Saturday, December 30, 2017

Molly's Game (2017)

Molly Bloom could have been a lot of things.  She could have been an Olympic contender, but an accident during trials prevented that.  She could have been a lawyer, but a year off school led to assisting with high-stakes poker.  Had it not been for an arrest, she might still be the best poker host that no one had ever heard of.  Alas, it apparently wasn’t meant to be.

Molly’s Game, as you might expect, is about poker games run by Molly Bloom.  When she takes a year off from law school, she lands a job that turns into assisting her boss with his games.  She picks it up well enough that when her boss tries to withhold her paycheck from the day job, she splits.  She takes his clients with her, allowing her to set up her own games.

You may be wondering if this is legal.  Molly asks the same question of a lawyer.  As long as she doesn’t take a cut of the pot, it’s just this side of legal.  Instead, she’s to rely on tips to build her bank account.  She even declares all of her income to the IRS.  She has a few setbacks, but is able to hold her own…for a while.

One of Molly’s dealers convinces her to start taking a rake.  It isn’t long before drugs and alcohol make their way into her life.  She even attracts the attention of the Russian mob.  (She denies knowingly being involved with them, although she does receive a visit from a rather large man who beats and robs her.)

There are several things that I hate seeing in a movie.  One is where the movie is told as a flashback.  Here, the movie starts with Molly’s arrest and subsequent search for a lawyer.  We have the story leading up to the arrest interspersed with her trying to defend herself and get money back that was seized by the government.

Another thing I’d consider cliché is the downward spiral.  It’s not as pronounced here as I’ve seen in other movies, but Molly Bloom is an ambitious woman.  She makes some bold decisions that cause her to make some bad decisions.  Those that have power not only want to hold on to it, but often want more.  Had she not started taking the rake, which is forbidden by law, she would probably have fewer problems.  Then again, we wouldn’t have a movie.  (I’m sure for every person like Molly, there are many others content to stay in the shadows.)

The whole aspect of changing names is to be expected.  Even with a story based on truth, I expect a certain amount of fictionalization.  Michael Cera plays Player X, who is supposed to be a composite of several other actors.   Naming a name like that could be problematic from a legal standpoint.  The movie also shows Molly Bloom refusing to do so for moral reasons, as all she has left is her integrity.

This is one of those movies I probably would have waited for on DVD or streaming had I not had MoviePass.  The movie wasn’t particularly exciting.  If you’re looking for an exciting gambling-related movie, there are others out there to be had.  The movie comes across more as a 140-minute cautionary tale.  Then again, there weren’t too many surprises.  I’d say this is a movie where you could easily judge your interest by the coming attractions.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Shape of Water (2017)

My mother and I were talking about Trading Places shortly after she had watched it.  She was wondering if the use of a derogatory term by one of the Duke Brothers was called for.  I felt it was, as they weren’t really meant to be sympathetic characters.  They were the antagonists and nothing else.

In The Shape of Water, Richard Strickland fills that role.  He’s a racist, misogynistic creep who happens to be in authority.  The movie is set in the 1960s and he seems to represent everything about that decade that humanity should have overcome by now.  This shows in his interactions with the other main characters.

When he first encounters Elisa and Zelda, two female janitors, he doesn’t seem to mind them watching him urinate.  This is after they complained that men can’t hit the broad side of a urinal.  (I guess aim doesn’t make you a good person.)  He also leaves his cattle prod in plain view, mentioning how dangerous it is.  (Compensate much?)  He also prefers to wash his hands before doing his business.  (Who even does that?)

It doesn’t take long for The Asset to arrive.  What the main characters call The Asset, IMDb has listed as Amphibian Man.  He was captured in South America and brought to Baltimore to be studied.  Amphibian Man is kept locked up with Elisa and Zelda going in to clean the room as needed.  When it becomes apparent that Amphibian Man will be killed, Elisa knows she has to free him no matter the risk.

