Thursday, June 29, 2017

Okja (2017)

There’s a certain cognitive dissonance in eating meat.  We like meat.  It tastes good.  At the same time, we know where it comes from.  We know that steak comes from cows.  We know that bacon comes from pigs.  Yet, we still eat meat.  When Lucy Mirando introduces her company’s new food source, she dresses it up really nice.  The super pig, as she calls it, is non-GMO and environmentally friendly.   It can potentially end world hunger, or at least put a serious dent in it.  As part of a publicity campaign, she sends 26 piglets to farms in 26 different countries to be raised.  In a decade’s time, the most beautiful one will be given a parade.

Mija is a girl living on one of those farms.  She lives there with her grandfather and plays with the pig, named Okja.  As Okja is the title character, we can imagine that the pig will be picked as the best one and brought back to the United States.  When the time comes, Mija has to be led away so as not to interfere.  When she finds out, she chases after her beloved companion and eventually catches up with her.

This leads her on an odyssey wherein she meets the Animal Liberation Front, a group dedicated to eliminating the suffering of animals and people.  Their plan, should Mija give consent, is to use Okja as a Trojan Horse to get footage of Mirando’s facilities.  This footage could bring an end to the mistreatment of animals.  If you’ve ever seen similar movies or TV episodes, you know that this isn’t going to be a pretty picture.  We’re not shown everything, but the movie does like to push it to the edge.  We’re shown live animals in deplorable conditions.  We’re shown dead animals being processed.  Make no mistake:  This is not meant to be a cute, kid-friendly picture.

It’s hard to tell where, exactly, Joon-ho Bong was going with the movie.  (He both directed and wrote it.)  On the one hand, it is a very serious message.  We’re given an animal that means the world to a little girl and she’s serious about stopping the death of her best friend.  Then again, many of the other characters are caricatures to varying degrees.  One member, in an effort to reduce his carbon footprint, won’t eat a tomato that was transported using fossil fuels.  Johnny Wilcox, a washed-up TV personality, is basically a flamboyant drunk.

Then there’s Lucy Mirando, who is capitalism incarnate.  She seems nice until she brings it back to money.  It’s worth noting that she has a twin sister who’s even worst.  Both admit that they couldn’t hold a candle to their father, who was primarily described as psychopathic.  (Coming from those two, that means something.)

The movie is entertaining.  The use of a super pig as a stand-in for meat ends up being a wise choice.  Despite the size of the animal, we still feel for her just as Mija does.  Okja shows us the evils of meat processing without actually putting us off from any meat in particular.  It’s not clear if the movie is meant to be an indictment of eating meat or just the way meat is processed.

When I first came across the movie, I added it quickly.  After reading descriptions, I wasn’t sure if I’d like the movie.  I finally decided to just watch the movie.  It wasn’t until later that I realize that the director also made The Host, another movie that I liked.

I’d say it was definitely worth the two hours for me.  I did enjoy the movie and felt it worked well.  This is what movies with a message could aspire to.  I found the balance of message and story to be good.  I don’t know that everyone is going to like the movie.  As I said, other movies and TV episodes have dealt with the topic.  If it at all makes you squeamish, I’d avoid the movie.  There are a few scenes that will probably necessitate you ending the movie early.  This is really the only issue that I’d warn people about.  I’m not saying that it will be a deal breaker, but I should at least put it out there.  Overall, I didn’t find it as over the top as I expected.  The eccentricities of Lucy Mirando and Johnny Wilcox weren’t enough to turn me away from the movie.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Doctor Strange (2016)

Origin stories are an important part of the mythos of a character.  The Incredible Hulk is the result of exposure to gamma radiation.  Captain America was brought about by way of a serum.  These are important parts of the characters’ stories.  Even when they’re changed for the sake of a movie, they help explain why that person is the way that they are.

Doctor Strange got his own movie in 2016.  At the start of the movie, Dr. Stephen Strange is a famous neurosurgeon.  He has his pick of patients.  (These include a few throwaway references to other Marvel characters.)  All is going well for Dr. Strange until he has an accident.  He loses the use of his hands, which prevents him from being the perfect doctor that he once was.

He tries just about any experimental surgery that comes his way, selling everything he has to be able to afford them.  He eventually hears about a paraplegic named Jonathan Pangborn who managed to regain use of his legs.  Pangborn to Kamar-Taj, a place where he might be able to regain the use of his hands.  Dr. Strange has just enough money to make it there and meet The Ancient One, who demonstrates her powers.  Strange is hesitant.  He doesn’t believe in the astral plane and spiritual healing.  Even after her demonstration, it’s a bit much to accept.

Still, he stays and learns what he can.  With a photographic memory, he’s able to become a skilled sorcerer quickly.  We learn that Earth is protected by Sanctums, led by The Ancient One.  There are many sorcerers trained there with the intent of protecting the Sanctums, which are all connected to Kamar-Taj.  When Kaecilius, a former student, attacks a Sanctum, there’s a real threat.

Kaecilius is trying to make a deal with a guy from another dimension.  If successful, Kaecilius would become immortal.  As you might imagine, an immortal Kaecilius would be bad for us.  Dr. Strange knows he has to help, but is conflicted about hurting people, as he never really stopped being a doctor.  It’s up to a few other sorcerers to get him where he needs to be to save the world.

I’ve read articles that have compared the movie to Inception.  I have to say that it’s a fair comparison.  The movie seems like it’s a vehicle for the CGI, coming across as a mixture of Inception and The Matrix.  M. C. Escher would enjoy the scenery.  On a technical level, the movie is great.

What I found lacking was the story.  Dr. Strange spends a lot of time trying to get his hands back.  Then, he spends a lot of time learning how to be a sorcerer.  We do get some fighting throughout the movie, but it isn’t until the end that we get any sort of real conflict.  The movie even opens with an inception-style fight, but there’s no sense of rooting for anyone.

