Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- 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 (1959) -- 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 (1959) -- 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 (1959) -- 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 (1959) -- 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.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 8 (Shadow Boxer)

Shadowboxing is the practice of hitting the air to train for actual boxing.  It would seem to be the only form of boxing anyone will let Tommy Dunn do.  He’s the janitor at Manny King’s gym, but he wants to be more.  When Tommy asks to borrow a pair of gloves that Manny has laying around, Manny gets mad.  What does Tommy do?  He sneaks the gloves into the locker room and tries them on.  His shadow comes to life and kills Manny, who wants nothing more than to go home.  Being that there were no reports of anyone else in the area, Tommy isn’t questioned.

Meanwhile, at Curious Goods, the team of intrepid cursed-item hunters finds out about the death and make the connection to an item that Lewis Vendredi sold.  Micki happens to have a camera to document what she does at Curious Goods, which she takes with her to the gym.  She takes pictures of the boxers wearing their gloves to examine later, since the gloves have “killer” on them.  (Why they just can’t look at the gloves there is beyond me.)

Tommy takes a liking to Micki; Micki is instantly repulsed by him.  Just her luck, someone figures out that he has the gloves.  Ryan tries getting them from his locker, but another boxer chases him out of the locker room.  They follow Tommy back to his apartment.  Poor Micki has to lure Tommy out of his apartment on a ‘date’ so that Jack and Ryan can search his apartment.  Not that the gloves are anywhere that they’d look

Tommy makes it back to the apartment before Jack and Ryan can leave.  Micki tries to call them from a payphone with no luck.  Tommy tries to fight Jack and Ryan with the gloves, leaving Mr. Shadow to fight Micki.  That’s when we find out why she has the camera.  The shadow has a weakness for light, of course.  Now, it’s just a matter of time before the good guys beat the bad guys.

This is the eighth episode, which features the seventh artifact to be retrieved.  I think this is the first one where it’s obvious how someone figured out how to get the cursed item to work.  You put the gloves on and your shadow takes on a life of its own.  It’s fairly straightforward.  In fact, I’m surprised that it took something like a camera flash to make anyone realize that light was the weakness.  I would think that the writers could have thought of something less contrived than having one of the main characters suddenly own a camera.

This is also the first episode where Ryan gets to use one of the cursed items.  He subsequently realizes why it’s a bad idea.  He has to beat up Jack, even though it’s to save Micki.  This was a little more understandable. Jack and Ryan are friends, but it was a snap decision, as Micki was in danger.  It’s not clear if he could have use a wall to beat up, as there were no other obvious targets that presented themselves.

We also get the sense that there is an evil inherent to the items.  These are not things that could be used for good or easily studied.  The only option here is to lock them up so that no one can use them to harm someone.  I kind of feel spoiled, mostly because I’m used to shows like Warehouse 13, where there’s more flexibility.  The characters do occasionally get to use items for their own benefit, at least in retrieving other items.  Here, there’s no flexibility.  There’s no real room to explore the nature of the items.

This does make for an unusually dark show.  I only remember it in syndication, as I was 11 when the show first aired.  It’s the kind of show that might have given me nightmares, or at least make me afraid of the dark.  I mean, think about what it would mean to be chased by something that can beat the crap out of you, yet not take any hits in return.  It’s also something that would give someone the perfect alibi.  The show, and particularly this episode, isn’t for everyone.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)

There’s talk of a third Gremlins movie.  There was some debate as to whether it would be a sequel or a reboot.  However, it doesn’t seem to make a difference in some cases.  Sequels are kind of like reboots with a history.   Case in point is Gremlins 2: The New Batch.  It has the same basic plot of a cute mogwai producing more mogwai, which eventually turn in to the titular little monsters.

Billy Peltzer and Kate Beringer from the original movie have moved from Kingston Falls to New York City.  They have jobs in Clamp Tower, working for Daniel Clamp.  Visiting them in the big city are Murray and Sheila Futterman.  Murray still remembers the events of the first movie.

For those that don’t, Billy’s father got a mogwai from a store in Chinatown, which Billy named Gizmo.  There are three rules for a mogwai:  Don‘t expose them to light, especially not sunlight; don’t get them wet; don’t feed them after midnight.  Once again, the rules are broken, although not necessarily in that order.

Daniel Clamp is trying to buy out the same store that Gizmo went back to at the end of the first movie.  After the owner’s death, Mr. Clamp is able to buy and demolish the building to make way for his new project.  Gizmo escapes, only to be captured by someone who works in the Clamp Building.  Gizmo is take to a genetics lab, ostensibly to be experimented on.

Through a coincidence, Billy realizes where Gizmo is and rescues the little guy.  Much of the rest of the movie is similar to the first.  Three new mogwai are formed and immediately torture Gizmo.  They become Gremlins, who make a lot more gremlins, who then terrorize the building’s occupants.  In this sense, the sequel seems like a rehash of the first movie, although it’s not as blatant as I would have expected in a sequel.

There are some new elements, like the gremlins getting into the genetics labs and getting new attributes like wings or a more-developed brain.  There are also a few in-jokes and self-referential humor, like Leonard Maltin briefly reviewing the first movie.  If you haven’t seen Gremlins, some things might seem confusing or go over your head.  Strictly speaking, it’s not entirely necessary, but I would recommend it.

The New Batch also seems to rely more on CGI than on puppets.  The CGI is almost seamless, but is a little obvious in a few places.  I’d say that the puppetry in the first movie could be more distracting than the CGI in this one.  Even the puppetry is better.  It’s actually better than what I’d expect of a movie from 1990.

I’m kind of curious to see what they’d do with a Gremlins 3, especially considering that almost 30 years have passed since Gremlins 2 was released.  It could be that the responsibility of Gizmo is handed off to a new generation with Billy and Kate taking on a parental/Mr. Wing role or that the main characters would be recast or replaced.  (I would hope for the former rather than the latter.)

