Saturday, March 31, 2018

El Ministerio del Tiempo (Season 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMDb page

Monday, March 26, 2018

Game Night (2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMDb page

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Death Wish (2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMDb page

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 32 (A Passage for Trumpet)

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMDb page

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 31 (The Chaser)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 08, 2018

El Ministerio del Tiempo (Season 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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