.

With Netflix producing original content, I could see this being made into a TV series.  (Since the movie was released earlier this year, I don’t know how long it will be before we hear of any news.)  Constance Wu, who plays the stranger, is apparently staring on Fresh Off the Boat.  I don’t know how that would affect anything.  She wouldn’t be the first character to be recast and/or replaced when a movie was made into a TV series.

The main problem would be the similarity to Sliders.  I’d imagine that there would be a similar slew of alternate worlds being used as social commentary.  The main difference would be that other story lines are introduced from the onset.  Sliders kind of jumped the shark when they started having Cromags and the search for the brothers’ real parents/home world.

Another problem I’ve had with alternate universes is how many of the main characters are in the other worlds.  Yes, I realize that it’s easier to use the same actors.  However, do you realize the odds of the same sperm meeting up with the same egg?  The slightest variation could produce a totally different person or not result in a pregnancy at all.  I always found it odd that each world the Sliders visited had most, if not all, of the main characters.  I’d hope that if this movie is made into a show, it might rely on this less.  Given that there’s the potential for a whole new, potentially expansive, mythology, I might very well get my wish.  That is, assuming it gets made into a series at all.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Brave (2012)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.


As I was thinking about another movie, ParaNorman, it occurred to me that there aren’t many mainstream animated movies that come to mind.  There are a few, like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, that come to mind, but at best are intended for a specific crowd.  You don’t have any animated films that are intended for a general 30-and-older crowd.  My parents will automatically write off a movie simply because it’s animated and with what I will grudgingly admit is good reason:  most animated films are ultimately geared towards a younger audience.  Despite this, I had wanted to see Brave for a while.  I knew it was going to be a more kids-oriented movie, but I like animated films more than my parents.

The movie is about Merida.  The movie starts with her as a young girl, but she grows up and the time comes for her to marry someone from a neighboring clan.  Each potential suitor is vastly different from the others and not particularly to Merida’s liking.  Part of the problem is that she just doesn’t want to marry yet, but her mother is insistent that she follow tradition.  It’s what unifies the four clans.  Merida’s father, on the other hand, tends to encourage (perhaps even enable) Merida’s behavior.

It’s hard to go into the rest of the movie without ruining it, but the bulk of it stems from a misspoken wish that Merida makes and her need to rectify it.  I will say that it’s predictable at times and not so much at others.  (Sometimes, getting exactly what you asked for is the worst thing that can happen.)  It’s basically a goofy movie that children can watch with their parents.  There are a few potentially scary moments, like a bear attacking, but it’s nothing a child wouldn’t understand.  It’s ultimately about a mother and daughter having to understand one another.

The people look exaggerated, which you might expect if you’ve seen other animated films like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  However, there were times when I got lost in the film.  I stopped noticing that it was animated and started noticing the detail in the scenery.

I also empathized with the characters.  It’s pretty easy to relate to a child that doesn’t want to bend to their parents’ wishes, especially when it comes to major life decisions.  This is marriage, after all.  Then again, the king and queen are expected to follow tradition, regardless of their daughter’s wishes.  It may not be right and it may not be fair, but it is the way things have been done for generations.

Maybe I’m just an overgrown kid.  My rooms a mess and I still don’t like broccoli.  With this comes a certain suspicion of people with clean rooms that claim to like broccoli.  I also tend to wonder about people that begrudgingly go to animated films.  I wonder if a few of them are just taking the kids as an excuse to go themselves.

Here’s the thing, though.  This past Academy Awards was one of the few in recent memory where I had seen many of the nominees, one of them being this film, which won.  (The other two are ParaNorman and Frankenweenie, which I’ll get around to reviewing.)  I think I recall an animated film being nominated for Best Film once.

I kind of wonder what it would take for an animated film to be nominated, or at least be considered by the general population.  I’d settle for my mother renting one on her own.  Then again, I’m sure she’d settle for me taking some extra broccoli once in a while. 

Monday, September 07, 2015

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Sometimes, it’s hard to break out of a mold.  If you’re destined for greatness, you don’t question this.  However, if you’re destined to be the bad guy, you may just want a chance to prove you can do better.  Such is the life of Wreck-it Ralph.  He’s a good guy, but he’s been cast as the villain in a game called Fix-it Felix, Jr.  Everyone loves Felix because he comes to the rescue.  No one wants anything to do with Ralph because he’s a big oaf and all he does is destroy stuff.