I am curious as to where Gizmo came from.  I don’t think this was directly addressed in either movie.  One would think that there are more Mogwai, even if they’re not all like Gizmo.  Someone once said that it’s hard to imagine hamsters running around in the wild.  Similarly, it’s hard to imagine wild mogwai/gremlins.  The reason I thought of this is that if Gizmo ever ate after midnight, would that necessarily be the end of mogwaikind?  No one ever seems to be worried about this.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Dark (Season 1)

There’s something called the Novikov self-consistency principle.  It states that if time travel does exist, the universe wouldn’t allow for any alterations to the past.  Some time-travel stories adhere to this, meaning any attempt to change the past is what actually happened in the first place.   Thus, you can’t go back and kill your grandfather.  If you do go back and kill someone, it might turn out that you killed his twin brother.

That sort of problem comes up a few times in Dark.  In the German town of Winden has an Einstein-Rosen bridge, commonly called a wormhole.  It connects points in Winden’s history exactly 33 years apart.  The movie starts in 2019, but soon brings 1986 and 1953 into the story.  In 2019 and 1986, several children go missing.  There’s also the power plant, which seems to have a few secrets.

Comparisons to Stranger Things are understandable, although superficial at best.  Both stories involve children that go missing in unusual manners.  I could also make similar comparisons to 12 Monkeys, The Time Traveler’s Wife and Timecrimes.

We’re presented with a bootstrap paradox, or something fairly similar to it.  Several of the characters want to change history.  First comes the question of whether or not you should.  If you kill someone, you’d also be killing their children.  You might save people, but you’re still killing someone who hasn’t yet committed a crime.

Then, there’s the issue of whether or not you can.  Does the Novikov principle apply?  If it does, what does that mean?  Those that want to change the past don’t seem to look it up beforehand.  There’s always the possibility that you’re doing exactly what happened anyway.

Maybe that sounds cliché.  The story is still entertaining, even if it can get confusing.  You’ll find several boards covered in pictures and string.  You may even want to set one up, yourself.  If you like involved stories, this is going to be one for you.  Several people are having affairs.  We see several characters in several time periods.  A few episodes have pictures of the characters either side by side or shown in succession, making it a little easier to keep track of who’s who.  It can still get complicated, so you’ll have to pay attention.  (If you have difficulty keeping track of simpler stories, this isn’t going to be a show for you.)

The series was released through Netflix on December 1, 2017.  I didn’t find out about it until three months later.  I usually hear about Netflix series, like The OA and Altered Carbon, well enough in advance that I can watch it and post a review shortly after it starts streaming.  I’m not sure why I hadn’t heard about this series.  Was it not advertised or was I just not paying attention?  I don’t know if it has to do with the fact that it’s a German series.  (It has German and English audio with subtitles available.)

I noticed that there was no mention of East or West Germany.  Germany was split into the German Democratic Republic (East) and the Federal Republic of Germany (West) in 1949, with reunification in 1990.  I know that Europe has rules about mentioning Nazis.  I’m not sure how far this extends.  It might have been an oversight or done deliberately for some reason.  (I don’t recall seeing any flags and the one reference I recall from 1953 had a character simply saying Germany.)

I should warn parents that the title of the series is pretty descriptive.  It starts with a suicide in the first episode.  There is the aforementioned disappearance of children, some of who are found dead and disfigured.  It seems to be meant more for adults who can handle darker stories.  If you’re into lighter fare, I’d avoid watching Dark.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The 15:17 to Paris (2018)

When I saw the coming attractions for The 15:17 to Paris, I was curious to see how they could make an entire movie based on a train ride.  I suppose I could have read the book, but I still would have been curious.  The answer is that the movie tells the story leading up to the event.

For most of the film, we see bits and pieces of what happens on the train with the bulk of it being what happens to the characters as children.  Alek, Spencer and Anthony meet while attending the same school and getting into trouble together.  (The principal tells Alek and Spencer that Anthony is trouble, but they don’t seem to be any stranger to the principal’s office.)

Anthony changes school and Alek goes to live with his father, yet all three manage to stay in touch.  Spencer joins the Air Force and Alek joins the Army National Guard, which isn’t surprising given their love of the military.  Anthony remains a civilian.  When the opportunity arises, they plan a European vacation together.  They debate whether or not to even go to Paris, but they already have the train tickets.

The film is a difficult one to judge.  Using the actual heroes to portray themselves seemed kind of like a gimmick.  I realize that the word has a negative connotation, but I can’t think of a better word to describe it.  This isn’t to say that their acting was bad in any way.  It just seemed like it was done more for the attention rather than the effect.

There were also a few elements that seemed to feed into the scene on the train.  We’re shown Alek and Spencer getting the training necessary to subdue the terrorist and help keep a victim alive until he can receive medical attention.  This is especially evident with Spencer, who is shown receiving wrestling maneuvers he uses to take down the terrorist and a teacher telling him what to do in a scenario with the victim’s specific injuries.

This is a movie that’s good enough, but not necessarily excellent.  I got the feeling that there were a lot of details left out.  There aren’t a lot of twists and turns.  Most of the movie is buildup to the scene on the train.  After the scene, we get to see Spencer, Alek and Anthony being awarded a medal by the French government.  I got the impression that the script was meant to focus on the three American characters.  (Very little is said about the terrorist.  Also, in the final scene, there was mention of people of other nationalities helping.)

When I review a movie, I try to think of who might want to watch it.  I’m kind of hard pressed here, other than those who like movies based on actual events.  I think for most people, this is going to be a movie you’ll want to wait for on DVD if you see it at all.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 25 (People Are Alike All Over)

It occurred to me once that if life did develop elsewhere, there’s no reason to believe that it would look anything like life on Earth.  Just look at how diverse stuff is here.  We have plants, single-celled organisms, fish, primates and all manner of other carbon-based life forms.  Life elsewhere could look like anything.  It doesn’t even necessarily have to use DNA.  The reason TV and movies often have humanoid life, of course, is that it’s usually easier to hire a human actor and use that form as a template.

