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.