Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 35 (The Mighty Casey)

Being the last in the league can make you do desperate things.  You want to do well, but there comes a point where it would take a miracle to make any sort of progress.  "Mouth" McGarry is the manager of  the Hoboken Zephyrs, a baseball team in dead last.  If they’ve played five games, they’ve lost six of them.  That’s how bad they’re doing.  They could really use that miracle.

The good news is that it comes in the form of a great pitcher named Casey.  He can throw a really fast fastball or a really screwy curveball.  The one thing every pitch has in common is that no one can hit them.  The catch is that Casey is actually a robot.  (I think he’d technically be called an android.)  Since the team needs Casey, no one needs to know what he is.

He’s signed immediately and the team does well.  All good things must come to an end, as they say.  When Casey is hit during a game, the physician discovers that he has no heartbeat.  It comes out that Casey isn’t human and is banned from playing.

A deal is made with the commissioner that Casey will only be suspended until he can be given a heart.  This proves fatal to Casey’s baseball career, as he can’t bring himself to strike out the opposing players.  He doesn’t want to ruin their careers.  Casey leaves the team to pursue social work.

Casey is, without a doubt, mighty.  The episode?  Not so much.  I’m not saying it was bad.  It’s just one of the few Twilight Zone episodes that seemed out of place.  The twist was ironic, but not as much as other episodes.  You can sort of see it coming and it just didn’t have the same impact that I would have expected.

It could be that times have changed.  I’ve grown up in a time where human-looking androids were commonplace in fiction.  They’re almost a reality.  (We may actually get an actual Casey within my lifetime.)  The episode first aired almost 60 years ago.  I would imagine that the audience was different.

To me, it seems like a script they bought just in case they needed one more episode to round out the season.  (There was one more after this.)  It was a little weak.  For instance, Casey feels that he’d ruin the careers of the opposing players.  No attempt is made to dissuade him of this notion.  Losing to one pitcher, especially one as good as Casey, probably wouldn’t cause a player to get dropped from a team.  There are plenty of other games for the opposing teams to do well in.

If you’re binging the series, it’s not a horrible episode.  It’s worth at least one viewing.  However, I wouldn’t expect a lot from it.  The Twilight Zone is like any other series; sometimes an episode is a home run and sometimes it‘s not.   I just have to wonder: Why is Casey left-handed?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 34 (The After Hours)

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

During the first season, The Twilight Zone had some very good episodes.  Some made you think.  Others had that plot twist the series became associated with.  This wasn’t one of those episodes for me.  The plot is strange, but it seems somewhat uncharacteristic of the series.

The episodes would seem to be about Marsha White.  She’s in a department store looking for a gold thimble for her mother.  She’s directed by the elevator operator to the store’s ninth floor.   The problem is that the elevator would seem to only go to the eighth floor.

Marsha is let out on a deserted floor.  There are empty display cases and unused mannequins, but there don’t seem to be any employees or product at first.  She is eventually greeted by a rather hostile female employee who sells her a gold thimble for $25.

It isn’t until Marsha is back on the elevator that she notices damage to the thimble.  The elevator operator directs her to customer service.  Customer service is insistent that there is no ninth floor and that thimbles are sold on the third floor, but Marsha has a very clear memory of what happened.

She’s allowed to lie down for a whole, but is eventually locked in the store.  She can’t get out of the building, but manages to find her way back to the ninth floor.  She’s understandably agitated and afraid.  It doesn’t help when the mannequins start talking to her.  It turns out that she’s a mannequin.

Each mannequin is allowed a month on the outside and Marsha’s month was up yesterday.  She comes to accept this and returns to her normal ‘job’.  The next mannequin to go out is the ‘sales lady’ that sold her the gold thimble.  The episode ends with the customer service manager seeing Marsha as a mannequin, wondering what the heck just happened.

The episode seems to work more with suspense.  We see two store employees (the sales lady and the elevator operator) who seem rather hostile.  Both help her, but both seem short with her.  Even if you’ve never seen a Twilight Zone episode before, you get the sense that something is up.  It’s just a question of what.

The thing that becomes distracting is some of the questions I ended up having.  If she’s a mannequin, does she really have a mother?  Where does she live during the month?  Do the mannequins have an apartment or house that they use?  If so, how do they pay for it?  Do they have to get a job?  Do they eat like a normal person?  How is it that the store never notices the rotation of a missing mannequin?  These are all questions I had while viewing the episode recently.

I’m not saying that it’s a bad episode.  It’s just kind of weak.  The story doesn’t seem to have a clear moral, except maybe that you can’t run from your responsibilities forever.  I’ve seen it in Twilight Zone marathons.  The funny thing is that if I had to choose episodes for a marathon, I’d probably leave this one out. 

Monday, April 09, 2018

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 33 (Mr. Bevis)

I don’t imagine many people like wearing a suit and tie.  People might get used to it.  People often see the value in it, but I don’t think anyone has ambitions of fitting in.  James B.W. Bevis certainly never did.  He’s goofy and absentminded, to say the least.  He doesn’t have the latest car, but he likes what he likes, whether or not anyone agrees.

The neighborhood children seem to like him.  Bosses?  Not so much.  He’s had several jobs in the past several months.  In fact, the episode begins with him getting terminated, his car getting in an accident and his landlady evicting him.  Although you might feel empathy for Mr. Bevis, you can see where he could do better.

Today’s his lucky day, though.  J. Hardy Hempstead appears and offers to help Bevis.  Who is J. Hardy Hempstead?  Hempstead is Bevis’s guardian angel.  Hempstead offers to let Bevis relive the day, on the condition that he give up anything that makes him unique.  No more zither music.  No more figurines on his desk.  He won’t be popular with the children anymore, but he won’t be fired, either.

Bevis decides to give it a try.  He now has a new car that actually works.  When he gets to his job, he finds his desk is clear and the boss gives him a $10/week raise.  His landlady even loves him, as he’s paid his rent in advance.  Bevis tells Hempstead to put it all back the way it was.  Bevis realizes what he’s known all along:  It’s not worth an extra $10 every week if he can’t be who he is.  He’s been homeless before and he’ll survive it again.

The episode has been called the opposite of It’s a Wonderful Life and with good reason.   Bevis isn’t particularly despondent, but he gets help anyway.  After the help is given, he refuses it.  According to IMDb, this was supposed to serve as a backdoor pilot.  Since Burgess Meredith declined the title role, Rod Serling dropped the idea.

I thought the episode was a bit extreme.  I’m not sure why the Bevis was written with so many eccentricities.  There were some things that could be toned down, like listening to zither music.  I don’t think they had portable CD players back then, but they did have headphones.  Stereo headphones had been invented two years prior, so I would think that some compromise could be found if Bevis was a halfway decent employee.

The episode seems to be more about accepting who you are regardless of the consequences.  However, I don’t think most oddballs are as odd as Bevis.  I’m not sure how much of it is exaggeration.  (Why is it that people like Bevis go through so many jobs?)  I suppose some of this would have been explored if the episode had been made into its own series.

I had never seen this episode before, which surprises me a little.  It was a good episode, even if it was somewhat thin.  The problem with the half-hour format is that the episodes don’t go into much detail.  Still, if you can still get it streaming on Netflix, I’d recommend watching it.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 14 (Bedazzled)

Friday the 13th: The Series followed a certain format, at least so far in the series.  Micki, Ryan and Jack would be sitting around Curious Goods when they would randomly come across a cursed antique that Lewis Vendredi had sold to an unsuspecting customer.  They’d then spend the rest of the episode trying to get it back.

In Bedazzled, the episode starts with Jack and Ryan retrieving the cursed lantern and bringing it back to the vault for safekeeping.  The problem is that Jonah isn’t done using it.  He manages to get the license plate of the car that Jack and Ryan drive off in, allowing him to track them down.

Cut to Jack and Ryan going to an astrologers’ convention, leaving Micki all alone in the shop.  This wouldn’t be so bad, except that its raining.  She gets a call from a friend asking her to baby-sit the friend’s kid, which is good.  At least Micki will have some company.  However, Richie is old enough to not want to be there.  Plus, he’s going to be someone for Micki to worry about when Jonah finally shows up.

