Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 5 (The Enemy Within)

Some personality traits are considered good.  Others, not so much.  Most people would be a combination of both sets.  You’d be hard pressed to find someone who is completely honest and forthcoming.  You could find a little of each in just about everyone.

The Enemy Within starts with Captain Kirk falling victim to a transporter accident.  He’s split into two versions of himself:  One passive, the other aggressive.  The duplication is discovered, but Evil Kirk is able to roam the ship freely.  He demands brandy from Dr. McCoy.  He forces himself on Yeoman Rand.  Meanwhile, Good Kirk is unable to make decisions.  He relies on Spock for guidance, but something must be done, and soon.  The two halves can’t exist separately.

There’s also the issue of fixing the transporter so that the rest of the away team can be brought up.  Yes, the ship is supposed to have shuttlecraft.  No, there’s no reason given why they can’t be used.  They hadn’t been introduced to the series yet.  Aside from which, it does add a sense of urgency to the episode.  The planet gets cold enough at night that there is the threat of death.

To say that the episode is a product of the 1960s is true to some extent.  Good and evil are presented as absolutes.  Evil Kirk is over the top, even for William Shatner.  He barges in, makes demands, takes what he wants and leaves.  Good Kirk is forgetful, passive and relatively benign.

There were a few things that I thought were over the line, and I’m not the first to point them out.  Spock’s comment at the end that Evil Kirk was “interesting” was unnecessary and out of character.  To say something like that to the victim of assault is insensitive.  It may be reflective of attitudes at the time, but it still comes off as odd.  For that matter, I also found it odd that Kirk was present while Rand was being questioned.  It probably would have been appropriate to have him wait in another room.  (This second point may have been done for expedience.)

Rand’s reaction is believable.  She doesn’t want to get Kirk in trouble, but it’s not the kind of thing you let pass.  (Not everyone in her position would be forthcoming, even though she had a witness.)  I do like the depiction of good versus evil, even if it’s simplified.  It’s a topic that would be revisited later in Star Trek, notably in Voyager’s Faces.  Even boldly going outward, we can’t seem to escape ourselves.

(For the record, I’d say Voyager handled it better.) 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 4 (The Naked Time)

Bad things seem to happen all at once.  It’s bad enough that you get a flat tire.  It just so happens that you’re in a sketchy part of town, it’s raining and you’re on your way to an important meeting.  (It never happens on the way back.)  Oh, and your AAA membership ran out last week.

The Enterprise is sent to check up on a research facility on the planet Psi-2000.  The facility hasn’t been heard from for a while and the planet is breaking up.  Captain Kirk is told to get the crew off the planet and do some final scans as the planet breaks up.  When the ship arrives, the rooms are frozen, as are the people.  One poor guy is fully clothed in the shower.

First Officer Spock beams down with Lieutenant Tormolen, both in what would appear to be biohazard gear.  The thing with gear like that is that you have to be wearing it for it to work.  Tormolen takes off a glove and touches a surface, thus bringing back an infection.

It’s not really clear what the infection is.  Dr. McCoy describes it as something like water forming complex chains that act like alcohol or something.  It causes people to lose inhibitions.  Tormolen starts talking about man not belonging in space.  Sulu goes around waving a sword at everyone.  Riley locks himself in engineering and shuts down the main engines.

This leads Chief Engineer Scott to break the laws of physics for the first time.  He says the engines can’t be restarted, but there is some sort of antimatter formula that might just work.  And it does.  The ship is able to get out of harm’s way just in time.

The episode is early enough that I wonder if anyone was taking the science seriously.  McCoy is talking about water forming an alcohol-like substance.  Alcohol contains carbon, which water doesn’t.  I would assume that whatever’s doing this is grabbing carbon from the human body, as we are carbon based.  I think this is little more than sloppy writing.  Someone should have put a little more effort into coming up with a plausible explanation.

It’s also said that the planet’s mass is changing.  I’m assuming that it’s decreasing in mass.  However, there’s no explanation of how this is happening.  I suppose it’s possible.  Mass might be converted to energy by some process, but there’s no mention of any sort of hear emissions or anything like that.  Again, I think someone was looking for something that sounded dangerous, but just didn’t come up with a decent mechanism for it.

I got the impression that the planetary station didn’t have any means of escape.  It’s something I would think someone would have mentioned.  (No order was given to look for escape pods, for example.)  If I knew a planet was going to be breaking up, I would have asked for a shuttlecraft or something.  This is a minor point, though.

The one thing that I did find odd was that the suits were so easy to take off.  Tormolen was able to easily remove his glove and scratch his nose.  If the planet is that cold and dangerous, wouldn’t you want something that was sealed up?  It should not have been that easy for someone to be that careless.

The acting and story are both pretty good, otherwise.  We get to see the normally repressed Spock cry and agonize over the fact that he couldn’t show his mother love.  Vulcans aren’t necessarily emotionless; they’re just better at hiding them.  And Spock is half human, a fact that would come up in later episodes.   The bridge crew is also frantically trying to get things in order as McCoy tries to find a cure.  There is a sense of urgency without it being over the top.

The series does seem to be coming together in may respects.  From what I understand, this story was supposed to set up Tomorrow is Yesterday, so I think there is some forethought going into the episodes.  I don’t really remember the original series for continuity, though.  There were quite a number of episodes aired out of order with very little confusion.  Yes, there’s one episode where the uniforms look different.  And Sulu does seem to bounce around a little.  It does make the series more accessible in that you can catch one episode here and there.  However, I like my continuity.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Izzy Gets the Fuck Across Town (2017)

I came in to this movie expecting a stinker.  I normally hate movies involving a downward spiral and that’s fully want I expected this to be.  Fortunately, if there was a downward spiral, it happened before the start of the main plot.  It starts with a woman talking to a girl, presumably her younger self, in a monochrome red scene.  I found myself asking what I had gotten myself into.  I considered walking out, but I decided to stay.  I had already purchased the ticket, after all.

After this scene, we meet Izzy.  She wakes up next to a guy.  Her best option would seem to be the walk of shame until she sees a postcard and realizes that there may be more to this guy.  She wakes him up to find out that he doesn’t have any memory of the night before, either.  He winds up seeming like a decent guy.  This winds up being a pretty good parallel for the movie.

After this scene, Izzy finds out that an ex-boyfriend is not only getting married, but he’s getting married to a former friend of hers.  Her sole mission over the next five-and-a-half hours is to get to the engagement party, which happens to be on the other side of Los Angeles.

It would seem easy enough for most of us.  The only problem is that her car is still being fixed.  She’s also $35 overdrawn and 48 hours from being evicted from her friend’s couch.  Thus, she has to find some friend or acquaintance that could help her.  She’ll even accept help from a total stranger.  (Apparently, taking the bus is beneath her.)

Izzy is not a particularly sympathetic character.  I get the whole wanting her boyfriend back, but it’s hard to imagine that crashing an engagement party would work.  I mean, he asked someone else to marry her.  That someone ended up being a former friend of Izzy’s and neither of them thought to involve Izzy.  That should tell her something.

For most of the movie, she wears the uniform for a catering job she lost because she got into a physical fight…with her boss.  She was in a band with her sister, but the sister moved on and seems to have a respectable life.  Someone even tells her that she could have had a solo career; she’s that good.  It’s just that she didn’t seem to get over her sister leaving.  Izzy is the only one that seems to have not moved on.

It’s very easy to think that Izzy got what she deserved.  She was given a good job, which she should have held on to.  She probably could have found someone new and gotten on with her life.  (Actually, that guy from the start of the movie would have been a pretty good candidate.)  The big question is what she hopes to accomplish once she gets across town.

Despite any misgivings about the movie, it ended up being halfway decent.  Many of the scenes were at least interesting.  Izzy does meet a few helpful people.  She also learns a thing or two about those she already knows, including one she calls Dick.  (I’m assuming it’s short for Richard, although I‘m not certain.)

I still feel like the movie could have done more.  Many of the people that Izzy meets are one-off characters.  They get three or four minutes of screen time before the adventure continues.  I suppose that’s the nature of having to keep moving.  You don’t get to stick around long enough to get to know people.