This is the movie that Bright could have been.  Instead of using the fantasy element as just another aspect of the movie, we have the fantasy element worked subtly into the plot.  A creature is brought in for study and is treated like crap.  I would normally complain about the character being called The Asset, but that’s exactly what I’d expect.  If you’re going to a vivisection, you don’t want to get too attached to the organism in question.

Strickland is a results-oriented guy.  That’s why he was brought in on the project.  However, many of the characters are minorities.  Elisa is mute.  Zelda is African-American.  Elisa’s neighbor is gay.  There’s even a Soviet spy mixed in.  These are not people that were welcomed with open arms in 1960s America, which breeds a certain level of empathy for Amphibian Man.  How we treat others, especially those not like us, says a lot about who we are.  This is where Strickland comes across as pure antagonist.

It’s worth noting that the movie doesn’t hold any punches when it comes to minorities.  A couple is turned away from a restaurant because people of color simply didn’t sit at the counter.  Strickland talks down to Zelda and Elisa with open hostility.  He’s also not afraid to torture Amphibian Man (and others) to get what he wants.  (For parents thinking of bringing their children to the movie, these aren’t the only issues.  There is sexuality and language.  I would say that 18+ should be safe.  13-17 is maybe a judgment call.  12 and other should probably wait.)

Monday, December 25, 2017

Bright (2017)

I’m old enough to remember a time before the Internet became popular.  People were making a big deal over a fourth broadcast network and cable, if you had it in your house, probably got 30 or 40 channels.  If you made a TV show and wanted to get it on a TV set, there was some degree of competition.  This isn’t to say that all shows were popular, but there was a good chance that your show might not make it.

Now, with 200+ cable channels, five broadcast networks, Hulu, Netflix and all other manner of options, it’s a little easier for TV shows and, by extension, movies to get made.  Netflix has had a few hits with Stranger Things and Okja.  There were bound to be a few bad movies.

Enter Bright.

Bright is set on Earth, but it’s an Earth where humans live alongside the fantasy races that everyone knows and loves.  Daryl Ward, is a human police officer working with an orc partner named Nick Jakoby.  The movie starts with Ward returning to work after recovering from a gunshot wound.  He blames Jakoby, who was busy getting a burrito.  Jakoby chased the suspect, but ultimately lost him.  Jakoby’s side of the story is suspect, but he’s still on the force.

The name of the movie comes from a group of people that can handle magic wands.  Those that aren’t Brights will die if they touch a wand.  The action begins when Ward and Jakoby find a wand and an elf to go with it.  When backup arrives, it becomes clear to Ward that the other officers don’t want Jakoby walking away from this.  Internal affairs is looking for an excuse to fire him, but a bullet would be quicker and easier.  It’s up to the two officers to find a way out of this.

My problem is that I wasn’t sure where the movie was going, and I mean this in a figurative and literal way.  Jakoby and Ward are being chased while carrying an item that acts as a beacon for its owner.  They can’t give it back and they just can’t leave it, so how are they going to get out of their predicament?

Then, there’s the underdeveloped story.  Science fiction and fantasy are often used as a way to deal with topics that you can’t deal with directly.  The movie tries to deal with racism by having orcs and elves.  This isn’t to say that there aren’t Hispanic gangs in this movie, too.  It’s just that they operate alongside an orc gang, as well.   Oh, and none of the police officers like Jakoby specifically because he’s orc.  Ward defends him, to an extent, but Ward doesn’t want him as a partner.

It kind of comes off as the pilot to a TV series.  I don’t know if Netflix is using this as a backdoor pilot for a series or if they’re looking to make other movies.  Either way, the movie could have used some more depth.  If a show is well-written, you can get the message without it being preachy.  You might not even realize what the message was until later.  If you look at Zootopia, it is somewhat obvious, but the movie tended to focus more on the story and developing the characters.

We learn very little about the various races.  We know that the races don’t get along.  Elves are seen as having money and power and a strong fashion sense.  Orcs are seen as being more athletic, although they tend to be football linebackers rather than basketball players.  (Only humans, orcs and elves are featured, although dwarves are namedropped.)  This isn’t a complex movie that hides is message under a parable.  This is a “Oh, this happened to a friend” stories.  Nobody’s kidding anyone.

