Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 2 (The Poison Pen)

You’d think that using a cursed item to predict someone’s death would attract attention.  You’d be right, especially if a group of people were looking for such an item.  When Ryan and Micki inherited an antique shop, they found that many of the items sold through the shop were cursed, so they began looking to retrieve the items with the help of their uncle’s former business partner, Jack.

One such item is a quill pen that allows the user to ‘predict’ someone’s death by writing out the details of their demise.  When a brother at a monastery is able to predict several deaths in short order, Jack sends Micky and Ryan in, disguised as monks, so that they can find and retrieve the pen.

What they find is that two of the monks aren’t really monks, at all.  Brother Le Croix and Brother Currie have come to the monastery to hide after some shady dealings, only found that someone’s offered a lot of money for the property.  If they can kill the right people, Le Croix will be in a position to accept the offer and run off with the money.

This was a somewhat decent offering, considering how early it was in the series.  I do have a few questions, though.  First, it seems odd that Micki and Ryan are able to get into the Monastery so easily.  All Jack has to do is forge some papers saying that they’re from another monastery.  Granted, this is before the Internet, but you’d think it would be a little harder to get in.  If two people transferred into a retail store and the manager hadn’t heard anything about it, you can bet the district manager would get a call within a few minutes.

What I want to know is how Micki, a woman, able to pass herself off as a monk so easily?  Apparently, it doesn’t take much beyond a loose-fitting robe to fool monks.  All Ryan had to do was say that she’s taken a vow of silence.  In their defense, maybe the monks don’t get out much.  For that matter, why was it necessary for both Micki and Ryan to go?  Couldn’t Ryan have gone alone, especially considering that Jack was going to join them later?

In the end, they get the pen.  Jack states that the pen can only do evil things; apparently, no one has attempted to use the pen to win the lottery or heal the sick.  The only apparent use is killing people.  It seems kind of simple to not even mention an attempt being made to use the pen for other uses.  It would be so easy to simply say that the cursed items have a corrupting influence.

That’s really where these early episodes fail.  The stories could do well with a little more complexity.  There’s only the basic premise that Lewis Vendredi made a deal with the devil.  We don’t even know to what end.  Simply that there’s something about that deal that led to the items being cursed and subsequently sold to an unsuspecting populace.

Normally, I might say to watch the series if you can get it streaming.  If you do that, I wouldn’t recommend making plans past the first few episodes.  This is the kind of series you might catch while changing channels and maybe watch it until the end, just for a few laughs.  Consider that the original air date is October 5, 1987.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 19 (The Purple Testament)

Sometimes, a character is given a gift to show that it can also be a curse.  What if a character was given something he knew to be a curse to begin with?  Lt. Fitzgerald is serving in World War II in the Philippines.  At the start of the episode, Fitzgerald is horrified that he can predict who in his company will die next.

The episode begins with him claiming to have foreseen four deaths.  Is he going crazy?  His superior officer, Capt. Phil Riker, consults the doctor, but there’s nothing that would indicate any mental problems.  Still, be sees an eerie light for a soldier in a bed; the soldier dies moments later.

When Riker says that he’ll go out on a mission, Fitzgerald begs him not to.  Fitzgerald has seen the light on Riker’s face, meaning Riker won’t be coming back; he doesn’t see the light on anyone else’s face.  When everyone comes back, there’s only one casualty.  The last death that Fitzgerald predicts is his own.  When he’s given orders to report back t headquarters, he doesn’t even resist.  He picks his stuff and leaves.

It’s not easy being Fitzgerald.  We do see the light on the faces of people destined to die, so we’re led to believe that he really does have this ability.  However, we don’t actually see many of the deaths.  The first four occur before the start of the episode.  Riker dies off screen, as does Fitzgerald.

It’s not explained how or why Fitzgerald can predict the deaths.  He simply can.  It’s possible that it was imagined, as he only really called two deaths that he could have prevented.  Maybe he just happened to be right twice.  Then again, would it matter?

It’s also not explained how long he’s had this ability.  He doesn’t explicitly state that the four men Fitzgerald told Riker about were his first four or how he knew that the light meant death.  It could have been an actual ability brought on by being surrounded by death.  He did call several deaths.

Either way, he really did need to get out of there.  Staying with that ability would have put an unfair burden on Fitzgerald, assuming he could actually do anything about it.  He doesn’t know how people will die.  It could be a bullet or a shaving accident.  He could have the condemned stay behind only to see them die another way.  It’s understandable that the episode didn’t go down this path.  The point is that war is hell.