I felt like the story focused too much on Dr. Strange before becoming a hero.  I get that this is what an origin story is.  However, we see too much of the Doctor and not enough of the Strange.  He’s the kind of doctor that that reminds everyone that he’s a doctor.  (He didn’t work hard all of those years at Strange Medical School to be called Mr. Strange.)

I think my problem was expecting more action sequences.  We are shown a journey that Dr. Strange has to take.  He’s a man of science told to simply believe in the metaphysical.  I admit that I would have handled it the same way.  If someone told me that the power to heal myself was based in mysticism, I’d think they were trying to sell me something and with good reason.

It was a lot like a pilot episode meant to set us up for something even bigger.  The movie is equal parts mysticism and action, but it doesn’t quite work.  It alternates rather than blends.  There were scenes that were too heavy on explaining things.  It works better when we have just enough to get what‘s going on.

IMDb doesn’t list a sequel as of yet, but it would be interesting to see how they handle it.  A lot could be forgiven if they knock that one out of the park.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Time Machine (1960)

With any time-travel story, there’s always the question of the Earth moving around the Sun and the Sun moving through the galaxy, which is itself in motion.  This is usually ignored in the narrative, as I’m sure most authors don’t think of it.  When you’re writing a story, you’re probably trying to focus on other aspects of the plot.  Plus, I’d like to think that anyone smart enough to build a time machine would be smart enough take this into account.  What a shame it would be to go through all the trouble of building a time machine only to get lost in the void of space.

In the book by H. G. Wells, an unnamed person builds such a machine and visits Earth in the distant future.  It’s supposed to be more a commentary on class division, with the Evil Morlocks taking advantage of the peaceful Eloi.  This movie, released in 1960, takes many of the same plot points.  The ultimate destination is still 802701.  The story is still set in England.  You still have the Eloi and the Morlocks.  A few details have changed, though.

The movie starts on January 5, 1900.  Four men have gathered at the house of a friend named George.  George is absent, which they consider somewhat rude, as George is the one that invited them all for dinner.  At least George was kind enough to leave worth to let them start without him.  (Dinner has already been prepared by George’s housekeeper, Mrs. Watchett.)  Just as they’re about to begin, George stumbles in, looking like he’s been through a war.  As in the book, he recounts his tale.

It begins a few days earlier, on December 31, 1899.  All five men are gathered together in George’s house, where he’s telling them about a time machine that he’s built.  He plans to go ahead to see what becomes of humans.  His friends don’t believe him, even though he has a scale model that he sends into the future.  Shortly after the friends leave, so does George.  He goes a few hours into the future, then a few years.  He goes to 1917 and 1940, both years that England is at war.   He then goes to 1966, where he witnesses the destruction of his immediate area by lava.

He narrowly escapes to the distant future of 802701.  He hasn’t moved from his original spot, but everything is different.  Humans seem to have regressed to a group that lives off the land.  They don’t have a care in the world, even when one of their own falls into a river. George saves and befriends the woman, who gives her name as Weena.  She tells George that her people are called the Eloi

When everyone gathers to eat, George joins them.  He asks all sorts of questions that the Eloi seem to regard as strange.  They have no sense of history or any desire to plan for the future.  They play and eat.  That’s about it.  It isn’t until that night that George finds the Morlocks, who use air-raid sirens to get the Eloi to go into a building, never to return.

George discovers that humanity has branched into two groups.  The Morlocks are what became of the industrial people.  They control the machinery and make clothing for the Eloi.  The Eloi descended from those that stayed above ground.  With no technology, they’re dependant on the Morlocks, which comes at a very high cost.

George is dismayed at what he has found.  Humanity hasn’t progressed.  We’ve let buildings deteriorate.  We’ve let books turn to dust.  There’s nothing left that George recognizes as human any more.   We’ve evolved, but that isn’t always a good thing.  Evolution doesn’t go in one direction.

He’d return to 1900, but George has had his time machine stolen.  (Fortunately, he held on to a key component.)  He’s stuck in a paradise run by monsters.  Since the movie started with George telling his story, we can assume that he found a way to get back to his own time.   It’s simply a question of whether or not he’ll save the future in the process.

Having read the book there are a few differences I noticed.  Some involve major plot points that I don’t want to give away.  The rest are minor, such as leaving out a few scenes.  (In the book, the time traveler goes beyond 802701, well into the future.  The movie skips that.)  I suppose it’s natural to have to make modifications.  You’re trying to tell a story in a different medium.  Not everything translates well.  Not everything can make it due to technological constraints.  The director and writer are also going to take certain liberties.  You can end up with two different products.  This is especially evident that the movie was made about 60 years after the book was written.  The movie has access to history that the book didn’t.

There are a few things that always get me, such as the Eloi speaking English.  Consider that English as we know it didn’t exist 1,000 years ago.  Imagine what people will speak 800,000 years from now.  For that matter, consider what they’d look like.  All of the Eloi are basically short, blonde white people.  I’d like to think we’d look different than that after 800 millennia.

Another thing that’s always struck me while watching the movie was the bubble that formed as George was going into the future.  He was pretty lucky that that happened.  He could have been killed.  (On that note, it wasn’t mentioned what it would look like to an outside observer.  Did people see a bubble form in a mountain or was it solely for George’s benefit?)  I don’t suppose there’s any good way to test the machine.  Today, we could probably automate the process.  With Victorian-era technology, George just had to risk it.

This was one of those movies I’d always catch on TV growing up.  There’s no cursing.  There’s also very little violence.  The Morlocks would probably scare small children, as would the fighting towards the end.  The effects look like what I’d expect from a 1960’s movie, so I can forgive this aspect of the movie.  A lot of the scenes are done in miniature.  It’s obvious to someone who has grown up on CGI.  (I’ve always wondered if it was as obvious to audiences of 1960.   Then again, I also wonder what modern effects will seem obvious 60 years from now.)

Ultimately, it’s a product made 60 years ago based on a story that was published 60 years prior.  We’ve had all manner of time-travel books and movies.  There are all manner of visions of what our future might look like.  There are all manner of great and not-so-great stories about going to the future and to the past.  We have everything from Back to the Future and Doctor Who to Time Changer and Future War.