This is how the game was designed.  Characters have to stay in character while the game is on, but this seems to extend into their off time, as well.  Ralph has his purpose, but he also has his place, and that place happens to be a pile of bricks at the end of the day.

One day, he decides to take matters into his own hands.  One of the residents of the building he always destroys tells Ralph that if he can win a medal, he can have the key to the penthouse.  He then goes into a first-person shooter game called Hero’s Duty and manages to get the medal, but inadvertently puts another game at risk.  Also, since Ralph wasn’t in his own game, Fix-it Felix, Jr. is assumed to be broken and may be unplugged.  He’s given the key he was promised, but is further ostracized.  To make matters worse, he has endangered a third game called Sugar Rush Speedway.  While in the game, he meets a character going through a similar plight.  (Vanellope von Schweetz isn’t even allowed to participate in her game.)

This is one of those movies where you can probably figure out what’s going to happen.  If Ralph doesn’t get what he wants, he’ll at least put things back close to the way they were and maybe earn some respect.  The fun of the movie, at least for adults, will be nostalgia.  We get to see a lot of video-game characters for 30 years ago, like Pac-Man and Q*bert.  Some of the games were designed for the movie, either to make it easier to write the story or to at least avoid copyright issues.  The characters live in their own universe with games connected by the power cords.  (Those whose games were shut off live in power strips.)

You’d think that animated means simple, but this was one of the more interesting animated movies I’ve seen in a while.  The main character is a villain trying to be a hero.  He meets another character that also just wants to be accepted.  Yes, a few of the characters are a little exaggerated, but this is a movie about video games and their characters.  This is to be expected.  You can empathize with Ralph; the people in his game aren’t necessarily nasty to him, but they could do a lot better.  He’s not asking for much.

There were a lot of references to video games, a few of which I missed.  Those that grew up in the 80s will probably recognize many of the characters and games.  There are a lot of throwaway jokes based on games, both classic and current.  Most are simple, like graffiti in bathrooms and stuff.  It’s definitely a fun movie.  I’d recommend renting it.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Dark Girls (2011)

I remember a line from CSI that went something like “It’s not what they call you.  It‘s what you answer to.”  (I’ve found similar quotes attributed to Tylor Perry and W. C. Fields.)  What people call themselves, or at least what they answer to, varies quite a bit in Miami.  Just because you have dark skin doesn’t mean you’re African-American.  Your lineage may have come through any one of a number of nearby countries like Jamaica, Haiti or The Bahamas  Even those that trace their ancestry directly to Africa may have no immediate ties to the continent.  They were born here, as were their parents and grandparents.  It’s not that easy to apply one label to such a diverse group.

This is brought up in Dark Girls.  As you might imagine, the movie is about women of color, which is a very general designation.  This includes many different women from many different places.  In the beginning, we get to see a girl reject the label of African-American, as her family doesn’t come directly from Africa.  The movie goes on to show how darker skin is often seen as worse.  A girl is given five drawings of a child.  The outline is the same for each; the only difference is the color.  When asked to pick the smartest or prettiest, she picks the lightest one.  When asked to pick the worst, she picks the darkest.

From there, the movie tends to ramble.  We have lots of people talk about what it means to be darker or lighter in a society that values being lighter.  We see how women are lightened, both digitally and cosmetically, so as to look prettier.  Several women were told by older relatives to marry lighter so as to have lighter children.  This isn’t even something that’s confined to the United States.

I’ve heard of lighter being better in India and Brazil.  (The movie points out that the reverse is true in only one country.)  I recall one story I heard years ago of a women applying for a role in a commercial featuring a husband, wife and a maid.  She wanted the role of the wife, but was thrown a maid’s uniform because she was darker.  It tends to be harder to love yourself when the media portrays your group as being lesser or worse.  It may not always be overt, but it is there.  (The fact that there’s an industry devoted to lightening skin is testament to this.)

The documentary isn’t great, but it could be used as a starting point.  It’s the kind of thing that I could see schools or other organizations using to get a conversation started.  Race is a very complicated thing.  I’m not sure one documentary could do it justice.

Consider that we share 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees.  Imagine the difference between any two humans.  Such a small difference is what makes us judge one another, whether accurately or not.  I’ve often thought this may explain the Fermi paradox.  Aliens bay be looking at us and seeing how we treat our own species.  How can we be expected to treat an alien race fairly?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Best in Show (2000)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I remember seeing this movie when it first came out. I was aware of what a mockumentary is at the time, but I still wasn’t that interested. For those that don’t know, a mockumentary is a mock documentary. In this case, it’s a fictional account of several people entering a dog show, each hoping for the ultimate title of best in show.