This was the real travesty of the movie.  A little more time writing it and maybe filling in some details would have been nice.  I get that exposition might slow down the story, but lack of exposition weakens it.  I also don’t think that it helps the LAPD that all of the human officers are portrayed as racist to varying degrees.  (Early in the movie, Ward states that fairy lives don’t matter.)  All of the groups come off as being one-dimensional.  Some of the characters are more complex, but that’s not saying much.  Both Jakoby and Ward seem to respect each other a little more towards the end, but not by much.

I can’t say that I hate the movie, but I can’t say that I love it, either.  The makeup and effects were good at making the world seem real with maybe one or two exceptions.  However, I don’t think that the fantasy element really added much.  Sometimes, I’ll look at an element and wonder how necessary it was to the plot.  You could have removed the fantasy element without much effect on the overall plot.  I don’t even think there are many lines that would have to be rewritten, other than swapping out group names.

I may have to reserve final judgment.  I will be waiting to see if anything comes along in terms of a sequel.  If the sequel does well, Bright may have been worth it.  As it stands, I’m inclined to file it under miss rather than hit.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Strange Gift Ideas for 2017

I decided that it might be a good idea to come up with one of those lists of wacky gift ideas since it’s getting close to Christmas.  My primary criterion here is that it be something that I wouldn’t actually expect someone to buy.  I’m just putting it out there, in case you might actually have use for it.

The perfect example of this is dice by the pound.  Yes, this is actually available.  I’m not sure who would buy this.  Even when I played D&D briefly, I don’t recall anyone needing this many dice.  It does seem excessive.  They do get customer reviews, an a lot of them, so I guess people are buying them.

It looks like this kind of product available from multiple sellers, so you can shop around.  I’d take a good look at the fine print, though.  The example I’m showing here doesn’t seem to make any specific claims about distribution, but I have seen some that will guarantee a certain variety.  You may be guaranteed so many different colors.  Another promises multiples of  d4, d6, d8, d10, d12 and d20.  Be sure to read the fine print on these if you do decide to buy one.

What do you get for the guy who wants to be on every government watch list?  Uranium ore, of course.  This appears to be low-grade, meaning you don’t need a license.  One of the suggested uses is testing Geiger counters, sold separately.  Still, I don’t think this is something most people would want around their houses.  I don’t think I would.  At the very least, the customer reviews will be good for a laugh.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I totally lifted this one off another list.  I never said how I came across these ideas.  Also, this brand has several other species, such as cat and rat.  I’m not sure if they have a rhyming thing going on or not.  All I can say is that most of the people I know probably wouldn’t display this in their homes.  A few might, but not many.

You may have seen this one on Facebook.  It’s relatively popular, at least as far as this list goes.  I was actually intrigued by this gift until I realized that it’s a stuffed toy.  It’s basically former unicorn plush toys that were shredded and put in a can.  Of all the gifts here, I think this is the most likely to get an order.

In mo far-from-exhaustive search for strange ideas, I came across an LED bulb that can change colors simply by using an app.  This is probably the one idea here that I might actually by for myself.  I do have to admit that the novelty would probably wear of pretty quickly.

This looks like the kind of thing that’s scaleable.  The manufacturer makes other similar products, so you could decorate a room with these lights.  I’m not sure who the intended audience is.  Most people I’ve met usually go with white lights.  And by most, I mean all.

I’ve never really been in a situation where changing the color of the lighting was called for on a regular basis.  In fact, I’ve only had one situation where I even wanted that feature.  It might be fun as a joke, but it would wear off pretty quickly.