Monday, January 29, 2018

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

It’s amazing the difference a few decades can make.  There are video games that came out 20 years ago that seemed state of the art when they came out.  To play them now, they look like something out of the stone ages.  The same goes for other media, like movies and television.  Certain shows seemed like high art back when they first aired, but don‘t really hold up to what came out more recently.  I don’t know if this is because we’ve become spoiled by better CGI and HD television or if there‘s some technical limitation in the storage medium.

I remember watching Friday the 13th: The Series years ago.  In terms of quality, it was nothing spectacular, even back then.  It was about three people having to retrieve cursed items.  Each week was a new item and some corresponding story.  It was somewhere between The Twilight Zone and Warehouse 13.  It’s not available streaming, but you can get it on DVD.  When I saw the fist-season set at the library, I decided to get the first disc.

The pilot episode deals with the basic setup of the show and gives us the first item to be retrieved.  The story starts with Lewis Vendredi at the antique store where most of the cursed items originate.  We see hoof marks appearing on the floor.  Lewis dies when the floor disappears, revealing a fiery passageway going down.

After several months of probate, the store and its contents are left to Ryan Dallion and Micki Foster, his nephew and niece.  Ryan takes a liking to the idea of running a business, but Micki has a life elsewhere.  She wants to sell and be done with it, so they start selling off the items.

Enter Jack Marshak, former business partner of Lewis.  Jack procured the items for Lewis, not really knowing what was going on.  After talking to Ryan and Micki, Jack realizes that Lewis had made a deal with the Devil.  Upon breaking that deal, the Devil came to collect.  Oh, and many of the items that have been sold through the store are probably cursed, including a murderous doll.  Jack, Micki and Ryan have to work together to at least get the doll back, if not the other items listed in a ledger.

If you’re wondering what connection there is to the movies, there doesn’t appear to be any.  I remember reading that there were several people involved in both projects, but there’s no official connection.  There’s no mention of any characters or locations from the movies.  It’s not even mentioned where the shop is.

The episode doesn’t go into very many details at all.  We don’t know much about Vendredi’s pact except that it was for immortality.  We’re left to assume that Satan wanted to spread evil and mayhem through the items.  There doesn’t even seem to be any way of determining whether or not an item is cursed except through the ledger, which was just items sold to other people.

I don’t remember much about the series, so it’s entirely possible that such details were written into later episodes.  I’m kind of debating whether or not to start reviewing the series.  If this is going to be what a normal episode looks like, I may not last long.  Episodes will also be spread out, as I’ll probably be getting discs from the library.

This episode was somewhat gruesome.  I think that was par for the course; I remember a lot of episodes dealing with people dying in bizarre and gruesome ways.  If you’re at all squeamish, you’re probably not going to like the series.  Here, we get to see a doll kill or attempt to kill several people and yes, we do see blood.

Fans of more modern stuff will probably find the show kind of cheesy.  It was meant for TV, which limited what the writers could get away with.  I doubt hardcore fans of gore will make it past the second or third episode.  I’d imagine that most of the people that buy or rent the DVDs are like me.  It’s probably going to be someone that’s looking for a blast from the past or specifically likes the low-budget look.

IMDb apparently has the series listed as Friday’s Curse, showing Friday the 13th: The Series as the original title.  I’ve never seen Friday’s Curse as the title of the series.  I don’t know if there was some issue with the rights to the title or if Friday’s Curse was used in markets outside the United States.

I don’t really think I’d recommend paying money for this until you’ve seen a few episodes.  If you can get it for free, either streaming or from a library, it’s a good way to waste an hour or two.  Just don’t have high expectations.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 18 (The Last Flight)

WARNING:  I’m going to give away the ending to the episode.  If you want to watch it before reading about it, I‘ll totally understand.

Lt. William Terrance Decker is not a particularly outstanding pilot.  Sure, he can operate a plane well enough, but he’s not the kind of guy that distinguishes himself with bravery.  When he lands on an air field, the only thing unusual about him is that he thinks that it’s 1917 when everyone else says that it’s 1959.

Decker is taken into custody by Maj. Gen. George Harper and Maj. Wilson.  Decker tells them of how he flew through a cloud while on a patrol mission.  It was a mission like any other.  Pilots were sent out in teams.  Decker and his partner split up.  Decker’s only hope was not to see any enemies.  His partner, on the other hand, would have loved the opportunity to fight.