Micki manages to deal with Jonah effectively enough to keep the lantern in the vault.  Richie makes it safely to the end of the episode, too.  He even seems to have a little respect for Micki, who didn’t seem to see fit to tell Ryan or Jack what happened.

It’s actually pretty surprising that none of the main characters saw this coming.  Yes, it’s a little sudden.  (How did Jonah get the information for Curious Goods that quickly?  It was nighttime, so I doubt the DMV was open that late.)  Still, no one mentions anything about preparing for Jonah’s eventual arrival.  Many of the antiques’ previous owners wind up dead before the antique makes it back to the vault, so I guess no one really expected it.

I also found it a bit odd that Micki made no attempt to restrain Jonah.  She’s able to incapacitate him several times, but never thinks to get some rope?  During the episode, a police officer enters the store and is shot, meaning that she should have access to handcuffs.  I get that it’s a stressful situation, but still…

At the very least, it’s a twist on the usual format.  It’s definitely nice to see the show mix it up a little.  This was the last episode on the third disc of the first-season set.  I got the fourth disc when I returned the third, so I’ll be seeing if they keep up the trend.

IMDb page

Saturday, April 07, 2018

901: After 45 Years of Working (1990)

After seeing Powers of Ten, I had wanted to see more movies by Charles and Ray Eames.  The good news is that many of their short films are available.  The bad news is that only a few are available streaming.  Powers of Ten can be seen on YouTube, either directly or through the Eames Official Site.  Another is this video, 901: After 45 Years of Working.  (Both movies make up the first disc of The Films of Charles & Ray Eames.)

The movie documents the closing of the Eames workshop after the death of Ray Eames.  It’s narrated by Eames Demetrios, the grandson of Charles Eames and features several people that were working at the workshop at the time of its closing.

The film documents the way the office looked as everything was being moved out.  There were a lot of slides that were being donated to the Library of Congress, which Ray Eames had been helping to catalogue.  There was also a lot of art and furniture.  Much of it was to be distributed, but I don’t recall if it was mentioned exactly where all of it was going.

The film is meant for people who have an interest in the Eames.  It doesn’t appear to have a rating, but I would say that it’s safe for all audiences.  There’s no cursing or violence.  I don’t recall any nudity, but if there was, it would have been as artwork hanging in the background.  It’s not a particularly exciting movie, but it is at least informative.  It’s exactly the kind of movie you could show in an art class one day if need be.

If you don’t have an interest in the Eames or in furniture, I’m not sure if you’ll make it through the entire video.  However, it is available streaming, so it’s worth at least a few minutes of your time.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 13 (The Baron's Bride)

Frank Edwards is looking for a room to rent.  He approaches a house, newspaper in hand, apparently responding to an ad.  We get a good view of the for-rent sign as he walks in and knocks on the door.  He’s greeted by Mrs. Marie Simmons.  She has a room to let since her Mr. Simmons passed away.  She leaves him to examine the room, where he finds a cloak and brooch.  When he tries it on, he finds that he’s irresistible to Marie.  Of course, that was her plan all along.

Jack, Ryan and Micki show up just in time to see Marie biting Frank.  Yes, she’s a vampire and she just turned Frank into one.  Ryan manages to run out and get the for-sale sign, which is conveniently mounted on a handy wooden stake.  Unfortunately, Frank activates the brooch while holding Micki.  Ryan grabs them just in time to be transported back to London, 1875.

Frank escapes, leaving Ryan and Micki to meet two passersby, husband Abraham and his wife Caitlin.  Upon hearing that Ryan and Micki have no money and nowhere to stay, Abraham and Caitlin offer to put them up.  Oh, and you can just call him Bram.

Well, there’s a vampire on the loose in London and Ryan has to use all the conventional means to stop him.  By conventional, of course, I mean a wooden stake, lots of garlic and whatever sunlight happens to be available.  Micki, on the other hand, is pretty much useless.  She’s been entranced by Frank and spends most of the episode pining over him.

It seems that we actually have two cursed items this week.  The brooch is used for time travel, but the cloak can make a man irresistible to women.  (It’s not stated what effect it has if a woman wears it.)  It’s not clear if the brooch does all the work, though.  It’s been stated that cursed items can’t be destroyed, but Frank meets his end when he gets stabbed in the back, quite literally.  The angle isn’t that clear, so I’m not sure if the cloak was pierced or if it had slipped to the side or something.  No one mentions it being damaged.

Many aspects of the episode are either meet or fall below a low standard.  1988 wasn’t necessarily a great year for special effects when compared to modern-day stuff, but the end scene was obviously some sort of split screen.  Also, the accents were exactly what you’d expect.  We have several British and Irish accents delivered by actors who were apparently aiming for what an audience might expect.

The one thing that strikes me is that neither Ryan nor Micki asks that much about Bram, like his last name or anything.  “Hmm…  Your name is Bram, you happen to be a writer and you just found out that vampires exist.  Would your last name happen to be Stoker?”  This isn’t pointed out until the end of the episode, when Jack pulls out a copy of Dracula and opens it to the dedication, which happens to be to Caitlin.

There are two problems with this.  First, Bram Stoker was married to Florence.  There doesn’t seem to be any reference to him being married to a Caitlin.  The second problem is that the dedication actually reads:  TO MY DEAR FRIEND HOMMY-BEG.  The text of the book is available on Project Gutenberg, as the book has since fallen into the public domain.  You can check it out for yourself.  I’m assuming this was done for the story’s sake.  I don’t know that most people would bother looking this sort of stuff up.

I think this may be the first wasted opportunity of the series.  It’s usually been the case that cursed items have a downside, but this one doesn’t.  I would imagine that the cloak wouldn’t be used due to it interfering with consent and all, but the brooch doesn’t require much to activate it.  Most items need someone to be killed to operate properly.  Not this one.  A drop of blood each from  two different people activates the time travel.  You don’t even have to be a vampire to use it.

You may be asking about interfering with time travel.  Apparently, that’s never brought up.  There’s no case of Frank attacking an important person.  No one worries that he’s changed history by killing anyone at all.  There’s no mention of any sort of consequences at all.

Overall, it’s one of the more average offerings.  I’m wondering if this was made to pad the episode count.  It’s almost like they were just barely trying to get the episode made.  It’s enjoyable if you don’t think about it too much, but I don’t think it’s going to make my list for memorable episodes.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Love, Simon (2018)

It always bothers me when a movie is based on a bad decision.  Someone has to decide between a wise chouce, resulting in no movie, or an unwise choice, resulting in a movie.  This isn’t exactly the case with Love, Simon.  You can understand why Simon chooses what he does.

Simon is a teenager in high school.  By all accounts, he’s a normal teenager.  He does all the things most of us did at that age.  The crucial difference is that he’s gay.  The story starts when Simon starts an email conversation with an anonymous poster on a message board.  The other person, who goes by Blue, is presumably another student at Simon’s school.  However, there are no clues as to who Blue might be.  He might not even be a current student.

The turning point is when Martin discovers Simon’s conversation with Blue.  Martin is that annoying/creepy kid who tries to hard to be liked.  He wants to date Abby and Abby is Simon’s friend, so Martin uses the information to blackmail Simon.  This is where the decision has the potential to make for a much shorter film.

Simon could very easily admit to being gay.  His friends and family would be supportive.  Simon isn’t necessarily opposed to the idea, but he doesn’t like the fact that straight people don’t need to come out.  If Simon does this, it will remove any power that Martin holds over him.  The drawback is that there is real harassment at his school.  Ethan is a student at Simon’s school.  He came out and faces harassment, so it’s understandable that Simon would give in to Martin’s demands.

If you’ve seen similar movies, you know that things will only get more complicated for Simon.  You may also know that there will come a point where Simon’s secret will come out.  The question is how it will work out for everyone.  Fortunately, the movie doesn’t make this part of the story overly awkward.  Martin is aggressive in getting what he wants, especially once Simon gives in.  This leads to maybe two cringe-worthy moments.