The last item I’m including here is glow-in-the-dark toilet paper.  I’m not sure how safe it is to actually use.  Admittedly, it is a novelty item.  In fact, one of the suggested uses is for a glow-in-the-dark mummy outfit.  This is one of those items that might have some use, except that most bathrooms I’ve been in have working lights.  Outside of a power outage, I’m not sure when I would really need this, except to give it out as a gag gift.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 12 (What You Need)

As The Rolling Stones said, you can’t always get what you want.  Sometimes, fate gives you want you need.  If you’re lucky enough to meet a street vendor named Mr. Pedott, he may have just the item you need to get you out of a tight spot.  For instance, he gives an ex-baseball player a bus ticket to Scranton, Pennsylvania.  Moments later, the baseball player gets a call to go to Scranton.  If only he had a way to get there…

It isn’t long before Fred Renard picks up on Pedott’s skill.  Whereas Pedott is happy to give people what they need, Renard has no problem taking what he wants.  This means using strong-arm to get items out of Pedott.  At first, it’s a pair of scissors that he can use to cut off a scarf.  The second item is a pen that can predict the winner of a horse race.  The third time is it for Renard, though, as Pedott gives him a pair of slippery shoes.

Not much is said about Pedott’s gift.  He claims that he can see a probable future and give assistance based on that.  It’s not specified exactly how Pedott gets his information or how much he’s given.  It’s also not clear where the items come from.  Is the case magical or is Pedott smart enough to have items that would be of great use to a great number of people?  The bus ticket seems rather specific, but a pair of scissors has a great many potential uses.  Also, why would a street vendor have a pair of shoes?

It’s an interesting episode in that the two men are opposites.  Renard is ambitious to the point of it being his undoing.  Pedott is a nice person who you would think might be taken advantage of.  Renard certainly thought so.  However, there’s nothing about Pedott’s ability that precludes him from using it for his own benefit.  It’s just that he’s usually happy to help other people.  Perhaps we could take a lesson from Mr. Pedott.

IMDb page

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 11 (And When the Sky Was Opened)

I remember seeing And When the Sky Was Opened as a kid.  There was something unsettling about the plot.  It was a solid, understandable story.  Three pilots return from a mission in space, except now there are two.  Then, there’s one.  Finally, the last one disappears from existence.  There was just something that never really sat well with me.  I couldn’t articulate it until now.

The story begins with Lieutenant Colonel Clegg Forbes visiting Major William Gart in the hospital.  Forbes is already most of the way to a nervous breakdown.  Forbes asks Gart if he remembers Colonel Ed Harrington.  You might ask who Harrington is.  Gart certainly does.  Harrington was the first person from the space flight to disappear.

Forbes is the only person that can remember him.  People that have known him for years suddenly have no memory of him.  Mr. and Mrs. Harrington claimed not to have a son moments before Ed disappeared.  Even the newspaper shows only Gart and Forbes having returned from space.  Forbes recalls his version of events since the crash to Gart.  It isn’t until Forbes runs from the room that Gart realizes it was all true.  Forbes disappears.  Shortly thereafter, so do Gart and the plane.  It’s as if none of them ever existed.

Here’s what I couldn’t ask as a kid:  Why?  It’s never explained why the three men had to be erased from history.  It’s implied that they may have come into contact with something, but they blacked out.  If they can’t remember, there’s no real threat.  If something did happen and covering it up is that important, why not just erase the ship?  It seems a bit harsh to erase three men from history, as well.

If they are being erased, that would imply a conscious effort.  There’s no real speculation as to who or what that might be.  We don’t see a ship in orbit.  There’s no post-credit scene of two aliens talking to each other.  The episode ends with an empty bedroom where a test pilot should have been.

The episode seems designed more to instill fear than to impart some great moral.  This might have made more sense if the episode had aired on or near Halloween, but it first aired on December 11, 1959.  Despite having first seen it decades ago, there’s no I-get-it moment.  I’ve seen movies and TV episodes where some new piece of information puts the plot into perspective.

The only thing I can think of here is that there’s some historical context that I’m missing.  Perhaps there’s something about the late 50s that I’m not understanding.  In 1959, we hadn’t been to the moon yet.  This could simply be a way of playing on the fear of eventually leaving Earth.

This episode isn’t going to make my top-ten list.  It is enjoyable.  I might consider it for the top 30 or so.  It just leaves too many unanswered questions.  It would be interesting to see what Rod Serling would have done with more time.  As it is, it’s a somewhat lacking episode.