Decker eventually reveals that he left his friend surrounded by seven enemy planes.  He admits that it was a cowardly act.  What confuses Decker is that the other pilot, Alexander Mackaye, is now an Air Vice Marshal and is planning on visiting the very base that Decker is on for an inspection.  Decker is certain that there’s no way Mackaye could have survived.  It would have required another pilot, but there were none that could have gotten to him.

This is when Decker realizes that he must have gone back.  He pleads his case to Wilson to no avail, so he forcibly escapes.  Decker eventually makes it back into the cloud and disappears.  Harper tells Wilson that it doesn’t look good for him.  That’s when Mackaye arrives.

Wilson asks Mackaye about Decker; Mackaye is able to confirm that Decker saved Mackaye’s life and that Decker was shot down.  Decker’s personal effects weren’t returned, which was unusual.  That was because Harper had confiscated them.  Mackaye is able to confirm that the Decker they had in custody was the Decker that had saved his life.

The episode is fairly simple.  It doesn’t really get into the physical mechanics of time travel.  We just know that Decker mysteriously skipped over 42 years.  Why?  Decker asks himself that very question.  His only answer is that it’s to give him the courage he never had.  He knows that history is depending on him.  It’s not just Mackaye’s life, but the life of several thousand people he saved during WWII.

The story isn’t too heavy handed with the time travel.  There is mention of what might happen if Decker doesn’t go back.  Still, there’s no talk of sending him back on a better plane or giving him winning sports scores.  No one tries to unfairly take advantage of the situation.  It’s strictly about one man having to do the right thing.

Interestingly, this appears to be the first episode not written by Rod Serling.  While Serling wrote many of the scripts, he got ideas from other sources.  Here, the script was written by Richard Matheson, of I Am Legend fame.  Matheson’s name is associate with a few Twilight Zone episodes in some form.  (IMDB has this episode as the first of 14 that Matheson wrote.  His short story also served as the basis for And When the Sky was Opened and Third from the Sun.)

I don’t recall seeing this episode in a lot of marathons.  (Come to think of it, I don‘t recall seeing a lot of Twilight Zone marathons lately.)  If you have it available streaming, I would recommend watching this episode.  It’s definitely up there in terms of quality and entertainment.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Commuter (2018)

Michael Macauley takes the same train to work every morning and takes the same train home.  He knows most of the regular passengers.  Then, one day he gets fired from his job selling insurance polices.  He’s a good employee, but apparently not good enough to support what they’re paying him.  He stops at a bar for a few drinks with a friend before catching his regular train home.

As if the shock of being fired wasn’t enough, his phone is stolen.  He’s then approached by a mysterious woman named Joanna.  She offers up a hypothetical question that turns out to be not so hypothetical.  Would he do one little thing if he got paid $100,000?

It turns out that $25,000 is on the train and there’s a promise of the other $75,000 if he can find a person with a bag.  She doesn’t tell him what the person or the bag look like.  All he knows is that the passenger goes by Prynne and is getting off at the last stop.  He has until then to find them.  Oh, and his wife’s wedding ring is in his pocket, should he get any ideas.

I’m not going to give away any details beyond that, but I will say that there weren’t too many surprises in the movie.  I’ve seen Non-Stop and I found this movie to be very similar.  Liam Neeson plays a character with a law-enforcement background forced into a situation where he has to help someone do something or someone dies.  To prove the point, people are killed.  (This is no surprise if you’ve seen the coming attractions.)  Just to prove that the movie isn’t entirely the same as Non-Stop, they throw in a minor similarity to Robocop.  (There’s a Detective Lieutenant Alex Murphy.  I don‘t know if this was intentional or not.)

The Commuter is sort of a weak mystery story.  Michael is able to narrow down the field when he realizes that the stations are grouped in zones for purposes of fares.  Each ticket shows a zone, meaning he doesn’t have to wait for everyone else to get off.  He can eliminate most of the people early on.  (On this note, I’ll admit that I’ve only been on the Long Island Railroad once, but don’t people put the tickets on the seat in front of them?  Here, it shows the passengers with the tickets placed on their own seats.)

Michael makes several passes up and down the train, trying to discern who this Prynne is.  It’s somewhat difficult for him to interrogate the people directly, as tipping his hand might prove disastrous.  (This becomes less of a concern as the movie goes on.)  The movie didn’t quite pull this premise off.  It’s not that the movie failed at it outright.  It’s just that it wasn’t enough to carry the story.  The antagonist is mostly absent from the movie and deals with Michael through proxies and cell phones.  It makes for a very lopsided story.