Love, Simon is similar to many other movies aimed at young adults.  It’s almost like watching Hallmark movies in that they only differ in the details.  It is a well-written story.  You have a clear antagonist and protagonist.  The tension wasn’t over the top, like I would have expected with blackmail.  My only real issue is with Gmail.  Yes, they do really leave you logged in when you close the browser.  You have to manually log out, even if you’re in a public place.  (I imagine that a lot of people find this out the hard way, as Simon did.)  It was a fun movie to watch, but I don’t know if I’ll be going back to another young-adult movie any time soon.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 12 (Faith Healer)

One of the complaints I’ve had so far about Friday the 13th: The Series is how characters will accidentally figure out how a cursed item works.  Sometimes, this is explained by having the cursed item call to or possess someone.  This doesn’t appear to be the case with Faith Healer.

The episode starts with Stewart Fishoff, the aforementioned charlatan, plying his trade on a man who appears to be blind.  You may be saying that I should give Stewart the benefit of a doubt.  Well, cue Jerry Scott.  Jerry has gotten good at debunking such things.  Jerry approaches the blind man to reveal that his cataracts are nothing more than contact lenses.  Stewart leaves the building in a hurry, as the crowd quickly turns on him.

Stewart eventually finds himself down a back alley in a pile of trash.  From that pile of trash, he picks up a pristine glove.  He tries it on.  Just then, he finds himself cornered by one of his would-be victims.  She’s covered in some sort of growth, which she came to Stewart to get rid of.  He instinctively puts his hand on her head, revealing how the glove works.  She’s now cured.

The problem is that Stewart now has the affliction.  Or rather, the glove does.  Stewart runs away only to be stopped by a police officer.  Again, Stewart reaches out and touches the other person.  This time, the police officer becomes covered in the woman’s growth, only to die from it.  So, yeah.  The glove transfers a medical problem from one person to another, thereby killing the second person.

This gives Stewart the chance to go legit.  Does he?  Well, basically.  He continues to be the scumbag that he is.  The only difference is that he doesn’t need an accomplice.  He actually can do what he claims.  It just so happens that the folks at Curious goods happen to be watching the TV when Stewart comes on.

Being that Jack is the one to have procured most of the cursed antiques, he recognizes the glove.  Jack tries to get the glove from Stewart directly, but finds himself thrown out by Stewart’s security.  Fortunately, Jack has a friend.  That friend happens to be Jerry, who only needs moderate convincing to help retrieve the glove.

It turns out that Jerry has ulterior motives for doing so; he’s dying and figures it couldn’t hurt to try.  We get to see a very gross growth on his chest, which I think we’re to assume is cancer.  This may also explain why he debunks.  Jerry tells Jack that in all the years of debunking, he’s never found anyone who shows a glimmer of promise.  If Jerry’s not healed, at least he’ll be able to stick it to Stewart one last time.

Just as one running theme on the series is accidental discovery of a cursed item, there’s another, more prominent theme.  Those that live by a cursed item often die by the same cursed item.  Stewart dies when he can’t transfer gunshot wounds to another person.  Jerry then comes into possession of the glove and subsequently dies when he can’t pass his own affliction on to someone else.

One of the things that I’m noticing about Friday the 13th is that a lot of the episodes are focusing on the horror aspect rather than any sort of moral issue.  Here, we have the guest antagonist as a scammer.  Stewart just wants the money.  Very little dialogue is spent explaining exactly what he does.  It’s really more a coincidence that a faith healer actually gets the powers he claims to have.  Could you imagine if it was just some random person?  It seems like it’s more to explain key plot points, like making it easier to have Stewart figure out how it works.

Speaking of which, David Cronenberg directed this episode.  Yes, that David Cronenberg.  The same guy who directed The Dead Zone.  It seems a little odd.  By the time this episode was produced, Cronenberg had already directed a few big movies.  I’m not sure if he just wanted to direct a TV episode or if he liked the series.

There is one unanswered question that I’d like some information on:  Why only one glove?  Don’t gloves come in pairs?  It’s stated that the glove was created to heal people, but there’s no mention of whether or not it was created as a pair.  I would think that if there was a second one out there, someone would have said something.  Still, who makes just one glove?

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

The Death of Stalin (2017)

When I first saw the coming attractions for The Death of Stalin, it appeared to be a comedy.  IMDb even has it listed as such.  I realize that satire doesn’t necessarily have to use humor.  I was just under the impression that this movie was going to use more than a little.

For those that haven’t seen the coming attractions, the movie takes place during the days surrounding the titular event.  A woman who despises Stalin finds out that a recording is to be made of her performance and delivered to the leader of the Soviet Union.  She includes a note that, when Stalin reads it, causes his him to collapse. 

Stalin is discovered the next morning, barely alive.  The Central Committee is assembled to decide what to do.  Deputy General Secretary Georgy Malenkov assumes control, even if temporarily, and starts making decisions.  When Stalin does die, chaos ensues.  Witnesses are shot, orders are countermanded and the committee members basically do what they can to undermine each other.

I think part of the problem for me is that I’m not that familiar with the characters, all of whom are real people.  They only two names I recognized were Nikita Khrushchev and Joseph Stalin.  I had to look up other people on Wikipedia.  (For those wondering, Vyacheslav Molotov is where the name for the Molotov cocktail comes from.)

I’m not really certain how much the audience was expected to know.  Judging by the audience’s reaction, I think any historical irony may have gone over our heads.  I’m not really certain who the target audience is.  I wouldn’t expect many Americans my age to view the movie any differently.

Much of it was overdone.  There are several scenes where a lot of people are shot.  Right after Stain dies, everyone in the building that witnessed anything was shot.  It’s a very bloody.  Do I think it was overdone?  Yes, I do.  Much of it was.  Whenever a character is informed of Stalin’s death, they cry profusely and loudly, just in case someone’s listening.

Another problem is that there’s no clear protagonist.  It doesn’t look like there’s a clear good guy.  I suppose there were no good guys to be had, but that still leaves us without someone to really root for.  It seemed like everyone was an antagonist.  About midway through the movie, I wondered exactly where the movie was even going.  How was it supposed to end?  Knowing more about history might have helped.

The movie comes across as some sort of in joke.  I may have gotten a few parts of it.  There were even a few scenes that seemed almost funny.  The problem is that death isn’t that funny.  The power struggle didn’t come off as that funny.  In the end, I just didn’t get it.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 11 (Scarecrow)

Sometimes, when reviewing a TV series, I have the choice of reviewing by the episode or reviewing by the season.  Some series, like 24, don’t lend themselves to an episode-by-episode breakdown, as the story is stretched over the entire season.  Other series have more of an episodic nature.  While Star Trek did have some continuity, each installment tended to deal with a particular issue.

Friday the 13th: The Series tends more towards the episodic format.  Cousins Ryan and Micki inherited an antiques store from their uncle.  With the help of Jack Marshak, they retrieve cursed items so that they can’t harm anyone else.  As you might infer from the episode’s title, this one is about a cursed scarecrow.

Several mailers were sent out by the antiques store asking about cursed items.  Someone in the country responded asking to take back the titular item.  So, Micki and Ryan head out to retrieve it, without help form Jack.  As in the previous episode, he’s out on important business. (It’s established that he’s retrieving another item this time.)

When they get to the house, they find a married couple, the Cobeans.  Tudy appears to want to tell them something, although Nick is quick to be rid of them.  Micki and Ryan eventually leave when the developmentally disabled son is set free from the closet.  It’s a shame, because Micki was about to try that may-I-use-the-ladies‘-room trick to look around.

Micki and Ryan know something’s up because the husband tells them that the scarecrow was destroyed in a fire.  (Cursed items can’t be destroyed.)  So, they do their best to snoop around anyway only to run in to Marge Longacre.  There’s no more snooping around, but Marge tells the cousins that she runs the local bed & breakfast.  At least they have a place to stay.

As luck would have it, Marge is also the one controlling the scarecrow.  The way the curse works is that the scarecrow has to kill three people, but the person selecting the people gets a bountiful harvest in return.  A boy’s father was the first victim, shown at the beginning of the episode.  Tudy becomes the second victim.  When Ryan and Micki get too close, Marge steals Micki’s driver’s license so that Micki can become the third victim.