Sam Conrad is worried about going into space.  He’s a biologist, after all, and only going because of his scientific background.  Marcusson, a career astronaut and fellow passenger, tries to reassure him by saying that people are the same all over.  If they do exist on Mars, they’d probably be just as friendly as people on Earth.

Their voyage to Mars ends with a crash landing.  Conrad survives; Marcusson isn’t so lucky.   Moments after Marcusson dies, the hatch opens revealing Martians.  They happen to look just like humans.  In fact, Conrad assumes that they speak English.  (They assure him that he’s actually speaking their language.)  They offer to put Conrad up in a house and to fix the ship..  They also offer to bury Marcusson.

The Martians are so kind that Conrad forgets all about being scared.  The house is exactly what one would expect of an Earth house, or at least what Conrad would expect.  The Martians were able to read his mind.  Being that Conrad is a scientist, his mind was very clear and easy to read.

It’s somewhat difficult to review the episode without giving away the ending, but the episode does rely on you not knowing.  The beauty of the episode is that it shows us how bad things can be even when we’re right on.  Even though Marcusson was correct in his assessment of people he’d never met, Conrad’s fears were also warranted.

One of the disadvantages of watching on Netflix is the lack of commentary.  While some of the episodes of The Twilight Zone seem to be ageless, others seem rely on social commentary.  I’m not sure if there’s something that I’m missing.  It would be useful to have something, like a book or commentary track, to explain some of the meaning or context.

This isn’t to say that it’s a bad episode.  It’s still enjoyable to people who like The Twilight Zone  To me, the ending just seems like a cruel twist of fate and the episode works on that level.  It also looks like there could very well be some form of criticism or satire that I’m missing.  It would be interesting to see how the episodes would have been written in today’s context.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 7 (Doctor Jack)

Usually, a deal with the devil has a very limited upside, and that upside is generally reserved for the person selling their soul.  In the case of Friday the 13th: The Series, you had Lewis Vendredi, who wanted immortality and wealth.  Going back on that deal cost him his life.  He left his niece and nephew, Micki and Ryan, to deal with the cursed items that he sold to unsuspecting customers.

At some point, the writers of the series probably realized that they couldn’t have these cursed items wreaking havoc on an unsuspecting populous.   Some of these items had to have some value to someone other than their owner.  Enter a scalpel that can save someone’s life.  It comes at a cost, of course.  Someone has to die so that the scalpel can be recharged. 

Dr. Vincent Howlett has come into possession of the scalpel and is using it to save lives.  He has a perfect surgical record.  It would seem that the scalpel has a 1:1 kill ratio, meaning that every time Howlett has a surgery scheduled, he has to go out and kill someone.  (For those that are squeamish, the killings are pretty graphic.)  Ryan and Micki have to get the scalpel with the help of Jack before Howlett kills someone else.

I have to say that this is a fairly evenly-paced episode.  It doesn’t go too much into the mechanics of the cursed item, although I would like to know more about it in this case.  It’s never been mentioned how anyone figures out how to use the cursed items.  Some are intuitive or easy to discover by accident, but most aren’t.  How did Howlett come to make the connection between killing someone and saving a life?  Randomly stabbing someone isn’t something a doctor would do.

Anyway, not a lot of time is spent looking for the item.  Jack, Ryan and Micki have a good idea where it would be.  When they do find it, Jack is injured and, of course, requires surgery.  Given Howlett’s reputation, he’s the one called on putting Howlett in the position of having to save someone that would want to hurt him.  Similarly, Ryan and Micki have to let a man save their friend knowing that the only thing motivating him to save Jack’s life is ego.

There are a few things that are probably done for the sake of the story and would skirt common sense.  For instance, the mother of one of Howlett’s victims finds him.  She’s thwarted by hospital staff before she can do any harm to him and is promptly admitted to the psych unit.  Can they legally do this?  I would think that they would have to call the police first.  Even if they don’t, she attempted to hurt a doctor.  There’s no mention of contacting the police at all.

Also, the knife can cut through metal items like bars and doors.  This is convenient in letting Howlett escape after killing someone or getting through an obstacle to get to Micki and Ryan.  It’s not too outlandish, but it does seem somewhat contrived that the scalpel can do so much.  It’s also not mentioned if this drains the scalpel at all.

I’ve seen stories similar to this one, in that life force can be transferred from one person to another.  The method here makes it so that it can only be used for evil.  It would be cruel to use it on someone to save a life, even if that person was sentenced to death.  There’s no way someone would deserve to die like that.  This would remove the possibility of exploring that moral avenue.  It’s simply a matter of stopping someone from killing again.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 24 (Long Live Walter Jameson)

The concepts of long life and immortality are nothing new.  Dracula stayed young by drinking blood.  Dorian Gray had his portrait.  Doctor Who has no shortage of long-lived and immortal characters.  There’s even the Highlander franchise based around the idea of people living forever.  Most of these fictional characters have to deal with immortality on some level.  It usually comes at a price, whether stated up front or discovered over the years

Walter Jameson is a well-liked history professor.  It would seem that he has a rare insight into the subject that he teaches.  He reads from a journal of  Maj. Hugh Skelton as if he were there.  After the lecture ends, fellow professor and friend Sam Kittridge invites Walter over for dinner.  This time, it’s Sam asking and not his daughter, Susanna.  You see Susanna and Walter are engaged to be married.  This is with Sam’s blessing, but that’s about to change.

After dinner, Sam sends Susanna upstairs to study for her Ph.D.  He has to talk to Walter about a picture that he found in a book -- a picture of  Maj. Hugh Skelton.  Maj. Skelton looks exactly like Walter, down to the ring that Walter is wearing.  After Sam’s repeated query as to how old Walter is, Walter finally admits that he’s old enough to have known Plato.

Walter has lived all those lives under assumed names.  Susana won’t be his first wife.  He’s watched several others grow old, although he hasn’t stuck around long enough to bury any of them.  He usually skipped town before any of them noticed Walter’s lack of aging.  Sam’s not too keen on his daughter marrying someone who will probably leave her, too.  In the end, it doesn’t really matter; Walter’s past catches up with him.