This is one of those movies that has a certain nostalgia factor for me.  As I mentioned, I grew up watching the movie.  I’m not sure most people will feel the same way.  It may come off as overly cheesy to younger audiences.  I would recommend at least reading the book.  Your local library should have it.  I’m sure Amazon has a few dozen versions of it.  If you can’t get this movie streaming, your library may also have a copy of it if you’re interested in checking it out.

IMDb page

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Curse of Sleeping Beauty (2016)

There are a lot of movie based on some sort of source material.  Comics have been popular for a while.  Many movies are based on books.  Then, there’s the occasional remake or sequel.  Occasionally, someone tries to do a loose interpretation of something.  Sometimes it’s called a reimagining of a classic tale.  Sometimes, it’s presented as what really happened or is viewed through a different filter.

We all know the story of Sleeping Beauty, even if only peripherally.  A woman has a curse put on her by a witch wherein she falls asleep.  The spell can only be broken by a kiss from that special someone.  The Curse of Sleeping Beauty takes that basic premise and puts it in modern times.

The movie begins with Thomas Kaiser having a nightmare.  He’s had this recurring nightmare all of his adult life.  In it, he approaches a sleeping woman.  When he goes in to kiss her, the nightmare intensifies and he wakes up.   He’s been to several psychiatrists with no luck.

Out of nowhere, he inherits a property from his unknown uncle Clive.  All he gets is the deed and a letter with a vague warning about not exploring the basement.  If anything is sealed, leave it that way.  Oh, and the family line is cursed.  Good luck!

He leaves his apartment to size the place up with the hope of selling the property.  When he gets there, he finds the place basically in ruins.  He’s met by a real-estate agent named Linda.  She seems a little too interested in the property.  All he wants is to be rid of it.  When he spends his first night in Kaiser Gardens, the nightmare changes.  The woman is now awake and talking to Thomas.  He realizes that her physical body is somewhere on the property and they can communicate through dreams.  He has it within his power to break the curse that’s keeping her asleep.

This is where it gets strange.  It turns out that the curse goes back to The Crusades.  The curse seems to bind one male member of the Kaiser family to the body, although it’s not made clear to what end.  Is he protecting her?  Is he protecting the world from her?  Either way, if he’s away from the property for more than a few days, Thomas gets sick.

Similarly, it’s not clear why someone has to be bound to the property.  Even if charged with a task, it would make sense to let the person roam, even if it’s to have a job or to meet a potential mate.  There’s no mention of Thomas getting any money with the estate.  You’d think that there’d be an endowment or at least a cushion that would allow Thomas to get a job if he didn’t have one.  (Which he doesn’t.)  Clive was even said to be a shut-in.  There’s no mention of how he afforded the property taxes, if there were any.

My biggest question is why Thomas isn’t given more than the vaguest of instructions by Clive.  Instead, Thomas gets a cryptic book written in Aramaic.  If something is important enough to have been kept up since The Crusades, you’d think there’d be easy instructions, like exactly what is expected of Thomas.

Sleeping Beauty leads Thomas to believe that he is to wake her.  Thomas never questions this.  He has the help of Linda and a paranormal expert, Richard.  Neither one of them asks why, if it’s so easy to wake her up, no one has done it in a thousand years.  It’s up to Linda’s ex-boyfriend to decode the book and realize what Sleeping Beauty really is.

The movie is kind of like a Hallmark horror story in that the entire plot is one cliché after another.  A man inherits a cursed property.  He knows nothing, but is assisted by someone that knows a good deal of information on the property.  All of the important information is kept from them until it’s either too late or almost too late.  In the end, you realize that the main characters are idiots that could have prevented all of the troubles in the movie.

I think part of the problem is that this may have been a backdoor pilot.  The ending is left unresolved.   Where most similar horror stories would have most or all of the main characters die, this one leaves them all alive.  It would make more sense if a sequel or TV series were planned to follow the movie.  IMDb doesn’t seem to have any movie connections, but there is a Fangora interview that would indicate a TV series, assuming that they can find the backing.

One explanation I’d like is how Sleeping Beauty got to Kaiser Gardens.  If the curse did start during The Crusades, we’d assume that it was cast in Europe, Asia or the Middle East.  The main location of the story would appear to be in the United States, so she would have been moved at some point.  A lot of my issues look like questions that would be explained in later canon.

The biggest question I have is using a family line to carry the curse.  It seems odd to me that all of the affected family members had the same last name.  Are you saying that it has to be direct male lineage?  It can’t pass from grandfather to grandson?  What happens if the line ends?  For that matter, how is Thomas the only one left?  Thomas said that his mother didn’t want Thomas to have anything to do with his father’s side, but that doesn’t mean that some distant cousin wouldn’t come knocking on the door to warn Thomas.  That aspect of the story was very unclear.

On a technical level, the film looks good.  Picture quality is what you’d expect of a major production.  It’s just that it lacks other things you’d expect, like a better story.  It was a little too thin for me, even knowing that there might be a TV series coming eventually.  This is one of those cases where a binary recommendation is hard to give.  It’s not bad enough that I’d steer people away from it per se, but it’s not really good enough that I’d want to endorse it  This has the look of an origin story that got made after the TV series had been running for a few seasons..  I’d say that if the TV series does get made, watching the movie would probably be worth it.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Spectral (2016)

I had heard that Netflix doesn’t actually produce stuff in house.  Rather, they contract with studios to make stuff.  Apparently, Spectral is a bit different.  Universal Pictures had produced the film for another distributor.  When that deal fell through, Netflix saved the day and brought the movie to their streaming service.  In some ways, this is good.  Someone gets to see their script make it to a screen, even if it’s not the big screen.  The bad news is that it has the reputation of essentially being direct to video.  In the case of Netflix, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  They’ve had some offerings I’ve liked, such as The Little Prince and The OA.