I am glad I stuck through it.  I find myself wondering about the ending.  Don’t worry.  I’m not going to give it away.  Part of the fun of this movie is wondering exactly what happened.  I do have a theory.  Either way, I think Izzy got exactly what she wanted, even if it’s not necessarily what she deserved.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

American Animals (2018)

I’ve always known I’d never make a good bank robber.  I’d probably be the one to mess it up and get everyone caught.  Even if we got away with it, what would I do with all that money?  It would be hard to spend my share of it without attracting attention.  It would be impossible to explain having a sudden influx of cash when my biweekly paycheck is in the low three figures.  (Even at my best, I was still making less than $500 every week.)

Warren Lipka has no such qualms.  When Spencer Reinhard mentions some rare (read: expensive) books that are housed at Transylvania University, Warren gets it in his head to steal them.  Spencer is reluctant, but is talked in to joining.  The two plan to rob the library, and when I say plan, I mean watch some old movies they got at Blockbuster.  (This takes place in 2004.)

They eventually have to bring in two others, who each offer some help.  It’s not going to be enough.  First, between the four of them, only Warren is really all that serious about it.  The others are looking for an easy out.  Granted, any of them could have just walked away.  It would have been much easier if there were some insurmountable problem forcing an end to it.  Second, between the four of them, none of them have any of the necessary skills.  It’s only a matter of time before they get caught.

My major issue with movies like this is that things tend to go downhill for the major characters.  That’s not as evident here.  Yes, they dig themselves into a hole, but they can get out of it at any time.  It isn’t until the final act of the movie that any books have been stolen.  At no point does anyone seem to realize how ludicrous the whole thing is.

This brings me to another point.  I’m not sure where the movie is going.  I think most people who have pondered stealing stuff realize that they’d never get away with it.  These guys had no reason to steal.  They didn’t need the money for an operation or to buy food.  They weren’t necessarily wealthy, but they weren’t hurting.  What made them think that they could do it?  It seems like the movie is more of a cautionary tale:  This is probably the way your robbery will go, so don’t try it.

Just last week, I saw Gotti, another MoviePass Ventures film.  I have to say that this is better, but that’s not saying much.  Here, the pacing is at least decent.  There’s nothing that feels rushed or unnecessary.  The movie is part interview and part reenactment, which gives it a nice flow.  It’s easy to identify with the four main characters; we’d all probably feel anxiety going through with the act.  I can’t say that I wouldn’t vomit all over the getaway car, myself.

This isn’t to say the movie is without its flaws.  The movie brings up the issue of questionable memory.  Warren and Spencer recall details differently.  (Was a guy really wearing a blue scarf?)  Warren also has to go to the Netherlands to find a fence.  I’d imagine that it would be easier to find one locally.  I also found myself wondering how he got the travel documents in order that quickly.  Assuming he already had a passport, it would be possible to get a visa pretty quickly, although none of this is ever mentioned.  (The real Warren points out that you’ll just have to take his word for it.)

The movie would probably appeal to those who like those true-crime documentaries.  It seems to have a similar format.  I’m just not sure that it’s the best way to spend $12.  The movie wasn’t quite what I expected.  (I don’t recall seeing anything about the interviews.)  If not for the fact that I actually have a MoviePass account, I probably would not have seen this in the theaters.  I’m inclined to recommend waiting for this to come out on DVD or through streaming if you want to see it. 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Search for Life in Space (2016)

For some reason, I always fall into the same trap.  I know that most space documentaries will offer little new information, yet I watch them.  The Search for Life in Space is just such a documentary.  As you might imagine, it deals with extraterrestrial beings and how we might find them.  Most of the documentary deals with possible planets and moons within our own solar system, but does mention the Kepler telescope and the extrasolar planets that it has helped to find.

From what I’ve read, the movie was made for IMAX and was originally shown in 3-D, which makes sense.  The movie isn’t too big on plot or giving out a lot of detail.  It mentions a few moons that might be suitable.  This seems to be mostly a way of showing some nice pictures.   I wish I had the chance to see it in 3-D.  I should warn you that the soundtrack does leave something to be desired.  It was good, but not great.

It’s the kind of thing I could see playing on loop at a science museum on a screen in the corner.  At just over 30 minutes, it’s also the kind of thing that a teacher could show to a science class.  It’s pretty generic and could be understood by pretty much anyone.

There were a few omissions. I don’t recall it mentioning the Drake Equation or the Fermi Paradox, both central to the topic.  I don’t also don’t remember the movie mentioning Europa, although I may simply have missed it.  Europa is a pretty good candidate for extraterrestrial life.  I don’t get the impression that this was meant to be informative.  It seems like it was meant to be pretty for the really big screen.  If you can get it streaming, go for it.  If not, I wouldn’t worry about getting it on DVD.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 3 (Where No Man Has Gone Before)

The first season of Star Trek can be a little confusing.  There was a pilot episode that was made, but not used by the network.  It didn’t air until the 1980s, but was incorporated into a two--art episode.  A second pilot was made, but NBC decided to air two other episodes before it.  The episode that first aired was actually the sixth produced.  So, here we are, the third episode to air and it’s actually the second pilot episode.

Captain James T. Kirk (or James R. Kirk, if you prefer) is in command of the Enterprise.  They’ve found a flight recorder for a long-lost ship, the SS Valiant.  Parts are missing, but there are references to a magnetic storm and ESP.  Kirk attempts to take the ship across the galactic barrier to find out what happened, but much of the equipment is knocked out, as are Lt. Cmdr. Gary Mitchell and Dr. Elizabeth Dehner.

Dehner seems no worse for the wear, but Mitchell now has glowing silver eyes.   What’s alarming is that he’s beginning to develop powers like telekinesis and mind reading.  Spock points out that the most logical thing to do is to kill Mitchell while they still can.  Kirk decides to abandon Mitchell on a planet called Delta Vega.   Delta Vega has an automated mining facility for an ore they need, so they’ll have to stop there anyway.

Unfortunately, Dehner begins to change, too.  Kirk realizes that he has to kill Mitchell; it’s too dangerous to leave both of them on the planet where they might have children with superpowers.  (This leads to a fight scene where Mitchell creates a tombstone for one James R. Kirk, hence my earlier comment.)  Both Mitchell and Dehner die, removing any threat of god-like humans ruling the galaxy.

From what I understand, the order in which the episodes aired had to do with NBC preferring episodes with action.  Thus, episodes with good fight scenes got aired first.  The fact that we got two episodes with extremely powerful humans was probably secondary.  (For the sake of simplicity, I’ll be reviewing episodes based on the order in which they aired, as that seems to be the order both Netflix and IMDb have them in.)

The whole aspect of ESP seemed a little odd to me.  Both Dehner and Mitchell have high ratings, but that admittedly doesn’t count for much.  It doesn’t seem that humans have much ESP power compared to other races.  Vulcans would be revealed to be touch telepaths.  The Next Generation would introduce Betazoids and other telepathic species.  Despite all the hype, unaltered humans don’t seem to be capable of that much.

I’d ask why Spock wasn’t affected, but many of the details were still being worked out.  Spock says that one of his ancestors was human.  That ancestor was later revealed to be his mother.  He’s also shown having some emotion, which we’d later learn Vulcan society forbids.

I’ve also wondered where Star Trek got the idea for the galactic barrier.  It was also featured in at least one subsequent episode, so someone thought that there must be something at the Milky Way’s edge that would strongly affect ships.  I don’t know if there’s any actual science to support this or if it was just a nice plot device.  I’m kind of leaning towards the second one.  I’m not sure why such a thing should exist other than to add an element of danger.

I can forgive a lot of the details, as this was the second pilot.  Spock seems less emotional, although does show signs here.  He even admits to feeling for Mitchell.  I’m not sure why Kirk’s middle initial was changed, though.  It may have just been a mistake or maybe there’s some interesting story.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 2 (Charlie X)

I never really considered how many omnipotent or extremely powerful adversaries the Enterprise faced over the years.  In the original pilot, Christopher Pike faced a race that could put any image in his mind.  The he and the ship managed to get away because the race in question realized that humans weren’t worth the effort.

The second episode of the first season had the Enterprise, this time under James Kirk’s command, transporting Charles Evans to a Federation colony.  At first, he seems like any normal 17-year-old male human.  He somehow survived on a planet called Thasus, alone since the age of three.  It’s highly improbable, given that the planet had no humanoid life and that the food rations should have run out in about a year.  However, he seemed to do just fine.  He’s well nourished and is able to easily communicate with the crew.