The episode does deal a little with the issues of immortality.  Most of it is about Sam calling Walter on his secret, but they get into a discussion of the side effects of longevity.  Having to watch friends and loved ones wither and die isn’t fun.  And it’s bad enough for someone who became immortal around 30 or 40. Sam is about 70.  What would happen if aging stopped while you were already succumbing to old age?  Would it really be worth it to have to live out eternity with chronic pain?

Walter isn’t immune to injury.  His gift only stopped the aging process.  He’s apparently come close to death a few times.  It’s also not mentioned the possible downsides, like inadvertently marrying one of your descendants.  (It’s not mentioned if he even kept track of his families or to what extent.)  Then again, the story isn’t about that.  It’s about the curse of living forever.  As the saying goes, the gods will often punish us by granting the one thing we want most.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 6 (The Great Montarro)

It seems amazing how easy some things are on Friday the 13th: The Series.  I’ve noticed that in the first six episodes, the crew has gone after five items.  In each case, the item was easy to locate in the ledger.  If it’s not on the page they open the ledger to, it’s usually on an adjacent page.  It’s also usually easy to find someone connected with the item, even if the original owner is deceased.

Take The Great Montarro.  The episode opens with a magician named Fahteem drugging a woman and placing her in a container of some sort.  Next, he’s performing what would seem like an impossible trick.  He gets into a coffin that has blades that will fall into it, ostensibly slicing him up.  He demonstrates with a dummy filled with sawdust.  He also offers $50,000 to anyone who can replicate the trick with successful results.  He gets in, gets the daggers and walks out unharmed.  The drugged lady?  Not so lucky.  No one can figure out how it’s done.  That night, someone kills him by making the knives fall on him.  Since no one is in the other box, he dies.

Several months later, Jack is reading about it in the newspaper.  He laughs, not because of the gruesome nature of his death, but because of Fahteem’s real name.  Micki, Ryan and Jack all say that the name sounds familiar.  They go to the ledger and, of course, easily find the name and the associated item.  (In this case, it’s the houdin box.)

They quite easily track down his former assistant, who really didn’t like the guy.  The assistant is just a little rude, but mentions that the items from the act were sold off.  This means that they have to find out who bought it.  They visit a local magician’s guild, where it just so happens a competition is being held.  Jack, being a bit of a magician, is able to enter, which would allow him to snoop around with the help of Micki and Ryan.

It takes a while and a few people get murdered along the way, but they do manage to find the houdin box.  It’s owned by a magician going by The Great Montarro.  Lyla is his daughter and assistant, setting up the box that her father gets into.  She leads Micki right to the houdin box, in fact.  I know I shouldn’t be surprised after the previous episode, but Micki steps in to it.  It wasn‘t Mr. Montarro that was going to murder people; Lyla was going to have to eventually find an unwitting victim; Micki will do just fine.

Jack and Ryan manage to find Micki and get her out in time.  Unfortunately, The Great Montarro is at the crucial part of his act.  Because no one is in the houdin box, he dies a gruesome death on national television.  They manage to get the box to the vault back in Curious Goods.

The TV series is quickly establishing itself as a show aimed more for adults than children.  I suppose the title would hint towards that.  I think this is the first episode to show a lot of blood.  The show begins and ends with someone being impaled by blades due to the act.  Also, someone falls on a bed of nails, dying instantly.  We also see a hanging.  I think this has the most actual deaths, per capita, so far.

Another thing that bothers me is that it didn’t seem like Montarro knew what was going on.  Fahteem certainly did, but it was Montarro’s daughter that was procuring the victims.  It’s not clear that her father was complicit in any of it.  It’s possible that he was, but Jack and Ryan are left with a dilemma similar to the trolley problem.  In saving Micki, they have to risk Montarro’s life.  I imagine that in the heat of the moment, they weren’t even thinking of this.  If it were my friend or relative in there, my only thought would be getting them out.

There are still a few weak points, but I’d say that the series is getting stronger.  It’s still focusing on getting items back with very little explanation on how they work or how people mysteriously know how they work.  This doesn’t seem like the most intuitive setup to me.  I’m not sure how someone figured out that having someone in one box spares someone in the other.

Fortunately, as long as you understand the basic premise, it’s possible to skip certain episodes without affecting other episodes as much.  I think this is the first episode I could reasonably maybe recommend watching.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 23 (A World of Difference)

The lyrics to Row, Row, Row Your Boat always confused me a little as a child.  If you are rowing a boat down a stream, why should you be so merry about it?  And if life is a dream, whose dream is it?   Arthur Curtis and Gerry Reagan might ask the same questions.

Arthur Curtis has an office job and a loving wife.  He has a secretary that is genuinely helpful.  Everything seems to be perfect for Arthur Curtis.  That is, until it’s not.  He goes to make a phone call and hears someone yell, “Cut.”  He turns around to see that he’s in the middle of a movie production and everyone’s calling him Gerry Reagan.

Gerry’s life isn’t so perfect.  He’s divorced with a ex-wife that wants nothing more than to get her money.  He’s portraying Arthur Curtis in a movie, although not for long.  His reputation as a drunk is about to put an end to that.  His instance that he’s actually Arthur isn’t helping, as it makes him look a little crazy.

So, which is it?  Is Arthur having some sort of vivid hallucination or has Gerry had a break with reality?  This is one of the best-written episodes of The Twilight Zone.  It could honestly go either way.  The beginning of the episode presents such a small amount of Arthur Curtis that it could be just one scene.  Then again, Gerry Reagan is nowhere to be found at the end of the episode.  Could it be that he wandered off or did he really go back to Arthur’s life?

