Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 13 (The Four of Us Are Dying)

Arch Hammer is a man of many faces.  I’m not even being figurative.  He can literally change his appearance if he concentrates hard enough.  Does he join the CIA?  Does he work as a private detective?  Nope.  Nothing so noble.  Instead, he seems to wander into town intent on sampling people’s lives.  Specifically, he samples the lives of the recently deceased.

For instance, he finds a gangster that was murdered and uses that information to extort some money from the dead man’s former coworkers.  He also impassionate a boxer named Andy Marshak, only to find out that Andy had walked away from his family.  As you might expect, the ability does raise a few eyebrows.  People seem to know, to varying degrees, that the dead person is dead.  Arch is usually able to walk away before anyone starts asking too many questions.

You might wonder why Arch doesn’t impersonate someone of note, like a celebrity or a politician.  It would be easy enough to rob a bank if you could impersonate an employee.  I suppose that would draw too much attention.  Arch seems intent to get enough money when necessary if it means that no one will be after him later on.  The one thing he doesn’t seem to count on is Andy Marshak’s father coming after him.

This episode seemed rather unusual, mostly because the lead character was played by several different actors.  I suppose this is to be expected in The Twilight Zone.  It was bound to happen.  The one thing I found most odd was the use of neon signs at the beginning and the end of the episode.  I’m not sure what effect they were going for with that.

I was also at a loss to find a clear message.  Maybe it’s that even if you lay low, your choices catch up with you.  Arch was bound to eventually find someone that would get him in trouble.  This was someone who could have found a better use for his ability.  Instead, he used it to go through life unnoticed.  Maybe thinking bigger would have been the right thing to do.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Post (2017)

The foundation of a democracy is a free press.  The government needs to be held accountable and the way to do this is to have an independent group reporting on not only current issues but on what the government is doing.  It’s understandable that a government would want to hold secrets, especially when it’s at war, but sometimes, those secrets need to be exposed.

Vietnam wasn’t some minor indiscretion.  American involvement was spread out over three presidential administrations.  There was all manner of documentation generated by the United States Government admitting that it may have made a mistake.

Enter Daniel Ellsberg, a former analyst who copies what would become known as The Pentagon Papers.  He passes them on to The New York Times.  When The Times is bared from publishing them, The Washington Post decides to pick up the torch.  When the lawyers are called in, they promptly express fear that the same thing might happen to The Post.  The decision is eventually made to run with the story.

The decision takes The Post to the Supreme Court right next to The Times.  Being that this is history, I don’t imagine that any of this is a surprise.  It should also come as no surprise that both newspapers are exonerated.  It was decided that both papers had done exactly what they were supposed to have done, which was to report the truth to the American people.

The decision ultimately rested on Kay Graham, who took over the paper when her husband died.  The movie has her in the middle of an IPO.  She’s worried about the exact asking price, as more money would mean a secure payroll for quality reporters.  The movie initially has her shown as somewhat weak, often unsure of herself.

I don’t imagine that this was an easy time for her. It’s bad enough having to plan for a major change to the paper, but to have to add an unexpected twist?  Publishing could mean arrests and, possibly, the end of The Washington Post.  She has to balance the business of the newspaper against the ethics of journalism.  The First Amendment is the first one for a reason.  That doesn’t matter, though, if there’s no one there to report the issues.

One thing I found a little odd was that the price of the stock was mentioned in dollars and cents.  Stock prices converted to decimal on April 9, 2001.  Before that, stock prices were listed in fractions of a dollar.  $42.50 would have been shown on a ticker as $42½.  It’s possible that people still said forty-two dollars and fifty cents, but it stuck out to me because I‘m old enough to remember it the old way.

The movie ends with the break-in at the Watergate Hotel, which ended Nixon’s presidency.  (At least he got to keep the dog.  Right?)   The release of the movie during the current presidential administration might be somewhat coincidental, but the message is still clear:  We need journalists to keep us informed.  The movie wasn’t preachy about it.  It wasn’t necessarily edge-of-your-seat material, either, but it was entertaining.  I would recommend seeing the movie.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Justice League (2017)

Having several superheroes in the same movie can be problematic for several reasons.  First off, you have to write a story for all of them rather than a story for each of them.  Try to showcase them individually, and the story suffers.  The second problem tends to show up in superhero movies.  You might have a movie that might rely on several other movies for backstory.  One of the things keeping me from seeing some of the Marvel movies is that you have to have seen maybe 5 or  6 other movies, and not all of those movies are going to be available streaming.

Justice League calls upon at least three prior movies:  Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Wonder Woman.  I had seen Man of Steel and Wonder Woman, but not Batman v Superman.  I went into Justice League knowing this might be a problem, and it was, but not as much as I would have expected.

The movie starts with a threat by the name of Steppenwolf.  He had attacked Earth thousands of years ago, but was defeated through the efforts of several groups, including The Green Lantern Corps and the Atlanteans.  His power source is split up and hidden, but he’s back now and it will take another combined effort to defeat him.

Diana (Wonder Woman) and Bruce Wayne (Batman) team up to recruit other superheroes.  Wayne is able to make contact with Arthur Curry (Aquaman) and Barry Allen (The Flash).  Meanwhile, Diana tries to make contact with Victor Stone (Cyborg).  The Flash is eager to join the team whereas Aquaman and Cyborg need some convincing.  Those that have seen the movie poster may wonder what Superman’s logo is doing there.  Yes, he does play a part in the Justice League.  (And yes, this is where my confusion came from.)

Part of the problem with a movie like this is finding balance.  We’ve already seen the origin story for several of the superheroes with several more standalone movies coming over the next several years.  While I knew I missed out on some of that, it also sort of feels like I missed out on the origin stories for The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg.  (Speaking of which, I didn’t get the impression that this movie shared continuity with the Flash TV series.)

It also seemed to have a good balance of action to story.  It’s tempting to focus on uniting the main characters and save the action for the last 20-30 minutes.  Here, we get a few scenes of Steppenwolf trying to get what he wants scattered throughout the movie.

The plot was fairly even and entertaining.  The only thing I took issue with was a key item being left unattended when several of the heroes were nearby.  Yes, they knew the importance.  You’d think someone would have kept an eye on it.  Those not familiar with the comics may be lost, especially if you haven’t seen the previous movies.  There are a few throwaway jokes that play to familiarity with the characters, such as Barry Allen needing to eat a lot.

Being a superhero movie, you know there’s a good chance the bad guy will be sent packing.  The movie even ends with the heroes talking of setting up a building with a desk to accommodate several more heroes.  And yes, you do get a post-credits scene hinting at a possible future storyline.  Although IMDb doesn’t have a year next to the second part’s listing,  I’d say that there’s a pretty good chance we’ll be seeing a coming attraction for DCEU movie in the near future.