IMDb page

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 10 (Judgment Night)

The Twilight Zone was known for eerie, ironic twists.  One had a world where the concept of beauty is different and what we consider normal is ugly.  Some would get their wish, only to find that they should have been more careful what they asked for.  The series, like many others, was a little uneven in the first season.  There were some hits, like Time Enough at Last.  However, Judgment Night may go down as one of the outliers.

This isn’t to say it’s bad.  It’s just that it doesn’t quite fit in with other episodes in my mind.  It starts with a man, one Carl Lanser, on the deck of a boat.  It’s crossing the Atlantic ocean from Britain to America.  It had an escort, which it seems to have lost.  Thus, they have to be wary of German U-boats.  Lanser can’t remember details of his life beyond name and city of birth, but he assures his fellow passengers that a pack of U-boats wouldn’t waste their time with a single ship.  They’d likely be attacked by one submarine.

Lanser becomes more and more paranoid as the night goes on.  He becomes insistent that they will, in fact, be attacked at 1:15 a.m. by the Germans.  When the time comes, they are attacked.  Lanser looks at the U-boat to see himself.  The ship is sunk with all hands, including Lanser, killed.  On the U-Boat, Captain Lanser talks with a lieutenant.  The lieutenant is wrought with guilt, but the captain assures him that this is war and all is fair.  The episode ends with Lanser standing on the deck of the ship, as at the beginning of the episode.  His hell is to live the fate of his victims, presumably for eternity.

I’m not sure if Serling was trying to make a point with this.  An unrepentant Nazi captain does seem deserving of punishment, but what’s the point of punishing him if he can’t remember?  Each time he appears on the boat, Lanser seems to start anew.  It would seem much more hellish if Lanser had the repetition to look forward to.

There is a moral, of sorts, in that we all get our due in the end.  Hell doesn’t have to be fire and brimstone.  It can be having to live through the hell you inflicted on someone else.  This does present a problem in that you can’t really build any sort of real empathy for Lanser, as he’s essentially getting the punishment he deserves.  I’m not sure if I can feel sympathy for the crew and other passengers of the ship, as I’m not sure if they’re real or not.

This may be why I don’t recall seeing this one on a lot of marathons.  It’s a good episode, but doesn’t really fit well with other episodes.  Even other episodes in the first part of the first season are more in line with what I’d expect.  If you can get the entire series streaming, such as with Netflix, I’d recommend watching it.  I’m just not sure I’d put it on any best-of lists.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

There are certain aspects of a movie that may seem cliché, but often prove necessary.  For instance, you should probably have a protagonist and an antagonist, each clearly defined.  At least one of the characters should learn something.  There should also be three acts; basically, there should be a setup, a story, and a resolution.  Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri doesn’t seem to follow these rules.

We have a protagonist in Mildred, who rents the titular billboards near her home.  Mildred’s daughter, Anne, was raped and murdered and the case is still unsolved.  Mildred uses the billboards to call out the town’s police chief, Willoughby.  Willoughby visits Mildred and reminds her that the case is cold.  None of the DNA matched anything from any other case.  There were no witnesses.  Without a random confession, the case is stalled.

That’s not enough for Mildred, who wants justice, or at least answers.  She’s committed to keeping the billboards up for a full year, despite not knowing where she’s going to get the money.  (She has enough for the deposit, but it takes an anonymous donation to keep it going for the first month.)  As you might expect, the town turns against her.  She can’t even trust her dentist.

You might ask where this is going.  I’ve seen the entire movie and I’m still asking that question.  Without giving out details, the movie meanders.  There are all sorts of major twists and turns, each taking the movie in a new direction.  We quickly learn that there are no sympathetic characters.  Given enough time, almost everyone seems to prove unlikable.  (There are maybe two exceptions to this observation, and one had very little screen time.)