Several things bothered me about this.  First, you know that she’s going to survive.  So, it’s just a matter of getting the picture off the scarecrow.  Second, the scene where Marge comes across Micki’s license is a bit contrived.  Micki conveniently leaves her purse out where anyone would have access to it.  When Micki returns, she checks her wallet only to notice her license is missing.  Third, the license is the most generic-looking license I’ve ever seen.  There’s no mention of an address or a state or anything else that would identify where the show takes place.  The entire thing is just a way for Marge to set the scarecrow after Micki.

The series so far has been fairly decent.  It seems to have found itself rather quickly.  This is the twelfth episode and it’s a pretty solid one, relatively speaking.  Sure, it’s cliché.  (It’s funny how law enforcement shows up just in time to save Micki.)  The episode is at least entertaining.

The scarecrow looked a little odd to me.  This, to me, is where commentary on each episode would be helpful.  It didn’t look like what I think a scarecrow looks like, but this may be because TV shows tend towards one type of scarecrow.  It’s also possible that the costume was designed to have an actor inside rather than be a puppet.  These are the kinds of things I’d like to know.  Did they at least try for a more traditional look?  Is this just the way Canadian scarecrows look?  I may never know.

Speaking of how things are in Canada, you can tell the series is filmed in Canada if you look closely enough.  For instance, this episode had bridge-clearance signs with the distance in meters rather than feet.  The series does a decent job of obscuring or hiding these details, but they are occasionally visible if you’re looking for them.

One of the good things about the series being episodic is that you can pretty much watch them out of order without much loss.  I don’t think that there’s anything a casual viewer would be confused by.  The only thing someone might ask is why two people are looking for the antiques in the first place.  As long as you’re familiar with the general premise of the show, you could skip around at will.  This is definitely one of the more interesting episodes so far.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 10 (Tales of the Undead)

Right now seems to be the golden age of movies and television inspired by comic books.  You have all sorts of DC and Marvel movies coming out.  Netflix has a few series available for streaming.  It used to be that the motion-picture offerings for fans of the medium weren’t that good.  Friday the 13th: The Series made such an attempt.

The series was about two cousins who inherited a store that sold cursed items.  One of those items turns out to be a cursed comic book, which their uncle had listed as a magazine.  Of the two cousins, Ryan is the one interesting in comics.  Micki?  Not so much.

Ryan is getting his weekly fix of comic books when he notices a first edition Tales of the Undead that happens to be signed.  The shop owner is planning on selling it at auction.  That is, until Cal steals it.  Cal, like Ryan, is a huge fan of comics and of Tales of the Undead in particular.  It was comics like that which inspired Ryan to draw.

What’s really interesting is how Cal manages to get away.  While holding the comic, he becomes angered and turns into Ferus the Invincible.  (This is portrayed using comic-like panels drawn to represent the transition.)  As Ferus, Cal is able to kill the shop owner and plow his way out of the store.

Ryan pays a visit to the guy who wrote the comic book, one Jay Star.  Jay is what you might call bitter regarding how the publisher came by the rights to Tales of the Undead.  Ryan hopes that Jay might know how to kill Ferus.  Since most heroes have a weakness, it couldn’t hurt to ask the guy who would have come up with the idea.

Jay isn’t too forthcoming with information, but he does track down Cal and subsequently kill him.  Jay then uses the magazine to get even with those who wronged him.  It’s up to Ryan and Micki to stop Ferus and get the magazine back.

This is the first time that Uncle Lewis’s business partner Jack Marshak doesn’t make an appearance.  He’s supposed to be off in a more-exotic location doing who knows what.  He’ll be absent from the next episode, too.  I was happy to see Ray Walston as Jay Star.   He plays Jay as a crotchety, bitter old man and quite well, I might add.  It’s almost the exact opposite of Boothby from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Ferus costume was a little weak.  I don’t know how much of it was costume design and how much of it was video transfer, but it came across as very dark and somewhat undefined.  It was supposed to be some sort of robot, but came across looking like a knight in armor.

One of the things I’ve always wondered is how much nostalgia affects how I remember video quality.  I seem to recall TV shows of the era being of decent quality, but that may be because that was what state of the art was back then.  Now, we have HD and low-definition video just doesn’t translate.  Many of the Friday the 13th episodes, this on included, seem to be of a lower quality.  I’m not really complaining, as I don’t really expect much.  It’s just that the costumes or other details can seem laughable at times.

The entire series seems a little less than serious at times.  It’s along the lines of The X-Files and Warehouse 13.  I’m not really sure how serious the show was supposed to be.  It’s always been a little on the cheesy side, but that may have been intentional.  (It may have also been limited by the standards used for broadcast TV.)

This was not one of the better episodes.  It’s not horrible, either.  This is one of the episodes you might watch if it came on cable one afternoon.  I wouldn’t pay to stream it or buy it.  However, if you can get it from the library, like I did, it might be entertaining to watch.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

El Ministerio del Tiempo (Season 2)

Time travel has always made for interesting stories.  You’ve had offerings like The Time Machine by H. G. Wells.  Back to the Future spawned two sequels.  Doctor Who is a cultural icon.  El Ministerio del Tiempo, or The Ministry of Time, deals with a Spanish agency that patrols history.  Not much has been said of the specific mechanics, except that time travel is achieved by walking through doors.  It’s not said how much control anyone has, but the doors are limited to Spain’s history.

The first season was only 8 episodes.  It did a very good job of setting up the mythology while giving fairly good stories.  Alonso de Entrerríos, Amelia Folch and Julián Martínez make up a team that would go back to make sure things happened like they were supposed to.  (Alonso and Amelia were both from the past with Julián being from the present.)

The second season picks up shortly after the first one ends.  As with the first season, great importance is placed on not changing history.  Several episodes deal with this directly.  In the first episode, the team has to investigate El Cid only because the DNA they have on file differs from the DNA found in his grave.  This is because a former agent killed the real El Cid and had to impersonate him so as not to erase an important figure.

The season ends with King Phillip II taking over the Ministry and declaring himself the King of Time.  This episode shows what would have happened had the Inquisition not ended.  Spain controls a good portion of the world, but the people are repressed.  It’s not a very promising alternate timeline.

Those that have seen the first season won’t find too many surprises.  The quality is similar.  The show still deals with important moments in Spanish history, like Spain having to leave The Philippines.  Not knowing much about history, some of the events were unfamiliar to me.  I knew that The Philippines were once Spanish territory, but I didn’t know the specifics about how Spain left.  There’s also another episode showing Napoleon visiting a monastery.  I’m not sure if this actually happened or was written to have a historical figure appear.

There are a few episodes that deal with crises.  One character brings the Spanish Flu to the Ministry headquarters, necessitating quarantine.  Another has the host of a paranormal-themed show gaining access to the doors of time and changing history.  (The idea is to make the Ministry office look like any other office, but that fails at the last moment.)

There is a minor cast change as Julián travels to Cuba at the end of the first episode.  During those episodes, Rodolfo Sancho was working on another project.  His character is replaced by Hugo Silva, who plays a police officer from the 1980s named Jesús Méndez Pontón. He goes by Pacino because of his supposed resemblance to Al Pacino.  (I don’t see the resemblance, either.  I think this may have been a running joke.)  Julián does come back later in the season, coinciding with Pacino’s departure.

As with the first season, episodes are about 75 minutes each.  (The second season has 13 episodes, up from season one’s 8 episodes.)  I’d recommend watching the first season before watching this one.  Many of the episodes could be watched out of order, but there are stories that continue from the first season.  Several photographs were found indicating that Julián and Amelia will marry.  While that’s not directly addressed, things do happen to further that storyline.

The show reminds me of another show called Voyagers!, which had two characters traveling through time to keep things right.  (It would be interesting to go back and watch Voyagers!, but I don’t see it on Netflix at the moment.)  I’m not certain of the status of the series after the third season.  IMDb has up to the third season.  (Wikipedia lists episodes for the first two.)  Netflix has the first three seasons, but acquired rights to show the series outside of Spain.  I may just have to watch the third season and hope I hear news by then.