This is one of those cases where ambiguity is called for.  Two people could watch this episode and debate the ending for a few days.  I’d say that it’s even a good episode to show a high-school philosophy class.  How do we know that this reality is real?  It’s been posited that maybe our reality is a simulation.  Could it be, like The Thirteenth Floor, that we live in a layered reality?  Granted, this is all speculation.  But it does make you think, maybe we are someone else’s dream.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 5 (Hellowe'en)

It would seem inevitable that a show like Friday the 13th would do a Halloween episode.  The show is about two cousins, Micki and Ryan, who inherit an antique shop.  With the help of their late uncle’s business partner, they hunt down the cursed antiques that were sold through the shop.  Because the late Lewis Vendredi was known for selling cursed items, the shop gained a certain notoriety.

Jack, the former business partner, decides to throw a Halloween party to put everyone at ease and show that any bad vibes have since dissipated.  All goes well until two of the guests find a do-not-enter sign on the vault.  Being that this is all that’s stopping them from entering, they go in.  Rules are for chumps.  Right?  Inside, they find a fuse box and a crystal ball.  They use the fuse box to blow the lights, thereby scaring the other guests.  They use the crystal ball to summon something from the other side.  What eventually comes through is one Lewis Vendredi.

The guests leave the shop in a hurry, as one might expect.  Jack, Micki and Ryan do find the crystal ball, although Uncle Lewis hasn’t come through yet.  Jack goes outside and finds a little girl who needs help getting home.  This leaves Ryan and Micki to deal with Lewis on their own.  Lewis tricks them into getting him an amulet sot that he can become solid again.

It turns out that the girl Jack is helping is actually a demon sent to lead Jack away from the shop, where he might stop Lewis.  He’s trapped behind bars way too easily and makes no attempt to climb over the bars.  Granted, the bars don’t really lend themselves to being climbed over, but Jack makes no attempt to escape until two guys allow themselves to be suckered into helping Jack escape.

Meanwhile, Lewis has trapped Micki and Ryan so that he might find a body to inhabit permanently.  Micki realizes that he has until sunrise.  They surmise that he might have gone to a funeral home to find a body that died peacefully.  Ryan and Micki run off to the nearest location, phonebook page in hand, hoping that’s the one that Lewis went to.  They leave a note for Jack.

Jack gets back to the shop and finds the note.  He manages to run to the nearest funeral home, which I’m not sure is a mistake.  It seems odd, given that Ryan took the page from the phonebook, although it’s entirely possible that Jack would know where to go, given his background.  Jack, Ryan and Micki manage to stop Lewis at the last minute.  Well, they technically stop him after the last minute, but the point is that they stop him.

This episode does show some promise for the series.  It’s weak, but it does manage to fill the whole hour with very little filler.  We don’t get too many scenes with Jack pacing around.  Micki and Ryan are able to get out of their trap quickly, too.  What strikes me as odd is that any of them were tricked at all.  I know that Lewis is family, but Micki and Ryan know what Lewis is capable of.  It’s the entire reason we have a series and they just trust him.

Also, I find it odd that Jack wandered off without leaving a note.  In 1987, they didn’t have cell phones.  I think pagers were still not in common use.  You think he’d maybe invite the girl in and see about calling her home.  Jack just goes off on a little adventure.

One thing I will say is that I liked that sunrise was used as a deadline.  I’ve often found it odd that a plot would rely on midnight, as it’s really just an arbitrary marker of time.  There’s no reason that a curse that was made hundreds of years ago would be bound by our modern conception of time.  Something like sunrise or sunset would make more sense, as they’re natural phenomena.

Another positive is that someone did seem to look at a calendar.  At the end of the episode, Jack points out that Friday the 13th is two weeks away.  November 13 did, in fact, fall on a Friday in 1987.  I kind of like it when people get these things right.

I’ve noted that one measure of how good a movie is tends to be how many other projects the actors have been in.  John D. Lemay (Ryan) and Chris Wiggins (Jack) both seem to have a lot of credits on their IMDb pages.  Even Louise Robey (Micki) seems to have a few entries.  Many of the guest actors seem to have one or two acting entries on their respective pages.

I haven’t taken a look at other episodes, and it’s not always the kiss of death.  The series did get three seasons.  However, the episodes so far have been mediocre at best.   I do remember having seen better episodes.  I don’t know if that the show got better, as many series do, or if I’m just remembering them more fondly than they deserve.  I think I will be sticking with it at least until the end of the first season.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 22 (The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street)

WARNING:  I’m going to give away the ending of the episode.  If you don’t like spoilers, you might want to wait to read this.

Why are some things more memorable than others?  Some TV series, like Star Trek and The Twilight Zone tend to have a strong cultural presence whereas others fade off into the background, even though they may be of similar quality?  Even within a TV series, certain episodes tend to be more memorable than others.  The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street is one that tends to stick out in my mind, probably for the straightforward message.

It starts with the people of the titular Maple Street going about their business one day.  Suddenly, a bright light passes overhead with accompanying strange noises.  At first, people assume it to be a meteorite or something.  It isn’t until the power goes out that people start questioning what just happened.

Nothing electronic works.  Phones and radios are out.  Stoves shut off while food is being prepared.  Even cars won’t start.  That is, until one car does start working.  That’s when people start accusing each other.  You see, Tommy is a kid who reads a lot and he’s read about alien invasions.  They always send in advanced scouts that look human.  His only mistake is sharing this information with his neighbors.

It turns out that Tommy was basically right.  After the people of Maple Street start fighting, the camera pans out to show two aliens on a hillside.  One is demonstrating to the other how to make electronic devices stop working.  This is all either of them has to do to get the same results.  Sure, details may vary, but no advanced scout is necessary.

The episode first aired March 4, 1960.  Joseph McCarthy would have been fresh in everyone’s minds.  One of the reasons that the episode is memorable is that you don’t need this context to understand it.  Given even a small bit of fear, people will accuse each other.  Plant the idea that someone is out to get you, the mob will overtake even the most level of heads.