Part of this is that the characters don’t seem to learn anything.  Mildred has had seven months to process her daughter’s death.  Taking out the billboards seems like the kind of impulsive thing someone might do the first month.  We even have Officer Dixon, who gets fired and is still the same racist person back when he had a job.  There’s no enlightenment.  There’s no new information or big revelation.  The movie ends with nearly every character basically the same person they were when the movie started.

This is one of those movies that I had seen because I have Moviepass.  Had I not seen it, I don’t think I would have seen it.  I’m not even sure I could recommend going if someone else paid for it.  It’s going to take me a while to process it and it might make sense if someone explains it to me.  Absent that, it would take repeated viewings and that’s not going to happen.  It has a rating of 8.5 on IMDb right now, so someone liked the movie.  I’m just not sure I can understand the movie.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 9 (Perchance to Dream)

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 09, 2017

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 08, 2017

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 8 (Time Enough at Last)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMDb page

Thursday, December 07, 2017

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 7 (The Lonely)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 6 (Escape Clause)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Cube²: Hypercube (2002)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 04, 2017

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 5 (Walking Distance)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 03, 2017

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 4 (The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine)

Everyone has a period of their life that they’d like to go back to.  Maybe things were simpler when you were a small child.  Maybe you had a lot of fun in college.  It could even be that you were really good at something years ago and you long for the days when you got some respect.

Barbara Jean Trenton used to be a big movie star.  She was the leading lady and worked against several leading men.  All Barbara does now is sit in a dark room watching her old movies.  Danny Weiss worries about her.  He’s her agent and would like to see her get out more.  He even tries to set her up with a part, but she becomes offended when the part is age appropriate.  She pushes away anyone who tries to help her  Barbara is a woman obsessed with her own past.

The episode is relatable.  No one likes the idea of not being a young person any more.  There comes a point when we realize that we’re getting older.  And yes, I realize it’s not a pleasant thought.  We all want to live in denial of it.  Some people do get over it.  Not everyone does.

The episode is relatable in this sense.  Granted, not everyone is or was a movie star.  I think most people can look at Barbara and be glad that they can see the value in moving on.  It’s not normal to sit around in a dark room, even if they do want to live in the past.

Of the episodes that I remember, I think this was one of the weaker episodes.  It didn’t quite seem to pack the punch that I’ve seen in other episodes.  In some cases, the truth of the situation is revealed and it all makes sense.  In other cases, you have a twist ending that makes you think.  This just seems to be a regular short story, for the most part.

Barbara gets what she wants in an unusual way.  I don’t want to reveal the ending, as I don’t think it’s really necessary here.  The only reason I remember the ending is that I wondered about the implications of what happened to Barbara.  Although Danny and other of Barbara’s associates are shocked at the outcome, it seems that Danny is happy that Barbara finally got her wish.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 3 (Mr. Denton on Doomsday)

WARNING:  This review gives away the entire plot, including the ending.

Al Denton is not a sober man.  He used to be a pretty good gunslinger, but is now the town drunk.  He’ll let people bully and humiliate him if they at least buy him a drink afterwards.  What led to this kind of downfall?  Al killed a 16-year-old opponent.  He let his ability define him and it cost someone their life.  After a gun mysteriously appears beside Al, he accidentally makes two lucky, although not fatal, shots that earn him a measure of respect.  He gets a shave and starts refusing drinks.  It’s not long before a man named Pete Grant challenges Al.

This troubles Al, since he knows that most duels tend to end in death.  He doesn’t want a repeat of his last duel, but he can’t outright refuse.  Thus, he decides to skip town.  This is where Fate intervenes.  Specifically, Henry J. Fate.  Henry is a traveling salesman who happens to have just what Al needs.  This special potion would make Al the fastest draw for ten seconds.  Henry gives Al one to try now and another one for the duel, both at no cost.

When the time comes, Al notices that Pete has a similar vial.  Rather than lose the advantage, Al fires resulting in both Al and Pete shooting the other’s hand.  With both men unable to ever fire again, the duel is considered a draw.  Al tells Pete that this is actually a win for both, as they’ll never be able to kill in anger again.  Al learned this lesson late in life, but Pete is lucky to have the rest of his life ahead of him.