Most of his problems seem to be interacting with the crew.  He becomes infatuated with Yeoman Janice Rand, which is understandable.  What bothers her is that Charlie has no impulse control.  He’s aggressive towards her and he doesn’t like having to compete for her attention.  It isn’t until someone laughs at him that the extent of his powers become evident.  Charlie can make people and objects disappear.  He can injure someone with little effort and heal them just as easily.

There are legends of a Thasian race, but all that is known is speculation.  It would seem to be the only viable theory, which is confirmed at the end of the episode when the Thasians come to take Charlie back to their planet.  They know that he’ll either destroy any world he’s on or be killed in self defense.  The only way out is for the Thasians to take care of him.

It’s a decent episode, but it never really sat well with me.  Part of it is the crew having to deal with an all-powerful teenager.  As with any antagonist with that kind of power, how does a mortal crew stop him?  It would be extremely difficult at best to integrate Charlie into society and would take so long that he’d pose a real danger to anyone making the attempt.  The resolution here is basically deus ex machina.  The crew can’t contain or kill Charlie, so the gods who created him have to resolve the issue for them.

I do wonder, though, if the Thasians could at least make the attempt.  They can’t take Charlie’s powers away, but they could have at least been a guiding force over the years.  I suppose they would have had no expectation that anyone would be along to find him, but they seem to have made no attempt at all.

I’d say the episode had potential, but it’s kind of difficult to say how to improve it.  It’s difficult to build tension when the power imbalance is so great.  The crew has to live in fear of Charlie, who would eventually kill anyone who he comes in contact with.  It’s not easy to make something like that believable.  Charlie is tempered only by his inexperience.

As if one omnipotent being weren’t enough, the very next episode is the second pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before.  We end up with not one, but two humans that develop god-like powers.  Fortunately, most of the rest of the series wouldn’t be dealing with this kind of plot.  It’s a good thing, too.  I’d hate to think that the galaxy is filled with all-powerful creatures.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Tag (2018)

When I saw the coming attractions for Tag, I knew it would go one of two ways.  It might very well be a buddy comedy where the main characters bond and learn about themselves, all while having a good time.  If not, it would probably be a series of lame jokes held together by a weak plot.  Unfortunately, it tended towards the second one.

The movie starts with Hogan 'Hoagie' Malloy applying to be a janitor, despite being a veterinarian.  It seems strange, but the company really needs the position filled.  Thus, Hogan gets the job.  He only does this to get close to his friend, Bob Callahan, so that Hogan might tag Bob.  You see, it’s May and every May, the five friends get together for the eponymous game of tag.

Hogan wants Bob to leave immediately, despite being in the middle of an interview with a Wall Street Journal reporter, Rebecca Crosby.  Bob finally relents.  Rather than reschedule the interview, Rebecca decides to come along.  Next to be brought into the game is Randy 'Chilli' Cilliano, who is a bit of a stoner.  After that comes Kevin Sable, who’s right in the middle of a therapy session.  They all head back to where they grew up.  The last member of the group lives there.

Jerry has never been tagged.  Never.  Even if you corner him, he finds some impossible way out.  Hogan has told Bob, Randy and Kevin that Jerry will be retiring from the game at the end of the month.  This is their last chance to make him It.  The game is on.

The only complication is that Jerry is getting married to Susan.  The guys are a little hurt that they weren’t invited, but Susan had to have a May wedding and didn’t want the game interfering with that.  There’s also the added pressure of her being pregnant.  The guys agree not to interfere with anything wedding related, which only serves as a plot point.

During the rehearsal dinner, Hogan, Bob, Kevin and Randy make plants to block the exits to the building.  That goes awry when Bob is distracted by a former crush.  This leads to an elaborate chase in the woods that leaves the other three in varying degrees of pain.

There is a message of friendship in the movie, but it gets buried beneath the physical humor.  It isn’t until the latter part of the movie that they have any serious discussion about drifting apart over the years.  Many of the scenes show just how far the group will go for the game and how nothing is sacred.  For instance, Jerry is in AA.  The other four friends think nothing of infiltrating the meeting to tag Jerry.  Jerry eventually locks himself in a room, where he waits for Susan to come and bail him out.  In this scene, she seems to have a miscarriage.  She and Jerry leave, both angry at the others.

That one scene tells me a lot about the movie.  I’m not saying that a movie should shy way from AA or miscarriages.  Instead, either topic should be handled with a certain level of respect.  Both are going to be sensitive topics for those affected by it.  The movie uses both as a way to show how serious the characters are about game.  I felt it was the one scene where the movie stumbled.

I think this is going to be a hit-or-miss movie for a lot of people.  The good thing is that the trailer is representative of the movie.  There were a few things I didn’t expect, but I have to say that I wasn‘t really surprised by anything.  If not for MoviePass, I would not have seen this movie in the theaters.  I probably wouldn’t have even rented it on DVD.  I think I would have waited for it to become available streaming if I saw it at all.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 1 (The Man Trap)

WARNING:  I’m going to give away details, including the ending.

When Gene Roddenberry first made a pilot for Star Trek, it was rejected as being too cerebral.  When he made a second pilot, the series was picked up.  However, NBC chose not to air Where No Man Has Gone Before first.  Instead, the second pilot aired as the third episode.  The first aired episode was The Man Trap, having aired on September 8th, 1966.  Thus, the first few episodes produced were aired out of order.  (For the sake of simplicity, I’ll be going with the order in which they aired.)

The episode has the crew of the Enterprise checking in on Professor Robert Crater and his wife, Nancy.  What’s interesting is that Nancy once dated the ship’s chief medical officer, Dr. Leonard McCoy.  When Kirk and McCoy beam down with Crewman Darnell, each see her differently.  Kirk sees her as she should be: a woman about the same age as McCoy.  McCoy sees her as he once knew her.  As for Darnell, he could swear he met her on a pleasure planet.  He sees a beautiful woman who differs in appearance from either Kirk or McCoy’s version.

At any rate, McCoy conducts his evaluation while Kirk and the professor talk a little.  Darnell manages to wander off to look around the ruins that Professor Crater is studying.  When Nancy finds Darnell, he’s dead.  She claims that it’s from eating a poisonous plant, but Kirk and McCoy aren’t buying it.  The poisonous properties of the plant wouldn’t explain the red circles on his face.  Oh, and both Mr. and Mrs. Crater insist on salt tablets.  Something seems a little off.

Back on the Enterprise, McCoy discovers that Darnell’s body is missing salt.  He and Kirk can’t imagine how someone could miss something so basic.  Besides, what does it mean?  Why is he lacking the one thing that the Craters were asking for.  (What I want to know is what Darnell was doing on the planet in the first place.  He was a science officer.  There’s a reason newly deceased crewmembers wear red.)

Well, it turns out that Nancy has a secret:  She’s not Nancy.  She’s actually a salt vampire that Robert was hiding.  She’s the last of her kind.  It’s not clear how they were killed.  I would assume from lack of food, although the planet seems like it’s been dead for a while.  I’m not sure how long the extinction took.  It’s also not mentioned what Robert was doing with the salt vampire for the years they were living together.   (I suppose some things are better left to the imagination.)

The mission of the Enterprise was to seek out new life and in the first episode to air, the first new form of life we see is killed by Dr. McCoy.  Granted, the salt vampire was a threat, although it was more from being desperate to survive than from wanting to do harm.  As I said, we’re not given an exact timeline of how the species died off.  We don’t know if the one impersonating Nancy was there alone for months or decades.  There is a certain shame in not being able to learn more about it.

One issue I had with the original series was a lack of continuity.  You could almost watch the series out of order and not be confused much.  In some respects, this is good.  With this episode, you don’t lose much by not having much of a history to work with.  You get all the basic ideas.  McCoy has to meet the one that got away.  The Federation and Starfleet tend towards exploration and research rather than battle.  Sometimes, tough decisions have to be made.  It’s not desirable to kill the last of a species, but it was necessary.  This was a new show, and one that would become iconic.  Some things can be forgiven.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Coco (2017)

Life’s not easy for Miguel.  He desperately wants to play music, but happens to be born into a family that despises the profession.  It all goes back to Miguel’s great-great-grandmother, Imelda.  She was abandoned by her husband, who wanted to go out into the world and entertain people.  She turned to making shoes to raise her daughter, Coco.  It was a profession passed down through the generations, meaning that Miguel does have a career waiting for him.  It’s just not the one that he would have chosen for himself.