Granted, the pace at which the paranoia progresses is rapid, but it’s still relatable.  It’s so easy to find blame rather than find answers.  It’s easier to lash out than to wait patiently.  We like to think that we’d be better than this, but how many of us would be?  The biggest threat we face is ourselves.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Proud Mary (2018)

I’ve always wondered how professionals feel about how their professions are portrayed in popular media.  Do police officers look at shows like Law & Order and pick out all the mistakes?  Do doctors look at ER or House and think that medicine is portrayed as overly dramatic?  While watching Proud Mary, I wondered if any hitmen had seen the movie.  Does Taraji P. Henson’s portrayal of a hitwoman named Mary even come close to the reality?  (If you actually do this for a living, I don’t expect a response.)

The movie begins with Mary carrying out a contract.  She kills the target only to realize that his son is in the house.  He’s playing video games with his headphones on, so Mary is able to leave unnoticed.  Fast forward a year and the boy, Danny, is delivering drugs for a man who goes by Uncle.  Uncle is not a nice man.  He either beats or threatens to harm Danny for transgressions like stealing.  (Danny took some money to buy a pastry.)  Mary catches up with Danny after he collapses in an alley. She takes him in, neglecting to mention who she is.

It turns out that Mary works for a crime family that’s competing with Uncle’s family.  Mary has inadvertently started a war between the two families.  Uncle’s side knows that it was Mary’s side, but not Mary specifically.  Benny is the head of Mary’s family.  Benny assures the other side that he’ll look into it and take whatever action is appropriate.  Mary now knows that she has to get out.  She soon realizes that that’s not going to happen.

This is a movie I probably never would have seen without MoviePass.  I don’t even think I would have seen it on DVD.  This is a movie I would have added to my Netflix queue and let sit there until it was about to be removed from the streaming service.  I’m not saying that the movie isn’t entertaining.  My feeling is that a better job could have been done with the material.

The timeline of the movie is pretty straight forward.  I don’t think there were any flashbacks or exposition.  What little history there is tends to be minimal.  Mary was going out with Benny’s Son, although I think that’s only used to explain why he has a key to her place.  Danny tells Mary about what happened in the intervening year, but I get the impression that’s only to explain to the audience why he’s on the street.  Otherwise, we’d be wondering if he doesn’t have any other family.

The story basically serves to prop up the lies Mary has to tell and the gun battles she has to engage in.  I’d say that this is the Lifetime version of Léon: The Professional, but I think that Lifetime could have done a better job with it.  It’s hard to see Mary and Danny as anything more than basic characters.  Mary has a nice apartment and a nice car.  There’s exactly one moment where she tells Danny that she was once like him.  I didn’t sense any depth to the characters.

There are a few characters that serve only to die.  Uncle, for instance, sticks around just long enough for us to get that he’s a horrible person.  Then, Mary kills him.  Poor Walter meets a similar fate.  Mary and Walter work together, but she kills him hoping to make it look like the other family killed him for retribution.

We’re even denied any sort of a happy ending.  Yes, both Mary and Danny survive.  In fact, I think they’re the only main characters that do make it to the end.  However, the end has them simply driving off into the proverbial sunset.  We don’t even know exactly where they’re going.  We just know that it’s over.  I suppose I can at least be thankful for that.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Altered Carbon (Season 1)

There comes a point with a prison sentence that adding more years does nothing.  The longest life spans tend to be just past 100 years.  Being given a sentence of 250 years might as well be a million years.  Takeshi Kovacs lives in a future where that’s not a problem.  He finds himself at Alcatraz after serving those 250 years.

In this future, people have cortical stacks.  These stacks can store consciousness and memories, so that if one body, called a sleeve, dies, those memories and consciousness can be put into a new sleeve.  Some people have the body they were born with.  Others have the body someone else was born with.  Those that are rich can get clones of their original body.  There are even synthetic bodies, if you‘re in to that sort of stuff.

Takeshi is being released to solve the murder of Laurens Bancroft.  If Takeshi can find the man’s murderer, he gets a full pardon and more money than one could reasonably fathom.  Who’s hiring him?  Laurens Bancroft, of course.  You see, normally, a murder victim could tell you who the killer was. However, Bancroft’s stack was destroyed, meaning that his backup had to be used for the current clone.  It looks like a suicide, but Bancroft is convinced someone else did it.  The gun used was kept in a safe that only he or his wife could open, but someone else using one of their clones isn’t out of the question.

The future presented in Altered Carbon is one where the gap in wealth has gotten much wider.  Those that have money have everything they could want.  Those that don’t are condemned to live on the ground in squalor.  If you have money, you fear nothing.  You probably have at least one police officer on the payroll.  You can engage in almost any illegal activity you want.  You have enough clones that death means nothing.  Life is one long party.

The idea of transferring consciousness bothers me a little.  How do you know it’s really going to be you?  The idea that several characters have copies of themselves complicates the question.  Also, what does it mean to have missing memories?  These questions are dealt with, even if it’s tangentially.  Having a copy of yourself, called double sleeving, is illegal.  Bancroft’s memory loss is a problem for Takeshi and others, for several reasons.

I will say that there’s a lot of sex, nudity and violence in the series.  Most of the main characters appear naked at some point.  It’s excessive to the point of gratuity. (Not that I’m complaining.)  This is not a series for children.  Also, it appears that language isn’t as much of an issue in the future as it is now.  You’re going to have to pay attention to the subtitles occasionally.  On the plus side, you may pick up a few curse words in Spanish or German.

The series seems a little drawn out.  It’s a murder mystery over 10 episodes, each being about an hour.  It’s kind of like 24 in that regard.  The difference is that here, we’re not limited to a single day.  Almost a full episode is dedicated to Kovacs’s life in his original body.  We also get flashbacks to Kovacs’s previous life.  Parts of that previous life have come back to haunt him, which is where the extended story comes in.

I will say that Netflix has been producing some great original content.  I don’t know that it’s necessarily fair to compare the series to other TV shows or movies.  It does have a unique feel to it.  It is somewhat dark and could easily be viewed as dystopian, which is not unusual.  I’d say that it’s better to come into this series not expecting something else.  This isn’t Blade Runner.  It may be similar, but it’s not the same.