Most people will probably be better off waiting for the movie to come out on DVD.  I would have done the same had I not had MoviePass.  With the price of a ticket covered, my only concern was making the movie on time.  The primary reason that the movie was entertaining at all is that Liam Neeson at least plays the role well.  It’s a convincing performance, at least.  If you’re a fan of his other movies, you’ll probably enjoy this one.  Whether you want to see it in the theater or at home is up to you.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 17 (The Fever)

Franklin Gibbs isn’t too big on gambling.  He sees it as an immoral activity.  Still, he’s apparently not one to pass up an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas.  Rather than try his luck a little, he seems to spend most of his time telling his wife, Flora, how horrible gambling is.  Why, look at all of these people just throwing their money away.

Flora is not as judgmental when it comes to the activity.  She puts a nickel in a slot, but Franklin admonishes her.  Since the nickel is already in the machine, she pulls the lever and loses.  It’s not until a passing drunk puts a dollar in a machine and puts Franklin’s hand on the slot machine that Franklin has a taste of excitement.  His turn at the machine wins several dollars, which he’s initially content to take his winnings back to his room and save it.

Later, Franklin decides that he can’t keep dirty money, so he goes back down to the floor to give it back to the casino.  The next thing we know, Franklin’s lost a significant amount of his own money.  One pull may give him a few dollars, but he gives it all back.  He’s become obsessed with winning the $10,000 jackpot.

When the machine breaks on his last dollar, he accuses the machine of denying him the jackpot.  It’s not a machine any more; it’s a force that’s taken all his money.  He’s driven to the point of hallucinating.  He sees the machine following him, prompting him to jump out a window.

The episode is unusual for me in that I don’t really see it as a twist ending.  It seems like the natural progression of a story, even if it is extreme.  Franklin will either learn his lesson or he won’t.  He could have walked away any time.  Flora even tried to warn him that the next spin probably wouldn’t have been the big winner.

The episode would seem to come off as a morality play.  There doesn’t seem to be much of a counterargument.  We don’t see people staying within a set budget or doing anything else.  In fact, the entire episode takes place in the hotel and casino; Franklin and Flora don’t seem to leave the building until Franklin jumps out the window.

I have to wonder if this is the view most people have of a gambler.  Is it meant to warn off everyone that wants to go to a casino or is it simply meant as a warning of what might happen if you don’t moderate your impulses?  Franklin comes across as a very unsympathetic protagonist.  He’s very rigid in his view on gambling and would not seem to be the friendliest of personalities.  He’s exactly the kind of guy who would lecture you on the evils of something.  (If not gambling, then drinking or pornography.)  When he finally did meet his end, my sympathy was more with Flora, who didn’t deserve any of this.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 16 (The Hitch-Hiker)

An antagonist is generally defined as someone who stands in opposition to the protagonist.  You have someone who’s trying to accomplish something and someone that’s actively trying to thwart them.   Nan Adams definitely fit’s the profile of a protagonist.  She’s on vacation, driving from New York to Los Angeles.  It’s fairly simple, except that one of her tires blows out.  The mechanic tells her that it should have killed her.  She’s lucky that she got out of it so easily.

She seems to have drawn the attention of a hitchhiker.  Nan doesn’t know how, but he keeps getting ahead of her.  She’s driving, but he has no apparent means of going faster than her.  She doesn’t know why, but the Hitchhiker makes her increasingly afraid.  Every time she sees him, she feels more compelled to get away from him.

This is where the label of antagonist seems inappropriate, as he hasn’t done anything overtly threatening.  He hasn’t approached the car or yelled at her.  He‘s not a particularly intimidating person, yet she’s overcome with emotion at each encounter.  She can’t explain why.  It’s not until she calls her mother that everything becomes clear.

The episode is unusual in that the main character also narrates in addition to Rod Serling.  The may be because the episode was based on a radio play by Louise Fletcher.  It’s not at all distracting.  I just found it a little odd.  I don’t recall many other Twilight Zone episodes doing this.

I could see a writing class using this episode as an example of good writing.  As I said, the Hitchhiker doesn’t present as much of a threat.  Antagonists don’t necessarily have to be menacing to be effective.  In fact, the Hitchhiker doesn’t even say that much.

I’m curious how much has changed culturally over the last 50 years.  It’s understandable in today’s context to understand why a woman driving alone would be afraid of someone like the Hitchhiker.  However, she’s trusting enough to pick up a sailor who helped her out.  Certain things may have been lost on me.