The first half of the movie sets up the various characters. There’s one couple that has a Weimaraner. The two of them met in Starbucks. Actually, they met in two different Starbucks that were across the street from each other. They also like to shop out of J. Crew catalogs so as not to come in contact with anyone.

In another case, there’s a well-endowed woman who married presumably for a quick inheritance and has a standard poodle, who will be handled by another woman. (I have to ask: If they have standard poodles, wouldn’t that imply substandard poodles, as well?)

The second half deals with the actual show, which is the 125th Annual Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show. The couple with the Weimaraner is particularly stressed out. They really seemed over the top. (The movie begins with the couple and the dog in therapy. If I was that dog, I’d be depressed, too.) Others also have varying degrees of stress, but nothing like them. They actually obsess over a little bumblebee toy for the dog. For many of the others, it’s simply a matter of trying to get the dogs just right.

The dog show had two commentators; one seemed to know what he was talking about and the other seemed to know very little, making for an odd-couple pairing. Some of the discussion between the two seemed sensible, such as what a miniature breed is. Other parts of the commentary were a little bit more ridiculous, such as having a bloodhound wear an outfit reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes.

I don’t really watch dog shows, so I can’t really tell how accurately they were portrayed. It looks like the movie was intended for people like me, which would be people that have a passing knowledge of dog shows. I know enough to know the basic concept of what goes on, but not much else.

While I thought the movie was amusing, I didn’t think that it was particularly funny. I guess you’d have to know a little bit more about dogs, as the movie seems to be more of a commentary of that lifestyle. All of the people were a little too attached to their dogs.

Some of the humor was also a little crude. For instance, Eugene Levy plays a man with two left feet – literally. His wife seems to have dated every man they come in contact with on the way to the show.

I’d have to give this movie two stars. I really can’t recommend it. I almost stopped watching it at some points. I really think you’d be better off watching something else.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Le tableau/The Painting (2011)

Some movies I watch because I want to watch them.  Either they have an actor I like or the trailers look interesting.  Some movies I watch to see how bad they are.  Usually, these are the ones that have a reputation for being bad.  They may be on one of those combo packs, in which case I’m just looking for a review.  There are others that I come across that I want to watch just to see how they handled special effects or subject matter.

When I came across The Painting on Netflix, I added it to my list.  It’s about characters in an unfinished painting that go in search of the painter.  I had wanted to see how they put painted characters in the real world, but kept putting off watching it.  I knew that it was supposed to be an allegory for class.  There was also the issue of the characters finding their creator.  Either aspect could come across as contrived if not handled well.  Eventually, curiosity got the better of me.

In the movie, there are three classes: Allduns, Halfies and Sketchies.  Allduns are those that are fully painted.  Halfies are partially painted.  Sketchies, as you might expect, are just rough sketches.  Allduns live in luxury, leaving the others to fend for themselves in a garden.  Even those that are nearly finished aren’t good enough for the Allduns to associate with.  Several of the characters go out to find The Painter, hoping that he will complete the painting.  (At the very least, he might at least explain why he abandoned the painting.)

The CGI was almost obvious, especially when the painted characters cross over into the real world.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and may have been intended, as they’re basically from a two-dimensional world.  They leave their painting and search several other paintings, which serve as portals to a shared universe.  They explore this universe before going to find The Painter.

There were a few scenes where it seemed like it was geared towards younger audiences.  There is some artistic nudity and one scene where Death chases the characters, but I don’t recall anything that would scar anyone for life.   It seems like the kind of movie that would be appropriate for teenagers and above.  The movie doesn’t hit us over the head with class issues.  We see what the lower-class characters have to go through, but rather than make us feel sorry for them, we get to see them attempt to do something about it.

It was also fairly obvious that The Painter was supposed to represent The Creator.  (Why would The Painter/The Creator abandon them?  Why would he allow them to suffer?)  It didn’t seem preachy.  Instead, it was incorporated into the story line fairly well.  (The characters even wonder who created their creator.)

This ended up being one of the better Netflix finds.  The only problem I had was that I was forced to go with the subtitles.  I’m not sure if there’s an English dub, but I usually like having the option.  I’d definitely recommend watching the movie if you get a chance.

IMDb page

The Painting - Now on DVD [Official US Trailer]