IMDb page

Monday, March 26, 2018

Game Night (2018)

Some people long for adventure while others seem content to fall into a rut.  Max and Annie both have a love of games.  They met while competing.  Eventually, they married and now host game night for their friends.   Kevin and Michelle are also husband and wife.  Then, there’s Ryan, who’s a little on the slow side.  He seems to have a revolving door in terms of his dates.  For the duration of the movie, Ryan’s date is Sarah, a woman way better than he deserves.

The main story begins when Max’s brother, Books, comes back to town for a while .  Brooks has always been more successful than Max at pretty much everything.  Max tries not to let it show, but Brooks knows which buttons to push.  For instance, Brooks comes through the front door when Max and Annie had specifically asked everyone to come in more discretely.  The idea was to not attract the attention of their neighbor, Gary.  You see, Gary’s the annoying neighbor everyone else is trying to avoid.

One week, Brooks decides to put on a special game night.  He’s hired a company that specializes in faking a kidnapping and having the group of friends follow clues to find the faux victim.  If you’ve seen the coming attractions, you may remember that Brooks is actually kidnapped while the would-be players watch in amusement.  When the actual actors show up, the hunt is on to get Brooks back.

I once heard a good definition for what separates a comedy from a drama:  In a comedy, no one dies.  While this isn’t always true, it does serve as a good rule of thumb.  When Max gets shot, it doesn’t seem to slow him down much.  He and Amy stop to tend to it, but it would ultimately seem to be a minor inconvenience.  I would imagine that most people would have died in that situation, or at least have been lightheaded.

The movie is somewhere between The Game and Clue.  On the one hand, it has several layers of what might be real or fake.  The audience knows that Brooks is actually being kidnapped, but we don’t know why or by whom.  There are several reveals along the way, such as what Brooks did that might warrant such attention.  (Minor spoiler alert:  Not everyone is what they seem.)

This is one case where I’d say that the trailer was pretty accurate in terms of giving a good impression of what the movie is about.  It’s not a question of if something will go wrong.  It’s a question of when and how.  This can be difficult to pull off, but it works here.  The situations aren’t over the top.  Well, maybe the scene where they steal the Faberge egg was over the top.  But most of the scenes are more moderate.

IMDb page

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Death Wish (2018)

I’ve never been a huge fan of remakes.  Sometimes, if I’ve never seen the original, I can enjoy the remake to some extent.  However, I find that there’s usually little need to remake something that did well originally.  Bruce Willis stars in Death Wish, a remake of the 1974 movie starring Charles Bronson.  Although I haven’s seen the original, I still came away feeling like there was something lacking with the 2018 version.  (I currently don’t plan on seeing the original, as I’m not a fan of Charles Bronson, either.)

From what I can tell, the plot is fairly similar.  In this case, Bruce Willis plays Paul Kersey, a Chicago doctor who has to go to work one night.  He should be celebrating his birthday with his wife and daughter.  Due to the sudden change in plans, burglars break into the Kersey house expecting it to be empty.  The thieves end up killing Paul’s wife, Lucy, and putting their daughter, Jordan, into a coma.

It doesn’t take Paul long to look into buying a gun.  He decides not to do it legally, but manages to swipe a gun from a gang member-turned-patient after the gun falls on the ground.  (This is Chicago, after all.)  All he has to do is get some ammunition and he’s all set to go into vigilante mode.

His first time out, Paul manages to prevent a carjacking, but gets caught on video.  His face isn’t shown, which works in his favor.  He did sustain an injury, though.  Being emboldened by the experience leads Paul to try again and to ultimately go after the people that killed his wife.

The movie goes down pretty much as you’d expect.  The police don’t seem to be able to do much.  It’s not necessarily out of incompetence, though.  The detectives have dozens of similar cases, each requiring a good deal of attention.  Many cases that come across their desks don’t have much evidence to work with.

Buying a gun has all the normal hurdles, like waiting periods and paperwork.  It’s no surprise that Paul declines the legal route, yet jumps at a gun without his name attached to it.  (It also comes in handy later in the movie.)

I never got the impression that the movie was explicitly for or against gun violence.  You have radio and TV personalities giving commentary, but the violence seems more like a backdrop to one-liners and action sequences.  There doesn’t seem to be any attempt to have a pro- or anti-gun message.  This may actually benefit the story, though.  After watching the movie, I’m not sure that editorializing would have worked.  I can’t imagine Paul giving someone a lecture on the benefits or costs of owning a gun.

I’m not a big fan of violent movies.  Since I haven’t seen similar movies, it’s hard to judge if the movie is cliché or not.  It’s definitely not a parody.  The movie seems to take itself seriously.  However, it was lacking on any sort of a real plot.  I didn’t really feel like I was rooting for anyone.  I didn’t leave the movie thinking about any sort of message.

I wouldn’t go into the movie expecting anything grand or epic.  As I said, it’s mostly action with a few jokes here and there.  This is one of those movies that manages to stay very true to the coming attractions.  I don’t think anyone is going to be surprised as to whether or not they’ll like it.

IMDb page

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 32 (A Passage for Trumpet)

Joey Crown is not a happy man.  He plays the trumpet.  At least, he did, back before he decided to drown his sorrows in liquor.  The episode begins with him trying to get an old job back.  Before he can convince the other person, a bottle falls and shatters on the ground, just like his chances of getting the job.  All that’s left for Joey to do is sell his trumpet and step in front of a moving truck.

After being knocked out, Joey finds himself in the same area, only on one will acknowledge him.  After walking around and realizing that he might be dead, he meets a guy named Gabe.  Gabe can see Joey and explains what’s really going on.  He gives Joey the opportunity to make a choice and Joey decides to go on living.  He finds himself in front of the truck.  The driver gives Joey some money to keep quiet.  Lo and behold, it’s enough to buy the trumpet back.  We’re left with the impression that Joey will get his life back on track.

The episode doesn’t directly deal with Joey’s motives for stepping in front of a truck.  It’s not even clear that it was suicide.  (Why would Joey sell the trumpet if he was going to kill himself?)  Instead, it presents Joey as someone who maybe needs a push in the right direction.

He drinks, but it’s out of sadness.  Being sad isn’t necessarily the same thing as being depressed.  Joey strikes me as the kind of person that just needed that impetus to actually change.  Drinking is easy for him.  Seeing what it would mean to not be able to play again motivates him.

It’s an interesting episode.  Part of the problem with someone having to realize that they’re no longer living is that it does take a while.  The audience usually gets it pretty quickly.  Thus, it usually seems like the character in question may be a little slow.

Being that the first season of The Twilight Zone had 25-minute episodes, the episode didn‘t seem that prolonged.  It comes off as more of a morality play, showing us that there’s always a reason to get better, even if it’s not that obvious.  Something better might be right around the corner.

IMDb page

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 31 (The Chaser)

Roger has a thing for Leila.  Leila would rather forget that Roger exists.  What’s poor Roger to do?  After being rejected by Leila, a stranger offers Roger a business card so that Roger might leave a payphone for others to use.  Roger is assured that this Prof. A. Daemon has what Roger needs, whatever that might be.

When Roger visits Daemon, he has many books, among which are many potions.  Daemon suggests the glove cleaner, which Roger turns down.  Daemon also suggests getting a cocker spaniel, which Roger doesn’t want.  Roger wants something to make Leila love him.

Daemon has something for that, although he’s certain that Roger will be back.  It would seem that Roger’s story is familiar to Daemon.  Daemon seems tired of people like Roger.  After all, the love potion goes for $1, whereas the glove cleaner goes for much more.

The love potion works as promised.  Six months later, Roger and Leila are married, although Roger isn’t so happy.  It turns out that Leila’s love is total and unwavering.  Nothing that Roger could do would make Leila stop loving him.  He goes back to Professor Daemon, hoping for some way of toning it down a little.  Daemon informs Roger that it’s an all-or-nothing deal.  That’s what the glove cleaner is for.

What is the glove cleaner?  It’s something that will take care of someone without any evidence whatsoever.  It’s the perfect way to get someone off your hands.   Roger reluctantly takes it.  When he gets home, Leila has a little surprise for him.  Roger realizes that he can’t go through with it, after all.