Right now, your only option for viewing the series, at least legally, is to have access to Netflix.  If you do decide to go for the free trial, this might be one of the series you look at.  You could easily watch it in a weekend.  The episodes don’t rely on cliffhangers, so it’s easier to break it up if you’re not into binge watching.   It’s a shame that I will probably have to wait a year for more episodes.  Given that the murder investigation is wrapped up, I’m curious to see how a second season plays out.

IMDb page

Monday, February 05, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 4 (A Cup of Time)

It shouldn’t be that difficult to write a decent episode, especially if you’re taking on a social issue.  Law & Order managed to do this with the courtroom as a backdrop.  Star Trek took in issues using aliens to fill in when you couldn’t call out someone directly.

A Cup of Time was the first Friday the 13th episode to overtly have some sort of issue written into the plot.  The three previous episodes were about a murderous doll, a pen that allows you to write someone’s death, and a statue that makes someone love you.

Here, the episode starts with one of the main characters, Jack, trying to fend off Birdie, a social worker that seems to have taken a liking to him.  Meanwhile, Ryan has taken an interesting in an emerging rock star, Lady Die.  She’s putting on a concert for the homeless, which is kind of coincidental, considering that Birdie deals with the homeless.

Several have been murdered in a park recently.  This leads Jack, Ryan and Micki to eventually realize that one of their cursed items is being used to suck the life from the homeless person to make Lady Die look young.  They eventually get the cup, which Birdie steals and tries to use, but finds that she can’t.  Lady Die manages to evade capture, only to die of old age in her trailer at the benefit concert.

Considering that the series had a whole hour to work with, I’m surprised that this was the best anyone could come up with.  It’s weak in that it doesn’t really deal with homelessness other than a few throwaway lines.  I mean, we have an actual social worker that just popped up out of nowhere.  You’d think there would be a discussion about what it’s like living on the street.  Maybe we could see what someone has to go through to get help.  No.  Homelessness is little more than a plot device.

In the show’s defense, the main characters do manage to rescue a young girl from the street.  She manages to help the group out a bit and they manage to find her someplace to live.  Still, it comes off more as a feel-good moment than anything else.  I have to wonder if the early episodes were rushed to production.  It didn’t look like a lot of thought was put in to the writing.  I don’t remember many of the other episodes, but I’m hoping that they get better.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 21 (Mirror Image)

Millicent Barnes is just an ordinary woman waiting for an ordinary bus.  When the ticket agent seems unusually bothered by Millicent inquiring about the late bus, things take a turn for the weird.  He insists that she’s asked twice before.  She insists that this is her first time asking.  When she goes to the ladies’ room, she has a similar experience.  The attendant insists that Millicent has been in the ladies’ room before, despite Millicent’s denial.  Also, why is her bag checked in?  She never checked it in.

The entire ordeal is causing her more than her fair share of anxiety.  Fortunately, Paul Grinstead is waiting for the same bus.  He provides a sympathetic ear.  He does consider that maybe she’s going crazy.  However, Millicent says that she has heard stories of doppelgangers from an alternate reality that sometimes come into our own world.  Each person has a twin in this world that would like to take over the life of the person in this world.  Could that be what’s happening here, or has she really gone off the deep end?

Paul‘s disbelief is to he expected.  Millicent’s twin is nowhere to be found.  You’d think that in such a small bus station, someone would have seen two of the same person.  The ticket agent insists that it’s Millicent who keeps asking about the bus rather than her sister.  Given that he has a clear view of the station, his reaction is unusual.  Given that the attendant is in the ladies’ room, her confusion is at least understandable.

For that matter, Millicent seemed to have a clear view of the ticketing area; she didn’t seem to see anyone else approach the booth.  This is why it’s entirely possible throughout the episode that Millicent is hallucinating.  There’s definitely something odd going on, although it might all be in her head.  This is why Paul calls for the police to take her to a hospital and have her checked out.

It’s a somewhat decent story.  It doesn’t try to tie us up with too many theories.  If there really are doppelgangers from an alternate universe, they seem somewhat sinister.  (The Alternate Millicent is presented with somewhat of an evil-looking grin.)

I haven’t seen this episode before in marathons.  I don’t know if I’m just not watching at the right time or if it’s one that usually gets skipped over.  I would say that the acting carries the story.  What we see here is a woman who’s increasingly driven insane.  To what end, we’ll never know.  If only that bus had been on time.  

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 3 (Cupid's Quiver)

Lots of great things happened in the 1980s.  Back to the Future was released.  Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered.  Rubik’s Cube started the decade.  It was a pretty awesome decade.

There were a few not-so-great things that happened, too.  We had Friday the 13th: The Series to end the decade with.  It premiered in 1987 and started with some less-than-stellar episodes, such as Cupid’s Quiver.

This is the third episode of a series about Micki and Ryan, two cousins who inherit an antiques store and its cursed items.  With the help of their dead uncle’s former business partner, Jack, they’ve been retrieving those cursed items, like an ugly statue of Cupid.  How is this item cursed?  It allows the owner to make the target of his affection desire nothing else than to be with them.  Then, the owner kills the target.

The episode opens at a bar.  We have a guy being rejected by a woman, who happens to be on a date with another guy.  After she repeatedly tells him to get lost, he positions the statue and allows it to fire a small energy bolt at her.  After the pain subsides, she suddenly desires him.  It’s a shame, because her date seemed like a nice guy.

Well, the guy with the statue takes the woman to a hotel room upstairs, where they start making out.  That is, until he starts to kill her.  Just then, a group of fraternity brothers break into the room and take the statue.  It’s not clear what happens to the man or the woman.

Back at the frat house, the statue is noticed by Eddie Monroe, fellow member of the fraternity.  And by member, Eddie really means that he’s the janitor.  Anyway, that’s not going to stop him from stalking Laurie.  He gets the idea to steal the statue and use it on a random woman.  I don’t know how he knows what to do with the statue.  Then again, it is a cursed item.