This was one of the Twilight Zone episodes where I felt that some of the historical context was lost on me.  I get that the moral of the story is that violence begets violence, but I felt like there was something about the story that I was missing.  This may have to do with the fact that westerns aren’t as popular as they once were, so the story seems strange me.

Then, there’s the title:  Mr. Denton on Doomsday.  Had I not seen the episode, I might have assumed it was a lecture.  However, part of the episode is about how he deals with his own personal doomsday.  It almost seems like an analogy to mutually assured destruction.  Neither man has an advantage, in that using the special potion leaves both sides unable to fight again.

It would be interesting to get some comments as to the history surrounding the episode.  If you have Netflix, it would make for an interesting watch, at least.  As you might imagine, it’s not an episode for small children.  There’s no blood, but there are a few gunfights shown.  I’d recommend some discretion for parents.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Wild Wild West (1999)

When I was in middle school, we got a new principal.  I think the first interaction I had with her was her coming up and hugging me.  It was is if she were treating us like third graders.  It didn’t make much sense until we found out that she had been teaching at an elementary school the year before.  It took her some time to overcome force of habit.

I thought of that when I saw Wild Wild West.  It’s as if the writers were used to writing movies for small children and this was their first attempt at writing for adults.  Many of the scenarios seem intended for more for adult audiences, but the overall sense of the movie seems to be geared towards a less-sophisticated audience.  (I wouldn’t say it’s geared towards teenagers, but it’s close.)

The movie starts out with James West and Artemus Gordon both looking for one General McGrath.  He’s wanted for murder.  Gordon is inside a brothel dressed as a woman.  West arrives later, having chased a carriage filled with nitroglycerin.  (West, of course, stops the nitroglycerin from going over a cliff at the last moment.)  Arresting McGrath doesn’t go so well.  He escapes and the nitroglycerin is pushed into the building, starting a fire with both West and Gordon still in the building.

The next scene has Gordon and West meeting with President Ulysses S. Grant, both apparently unscathed.  Apparently, McGrath is part of a larger plot.  All anyone knows at the moment is that several top scientists have been kidnapped.  They pursue a lead to New Orleans; Dr. Arliss Loveless is hosting a party there.  In the mansion where the party is being held, West and Gordon find Rita Escobar.  She claims her father is one of the kidnapped scientists.

It turns out that Loveless is the one behind everything.  His plan is to get President Grant to hand over all of America’s land.  He’ll give back certain territories various parties, such as giving back the former colonies to Britain.  He’ll keep the northwest area of the United States for himself to rule over.  The only catch is that Grant won’t surrender.  What follows is a sort of cat-and-mouse game, eventually resulting in Loveless‘s defeat.

I’m not sure exactly where the movie fails.  Will Smith and Kevin Kline play West and Gordon, respectively.  I can’t put it on the acting, though.  The same goes for the directing.  Barry Sonnenfeld also directed the Men in Black movies, which I liked.

I think it has more to do with the writing.   Salma Hayek is given very little to do Rita Escobar other than stand there and look pretty.  She’s not even a McGuffin.  Her character probably could have been written out with very minor changes to the plot.  There are also a few scenes where West and Loveless talk to each other.  Instead of anything useful, the two just insult each other.  West makes jokes about Loveless not having legs and Loveless makes crude remarks about West’s race.  It’s not entirely out of character, but it’s also not entirely necessary or funny.  (On that note, there’s also an Asian character, who’s last name is East, which sets up an obligatory East-meets-West joke.)

I don’t really feel guilty about giving away some of the jokes, as I’m going to have to recommend skipping this movie.  Rather than worry what would happen if you saw it anyway, I’d rather explain why it’s something you’d want to miss out on.  I kind of wish I had been given that warning, myself.  The movie is billed as a comedy, but wasn’t really funny about it.  It felt like a lot of the jokes tried too hard or missed the mark.  I kept watching the movie thinking Salma Hayek could have done better.  Then it occurred to me that this applied to everything about the movie.  There are so many better movies out there.  You shouldn’t have a problem finding one.