The movie starts with Clyne debating the use of technology as weapons while working at DARPA.  Since he’s no longer necessary for the project he’s working on, he can be sent to a war zone in Moldova.  Why Moldova?  Clyne has to sign a nondisclosure agreement to find out.  The military there is fighting an enemy that’s invisible and has taken out every military person sent at them.  The hypothesis is that the insurgents there have some sort of invisibility cloak, but that doesn’t explain how bullets pass through them or how the enemy can pass through walls.

What they do know is that the enemy does show up on goggles and Clyne has a very powerful version of those goggles, which he brings with him.  When they go out, Clyne gets a good look at the enemy, which appears to have human features, like a face.  The scary part is that they can jump from third- or fourth-story windows without being hurt.  No one has any idea how to stop them.

So, how do you stop the perfect enemy?  It’s by chance that Clyne picks up on several clues that let him figure out what’s going on.  He’s able to modify his machine so that it emits light to make the ghosts visible.  He’s also able to make weapons out of parts he happens to have available.  He and his military escorts even figure out where the specters are coming from.  He’s able to save the day rather efficiently.

There was a line I saw once:  I’m not sure if you have too much medication or not enough.  That’s the case here.  I’m not sure if the movie runs too long or isn’t developed enough.  If the running time was shortened, you could have a nice episode of an anthology series like The Outer Limits.  If the plot was developed enough, you could have a better feature-length film.

The movie was good on a lot of technical points.  The effects are great and the basic plot is pretty solid.  It’s just that there are very few side stories.  We don’t have Clyde talking with any of the military people about their childhoods, for instance.  There are no bonding moments.  The story is a straight line from Clyde going to Moldova to Clyde saving the day.  There is a sort of beginner feel to the story.  It’s like you put a first-person shooter fan in a room with a Final Fantasy or Resident Evil fan and told them to come up with a script.  I’m not saying that I could have done much better.  It’s just that the story lacks a certain depth.

It’s not exactly a war film, as it doesn’t deal with war directly.  It’s a sci-fi/horror film that uses a war zone as a backdrop.  If you’re into sci-fi or horror, but not that much, this is a pretty good film for you.   The story’s easy to follow, at least.   It’s not particularly scary for most adults, but is not a movie for children.  The ghosts are pretty scary, as they look vaguely like people and tend to kill many of the secondary and background characters.  It’s also set in a war zone, so there’s that.

It‘s interesting to think that this could have been released in theaters.  It used to be that Syfy was known for bad movies.  I’m not saying that Netflix will pick up this honor, but it seems that Netflix can afford to be less selective.  They have had some good titles, such as The OA and The Little Prince.  However, this one is maybe less so.  It’s enjoyable, but isn’t really that dynamic.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Little Prince (2015)

I used to work at Wolf Camera years ago.  One thing I remember was the mantra “Give yourself a raise.”  It meant that you could always be selling more of the things that got you sales incentives or commissions.  You could always sell more extended warranties or loyalty cards.  You could always sell more accessories.  Basically, it felt like I would always have the carrot of better numbers in front of me.  There had to be a point where it stopped.  (If I sold everything in the store with the maximum warranty, would they have me special order stuff?)

Such is the world of The Mother and The Daughter.  The Mother is anxious to see her daughter get into a good school.  They even have an answer for their expected Big Question.  However, when she’s asked a different question, The Daughter gives her rehearsed answer anyway, oblivious to the fact that it doesn’t make sense.  This necessitates a move to the same neighborhood as the school.  The cheapest house happens to be next door to The Aviator, a man that the neighbors (and police) seem to avoid whenever possible.

The Daughter and The Aviator become fast friends, as The Daughter tries to avoid her rigorous schedule.  You see, The Daughter has a lot of studying to do if she wants to do well and eventually get a good job.  The Aviator is an adult, but hasn’t grown up yet.  He sees in The Daughter someone he can tell his story to.  That story is the story of The Little Prince.

Never having read the book, I’m not sure how well the movie stays faithful to its source material.  In the movie, The Aviator tells of meeting The Little Prince, who claimed to be from an asteroid.  The Little Prince tells of his life and some of the people he’s met, like a businessman.  While on Earth, he meets a fox and a snake.  He has a good time, but eventually has to go home, which saddens the Aviator.  However, The Little Prince tells The Aviator to simply look up at the stars to remind him of their time together.

In the present timeframe, The Aviator tells The Daughter that he’s happy that they met, as he now has someone to pass along the story.  The Daughter infers that he may be leaving or even dying, which The Aviator denies.  She even gets upset with him for having such a sad ending.  When The Aviator is taken away in an ambulance, The Daughter takes it upon herself to find The Little Prince so that The Prince might help The Aviator.

The tale of The Mother, the Daughter and  the older Aviator seems to have been made for the movie.  From what I can tell, the book was meant as a children’s book for adults, warning of forgetting how to be a child.  The Mother and the other adults seem to have forgotten this, but The Aviator hasn’t.  He sees in The Daughter the opportunity to let her be a little girl for a few minutes.  The Mother means well, but she doesn’t seem to see that her daughter might want an hour or two to play.  (Isn’t hard work what being an adult is all about, though?)

It’s appropriate that the film uses CGI and stop motion.  Animation is typically seen as being for children.  Many adults seem to have forgotten how to enjoy an animated movie.  For years, I’ve been trying to get my parents to watch movies like Up and Zootopia to no effect.  I don’t know that they’ll ever take the recommendations seriously.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Young Frankenstein (1974)

It’s not uncommon for someone to go into the family business.  Some companies are family owned for several generations   You may even see a company name along the lines of Smith & Sons.  Likewise, you may find police officers that have siblings, aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents that are also police officers.  (At least, that’s the way it is in television and movies.)  Normally, no one would think anything of someone doing what their family does.