The title of the episode has sort of a double meaning.  Not only is Roger chasing Leila in the beginning, but the glove cleaner is said to be a chaser for the love potion, as everyone eventually comes back for it.  Daemon has no shortage of people to buy the love potion.  He also seems to get as many customers for glove cleaner.

Love potions like this are nothing new.  My one concern with this episode is that Roger is so willing to undermine Leila’s ability to consent.  Not only did Roger use the potion, but it would seem a great many other men did, as well.   I know I’m looking at this episode nearly sixty years later.  (Yes, it’s that old.  The episode aired May 13, 1960.)  Times have changed.  I wonder how the episode went over when it first aired.  I don’t recall reading too much about this aspect of the plot.

The episode seems to focus more on the down side of not being able to moderate what you want.  It might have been nice if Roger could have dialed in Leila’s affection, but he’s all that she can think about.  One might even imagine that the love potion was made only to give people a reason to really want the glove cleaner.  This Daemon guy knows what he’s doing.  Maybe Roger should have gotten that cocker spaniel, after all.

Friday, March 16, 2018

A.I.C.O. Incarnation (Season 1)

While looking at a list of new offerings from Netflix, I found A.I.C.O. Incarnation.  I tend to put off watching series, as it’s difficult for me to binge.  I don’t like leaving too late for work and I can’t always watch a full hour before leaving the house.  When I saw that A.I.C.O. was only 25 minutes per episode, I decided to give it a shot.

The story is about a young girl, Aiko, who is bound to a wheelchair.  We see her going through rehab and eventually learn that she was in an accident.  The story is set in 2035, several years after a scientific project went awry and created The Matter.  People called divers go in, but don’t always come back out.  Aiko is mourning the loss of her parents and her brother, who we learn were killed because of The Matter.

Aiko’s class gets a new transfer student, Yuya Kanzaki, in her class one day.  It’s odd, as there are two days left in class.  It turns out that this transfer student is there for Aiko.  He manages to escape with her and take her into a border zone, where she meets people that try to fill her in on her past.

I don’t really want to go into too much detail, as the revelations are what the show seems to have going for it, mostly.  There are fight scenes and some politics, but it’s mostly about Aiko and what she might really be.  There was very little character development.  In some ways, it almost came across like a soap opera.  The characters seemed to exist just t move the drama along, with Aiko being the ultimate McGuffin.

Each episode might have a few minor details doled out or might have one big bombshell.  Not much time is spent on each detail.  I almost expected some dramatic music to play, as something was revealed and the story just moved on.  For instance, it’s revealed that Aiko’s mother and brother might still be alive.  This serves mostly as motivation for Aiko to continue, but she won’t know if it’s the truth until she gets there.

We don’t really learn a lot about what The Matter is, other than it’s a collection of cells that goes after people.  (We do learn the origin, but not much else.)  Yuya has hired two teams to escort him and Aiko to the lab where it all began.  Their objective is called Primary Point, where Yuya believes he can eliminate The Matter.

The government isn’t so keen on this.  Yes, it kills people and there’s a risk of it spreading, but they feel that it’s worth studying.  Yuya’s motives for wanting to rid the world of The Matter are somewhat downplayed.  He does seem determined to get to Primary Point.

I’m not sure why this was made into a full season.  12 episodes at 25 minutes each is about five hours of material.  It seemed like there was a lot of filler that could have been left out.  It seems like the story would have been better served with a two-hour movie.  (It’s always seemed a little odd when a group has to go through a dangerous passage when going around it seems much easier.)

Speaking of which,  calling it a season (as opposed to a miniseries) implies that there’s going to be a second season.  With other shows, like Stranger Things and Dark, there’s at least one loose thread that would make way for something next year.  This story seems to wrap up nicely.

I would hope that the second season is a little better than the first.  I get the impression, with names like The Matter, the project may have been rushed to development.  If that is true, it would explain certain aspects that were lacking.  It’s possible that this story sets up something else entirely or that the writers might not have had anything specific in mind yet.  I am curious as to what a second season would look like.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

El Ministerio del Tiempo (Season 1)

Way back in 2016, I was excited about a TV series called Timeless.  It was about three people who travel through time, chasing a rogue agent bent on changing history for the better.  I was saddened to find out that the series had been canceled after only one season.  A few days ago, I found ou that I could at least watch El Ministerio del Tiempo on Netflix.

El Ministerio del Tiempo, which translates as the Ministry of Time, is about three agents who travel to different years through doors.  Julián Martínez is a paramedic recruited from the present.   He is a widower who hasn’t gotten over the loss of his wife.  Amelia Folch is a woman from the 19th century.  She’s studying to be a doctor when it wasn’t common for women to do so.  Rounding out the main agents is Alonso de Entrerríos, who was recruited right before his execution.  He was a solder from Seville in the 16th century.

The idea is to keep history as close as possible to what is recorded in books.  Sometimes, this means making sure things go as planned.  In the second episode, a writer named Lope de Vega is found to have enlisted on a ship that is known to have sunk.  If he’s not put on another ship, he’ll die before he becomes famous.  In other cases, it’s a little less certain.  The three agents have to find a receipt that may not actually exist, leading to some thinking outside the box.

The TV show comes from Spain.  In fact, the show is limited largely to that country, as the Ministry’s jurisdiction is limited to Spain’s history.  As such, a few of the historical characters will be familiar.  One of the recurring characters is Diego Velázquez, who is employed by the Ministry to do facial composites.  Pablo Picasso is central to one episode while Salvador Dalí appears in another episode.

There were a few cases where I didn’t recognize a name I felt I was supposed to know.  One was Jordi Hurtado, who is apparently known in Spain.  He doesn’t appear to have done anything outside of Spain, so I don’t feel bad about not recognizing him.  Another episode centered around meeting someone named Lazarillo de Tormes.  I had never heard the name before and I’m not sure how famous the work is outside of Spain.  Apparently, he’s regarded as a fictional character.

Interestingly, there was an American character captured after being able to travel through time.  When asked how the American agency was able to manage time travel, he admits that America has tunnel for traveling through time, a reference to The Time Tunnel.

I found that the cultural barrier didn’t detract from enjoying the show.  I was able to follow the episodes without much difficulty.  I will say that the series does seem to follow the Novikov self-consistency principle.  Whereas Timeless doesn’t seem to have a problem with shifting history, it doesn’t appear that the main characters’ actions have much influence on the present.  No one disappears unexpectedly.  You don’t have authors writing three extra books by the end of the episode.

The series doesn’t really play this up, which is a good thing.  It can get somewhat tedious if not handled well.  I hate to watch a movie go through the motions.  Either it happened the way history recorded or we see how it would at least appear that way.  The series focuses more on the characters and what motivates them.

All three characters have a past of their own.  This comes up to varying degrees.  Julián is having trouble getting over the loss of his wife, for example.  He occasionally goes back to see her.  Also of note, as in timeless, is an implied future between Julián and Amelia.  Apparently, I’m going to have to wait for the second season to see what happens.

There are a few other similarities with Timeless.  Fans of similar shows will probably enjoy it.  Netflix does have English subtitles, which were somewhat difficult to read, mostly because I didn’t have enough time to read them.  If you can’t read quickly, you’re going to have problems following the show.  (In case you’re wondering why I didn’t use English audio, the only two options on Netflix are Spanish and Portuguese.)

I did get some more good news after finding out about this show.  It looks like Timeless was brought back for a second season.  It’s pretty rare to see that happen, but I’m not complaining.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 30 (A Stop at Willoughby)

WARNING:  I’m going to give away the ending of the episode.  I’ll understand if you want to watch the episode before reading this review.

There are some things that change with time.  Sometimes, it’s not the thing that changes, but your understanding of it may evolve.  When I first saw A Stop at Willoughby, I thought it was about a man who found a way out and took it, which it is.  I didn’t quite get the deeper meaning until later.

Gart Williams is an ad executive on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  Misrell, his boss, won’t let up because Gart’s protégé left the agency and took an important client with him.  When he gets home, his wife is no better.  Janie Williams won’t let up about how he has no ambition.  The guy can’t catch a break.