The Day of the Dead is coming up, meaning that his family is preparing an ofrenda with pictures of deceased relatives.  At the very top sit’s a photo of Imelda, Coco and the great-great-grandfather.  (Being that the great-great-grandfather is persona non grata, his face is missing.)  When Miguel breaks the frame, he comes to realize that the man in the photo is dressed like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz.  He’s even holding Ernesto’s iconic guitar, which Miguel plans on stealing so that he might play in a talent contest.

The catch is that Miguel becomes invisible once he has the guitar.  He is seen by the dead, who have come over from the Land of the Dead.  Miguel is escorted over to the Land of the Dead, where he meets his deceased relatives, including Imelda.  The only way he can get back is with the blessing of a family member, which they are happy to give him, provided that he never play music again.  This sets off an adventure for the 12-year-old boy, who is set on meeting Ernesto, believing him to be the only family member that would give an unconditional blessing., as the rest of his family is kept in line by Imelda.

For those familiar with Pixar movies, I don’t know that there are going to be a lot of surprises.  Ernesto is a hero to Miguel and to a lot of other people.  It soon becomes clear that Ernesto has a past that he wants to keep hidden.  (Sometimes, heroes make the best villains.)  Then, there’s Héctor.  He offers to help Miguel if Miguel can take a picture back to the Land of the Living.  Héctor has only a daughter to remember him.  In the Land of the Dead, beign forgotten leads to a second, possibly real death.  Héctor would seem to have more to offer than would meet the eye.

There’s also the time limit set by having to return by sunrise.  If Miguel can’t do this, he’s stuck in the Land of the Dead.  It’s somewhat cliché to have it run down to the buzzer, yes.  But I’m not sure it would have been as much fun if Miguel had made it back with time to spare.

You might think that death and the afterlife wouldn’t be good for children.  The dead are portrayed as dressed skeletons, with the most obvious skeletal feature usually being the skull.  There are scenes with the skeletons coming apart and reforming, so this may be a judgment call for parents of younger children.  However, I don’t think it was meant to be scary.  Most of it comes off as being silly.

I hate to say that a studio’s output is safe, but I do think audiences can expect a certain level of quality from Pixar.  The movie is rated PG, but I would imagine a lot of this deals with the depictions of the afterlife.  (The only really gruesome death is when Ernesto is killed by a falling bell.)  I would think that children and adults alike could enjoy the movie.  The story of a boy trapped by familial expectation is one everyone can understand.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

My brother left me a bunch of movies on DVDs.  These weren’t great movies, mind you.  They were those 50-movie packs filled with all sorts of public-domain movies.  That’s why it surprised me to find The Little Shop of Horrors among the titles.  My mind immediately went to the version staring Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene.  No.  This one predates that version by 26 years.  This one was directed by none other than Roger Corman.

If you’ve seen the 1986 remake, you won’t be surprised much by the plot of the 1960 original.  Seymour Krelborn is a klutz, so much so that he gets fired for ruining an arrangement.  He is able to redeem himself by bring in an unusual plant.   Gravis Mushnick, who owns the show, agrees to tie Seymour’s fate to the plant’s.  If Audrey, Jr., can bring in customers, Seymour can stay.  (The plant is named for Seymour’s coworker, Audrey Fulquard.)

The plant becomes a local celebrity.  Seymour finds that this comes at a cost, though.  Audrey, Jr., needs blood to grow.  The bigger the plant gets, the more blood it needs.  This leads Seymour (and Mushnik) down a slippery slope, as the missing victims attract the attention of the police.  Seymour eventually becomes a victim of his own success, quite literally.  The movie ends with Seymour being eaten by the plant, which eventually dies.

As with other public-domain movies, you’re probably going to find this movie readily available.  (YouTube seems to have several different versions available.)   I don’t imagine that too many will have great sound or video quality.  Many are packaged with profit in mind.  In fact, Roger Corman was known for knocking out a lot of movies, presumably for the same reason.  IMDb has him listed as producer for 415 titles and director for 56.  This is an example of what happens when you favor quantity over quality.

The movie was made in under two days for about $28,000.  A lot of this shows.  Charles B. Griffith, who wrote the script, filled in for the voice of Audrey, Jr., during shooting.  According to IMDb, Corman decided to keep his voice in the final print.  Part of this was because Griffith did a pretty decent job.  Not having to spend the money also factored in to the decision.

The movie is on par with other b-movies that I’ve seen.  It’s not going to be great, but it will probably be watchable, even if just once, by most people.  For me, a lot of that had to do with having seen the 1986 version.  I kind of wanted to see how it played out.  It’s also interesting to note that Jack Nicholson appears as the masochistic dental patient, so there was that.

If you have to decide between renting the two movies, I’d say watch the 1986 version.  The humor in this one is very different and seems to be more a product of its time.  I did feel like a lot of the humor was going over my head.  The two police officers, for instance, ask for just the facts.  It would seem to be a play on Dragnet, but I wasn’t necessarily prompted to laugh at it.  It seems like there‘s a lot I don‘t understand about the movie.

Aside from the print quality, the only thing of concern would be the plant eating people.  This is shown on screen.  There’s no blood, but it’s pretty clear what’s going on.   (It’s the kind of thing that maybe impressionable children might have a problem with.  I don’t imagine too many adults having a problem with it.)  I’d really only recommend watching this version if you can get it streaming for free.  I’m not entirely sure it would be worth the price of one of those 50-movie sets.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Gotti (2018)

I don’t know for certain that having a lot of executive producers is a sign that the movie will be bad, but it’ can’t be good.  Consider Gotti, which has 30 names listed on IMDb:  Noel Ashman, Barry Brooker, Peter Capozzi, Fay Devlin, Maurice Fadida, Linda Favila, Thomas Fiore, Ted Fox, Arianne Fraser, Phillip Glasser, Wayne Marc Godfrey, Norton Herrick, Marty Ingels, Anthony Jabre, Robert Jones, Corey Large, Rob Logozio, Randi Michel, Keya Morgan, Vance Owen, Delphine Perrier, Rick Salomon, Steven Saxton, Kirk Shaw, Mark Stewart, Dt Thomas, John Travolta and Stan Wertlieb.  These aren’t associate producers or line producers.  These names are all listed as executive producer.

As you might imagine, Gotti is a movie about John Gotti, the famous crime boss.  It’s framed by John Gotti talking with his son, John Gotti, Jr., about a possible plea deal the son is considering taking.  Senior recounts his life story as a way of informing Junior’s decision.  Yes, it shows him as a crime boss, but it also shows his family life.  I didn’t really get the impression that it played up either aspect that well.  If anything, it portrays John Gotti, Sr., as a horrible storyteller.

The movie is fairly disjointed.  We have two or three scenes about any given aspect of his life.  When his son is hit by a car, there’s a (barely) suspenseful scene of a car approaching the child on a motorize bicycle where we all know what’s coming.  The son is buried.  Gotti tells everyone they’re going to Florida for a while.  Then, Gotti tells his wife that it’s time to move on.  That’s pretty much the end of that.

Because of this, you don’t really get the chance to connect with the characters.  After leaving the movie, I commented that it was like watching a two-hour coming attraction.  There’s no real tension.  I never felt as if I should like or hate anyone.  When one character, Angelo Ruggiero, was kicked out, I didn’t even feel any emotion about it.  This was a major character and that was the end of his part.

I don’t often talk about acting in my reviews.  I feel that if the actors are working best, their acting should go unnoticed.  You shouldn’t even think about acting.  In this case, I felt that John Travolta stuck out like a sore thumb here.  He was way to hammy for a production that was trying to take itself this seriously.  I never really noticed it until now, but it seems that Travolta has been channeling his character from Welcome Back, Kotter in most of his films.  If his character isn’t a grown version of Vinnie Barbarino, it’s at least someone that could be related to him.  His portrayal of Gotti could best be described as Vinnie with anger issues.