He uses the statue on the random woman and takes her out in his beat-up car so they can make out.  He then leaves to relieve himself, only to return with a beehive.  At least, I assume it’s a beehive.  It might be a hornets’ net.  Either way, they sting her to death.  It’s kind of impressive that Eddie managed to walk all the way back to the car without getting stung.

It’s time for Eddie to use it on Laurie.  When Micki and Ryan try to intervene, Micki is shot with a bolt from Cupid, making her desire Eddie.  They eventually get the statue and put it in the vault beneath the store.  That doesn’t stop Ryan, the eternal horndog, from wanting to use it.  Seriously?  Like he doesn’t know how the statue works.

The only reason I watched the first four episodes is that the first DVD of the season-one set had the first four episodes.  I’m going to have to take a closer look at the second DVD before checking it out.  This one was a very confusing and poorly written episode.  It’s almost like they wrote a rough draft and just used that.  Consider the bar with the hotel above it.  What’s it called?  It’s called the Hotel Bar.  They couldn’t even come up with something lame to call it.

As I said, it’s not clear how anyone knows how to use the statue.  It’s not like it was activated accidentally.  Every time we see it used, it’s intentional.  This brings up the issue of consent, which is never mentioned.  Even if the woman suddenly wants the man, she’s under the influence of a cursed item.  It’s not really consensual.  Eddie is basically raping the women before killing them.

Also not clear is how Jack was able to get himself hired at the fraternity party as a bartender.  I don’t think it was explicitly stated whether or not he was serving alcohol, but he does appear to know how to make sodium pentothal from common household items.  That’s a pretty neat trick.

Overall, it’s a vaguely confusing story that’s not particularly good.  I’d say that it has potential, but it would take a lot of work to make this into a decent episode.  It’s one of those story ideas that was probably best left unused.

IMDb page

Friday, February 02, 2018

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 20 (Elegy)

Sometimes, bad people get what they deserve.  Other times, good people stumble into a situation that they’re not getting out of.  Captain James Webber, Kurt Meyers and Peter Kirby are good people.  They’re astronauts that happened to run out of fuel.  When they find an asteroid with Earth-like conditions, they land and find a world just like Earth, except that everyone is frozen.

After wandering around, they meet Jeremy Wickwire.  Wickwire is the asteroid’s caretaker.  He explains that rich people, rather than being buried, can spend their eternal rest in a situation to their liking.  This could take the form of winning a beauty pageant or being elected mayor.  Each scenario that the astronauts walked through was a similar scene staged for a wealthy client.

It turns out that Wickwire is an android, turning on only when necessary. Wickwire serves the three astronauts wine and asks what their wish is.  The only thing any of them wants is to go home, which Wickwire is happy to give them…in his own way.

The episode was a little confusing to me.  It seems odd to be posed like that after you die.  It looked almost like a set of museum displays.  I don’t imagine that the people were conscious.  It also didn’t look like the asteroid got a lot of visitors.  So, why spend all that money on something you won’t be able to enjoy?

It’s not a great episode, but it is watchable.  I think part of my confusion with the episode is that it first aired almost fifty years ago.  I have to wonder if I’m missing some sort of context.  To me, the episode was a wrong-place-wrong-time story.  Had the astronauts found any other place to land, they might have lived, even for a little while longer

I would say that it’s a mid-level story.  The story didn’t drag, which probably owes to the 30-minute format.  It’s also generally safe for teenagers and above.  Other than the asteroid being an elaborate graveyard, there’s nothing overly scary about it. The three astronauts are the only ones killed and that’s by poisoning.  I would say that younger children might not fully understand it and if they do, it’s the kind of thing that would stick with them.  I’m not certain that I fully understand it.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

12 Strong (2018)

sHaving MoviePass means that I’m getting movies by the month, which makes for some strange decisions.  12 Strong is not a movie I would normally have seen in the theater.  The Commuter is not a movie I would normally have seen in the theater, either, but I had already seen that.  Still, I managed to make it all the way through both movies.  I think that’s more of an accomplishment with 12 Strong.

For those that haven’t seen the coming attractions, 12 Strong is about a group of soldiers, Green Berets and CIA operatives that were sent into Afghanistan shortly after the September 11 attacks.  The goal was to take a city called Mazar-I-Sharif.  Apparently, it’s important to the Taliban.  Captain Mitch Nelson is given command of the titular 12 that are sent in to meet with General Dostum.

Dostum leads a local army that will be helping Nelson and his men.  Before the group takes Mazar-I-Sharif, they have to go through and bomb several other areas.  The first area takes a few tries to get right, but they do level it.  Subsequent areas seem to go more smoothly.  They do eventually make it to Mazar-I-Sharif and take the city, as planned.  All 12 of the men get to go home safely.

The movie wasn’t quite as exciting as I would have expected with a war movie.  Part of this may be because the movie seemed to be going through the motions rather than writing an interesting story.  I understand that there’s only so much you can do with a true story before it becomes fiction, but the movie seemed somewhat bland.

Take the fact that they had to go through several cities before capturing the big city.  I didn’t really understand why they couldn’t go to the important city first, then maybe work their way back if they the other areas.  I’m sure there’s a reason for this, but I don’t recall it being covered in the movie.  Nelson and Dotsum lead their respective troops from area to area, blowing stuff up as needed.

The movie even starts with two of the soldiers telling their wives that they‘re leaving.  Captain Nelson even promises his wife that he’ll come home alive.  Bad idea?  Yes.  Cliché?  Most definitely.  Does it make the story more poignant?  Not really.

I think the biggest negative for me was that there wasn’t much of a sense of accomplishment.  It’s not really stated why any of the targets had any value, other than that’s where the enemy was.  There was mention of another team being sent in to take a different path, but any sense of competition wasn’t brought up that often.

When I came out of the movie, I felt like I was missing any sense of new perspective.  It seemed like this was the version of the story you’d tell to someone who had been there.  I get that the mission was accomplished in abut three weeks when it was supposed to take about two years, but it just didn’t seem that difficult.  The movie didn’t seem to convey any sense of scale or tension.  It just told the story.  If you want to see it, I’d wait for it to come out on Netflix.