Things are a little different for Frederick.  He’s a doctor, like his grandfather.  Frederick doesn’t want the association, though, as his grandfather is none other than Dr. Viktor Frankenstein.  Yes, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  The idea of reanimating a nervous system is ridiculous.  I know it.  You know it.  Frederick knows it, too.  Yet, everyone keeps pestering him about it.

It doesn’t get any easier when Frederick inherits the family castle in Transylvania.  So, the young Dr. Frankenstein goes to see what he’s inherited.  When he gets there, he’s greeted by Igor, also the grandson of the corresponding character in the book.  He introduces Frederick to beautiful lab assistant Inga and the horse-scaring Frau Blücher.  Frederick wants to find his grandfather’s work, but Frau Blücher denies any knowledge of the work.  It’s with the help of Inga that he’s able to find a secret passageway and, eventually, a book called How I Did It by V. Frankenstein.

After reading the book, Frederick realizes that it’s not so far fetched.  He might actually be able to reanimate a corpse.  So, he and Igor rob a grave.  Igor is also sent to get the brain of a noted scientist.  The townspeople, however, are rightfully concerned.  Yes, he’s a Frankenstein, but there’s no proof that he’ll follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.  That is, until he reanimates the corpse.  Now, it’s up to Frankenstein and Company to protect the new life.

The movie is in black and white.  It’s even set up like Ye Olde Horror Filmme of Yore, with credits in the beginning.  (Having seen some older movies, I get the reference, but I’m not sure how many references I’m missing.)  With Frankenstein being something that everyone knows about, even minimally, most people will get many of the jokes.  There’s the obligatory angry mob waiting to happen, for instance.

The book doesn’t seem to parody the book directly, but seems to use the story as a backdrop.  It’s almost like an unofficial, comedic sequel of sorts.  Probably the one scene I remember best is where Frederick tries to show off The Monster by having him do a demonstration that ends with a performance of Putin’ on the Ritz.

This ultimately leads to The Monster being taken away by the police. The Monster eventually escapes and meets some people while on the run, like a girl who doesn’t seem frightened by him.  There’s also the blind man who desperately wants company.  The Monster doesn’t hurt anyone unless provoked, which usually involves someone taunting him.

This isn’t the kind of movie you’ll watch week after week, but it does hold up after repeated viewings.  Some of the humor is meant to work as a surprise.  Other jokes, like Putin’ on the Ritz, can be viewed multiple times.  It’s the kind of movie you’d watch when you catch it on TV or maybe watch in class the day before school lets out for break.

The movie is rated PG, mostly for sexual references.  Frederick mentions huge knockers, referring to a door.  There are also a scene where The Monster has sex with Frederick’s bride to be, although no nudity is shown.  There are also scenes of violence, like The Monster choking Frederick.  It’s a comedy, so there’s little threat of the main characters being permanently harmed.  The worst of the violence is seeing a man hanged. It’s generally safe for teenagers and above.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

Sometimes, having interconnected stories can work.  Usually, this involves having a single narrative with several different aspects.  It tends to work best when it’s done subtly.  A Christmas Horror Story isn’t such a movie.  I’m not saying that it’s not entertaining.  It’s just that you have four stories that probably started out having nothing to do with each other.  Someone apparently got the idea to put them together when they probably would have worked better as four short films.

In one story, you have Santa Claus battling undead elves.  There’s no explanation where the infection came from, but one elf dies and reanimates.  Elves aren’t supposed to die.  They’re cheerful and immortal and they definitely don’t refuse Mrs. Claus’s cookies, at least not in such a vulgar fashion.  Yet, Mr. Claus has to rid his workshop of his undead helpers.

In a second story, a family of four is going to visit the father’s Aunt Edda.  The wife, son and daughter see it for what it is: a chance for dear old Dad to hit her up for an investment in his company.  After promptly being kicked out, the car gets stuck.  This makes it easier for Krampus to pick them off one at a time.

In the third story, three filmmakers go to a school’s basement to make a documentary.  Two girls were murdered in a gruesome manner.  One of the police officers had to go on medical leave because of it.  (The daughter from the second story would be joining them if not for her father’s dragging her along to Aunt Edda’s.)  They get locked in and have to hope that someone finds them in time.

In the fourth story, a father decides to take his wife and son along to steal a tree from private property.  (It just so happens that the father is the police officer that’s on medical leave.)  The son disappears, but is found again hiding in a tree.  It isn’t until they get home that the parents realize that something is off.  The landowner contacts the wife, telling her to bring the kid back.  She hangs up on him, but eventually comes around.

Tying it all together is Dangerous Dan, played by William Shatner.  He’s a DJ who is pulling a double shift Christmas eve to bring everyone some Christmas music.  He’s not too happy about being there, as evidenced by his consumption of spiked egg nog.  In the studio with him is Norman.  When Dan asks Norman about his impending trip to the mall’s food drive, Norman holds up a nasty note for Dan to see.

The four stories are told intertwined as Dangerous Dan plays his songs.  The result is something that’s not quite coherent.  Each story probably could have done well as a short film.  The Student Filmmaker story was what you’d expect of those teenager horror movies that are heavy on the scares and maybe even the sex appeal.  Similarly, the family trip to see Aunt Edda was your basic awkward outing movies where everyone has an epiphany and grows.  The thing is that no one really has a chance to learn from their revelation.  They admit something they did wrong and are promptly dispatched with.  In fact, the son is taken away rather quickly.

The Santa Slayer and Tree Poacher stories were at least entertaining.   Santa having to kill undead elves has the makings of a great feature-length slasher film.  There were even a few good lines, to boot.  I also got the sense that the father that stole the tree had some issues.  This also could have possibly been made into a feature-length film, or at least maybe an episode of an anthology series.  I think the only hindrance that either story had was the time constraints.

I had had this on my list of movies to watch on Netflix for a while.  After seeing Rare Exports, I thought that a movie like this could have been done well.  Instead, A Christmas Horror story wound up on the other end of the spectrum.  It’s somewhat entertaining, assuming you’re into that sort of thing.  However, it doesn’t really stand out for me.