I really feel bad for MoviePass.  MoviePass Ventures, a subsidiary of MoviePass, acquired part of the ownership of the movie in hopes of having some sort of revenue stream.  Oh, man.  Did they pick a stinker.  This is not a movie that I can recommend.  My parents and I used MoviePass to see this movie and it was still overpriced.  If I had fallen asleep ten minutes it, I would have considered it a blessing.  I’d watch something else if you’re given a choice.

Friday, June 15, 2018

La guerra dei robot/War of the Robots (1978)

Certain things can be forgiven if a movie is at least entertaining.  I can overlook one or two factual mistakes.  Anachronisms can usually be let go.  Sometimes, a movie is so bad that the only entertainment value is in seeing how bad it is.  Take War of the Robots.  Does it have high production values?  No.  Does it have a coherent plot?  Not really.  Is the acting good?  It has its moments, but not many of them.

The movie starts with Professor Carr and his assistant, Lois, being kidnapped by a bunch of guys in blonde wigs.  Normally, this might not be a pressing issue.  However, the professor forgot to turn off his nuclear reactor and it’s going to blow in eight days if someone doesn’t enter a code.  No one on base can make heads or tales of it, so the good ship Trissi is dispatched to bring back the professor.

The good news is that the kidnappers went in a straight line, making it easy to find them.  The bad news is that it will take four days to catch up with them.  This doesn’t leave much room for delays.  Capt. John Boyd and his mostly unnamed crew manage to make it to an asteroid where they encounter a group of aliens led by Kuba.  Kuba doesn’t trust Boyd at first, but eventually agrees to join him in getting the professor back.

It turns out that the professor is being held by a group of immortal aliens.  Their immortality has come at a cost in that they can’t reproduce.  That’s why the kidnapped the professor; he’s perfected the ability to create life at will.  When Boyd encounters Carr, it turns out that he’s willingly working for the immortal aliens.  And Lois?  She’s been made their empress.

Either way, Boyd has to bring them back.  Unfortunately, the professor winds up dead before they can make it back to their star base.  Not to worry, though.  It turns out that Lois might know the code for the reactor.  It’s too bad that she gets killed in battle.  As luck would have it, Kuba grabbed the one memory card that happens to have the code on it.  This enables the ship to transmit the information back to the base and save the day.

Whatever plot the script has seems to serve stringing together a few cheesy fight scenes.  Of course, when I say fight scene, I mean a few of the good guys killing a bunch of the robots with laser pistols and laser swords.  I’m not even entirely convinced that there was a script.  I think that when Alfonso Brescia ’wrote’ and directed the film, he may have just been filming a scene and telling the actors what to do.  (“Ok, you…Um…say something about not hitting the target or something.”)

One thing that sticks out is that the professor left the nuclear reactor on at all.  I mean, if you’re going to kill the entire local population, why not kill them and get it over with?  I imagine that there’s some reason why the reactor is always on the verge of destroying itself.  Maybe it has to do with his work.  Maybe he got a cut-rate reactor.  I don’t know.  If leaving it on was unintentional, why not just give the code to the good guys just to make them go away?

It’s also not clear if the Carr and Lois defected.  It would seem so.  There’s no evidence that they were coerced.  Then again, no explanation is given as to what they were offered.  Carr and Lois didn’t seem to want for anything and no one seemed to make fun of them.  A little detail would have been nice.

As for the special effects, there are none.  The pistols don’t actually seem to fire anything.  A little light goes on and the enemy falls down.  The laser swords seem to be little more than aluminum foil and cardboard.  In one scene, someone has to float from one ship to another.  I’d say that he has a star field behind him except that you can just make out the stars on his space suit.

According to IMDb, this is the third of five movies in a series.  I haven’t seen the other four, so I don’t know what kind of connection there is.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of overlap with the characters.  They might at least give some context, but I doubt it.  Speaking of which, I’ve never seen so many actors credited as something else.   (Writer/director Alfonso Brescia is credited as Al Bradly, for isntance.)

You know a movie is going to be bad when the dub varies and the camerawork is shaky.  In fact, the image was so shaky, the opening credits move relative to the background.  I wish I was kidding.  I was also wondering where the ship got it’s name from.  Apparently, uniforms were provided by Trissi Sports.  Ok.  That’s a bit unusual for product placement, but I can live with that.  However, did Lois reference a General Gonad?  Again, I wish I was kidding.

IMDb might have had this on their Bottom 100 list except that it has about a third of the ratings necessary to make the cut.  I think the ultimate sign that it’s a bad movie is that you can’t even get enough people to sit through it to give an honest rating.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Órbita 9/Orbiter 9 (2017)

WARNING:  I’m going to give away major plot twists.  If you’re not into spoilers, you might want to hold off on reading the review.

Not all movies have a happy future for Earth.  In Orbiter 9, Earth has deteriorated to the point where humanity has decided to colonize another planet.  Once an Earth-like planet is confirmed, we apparently pin our hopes on it, site unseen.  Helena is on a ship, ostensibly heading for that planet.  She’s the only human onboard.  Her parents had launched with her shortly after Helen’s birth, but they left the ship (presumably sacrificing themselves) to help preserve oxygen.  Her only other human contact for 20 years comes in the form of Álex, a technician sent to the ship to fix her ship.  (There was supposed to be enough oxygen to last the entire 40-year trip.)

By now, you should be asking at least one of the two questions I asked.  First, why would they put a woman on such a long journey when you would think that reproduction would be an issue?  If you’re going to colonize a planet, you’d want the people to have as many children as possible.  Yes, it’s possible for a woman to have a child after 40, but why not put her in stasis so that she might be able to maximize her child-bearing years?  Or, better yet, send several people on the same ship?  It seems rather expensive to build an entire ship for one family.

The second question is what Álex is doing that far out.  He’s at the half-way point, apparently.  It’s not mentioned if there’s a space station or if he’s alone.  This isn’t necessarily a plot hole so much as it’s a red herring.  It makes sense that you’d have something like that.  However, the lack of detail caught my attention.  Shouldn’t Helena want to walk around the station or other ship a little?  Álex doesn’t invite her over and Helena doesn’t seem to press the issue.

Well, it turns out that the entire thing is faked.  Yes, Helena is living on a replica of a ship called an orbiter.  (I’m not sure why it’s called an orbiter, as it’s not actually in orbit of anything, nor is it supposed to be.)  She’s the ninth of 10 such people.  The idea is to see how such a long trip might play out.  It’s not clear how many people are on the other ships, but I would imagine that each ship holds one person each.  We find out that Helena ad the others are actually clones.  Her parents were playing the parts for her benefit.

Álex breaks her out.  He even fools his employers for a little while.  This is where it gets complicated.  I mean that both in terms of Helena having a reaction to sunlight and her getting pregnant.  It turns out that those running the experiment think that they have no more use for Helena.  Since the seal has been broken, so to speak, any future results would be tainted.  It isn’t until they find out that she’s pregnant that Helena and Álex have a bargaining chip.

Helena is allowed to reenter her ship.  We see a teenager leave the ship in the final scene with an unseen figure behind her.  Since the first actual ships were to be launched 15 years after the main events of the movie and the girl appears to be about 15, we’re to take the sound  of launching ships to be a sign that the experiments were successful.  What is to become of humanity remains a mystery.

Here’s the thing.  The movie seems like it was a repurposed TV pilot.  We get just enough of a plot to string together some twists and maybe a chase scene or two.  I kept expecting some greater reveal, like this is only a small part of a larger series of tests.  No mention is made of scaling up.  We know that other countries want to go to this new planet, but we don’t know really what they’re doing to prepare for this.

There’s also the issue of using a person as an experiment.  Helena did not give her consent to be part of the project.  She was created as a guinea pig specifically for this experiment.  There are maybe two or three lines of dialogue that call this into question.  This is another aspect that might have been explored on some sort of extended format.  Does the government have a right to do something like this to a clone?  Would it make a difference if it were, say, an orphaned or abandoned child?

There is a similarity to a miniseries called Ascension.  It had the same basic premise except that we had one ship that actually was a generational ship.  It had a similar plot twist towards the end in that the ship was revealed to be an experiment.  If I were charged with seeing how to get people to a new planet, it would look something like what Ascension did.  That show used the basic premise better.