He falls asleep on the train ride home one night and dreams of a place called Willoughby.  From the window, it looks like a nice place.  Before he can get off, the train jerks forward and Gart finds himself in the real world once again.  He asks the conductor if there’s a stop called Willoughby, but the conductor hasn’t heard of one.

The second time Gart dreams of Willoughby, the same thing happens.  He wants to get off, but can’t make it in time.  He resolves to get off if he’s ever given a chance to.  Things are getting worse for him.  Misrell won’t let up, nor will his clients.  It’s implied that Gart is getting no sympathy from Janie.  That night, on the train home, Gart falls asleep.

He gets off and finds that all the people in Willoughby are pleasant and welcoming.  They all know his name and are happy to see him.  Back in the real world, it turns out that Gart jumped off the train, screaming something about Willoughby.  The kicker?  His body is taken away in a car with Willoughby & Son Funeral Home on the back doors.

With a previous episode, Time Enough At Last, I wondered how the main character could have put himself in his position.  I find myself asking a similar question here.  I could see Janie being more pleasant back before they married, but I wonder if Gart didn’t see her as ambitious when they first married.

His entire career seems to have been at her insistence.   Her eyes always seem focused on the next rung up the social ladder whereas Gart sees the value in maybe relaxing once in a while.  I always wonder if there was some point when Gart may have had doubts about marrying her.

One has to wonder if Gart realized that going to Willoughby meant his death in real life.  One can’t blame him.  He went from cold and unwelcoming to warm and inviting.  Who could resist that?  If you had a pushy boss and a controlling wife as one option and a nice, friendly group of people as the other option, which would you go for?

Previous episodes of The Twilight Zone have always shown getting what you want as being either impossible or very costly.  It almost never works out, at least not the way that the main character intended.  Then again, another interpretation could be that you can get what you want, but it may mean paying the ultimate price.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 9 (Root of All Evil)

One of the things about Friday the 13th: The Series is a lack of explanation as to how the cursed items work.  In the pilot, it’s said that Lewis Vendredi made a deal with the devil and that, as a way for fortune and immorality, he sold those cursed items to unsuspecting customers in his antiques shop. After his death, his niece and nephew were left to clean up the mess with the help of an old business partner of his.

This episode starts with a mother and son doing some yard work.  The son becomes possessed with rage and shoves his mother into a mulcher/wood chipper.  The next scene is in curious goods some time later.  Jack, the old business partner, finds a letter addressed to Lewis.  In it, he finds references to knowledge from below, indicating that the writer knew about the cursed items.  Also enclosed is a $100 bill.

This leads Jack, Micki and Ryan to track down the sender.  They find a vacant house, but they know that the item is the aforementioned mulcher, as the return address matched an entry in their ledger of items that Lewis sold.  They are able to track down the mulcher to the maintenance crew at n estate that’s about to become a park.

Smitty is the new owner of the mulcher.  He has no idea what it is.  However, Smitty has an employee named Adrian.  Adrian becomes possessed much like the son did in the opening scene.  When someone tries to hit Adrian up for some hush money, Adrian feeds the guy to the mulcher and receives a few bills, all dated 1937.

For those wondering, there is no Series 1937 American currency in any denomination.   There is Series 1937 Canadian money.  Given that the currency shown is American and the show is filmed in Canada, I think the person checking facts for the show might have gotten the countries mixed up.

At any rate, Adrian soon realizes that the richer the person is, the more money he gets.  Adrian is in luck, as the estate he works on has lots of rich people walking around.  He tries to mulch people as quickly as he can, resulting in a bag full of cash.

During all of this, Micki’s fiancé, Lloyd, pays a visit to the antique store.  At the beginning of the series, Lloyd and Micki were engaged to be married.  Inheriting the store put that marriage on hold.  It’s somewhat surprising that it took this long to deal with it, but it was bound to happen.  Micki tries showing Lloyd around, as he has a right to know what she’s doing.  He doesn’t buy any of it, even when he sees her help get the mulcher back.  In the end, she decides to stay with Jack and Ryan; Lloyd goes home without Micki.

Overall, the episode is still a little thin.  The episodes seem to be relatively self-contained so far, with this one being a notable exception.  If not for the engagement aspect, you could have watched a lot of the episodes out of order.  There’s very little continuity so far between each episode.  In fact, if this was the first episode you watched, it would probably be easy to figure out what’s going on.  (There wouldn’t be many revelations going back and watching the pilot episode.)

Also, it seems like much of the episode is spent trying to contain the artifact.  Jack, Ryan and Micki seem to find the mulcher rather quickly, meaning there has to be a good deal of chasing people around.  (I suspect that this is why this episode was chosen to deal with Micki’s engagement.  They held off until they needed the filler.)

This episode, like many of the others, probably could have been shortened to a half-hour format.  Either that, or find something else to fill the time.  Some of the items have a historical connection, but little is said about it.  Here, we just have a garden tool that seems to spit out money.  There’s no debate on what determines a person’s worth.  The resulting cash is simply a function of their net worth.

I’ve decided that I’m going to finish out this season.  I’m really hoping that the episodes get better.  This one at least shows some promise.  I hope that it’s not misplaced.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 29 (Nightmare as a Child)

Helen Foley doesn’t remember much about her childhood.  This is why it’s odd when she comes home one day to find a little girl sitting outside her door.  What’s so odd about that?  The girl, who identifies herself only as Markie, seems to know a lot about Helen’s youth.  Markie questions Helen about the scar she has on her arm and about the strange man she saw stopped at a red light.

Markie runs out the back door just before another visitor arrives.  Funny thing is that it’s the strange man, one Peter Selden.  Peter worked for Helen’s mother.  He saw Helen outside of the school where she works.  He decided to look her up and ask some questions about what she remembers from her childhood.  Helen doesn’t recall much during the conversation, but the memories do come back to her.  It also becomes evident just who Markie is.

This episode is unusual in that it’s probably the least supernatural of the series, at least so far.  The only exception to this would be the pilot episode.  Everything could be explained by normal psychological conditions.  Loss of memories pertaining to a traumatic event is understandable.  At least one element of the story could be attributed to hallucinations.  I’d say that this is the most forthright episode so far.

If this episode is serving as your introduction to the series, you’ll probably find other episodes to be more otherworldy.  The episode is probably not for children, which could be said of most Twilight Zone episodes.  Helen’s memory loss is due to the death of her mother, which is shown briefly.  I’d say for most adults, though, it’s a good introduction to The Twilight Zone.

IMDb page

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 28 (A Nice Place to Visit)

Henry Francis 'Rocky' Valentine is not a good person by any stretch of the imagination.  The episode begins with him running away from a robbery.  He’s caught and shot by the police.  That’s not the end of his story, though.  He’s greeted by Mr. Pip, who informs the former thief that he’s dead.  Pip is to be his guide to the afterlife.

Valentine doesn’t believe it.  He demands Pip’s wallet.  Pip informs Valentine that he hasn’t carried a wallet, but does offer up several thousand dollars in cash.  He then shows Valentine to his new living quarters, which are really nice.  Valentine asks for a beautiful woman.  He gets his wish.  Valentine is shown to a casino where he can’t lose.  Any number he bets on in roulette comes up.  The slot machines will always pay him the jackpot.  He’s confused, as he’d always assumed he wouldn’t end up in heaven.  Pip assures Valentine that there’s been no mistake.

When Valentine asks to see some of his old friends, Pip informs him that it’s not possible.  All of this is entirely for Valentine’s benefit.  In fact, Pip and Valentine are the only two real people there.  Everything else is for effect.  Pip does take Valentine to the Hall of Records, if only to reinforce what a rotten person Valentine was in life.

At any rate, Valentine spends the next month enjoying the afterlife.  When he talks to Pip about the constant winning, Pip offers to let him lose one in a while.  Valentine says that it’s not the same.  Knowing that the fix is in takes the thrill out of it.  Valentine would rather go to “the other place” than spend one more day getting everything he wants.  Pip points out that he never said that this was Heaven.  Valentine is in the other place.

For some reason, this episode seems to make it into the marathons.  I’ve always thought it was one of the weaker episodes.  You probably could cut a few of the scenes out and end up with a more effective episode.  It spends a lot of time showing Valentine getting everything he wants.  I felt the episode could have done without some of it.