The movie was only 99 minutes.  Had the Santa Slayer and Tree Poacher stories been developed more, the movie could have made it to two hours, but it would have been a very lopsided movie.  I think that’s the weakness of the movie as a whole.  You have four ideas that could have been contenders, but were merged into one film that wasn’t really that great.  In fact, the only character I really felt any connection to was Dangerous Dan.  I absolutely don’t blame him for drinking.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Amelia: A Tale of Two Sisters (2017)

Amelia Earhart is one of those names that was well before my time.  As such, I think the context is different for me than it was when she was alive.  Today, flying is something we take for granted.  It’s said to be the safest method of travel.  In the 1920s and 1930s, when Earhart was active, flying was still new.  Granted, gender roles were still difficult to overcome at the time.  Amelia’s sister, Grace, married and had a family.  Grace’s route was by far the more common route for women in that era.  However, Amelia was determined to fly and to do so professionally.

Amelia:  A Tale of Two Sisters does show the disparity between the two sisters, but tends to focus on Amelia Earhart, as she was the one to make headlines.  The documentary shows how she had to basically be a passenger on a flight, as she wasn’t really trusted to fly.  She did eventually make a solo transatlantic flight, something that only Charles Lindbergh had done previously.

What most people know her for, though, is her attempt to fly around the globe with Fred Noonan.  In early July of 1937, they disappeared just shy of circumnavigation.  There are theories as to what happened.  The most common is that they went down in the ocean and were never able to make it to land.  Another is that they did make it to what was then called Gardner Island, where they managed to survive for a period of time.  There’s no concrete proof of this.  A third theory is that they were captured by the Japanese.  The documentary doesn’t mention any proof of the third theory.

I watched the documentary mostly to learn a little more about Amelia Earhart.  I knew going in that it would be kind of basic, but I knew very little about her.  I wasn’t even aware that she had a sister, which is why this documentary caught my attention.  The amount of information is exactly what I would have expected from a 40-something-minute episode.

It goes into her early life and how she knew from first seeing an air show what her career path would be.  There is also material on her parents and her sister.  There are interviews from three people, including Earhart’s niece, Amy Klepner.  The other two are Ric Gillespie with TIGHAR and Dorothy Cochrane with the National Air and Space Museum.

A good portion is dedicated to her disappearance with some repetition of material.  It’s the kind of thing that a beginner to the subject, like myself, will enjoy.  I think someone looking for detailed information on Earhart will probably want to look elsewhere.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Girlfriend's Day (2017)

How do you handle something that’s mediocre?  If something is good, you can recommend it to people.  If something is bad, you can at least warn them about it.  What if a movie hits that spot between watchable and unwatchable?  I’m not saying Girlfriend’s day found that spot, but it almost seems like that’s what it was hoping for.  It’s not a great movie, but it’s not a horrible movie, either.

It starts with Ray Wentworth talking with his coworkers at a greeting-card company.   Ray is called in to see his boss, Styvesan, and promptly fired.  Ray just hasn’t been producing good stuff any more.  In fact, he’s been producing crap.  (One card holds ten dimes.)  Ray even offers to fold the cards, saying he can do it faster than the machines.  Alas, it’s to no avail.

Ray spends the next three months drinking and laying around his apartment.  He spends his time watching TV and ignoring his landlord.  He’s also had a hand injury for those months.  He cut it on a picture frame and the tendons are slow to heal.  There is hope on the horizon.  Ray’s former boss comes to him with a proposition:  Write some romantic cards for girlfriends.  Ray is even given an advance on his work.

Ray comes to realize what’s going on when a new holiday is announced.  It’s called Girlfriend’s day and is meant to revitalize the industry.  Everyone wants in on this.  Well, Ray needs some stuff from his former desk, which Styvesan agrees to let Ray get.  As Ray is leaving the building, he finds a former coworker on the floor, dying of a stab wound.  He’s hit on the head and passes out.

He wakes up in his apartment with a new, less-incriminating shirt.  Also there is Detective Miller, who has Ray’s bloody shirt.  Ray is to write a perfect card for the new holiday.  You see, Miller is on the outs with his girlfriend.  A good card would get him back in.  No card means that the evidence finds its way to the police station.

It seems everyone wants a card for this new holiday.  What’s a guy to do?  Ray was writing crappy stuff before.  Now, he has pressure coming from all directions.  Even his new girlfriend may be little more than a way to get him writing again.

The movie is listed as a drama and a comedy.  I’m not sure it works as either.  It’s not so much that I don’t get the jokes.  I do get many of them.  It’s just that the movie seems to be coming off as a satire, but it lacks the focus of a single target.  There are noir elements, like Ray finding a victim as he’s dying and subsequently making himself look guilty.  That part is at least obvious.

Some of the stuff is more obscure.  Ray and his fellow writers seem to enjoy a level of fame.  Ray is said to have been great at what he does.  I’m not sure, though, if he’s a local celebrity or of this is an alternate universe where greeting-card writers are famous.  Also, Ray watches a show called Bumfights.  On several occasions, he sees one of the fighters on the street.  I’m not sure what e movie was going with that.

Fortunately, the movie doesn’t feel long at 70 minutes.  The movie doesn’t drag at all except for one scene where Ray is led through a series of rooms.  Even there, it’s kept short.  I can see people liking Girlfriend’s Day, but I don’t think this is going to make anyone’s top-ten list.  For that matter, I don’t see it making anyone’s bottom-ten list, either.  It has its moments, but isn’t really a standout movie.

The movie seems to like contradictions.  I’m not even certain if it’s a comedy trying to be serious or a drama trying to be funny.  Take Ray.  He’s a walking sack of misery and sadness.  And he made a living writing romance cards.  Even if you do get the humor, it’s a somewhat depressing movie.


Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Major League (1989)

There’s something about a comeback/underdog story that everyone can relate to.  We’ve all had situations where we were really bad at something, yet had the desire to be much better.  Maybe you’ve wished you could draw realistic pictures.  Perhaps you’ve wished you had a voice that could win Grammys or thought you could act your way through any movie or commercial they could throw at you.