With Orbiter 9, we also don’t get much into the politics.  Álex does take Helena to a doctor.  He also talks to some friends at a bar, mostly to give some context to the story.  We find out that a lesbian couple wouldn’t be considered as colonists because lesbians tend not to have children.  This would reinforce my concern of having only one person per ship.   Yes, I know.  It was supposed to be a test.  Wouldn‘t it be better to test groups on a ship?  For that matter, why eject the parents?  I mean, really?  What’s the point of having one person on a ship like that?  Can somebody please explain this to me?

I think there were much better movies that were done similarly.  In looking for answers, I saw comparisons to other movies like Moon.  Orbiter 9 seemed a little too bland for me.  I think the concept has potential.  So much more could have been done here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 0 (The Cage)

Most Star Trek fans know that the original series had two pilots.  When Gene Roddenberry produced The Cage, NBC rejected it.  What the network eventually got was the version with Kirk, Spock and McCoy.  Before Captain James T. Kirk was Captain Christopher Pike.

The Cage starts with Pike considering retirement.  It’s not that being a captain is boring.  Quite the opposite.  He’s still licking his wounds from a mission where he lost several crewmembers.  That’s part of the job, but it doesn’t make it easy.

Before Pike can seriously consider it, The Enterprise gets a distress call from Talos IV.  It appears that a scientific expedition had been missing for almost two decades and crashed on the planet.  Most of the people are men.  The only notable exception is a young woman named Vina, who the men claim was born just as the ship landed.  Her beauty allows Pike to be taken in long enough to be captured by the native Talosians.

The entire crash site was an illusion projected by the Talosians for the purpose of capturing a male human.  Why?  Talosian society destroyed the surface of the planet.  They need a race of slaves to rebuild.  The idea is to use Pike and Vina to breed that slave race.

The one big problem is breaking Pike.  He seems to be resistant to all forms of persuasion and punishment.  Even though Vina is a real woman, she can be made to look any way Pike might desire.  They even allow two women from the Enterprise to beam down for Pike to choose from.  Even the threat of hell doesn’t seem to make Pike any more compliant.  It isn’t until the Talosians go through the Enterprise library that they realize humans aren’t suitable for their needs.  They allow the crew to leave, knowing that the Talosian race is ultimately doomed.

Even when I first saw the episode, it seems odd that they would only take one male from the landing party, especially considering that there were several to chose from.  You can’t really get a good breeding population with just one couple.  Even with three women, inbreeding would become a problem.  They actually have an entire ship to get people from.  (Pike eve gives the exact number of lives he’s responsible for: 203.)

My only thought is that the Talosians may have wanted to study humans before trying any long-term commitment.  It wasn’t stated that they were ignoring the ship.  Their main focus was simply trying to figure out how Pike worked.  Once they got him compliant the rest of the crew would have been easier.

It’s odd to think of what might have become of Star Trek if this pilot had been used.  Spock would be the only character retained and would become a lot less emotional.  (He can be seen smiling in this episode.)  The first officer was female.  Pike only called her Number One and she was played by none other than Majel Barrett.  From what I’ve read, that was just a little too progressive for NBC, who specifically told Roddenberry to get rid of the guy with the pointy ears.

The reworked series went on to air 79 episodes.  That was apparently enough to get it into syndication.  There’s no way to tell if NBC made the right call ordering a new pilot.  The original cast may or may not have done better.  Even with the changes, NBC moved the show around enough to eventually kill it.  Still, assuming it had been the pilot, what would it have been like to have a female first officer that early in the show?  During the run of the original series, Uhura is never shown taking command of the ship.  It wouldn’t be until the Next Generation that a woman would be in the captain’s chair.  (For that matter, what would the spin-off series even looked like?)

I enjoyed watching The Original Series when I was younger.  It wasn’t until years later that I would learn a lot of what went on behind the scenes.  Roddenberry would go on to marry Majel Barrett.  Apparently the two were having an affair at the time.  There are a few behind-the-scenes specials that I’ve seen that are interesting and offer some insight to the show.  (Two that come to mind are The Truth Is in the Stars and Chaos on the Bridge.)

Because of the magic of The Internet, I now have the opportunity to watch The Original series once again.  Thanks to Netflix, I now have access to Star Trek, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise as well as The Animated Series.  I may wait a while to start watching Discovery, as I can only get that through All Access right now.  Maybe I’ll have some other option in the near future.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Mark of the Hawk (1957)

Years ago, my brother cleaned out his storage locker.  He had quite a few DVD sets and a few individual DVDs of movies.  We’re talking those public-domain movies with bad transfer quality, some in packs of 50 movies.  One of the movies in an individual package was Mark of the Hawk.  I figured that whatever else, I could say that I had seen Sidney Poitier in a movie.  I think maybe I should have picked another of his movies to start with.

In the movie, Poitier plays Obam, who has been elected to his country’s council.  Which country, you ask?  That’s a good question.  It’s not named, but it is occupied by the British.  Odam wants the British out.  His preferred method is peaceful.  Odam’s brother, however has no qualms about using violence.  In fact, the movie starts with the brother capturing and killing a hawk to hang in front of someone’s door.

Most of the native population seems to be easily let to the brother’s method.  Obam is able to keep people at bay for a while, but it isn’t long before a group of natives and a group of British start shooting at each other.  Obam is arrested and tried, leading to a speech about how peace is the best option.

This could have been a much better movie.  At first, I thought it was going to be about violence versus peace.  I remember reading once how Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were both working towards similar goals using opposing means.  This could have been a similar allegory.  It wasn’t.  Instead of violence versus peace, it’s about accepting Jesus.  In several parts, it comes across as very preachy.

The movie does touch on issues of colonialism and racism, but it seemed kind of simplified.  I realize that the movie was made in 1957.  Some topics weren’t dealt with in a sophisticated manner when it came to movies.  I think anyone judging this movie by today’s standards is going to find it somewhat silly.  For instance, there are no specifics on where in Africa this takes place.  The language is simply referred to as the African language.  (Parts of the movie were filmed in Nigeria, according to Wikipedia.)

This was released by Treasure Box.  There were no features and the print quality was fairly low.  You might be able to find a better copy of it, but I tend not to hold out hope with these movies.  I think that for most people, this movie should be skipped.  I think the only value in watching it may be to see what movies of the era were like.  I realize that there were better offerings, but this does show what I would consider to be the lower end of the spectrum.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Ocean's 8 (2018)

I suppose there are only so many ways you can do a heist movie.  They tend to be formulaic, almost like Hallmark movies.  The formula usually starts with one person hatching a plan and assembling the right team.  They’ll need someone to crack a safe or someone to infiltrate security.  Maybe they’ll use someone in disguise.  They might have an inside person.  They’ll almost always need someone to fence the merchandise.

The second phase is usually the preparation.  The team has to go over the plan.  They get any supplies they need, like vehicles.  They do any prep work.  There’s usually exactly one major setback when someone discovers something has changed.  It’s usually a critical detail, like the type of vault has changed to the one vault that can’t be cracked.

Once that’s out of the way, the third phase begins, which is the actual heist.  This is where everyone pays attention.  The well-orchestrated plan usually goes off with maybe one or two hitches.  Someone has to improvise, creating tension, but they always pull it off.  (Even when it seems that they don’t, it might mean that it was all part of the plan.)

Part four is the aftermath.  This is where the characters will sell off any items that aren’t cash and split the proceeds.  We’ll also get to see any of those details that we missed.  There may be a few lingering details, like getting rid of the police, but these points are usually minor.

Ocean’s 8 focuses on the sister of Danny Ocean, one Debbie Ocean.  She has been planning a heist during her time in jail.  She’s had five years and eight months to work out the details.  Her plan is to steal diamonds that has been in storage for several decades.  She gets Cartier to put the necklace on the neck of unsuspecting actress Daphne Kluger, who can then be led into a bathroom where the team can steal the goods.

In some respects, this is almost the very definition of a sequel/remake/spin-off that I hate.  There’s a very cookie-cutter feel to it.  The question becomes if the ingredients will be enough of a difference.  There are a few tense moments, but you always get the impression that it’s going to work.  (Well, it worked in the other three movies.  Didn’t it?)