It also spends a lot of time establishing that Valentine isn’t a nice person.   Again, much of it is unnecessary.  Valentine calls women broads, which is understandable.  It goes to establishing what kind of person he is.  When Pip takes Valentine to the Hall of Records, it comes off as being for show.  The set was certainly nice to look at, but all Pip does is read off a few of Valentine’s presumably many crimes.

Twilight Zone episodes have never been heavy in the detail.  They’re easy to follow, yet often pack a punch.  This one was kind of thin.   There was way too much setup for too little payoff.  It’s not a horrible episode.  It’s good for at least one viewing.  However, I’m not sure how many people will be watching it repeatedly.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 27 (The Big Tall Wish)

Bolie Jackson has a long career as a boxer.  He certainly has the scars to prove it.  His better days are behind him and he knows it, but he’s still willing to get into the ring with an opponent.  Henry Temple is a boy who lives in the same building as Bolie.  Henry would seem to be Bolie’s biggest fan.

While talking about the fight, Henry tells Bolie that he’ll be making a big tall wish that Bolie wins.  He even says that it won’t hurt at all.  Bolie would pass it off as a kid’s wishful thinking, except that Henry’s mother, Frances, had received a $15 check right after Henry made one of his big tall wishes.  The funny thing is, that was exactly the amount that she needed.

Before the fight, Bolie breaks four of his knuckles, putting him at a disadvantage.  He fights anyway, as that’s what he came to do, but finds himself laying on the mat.  He’s just about down for the count when time freezes.  After a few moments, it’s his opponent that’s on the wrong end of the ref’s count.  Bolie stands victorious, not sure how I happened.

Everyone tells Bolie what a great match it was.  They all say that he never went down.  When he asks Henry about it, Henry admits to having used his wish to make Bolie the winner.  Bolie denies this; he must have won all on his own.  They go back and forth, with Henry saying that Bolie has to believe and Bolie saying that magic isn’t real.

The camera fades back to the ring.  Bolie again finds himself looking at the ceiling of the boxing venue.  He’s been counted out.  When he goes home for a second time, Henry still seems to admire him, although he admits that maybe there’s no place for magic wishes.  Bolie admits that maybe more people should make room for such things.

The episode is a good one.  I’m surprised that I’ve never seen it before.  It actually works on many levels.  On one, you have a child who still believes in magic and an adult who’s been around long enough to know better.  Even when Bolie is given his second chance, he can’t really accept it, either physically or mentally.  Did he really win the match?  Even if he did take the win, what about the next match?  What about the one after that?  Even though it would crush Henry’s belief, he has to reject it.

Both characters are relatable.  Those that have been around long enough can relate to someone who’s better days are behind them.  At some point, we have to move on from the things we want.  I would think that many of us have had Henry’s optimism at some point.  Some of us still do, although we’ve probably found out that optimism will only get you so far.  There are certain things you can’t wish in to existence.

Having seen the previous episodes, it strikes me that The Twilight Zone waited this long to have a majority of African-American characters.  Granted, the episode first aired in April of 1960.  Such a thing would have been groundbreaking, even for one episode.  Still, for someone born more than a decade after the original run of the series, it’s glaring how many of the actors throughout the series were Caucasian.  (Some could argue that this is still a problem in television and movies.  I can’t say I would disagree with them.)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 26 (Execution)

There seem to be two motivations for using a time machine.  In Back to the Future, Doc Brown builds a time machine with the intent of furthering our knowledge of history and humanity.  He can see how we’ll progress.  Biff Tannen, on the other hand, has no problem using the modified DMC-12 for his own use.  He steals Marty’s idea and makes himself rich and powerful.

Execution starts with the execution of Joe Caswell way back in 1880.  Just before Caswell can be hanged, he’s pulled to 1960 by Professor Manion.  By all accounts, Professor Manion is more like Doc than Biff.  He built the time machine to study people.  Caswell is his first attempt.  The problem is that Manion has no idea what Caswell is like.  He could be a saint or the devil.  Given that he’s admitted his guilt and lack of remorse to his would-be executioners lets us know that Manion is more like Biff than Doc.

One thing I’ll say about The Twilight Zone is that it seemed to have mastered brevity early on.  It did this by finding good writers.  Either Rod Serling adapted a short story or he let another writer pen the episode directly.  David Orrick McDearmon seems to have made a decent career directing for television.  This would be the first of three Twilight Zone episodes he’d direct.  IMDb also lists credits for Bonanza, Gilligan's Island and Bewitched.

Like other Twilight Zone offerings, this one doesn’t deal much with the mechanics of time travel.  We see the time machine, but the professor doesn’t mention how it works.  He’s more interested in questioning Caswell.  It takes Manion a few minutes to realize that he may have made a mistake.

What strikes me as odd is that Manion was smart enough to build a working time machine, but didn’t see fit to hire security or build some sort holding cell.  It’s one of those minor details that are forgivable.  Without it, we wouldn’t have a story and it believable that someone focused on the science wouldn’t consider the risks until it was too late.  If someone did invent a time machine, I would think that they’d be more prudent about it, though.

My big concern is that Manion doesn’t seem to have any control over who he brings forward.  It was lucky that he found someone on the verge of being killed.  Even though there were three people who noticed that he vanished, Caswell would likely be little more than a footnote in some county courthouse.  There would be little risk of influencing history.

This was the beauty of The Twilight Zone.  Many of the important details were there, even if they were subtle.  I’d recommend watching this episode if you can get it streaming.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Black Panther (2018)

Context matters.

It‘s true for art as well as people.  How a movie is interpreted depends on where it came from and who made it.  Also, what I bring to a theater will differ from what someone else brings to the theater.  I doubt that any two people will see Black Panther the same way.  (For instance, those that have studied history will probably pick up on certain aspects of the movie.)

There’s also the fact that there’s a majority-black cast.  As someone of European descent, I’m viewing the movie more as a comic-based action movie, which it does well.  However, it also has a hero who’s African.  It didn’t come off as an African hero movie to me.  It came across as a movie that used Africa and its culture as an effective backdrop to a great story.

Black Panther starts in 1992 with the then-king of Wakanda, T'Chaka, calling out his brother, N'Jobu, on assisting an arms dealer named Ulysses Klaue.  Cut to a small boy on a basketball court watching the king‘s ship leave.  In the present day, T’Chaka has died.  T’Chaka’s son, T'Challa, ascends to the throne after a ritual battle.  Meanwhile, Erik Stevens is helping Klaue steal vibranium.

Wakanda is a technologically advanced nation that uses vibranium as the basis for much of its technology.  It presents itself as a developing nation, keeping the technology hidden from the rest of the world.  Klaue is one of a few outsiders that know of the truth.  It was N’Jobu’s plan to share the technology to help oppressed people everywhere.  Klaue and Stevens have picked up the torch.

Well, Stevens moreso than Klaue.  Klaue is an arms dealer who intends to sell the vibranium.  He’s a rather happy guy for an arms dealer.  He really seems to enjoy his job.  Stevens tends to identify with those that were oppressed.  Like N’Jobu, he’d like to see Wakandan technology given to the underdogs.

This isn’t an easy call.  Wakanda has remained hidden for a reason.  To give out the technology would invite questions about where it came from.  There’s also the issue of the oppressed not stopping at mere freedom.  Our history is one of war and oppression.  Who’s to say that it wouldn’t completely reverse the dynamic rather than bring balance?

I do see the comparisons to the Bond movies.  You have a hero who gets great gadgets and cool transportation from a scientific advisor.  In this case, Q’s counterpart is T'Challa sister, Shuri.  She presents him with stealth shoes, communications devices and the suit you may have seen in the coming attractions.

I would say that the primary difference is that you don’t have the sexual innuendo and ironic names.  (Well, there is Killmonger, but I’m going to let that one go.)  I would say that if anything, this is what James Bond might have looked like if the movies were done with more of a serious tone.

For those who are new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the movie doesn’t seem to rely too heavily on other movies.  There were a few scenes that made more sense after looking stuff up, but I was able to follow and enjoy the movie without much trouble.