Major League isn’t about any baseball team.  It’s about the worst baseball team in Major League Baseball which, in the movie’s universe, is the Cleveland Indians.  The team is owned by Rachel Phelps, who inherited it from her husband.  She’d like to move the team to Miami, but there’s that pesky contract with Cleveland.  She can’t just up and move.  I suppose she could sell the team, but that would be too easy.  Instead, she decides to use an escape clause.  If attendance falls below a certain point, she can get out of the contract.

To accomplish this, Phelps decides to rid the team of any player with talent.  She finds all sorts of players that should never see their way onto the field.  Some are good players, but are close to retirement.  Catcher Jake Taylor has knee issues.  Most aren’t good players.  Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn, for instance, is actually in prison when they try to recruit him.  He has a great arm, but seems to lack control over where the ball goes.

Managing the team is Lou Brown, who managed a minor league team.  It’s his job to make the bunch of losers and has-beens into a working team, or so Phelps would have him believe.  The better he does better, the worse she makes things for the team.  When they start winning, she takes away things like hot water or replaces a functional jet with a rundown plane.

When it comes to Brown’s attention what Phelps is doing, Brown tells the team.  This gives the team motivation to win as many games as they can so that they might get into the playoffs.  Which they do.  All the while, attendance climbs until The Indians are playing sold out games.  In the end, Phelps is denied her easy exit to the contract.

The Indian’s players are all actors.  (Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger play Vaughn and Taylor, respectively.)  However, there are a good number of actual baseball players making cameos throughout the game.  Since the movie was released nearly 30 years ago, I’m not sure how recognizable man of the players are.  (I’m not a big baseball fan, so it’s difficult for me to judge how recognizable any of the players are.)

You don’t necessarily have to like baseball to enjoy the movie.  Most of the humor is derived from making the team work.  A lot of the players are at odds with each other.  One worships a deity named Jobu whereas another is Christian.  Several teammates don’t want to discourage offerings to Jobu, but can’t bring themselves to allow the sacrifice of an actual live chicken.

There are certain things you can assume about the movie.  I don’t feel bad mentioning that they do better the further along the movie goes.  It’s a comedy in which a baseball team ended the previous season dead last and the new owner wants them to do worse.  The announcer curses during a broadcast because he knows no one is listening.  Of course, they’re going to make it to the top.  That’s the way these things work.

On that note, you can also assume that it’s not exactly meant for children.  Probably the most objectionable part would be grown men standing around a locker room.  So, yeah.  You might want to hold off on letting your kids watch until they’re teenagers at least.

This is one of those movies that Comedy Central puts in its rotation every now and again.  It does seem to hold up over the years as it’s still relatable.  Many of the jokes are still funny.  I think the only thing that might be dated, aside from the other teams’ players, might be the stadiums’ advertising.  If you can catch it on Netflix, go for it.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Kung Fury (2015)

There’s a scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off where the principal, Ed Rooney, is out looking for Bueller.  In the scene, Rooney is talking to a man watching a baseball game.  Rooney asks the score, to which the man replies that both teams have yet to score.  When Rooney asks who’s winning, the man tells him The Bears.  Those that have no interest in sports might miss that The Bears are a football team.  However, you can still get part of the joke, as the score is tied.  That’s kind of how it is with Kung Fury.

The short film satirizes 80’s technology and culture.  The video quality is similar to that of VHS, with the rolling distortions and intermittent static.  Phones are the bulky, poorly designed monstrosities that you’d expect of 1985.  Dialogue is also the poorly designed monstrosity that you’d expect of 1985.  Those of us that grew up in the 1970s and 1980s will get a lot of the references.  Those that were born later probably won’t.  This isn’t to say that the movie is without humor.  My concern would be that many of the references will go over the heads of some audience members.   

The story is about a man, called only Kung Fury, who is a police officer in Miami in 1985.  He’s called in to defeat an arcade game that’s come to life and is killing people.  He saves the day, but of course, the police chief is having none of it.  An entire city block was destroyed and it’s all Kung Fury’s fault.  The chief is assigning Kung Fury a new partner, Triceracop, but Kung Fury would rather quit than take on a new partner.  (We learn that he lost his old one around the time that he picked up his kung fu powers.)

Before Kung Fury can leave the station, it’s shot up by none other than Adolf Hitler, the worst criminal of all time.  The amazing part is that Hitler is shooting up the station over one of those bulky 80s cell phones.  King Fury is able to shoot back and stop Hitler.  He now realizes that his only choice is to go back in time to stop Hitler.  He’s helped by Hackerman, who is able to hack time.  Kung Fury goes back too far and finds himself in the Viking Era, where women had big weapons and rode even bigger animals.

Fortunately, Thor is able to send him to the right time and place, where Kung Fury is able to dispatch with several dozen Nazi troops.  Hitler shoots Kung Fury, leaving it to Thor, Hackerman, Triceracops and a few others to seemingly save the day.  Hackerman is even able to hack away the bullets and save Kung Fury’s life.  The day is saved and everyone returns to their own time.

The entire plot reeks of 80’s references.  Aside from the VHS filter on the movie, the colors are as dull as you might expect.  The dialogue is similarly dull.  Every 80’s buddy-cop movie had the angry lieutenant/captain.  There was always that one scene where the main cop got chewed out.  The Nazi battle scene is even similar to the side-scrolling games of the era.  The script seems to play on a lot of the tropes of the era.

If you’re old enough, you may have heard of the bulky phones, which are featured twice in the movie.  The arcade game coming to life is probably going to look silly, regardless.  I’m not really sure what this is referencing in particular.  I think it’s meant to be silly, but I could be mistaken.