The main characters also seem to work naturally together.  Each one has a reason for wanting to do this.  A few even have to be mildly goaded into doing it.  I never felt like any of the characters were out of place or unnatural.  And yes, it’s an all-female team doing the heist.  I’m glad not to have heard much in that respect.  It really didn’t matter.  I will say it was fun to watch James Corden as the insurance guy.  He played the part perfectly.

My only question is why Danny Ocean couldn’t have been in this movie.  We get a few reprisals of roles from the original trilogy.  (A trilogy based on remake, it’s worth noting.)  The movie has Debbie visiting her brother’s mausoleum early in the film.  He apparently died in 2018, prior to the events of the film but long after the events of the previous one.  Is this to say that there’s no going back?

At least the movie was entertaining.  I never felt bored or as if I was rewatching the other movies.  (This may have to do with the fact that it’s been so long since Ocean‘s 13.)  I think had I not had Moviepass, I may have waited for this to come out on DVD if I saw it at all.  I may not have really taken a chance on it.  As much as I like the actors, there’s always that fear that it’s going to be too much like the previous movies.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992)

WARNING: I’m going to give away major details about the movie including how it ends.  You’ve been warned.

The first Waxworks wasn’t particularly impressive.  I could forgive you for not having heard of it.  It was about some friends, most of whom fall victim to an evil wax museum.  Sarah and Mark escape, only to be followed by a reanimated hand in the final scene.  Waxwork II starts with a montage of scenes recounting those events.  We see the wax museum burn down, many characters die horrible deaths and so on.

The movie starts with Mark dropping Sarah off at her place.  Her place happens to be her stepfather’s apartment.  He’s abusive, and very much in the stereotypical way.  He wears the famous undershirt and drinks beer.  (How do we know it’s beer?  It’s in a white can with the word “BEER” on it.)   Sarah’s stepfather begins yelling at her and whatnot when the reanimated hand shows up and kills him.  Mark is able to save her, but Sarah is still left to take the fall for Stepfather’s death.

The trial goes about as well as Sarah has a right to expect. No one believes her story about the zombie hand.  After all, Mark is the only person that could back her up.  I’m not really sure why her attorney doesn’t go for an insanity or self-defense plea.  After all, Sarah’s stepfather was about to hit her.  I know that affirmative defenses can be problematic, but I think this might be an appropriate time to try.

After the trial lets out, Mark and Sarah go looking for something that can help her.  They find a magic compass-looking thing that allows them to travel to an alternate dimension.  They pass through worlds, much like in the first movie.  Each one is an homage to a different movie classic.  Their first stop is Frankenstein.  From there, they end up in other movies, like Alien ad The Haunting.

Sir Wilfred shows up in the form of a raven to provide a little help.  Well, he basically shows up to explain what’s going on.  This alternate dimension is a playground between God and Satan.  They can’t battle it out on our plane directly, but they can fight it out here.  Sir Wilfred calls it God’s Nintendo.  What happens in God’s Nintendo has effects in the real world.  Each side has time warriors that help out.

Mark is able to get Sarah the help she needs before sending her back.  He stays behind to be a time warrior, himself.  The important thing is that Sarah has a reanimated hand to offer as evidence of her story.  She is, of course, promptly acquitted.  As she exit’s the courthouse, a cab pulls up.  A man gets out and hands Sarah her very own compass thing.  She drives off with the implication being that she goes to rejoin Mark.

Ok.  So, there are several issues.  First off, no mention is made of the house burning down with nearly everyone in it.  Most of the main characters from the movie also went missing.  You’d think Mark and/or Sarah would be on the hook for at least some of that.  Nope.  Not even an arson charge.  (I think the deaths might be felony homicide depending on where they live and who’s prosecuting.)

Another issue is how the hand managed to kill Sarah’s stepfather, being that it’s just a hand.  How does something that small manage to pin someone down and strangle them?  The movie seems to have little use for physics.  (I know the man is drunk, but still…)

Zach Galligan and Patrick Macnee are the only two actors to appear in both the first and second movies.  (Deborah Foreman was replaced with Monika Schnarre as Sarah.)  We do get to see Bruce Campbell and David Carradine make appearances.  And wait… is that Marina Sirtis?  Wow!  Deanna Troi appears in this film.  (Well, not as Deanna Troi, but still…)

Like the first movie, this one wasn’t great.  It was entertaining the first time, but I don’t think I would buy it.  It’s the kind of movie that a local station might play because the studio wasn’t asking a lot of money for it.  This movie could easily have not been made and I don’t think anyone would have noticed.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Employees Leaving the Lumière Factory/La sortie de l'usine Lumière à Lyon (1895)

I’ve often wondered if inventors understand things that they set in motion.  Gutenberg didn’t invent the book.  He didn’t even invent the printing press.  He did make a moveable type that made it cheaper to print books.   Thanks to him, I grew up with bibles in every hotel room.  I sometimes wonder what he would think of things like newspapers, romance novels or even the Internet.  Paper isn’t even required any more.

The same could be said of movies.  I’ve been looking at IMDb’s lower-numbered titles.  These aren’t necessarily the earliest, mind you.  I did get curious to see what had gotten the #1 spot, or rather TT0000001.  That belongs to Carmencita.  #10 belongs to La sortie de l'usine Lumière à Lyon, or Employees Leaving the Lumière Factory.  Both films are short and appear to be simply a recording of everyday events.

Carmencita is a woman dancing.  Employees Leaving the Lumière Factory is, as you might expect, people walking out of a factory.  They’re leaving through one large gateway and a regular door.  There are apparently three different versions.  What’s the difference?  It appears to be the presence or absence of a dog and/or a horse.  (It’s easy to find the different versions on YouTube.)

It’s hard to find a list of movies from this far back.  Clicking on 1895 on IMDb doesn’t even bring up this movie, let alone any others, so it’s difficult for me to judge what the industry was like back then.  It is what you would call silent, even if it is accompanied by music.  It’s also in black and white.  There’s no dialogue of any kind.  I was hoping to see if the content was the norm or the exception.  Were most films of the day just shorts like this?  According to Wikipedia, feature-length films started about a decade later.

I wonder if the pioneers of film technology could imagine people having a video camera in their pockets.  We can record videos of our cats or of our neighbors and post it online for all to see.  I remember there being a meteor entering the Earth’s atmosphere in Russia; it was well-documented because everyone had dashboard cameras in their cars.  Everyone has the ability to record motion pictures now.   I think there were stereoscopic still pictures back then, so I think 3-D movies would have been conceivable.  I would think adult movies would also have been considered.  I have to wonder, though, how the makers of this film would have reacted to modern technology.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Upgrade (2018)

Details matter.

I came out of Upgrade feeling like something was missing.  It was a decent movie, but it wasn’t great.  It wasn’t until later that I realized the story didn’t have many unnecessary details.  Everything seemed to move the story along.

The movie begins with Grey Trace fixing a classic car for a man named Eron Keen.  His wife, Asha, is coming home in a futuristic, self-driving car.  He tends towards the past whereas she tends towards the future.  Either way, he needs her to follow him so he can drop off the car.  He’ll need a ride back, after all.

On that ride back, they get into an accident.  The car’s AI malfunctions and takes them to a bad part of town, where it finally accelerates and has an accident.  Both survive the crash, but Asha is killed by a gang and Grey is left paralyzed.

Mr. Keen pays Grey a visit in the hospital.  Eron may be able to use a chip called STEM that he’s developed to fix Grey’s spine.  Grey initially refuses.  Without his wife, all he can think about is ending his life.  He reconsiders, only to find that there’s a catch: He can’t tell anyone about the chip.  That means rolling around in a wheelchair to keep up appearances.  He can’t even tell his own mother.

Soon, Grey realizes that there’s another catch.  The chip comes with a voice.  While Grey is researching the accident he was in, STEM speaks up to point out an identifying mark on one of the attackers.  From there, Grey is able to find and exact revenge on the people that killed his wife and put him in a wheelchair.

It’s your basic revenge movie, in the same vein as Death Wish.  The problem is that it’s just that: Basic.  With Death Wish, we get to see the main character’s family.  Here, Grey has a wife, who dies, and a mother, who we get to see very little of.  It’s mostly Grey taking suggestions from STEM.