I’d say that it’s generally safe for teenagers and above.  The only thing I’d consider is talking to them about talking to strangers.  As I said, Nan exhibits two extreme reactions to dealing with people she doesn’t know.  She trusts one person without question, yet fears another without much reason.  As for younger children, Nan does show a good deal of fear, which could be scary.  (IMDb shows a rating of TV-PG.)

If you have Netflix and they still have this streaming, I’d say watch it.  It’s definitely one of those episodes that will leave you wondering what really happened.

IMDb page

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 15 (I Shot an Arrow into the Air)

WARNING: I’m going to give away the ending to the episode.  If you haven’t seen it and want to be surprised, you might want to hold off on reading this review.

It seems like space exploration was a popular theme for television back in the 1960s.  This was especially true of The Twilight Zone, which seems to have had its fair share of episodes about leaving Earth.  I Shot an Arrow into the Air is about eight men sent into outer space only to be lost very quickly.  (Ground control doesn’t know what happened to them, not that they have communications anyway.)

Four of the men survive the crash, although one dies quickly.  This leaves Col. Bob Donlin, Pierson and Corey to figure out what happened to the failed flight.  They assume that they’ve landed on an asteroid, although the atmosphere is breathable and the intensity of the sun is about what they’d find on Earth.

Either way, it’s hot and they don’t have much water.  Donlin, being the commanding officer, insists on maintaining order.  The big question, of course, is how to survive.  It took over four years to build the ship, so rescue might not come for at least that long, assuming anyone figures out where they are.  He sends Pierson and Corey out to have a look at the surrounding area, hoping to find something along the lines of shelter or food.

This episode, like many others, comes with a twist ending.  I’m conflicted about revealing it.  On the one hand, isn’t’ that why you watch the show?  Everyone wants to be surprised by the ending.  On the other hand, we’ve become a little more savvy about things like science.  It’s kind of hard not to question certain things.

That being said, you’ve been warned.  I’m going to divulge the ending:  They landed on Earth.  Corey kills the other two survivors for their water only to find out that he’s not too far from Reno.  It’s odd that several trained professionals sent into space would miss this rather obvious possibility.  For starters, they couldn’t have flown that far.  Space is vast.  The Apollo missions took several days to get to the moon.  I’m not sure where they thought this asteroid was.

Speaking of which, The Twilight Zone is either misuses the term asteroid or is  severely overestimating an asteroid’s gravity.  Anything that small shouldn’t have anything resembling strong gravity or an atmosphere, let alone mountains.  (I’ve noticed this in at least one other episode.)  An asteroid shouldn’t be that big.

My big issue was Corey.  He was kind of a jerk, constantly whining about not having water.  He even wants to refuse water to a dying man because the rest of them need it.  I’d normally say that it’s a fair point, but you don’t deny a dying man something like that.  How did Corey make it through training?  Don’t they do some sort of psychological evaluation or something?

It’s a good episode, but it’s not a great episode.  It’s one of those episodes I’ll watch if it comes on a marathon, but I don’t know that I’d pay rent it.  If you can watch it streaming on Netflix, go for it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Darkest Hour (2017)

When I saw the coming attraction for Darkest Hour, it said that Gary Oldman was playing Winston Churchill.  Wait.  You mean the same guy who played Zorg in The Fifth Element?  Yes.  The same guy who played Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg is now playing Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill KG OM CH TD PCc DL FRS RA.  In case you’re wondering, there was use of makeup to make Gary Oldman look like Winston Churchill.

The movie takes place during the month of May, 1940.  It starts just a few days before he was offered the office of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. His initial instinct was to fight Germany.  This was in opposition to others, like previous Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who wanted to enter into peace negotiations.  Churchill realizes that they’re not in a strong position to negotiate, as they’re losing badly.

Part of the problem with historical dramas like this is that you know the outcome.  In the movie, Germany has yet to attack the British Isles, but the British Isles will be attacked.  After all, this is where we get Keep Calm and Carry On.  We also know that, despite Churchill’s doubts and insecurities, that he will get the United Kingdom through the war.  Thus, any threat of having him removed will fail.

The movie does have its entertainment value, though.  While Churchill is adamant in front of other people, the movie does show Churchill being uncertain of what to do in private.  He does consider peace talks, but finds his strength again after talking to several people on a train.  Even though Churchill had been a leader previously, it tales a while for him to find his strength.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 14 (Third from the Sun)

 WARNING:  Im going to give away the ending of the episode.  If you haven't seen it yet, you've been warned.