I will say that the nostalgia factor is dialed in almost perfectly.  There are a few cases where the CGI is barely visible, but it’s easy enough to push that to the side.  The jokes aren’t repeated to the point where they become old.  IMDb lists an upcoming sequel, Kung Fury II:  The Movie.  I’m not sure what that’s going to look like.  If it’s a feature film, they’re going to have to find more humor or else risk repeating themselves.  Then again, isn’t that what history is known for?

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017)

There’s been talk of a Wonder Woman feature-length movie for some time now.  I remember back when Guardians of the Galaxy was in theaters, someone joked about the constant delaying on DC’s part.  DC was constantly putting it off, saying that it wasn’t the right time for a female superhero.  Meanwhile, Marvel gave us a talking raccoon.  In fact, the talking raccoon’s movie’s sequel opened a month before Wonder Woman did this past Friday.  But I digress.

It should be noted that while I saw Man of Steel, I regrettably have not had the chance to see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice yet, which I hope to rectify soon.  While I’m assuming that there were a few references that I missed, I don’t think that I suffered much for having missed it.  The movie opens at the Louvre, where Diana is receiving a package courtesy Wayne Industries.  In it is a photograph of Diana and several other people.  The rest of the movie is told in flashback, starting with Diana’s origins on Themyscira.

She’s a defiant girl.  Her mother, Queen Hippolyta, would rather her daughter study.  Diana would rather watch the other Amazon women fight, as that’s what Diana wants to do one day.  She knows who and what she is.  She’s been told the legends and the myths.  She does eventually get what she wants, but her mother worries about what Diana really is and what she may become.

Enter Steve Trevor.  He’s a spy operating for the British Government, which he admits to only because the women of Themyscira compel him to.  He has a very important book he has to get back to the British.  He’s denied this out of security concerns.  Diana takes him back anyway, only because she believes Ares, the god of war, is responsible for The Great War.  It’s what she was meant for.  It’s what she believes her people were meant for, although they choose to sit by.  Thus begins the story.

When Diana arrives in London in 1914, she finds opposition.  She and Steve know what has to be done.  However, just as the women of Themyscira seem to have no need for men, London of 1914 seems to have no use for women.  Thus, we get the culture class.  As you might have seen in the coming attraction, she can’t believe that women’s clothing won’t allow for fighting.  She’s not even allowed to follow Steve into a room of men discussing armistice.

She’s insistent on being taken to the front lines of the war so that she might slay Ares.  Steve is somewhat reluctant, but begins to see her worth when he sees her fight.  Steve is able to get two men, Steve and Sameer, to come with them to Germany.  There, they meet Chief, who can get them where they want to be.  They do get there and Diana does have her moment to do what she needs to do, even if it means finding out some truth that she doesn’t want to hear.

There is a lot of anticipation and hype surrounding the movie, and rightfully so.  I’ll admit to having watched the coming attractions a few times whenever I had the chance.  The movie doesn’t disappoint.  There are a number of fight scenes that don‘t feel forced.  It didn’t seem like they were there to show off the CGI or the main character.  They seemed natural parts of the story, but in an epic way.

For instance, the protagonists are able to liberate a town on their way to see the main antagonists.  And when I say protagonists, I mean Diana with some assistance from Steve, Sameer, Charlie and Chief.  This is where the aspect of Diana being a woman is handled more subtly than I would have expected.  There are doubts from the men, but she doesn’t bother with putting them in their place.  She lets her ability speak for her.

This is where I felt the movie was able to walk the line very well.  It does present the sexism of a female superhero without making it seem like we’re being preached to.  She’s made to dress the part of a woman in 1918 London, which she does, for a while.  There does come a time in the movie where Diana can’t do that any more.  She’s the hero.  Dressing the part only gets you so far in life.

My only complaint was the run time.  141 minutes is a little intimidating.  I don’t know that I would have cut anything.  The movie didn’t drag at all, but it’s still a long movie.  It’s just something to consider if you have somewhere to be afterwards.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

After Porn Ends 2 (2017)

Porn isn’t something you’d think of as having a golden age.  Today’s porn is different than when I was growing up.  All we had was VHS and you had to go to a store to get it.  There weren’t any of these fancy Web sites with their flashy banners and whatnot.  And there were big names, too.  Everyone knew at least one, even if you didn't watch the stuff.

Starring in an adult film could change your life.  It could define what you could do with your life, both during and after.  A few years ago, a documentary came out called After Porn Ends.  It showed how gaining that level of recognition could limit what you could do afterwards.  Not many people were able to hold ’normal’ jobs because everyone saw them as a porn star.

After Porn Ends 2 is a direct sequel to that documentary.  It doesn’t follow up on any of the previous stories.  Instead, we have a new batch of people who have made their living making adult films.  As with the original, many don’t work much outside of the adult industry.  Some market adult novelties.  Some have tried their hand at art.  Many have retired only to go back to what they know best.

In the first documentary, many of the stars had their regrets.  Here, a lot of the stars seem happy.  Again, many haven’t been able to move on.  Instead, some have embraced it.  A few talk about the movies they made and liking the recognition they get on the street.  Lisa Ann was able to play Sarah Palin in an adult film and became known for it.

This isn’t always the case. Janine Lindemulder was sent to jail for back taxes.  When she got out, her child had been taken away from her.  Between her tattoos and former career, she didn’t really stand a chance.  There’s also Darren James, who was diagnosed with HIV after coming back from Brazil.  It made headlines, forcing him to come out to his family about what he did for a living.  It caused the adult film industry in Southern California to cease production for several months.

There’s a much wider spectrum in this movie.  Each star is featured for a few minutes while we see what they think of having starred in adult films.  There are also a few people that are getting into the industry talking about how they expect their careers to go.  We even get to see adult stars going back several generations, including Georgina Spelvin, who is 81.

As you might imagine, this is not a movie for children.  Some of the stars go into explicit detail about what they did and what their plans were.  And yes, nudity is shown.  (There are several clips from adult movies.)  This is not a movie for children.  This isn’t to say that you have to watch porn to enjoy the documentary.  Each segment is short enough not to become boring.  I just wouldn’t watch it with your parents.