The act in need of revenge occurs very early in the movie.  We don’t get any flashbacks to Grey and Asha meeting or getting married.  We get the impression that they’re happily married.  However, this is The Grey Trace Show, with his trusty sidekick, STEM.  There isn’t a lot to differentiate this from other revenge movies. The only thing that makes Grey different is that his body is augmented.  He has an advantage over the average bad guy.

I had gone in to the movie hoping to see a lot of the effects shown in the trailer.  I did get that, but even that wasn’t as much as I would have wanted.  There are a few fight scenes, but a lot of the movie is Grey getting deeper into trouble because STEM is there to egg him on and help him fight, if necessary.

This is almost like a rough draft of a great movie.  It had the elements, but it was pared down to the basics.  Maybe we could have had flashbacks to Grey and Asha meeting.  There was none of that.  There’s no real history of who Eron is.  I don’t recall seeing any articles on him.  He’s like a stock tech guy, there only to have the answer.

In fact, I would say that almost all of the characters aren’t even McGuffins.  They’re more like signposts, pointing Grey in the right direction or telling us where Grey is.  The mother is there to take care of him and show us that Grey is in need.  The gang is there to beat the crap out of Grey.  Asha is there to be the motivation for Grey to seek revenge.  STEM is almost like a tour guide, in that respect.  The AI shows Grey things that he normally wouldn’t have found or seen.

As for the ending, I’m not sure where the movie wanted to go.  It serves as a way for the movie to have a complete ending.  It could also set up a second act.  As with Bright, some aspects of Upgrade would make more sense if that were true.  I could see this as part of a larger story arc.  I could also see this being a wasted movie.  I guess I’ll have to see what happens.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

The Toys That Made Us (Season 2)

I grew up with a lot of toys.  I don’t know if my brothers and I were ahead of or behind the curve in terms of numbers, but we did have quite a few.  That’s what caught my attention when I saw The Toys That Made Us.   Several of the toy lines I grew up with were featured in some of the episodes.  The show is split into two seasons, with the first season covering four toy lines like He-Man.

In the second season, four more toy lines are featured:  Star Trek, Transformers, LEGO and Hello Kitty.  All four of these toy lines have name recognition.  Star Trek is a well-known TV and movie franchise.  As for Hello Kitty, if you don’t know the name, you’ve probably at least seen the cute face.

I actually found this season a little more informative than the previous season.  Part of that is because I grew up with two of the toy lines.  We had all manner of Transformer toys.  As for LEGO, I think we still have a few hundred pounds of the bricks stashed away in closets somewhere.

Another reason for my increased interest is that I wasn’t really aware of the Star Trek and Hello Kitty toys. I’ve watched a lot of the Star Trek shows, although I never really got into the collectible end of it.  (Well, ok.  I bought the trading cards, but that’s it.)  Hello Kitty was never really my thing.  I had some passing knowledge, like the character’s name is Kitty White.  Most of the additional information was totally new to me.

This season also seemed to go into more detail, overall.  The first season seemed like it was jut a brief rundown of how the company rose to power and, in some cases, subsequently failed.  Here, the toys seem to be a lot more successful.  Star Trek is still around.  Even though LEGO and Hello Kitty have had problems, neither brand is going away any time soon.  I’m ot sure if Transformer toys are still in stores, though.

One good thing about the series is that each episode is independent of the others.  You could watch just one on the toy you liked.  You can watch them out of order or in order.  Each episode is under an hour, making it relatively easy to binge four or all eight in one sitting.

I think this show is banking mostly on nostalgia.  All of the brands have been around longer than the average college student.  In fact, I think most of them are older than I am.  I would imagine, though, that most people reading this have played with at least one of the brands in the second season, if not the first.  If you didn’t have LEGOs, you probably had a friend who did.  I don’t think you could make it through elementary school without seeing that cute feline face at least once.

I’m curious to know if there’s going to be a third season.  The opening theme states that it’s an eight-part documentary series.  This doesn’t preclude more episodes.  However, I’m not sure what they would pick for new episodes.  I can’t imagine any of the four brands in this season not being among the ten most recognizable.    I can’t think of any other name in toys that would match up to these.

If Netflix does want to do something similar in the future, it would probably be better to focus on a different product, like video games.  Around the 1970s and 1980s, home computers and video consoles were being introduced.  Atari and Commodore would both be good candidates if a series was done on electronics.  I don’t know that I’d hold my breath for another four episodes on toys.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Waxwork (1988)

WARNING:  I’m going to give out major details, including the ending.

Near where I live is a stretch of businesses.  It looks like they are operating out of former houses, probably as the result of rezoning without much rebuilding.  It was a little unsettling for me to look at, as they looked like regular family homes with business names.  David Lincoln runs a wax museum that seems to have similarly taken over a random house in a random neighborhood.

Sarah and China happen to be walking past the house when Mr. Lincoln stops them.  He invites the two young ladies +4 to visit the museum, which is still in progress.  It will be sort of like a soft open, but for no more than six people.  (He insists on six as a strict limit.)  Sarah and China aren’t sure what to make of it, but they tell their friends who decide to go with varying degrees of enthusiasm.  Two even back out at the last minute.

The displays are a who’s who of popular monsters.  One of the friends, Tony, gets sucked into a display to find himself in an actual forest.  He is eventually bitten by a werewolf and becomes part of the display.  China gets to meet Count Dracula, who inflicts a similar fate on her.  Mark and Sarah manage to make it out, leaving Lincoln in need of four more people.

Mark tells everything to an Inspector Roberts, who is eventually persuaded to investigate.  As you might imagine, Lincoln is able to get rid of Roberts easily.  Actually, Lincoln tries to push Roberts into a display with no luck.  It isn’t until Roberts realizes that there are actual missing people in the museum that he goes back and finds himself trapped in Mummy World.

Mark and Sarah eventually visit Sir Wilfred, who knew Mark’s grandfather.  Dear old granddad collected items associated with 18 or the worlds most notorious bad guys throughout history.  The items were stolen by none other than Mr. Lincoln, who embedded them in replicas of the 18 evil people.  The plan is to sacrifice innocent people in batches of 6 to bring the evil people back.  The only real hope is to destroy the remaining displays before they can claim a victim, since it’s an all-or-nothing deal.

When Mark and Sarah return to the museum, the find out that only two displays remain.  Mark is pushed into a world overrun by zombies and Sarah meets Marque de Sade.  Mark realizes that his belief in the display is required.  He’s able to escape by remembering that it’s not real.  He finds Sarah, who apparently has latent masochistic tendencies.  Yes, she’s enjoying being whipped by the Marquis, who likes to call her names.

Mark is able to pull Sarah out of there only to have Lincoln push two more of their friends into the displays.  Now that he has all 18 sacrifices, the displays come to life.  Hope is not lost, though, as Sir Wilfred brings a large group of people to fight the monsters.  In the end, only Mark and Sarah make it out alive.  Yes, most of the characters die a long and horrible death.  (Well, some are quick deaths, but they’re all horrible.)  They’re followed by a zombie hand, thus setting up the sequel.

This is one of those movies that was right at home in the late 1980s.  Given that it has an R rating, I’m assuming it got a theatrical release.  However, it tends towards made-for-TV in terms of quality.  With most of the effects, you can’t see the strings.  The only noticeable exception is the wax displays.  There were two ways to go: Either make wax replicas of the actors and risk having cheesy wax mannequins or just have the actors stand in place and hope no one blinks.  They went for the second option.  You can see the actors swaying, mostly looking like they’re desperately trying not to ruin the shot.

I’m honestly not sure if this is supposed to be a legitimate horror movie or if it was meant to be satirical.  It name checks a lot of other movies and genres.  (We see a plant that I assume was supposed to be from Little Shop of Horrors, for instance.)  It’s not necessarily scary, but it does earn the R rating in other ways.  The only thing I’d really warn parents about is the Marquis de Sade scenes.  Much of the violence is tame by today’s standards, although some things might scare younger children.

This was the first film that Anthony Hickox wrote or directed, so I can forgive some things.  It did have a few big names, like Zach Galligan.  (This was filmed in between Gremlins and Gremlins 2.)  The movie even went on to have a sequel of its own, picking up right after the events of this movie, but that’s another review.