I remember reading about the 2004 version of Battlestar Galactica and their decision to use things that we’d recognize.  This was particularly evident with clothing.  Someone wearing a nice suit probably means that he’s probably a lawyer.  If it looks like they’re wearing a uniform, they’re probably military.  I thought of this when I watched Third From the Sun.

The episode takes place on a planet that looks a lot like Earth.  They have factories with workers that go home to houses with wives and, possibly, children.  They play card games and have telephones.  In fact, two of the factory workers talk about all-out war being realized within the next 48 hours.  One of those men, Will Sturka, has a plan to steal a spaceship along with coworker Jerry Riden.  They’ll take their respective wives and Sturka’s daughter to a new planet, some 11,000,000 miles away, which happens to be called Earth.

It’s strange how some of the Twilight Zone episodes can seem somewhat dated whereas others, like this one, still seem relevant.  Consider that Hawaii just hat a threat of an inbound missile.  Such threats have always existed.  If you knew that a civilization-ending attack was coming, wouldn’t you want to get off the planet?

It may seem a little odd that the buildings look so familiar or that they have playing cards much as we do, but Most Twilight Zone episodes had less than 30 minutes to work with.  There’s not much time to waste on figuring out what’s what.  Those escaping go from factory to house to ship to Earth in short order.

This is why I’m a little hesitant to call out the fact that Earth is supposed to be so close to this other planet.  The distance from the Earth to the Sun is about 93,000,000 miles.  We don’t know that their mile is the same as ours, but we can assume that they’re similar insofar as this episode is concerned.  It seemed that The Twilight Zone wasn’t so good with astronomical distances.

When the wife serves chocolate cake and lemonade, it seems odd that they would have lemons and chocolate.  However, these details are minor.  What we call the refreshments is unimportant.  In all the major respects, the societies are similar.  So much so that we realize that the group of five people haven’t really escaped disaster.  At best, they’ve only delayed it.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Sixth Sense (1999)

Some movies have very limited replay value.  The problem with a twist ending is that it will probably put your movie into this category.  At most, you might get a second viewing just to see what you missed.  The more reliant the movie is on the ending, the less likely you are to watch it a third time.  Much of the value of The Sixth Sense is in not knowing how it ends.

It starts with Dr. Malcolm Crowe and his wife, Anna, at home after Malcolm receives an award from the city.  Malcolm is shot by an intruder who turns out to be a former patient named Vincent Grey.  Malcolm is a child psychologist who failed to help Vincent.

Malcolm is meeting with Cole Sear.  Cole’s story is similar to Vincent’s, so if Malcolm can help Cole, it might serve as an act of redemption.  You see, Cole is ostensibly a normal kid.  Sure, he’s a little weird and doesn’t quite fit in.  It’s not unusual for a kid to be picked on.

He has a secret, though.  Yup.  If you were around 20 years ago, you might remember that the kid sees dead people.  It terrifies him, as well it should.  It’s not something that a young child should have to see.  He may see the deceased hanging from a noose or with an obvious wound.

Malcolm is intent on helping Cole, regardless of how strange it sounds.  When Cole is able to help a young girl, Cole is able to come to terms with his ability.  It also prompts him to give Malcolm some helpful advice.  They realize that they won’t see each other again, as the twist ending is coming soon.

I don’t want to give away that ending, as you don’t really see it coming.  This is one of those movies to watch on Netflix or to rent.  I don’t know that I’d recommend buying it unless you’re intent on having every Bruce Willis movie out there.

I don’t see this movie a lot on the cable channels.  I don’t know if it’s that I don’t go looking for it or if it’s that it’s faded into the background.  It’s a shame because it is a well-written movie.  I didn’t see the ending coming the first time around, although I probably should have.  This is what prompted me to watch it again when it became available on Netflix.  I wanted to see all of those moments that foreshadowed the big ending.

The movie was still entertaining.  There is a scary element to the movie.  It’s definitely not something for young children.  As I said, there are some violent elements to it.  It’s also hard to do a full-on review, as it’s also such a well-known movie.  It’s well-known enough that parodies have been done of it.  The line, “I see dead people” was a catchphrase for years after the movie was release.

Still, I don’t think I’ve seen the movie since it came out in 1999.  As good as it was, it wasn’t a movie that I felt an urge to see again.  It will probably be another 17 or 18 years before my next viewing.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- 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.