Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Future Man (Season 1)

If you watch enough time-travel movies, there are certain things that would be good, like stopping Hitler before he becomes the leader of Germany.  If any of us invented a time machine, that’s probably the first thing we’d look in to.  The problem is that there’s no promise that this would be effective.  There were a lot of other factors at play, so there’s no guarantee that someone much worse wouldn’t have come along and done the same thing.

Such is the problem that Wolf and Tiger have.  They live in a world where genetically modified people known as biotics rule.  Regular humans have no hope except with time travel.  They’ve traced the Biotics’ origin to Doctor Elias Kronish,  All they need is a savior.

What does it take to become a savior?  That’s what Josh “Future Man” Futturman finds out when he beats Biotic Wars, a game that no one else has beaten.  Wolf and Tiger show up in his room to recruit Josh into their war.  You see, in their time, warriors play video games for training.  What they don’t realize is that Josh thought it was just a game.  Yes, in a giant nod to The Last Starfighter, they used a video game as a recruitment tool.

The first episode should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect.  There are plenty of references to major time-travel movies, like Terminator and Back to the Future.  There are all manner of sexual situations, like Tiger and Wolf having sex to relieve tension.  This is not a TV series you want to watch with your children.  Or your parents, for that matter.

The series has 13 half-hour episodes, meaning that it’s very easy to binge watch.  I was worried that the series might drag, as several other series have.  This isn’t a problem.  In fact, the series was originally developed as a movie.  It was eventually realized that they needed more time to tell the whole story.

Part of this is that they have several setbacks.  Josh is insistent on not killing Kronish whereas Tiger and Wolf would simply kill him as a baby.  Many of Josh’s attempts result in either failure or making the situation worse. I kind of wonder why Tiger and Wolf needed Josh in the first place, since it should be relatively easy to get that information.  It’s pure chance that Josh works at Kronish’s research facility.

It seems like much of the plot revolves around paying homage to various tropes of the genre.  In terms of time travel, very little is original.  Josh points out that killing Kronish at an early age is the central plot of the first Terminator movie.  There is also an episode that loosely resembles Back to the Future.  This isn’t to say that it’s not entertaining.  Wolf has an instant attraction to pickles and eventually takes up cooking, which leads to an interesting episode.

The series is at least maybe a little more realistic if that can be a thing with science fiction.  The amount of culture shock experienced by Tiger and Wolf is believable.  I also think most people in Josh’s situation would also teeter between wanting to go on an adventure and not waning to screw things up royally.

It did end up being a fun series.  (Yes, I know I’m a few months late in reviewing it.)  I don’t want to ruin the ending, but it looks like there will be a second 13-episode season.  I’ll be looking forward to it.

IMDb page

Monday, July 30, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 9 (Dagger of the Mind)

Simon van Gelder is very eager to leave the Tantalus penal colony.  He pulls what amounts to hiding in the laundry cart and winds up in the Enterprise transporter room, but is eventually captured.  When the ship contacts the colony, Dr. Tristan Adams informs Captain Kirk that van Gelder isn’t an inmate; he’s a doctor there.

As you might imagine, it’s all very suspicious, which leads Kirk to beam down with Helen Noel, who has a background in psychiatry.  (The two had met during the ship’s Christmas party, of all places.  Go figure.)   It’s all very easily explained by Dr. Adams.  Tantalus has a mind-altering device.  If one simply sits back in the chair, the machine makes the person very susceptible to suggestion.  Adams implants in Kirk unyielding desire for Noel.

We get a very interesting plot twist in that Dr. van Gelder, who would seem to be the antagonist, is actually the protagonist.  Dr. Adams, who would seem to be the good guy, is actually running less-than-ethical experiments on the patients.  Leave it to Kirk and the Enterprise to save the day.

The episode’s strong suit here is the acting.  The way Morgan Woodward portrays van Gelder, you’d think he had really gone off the deep end.  Many of the other people at the colony do seem just off enough that you know something is wrong, but it’s not overdone.  (Well, maybe a little.  This is the original series.)

I thought that the plot was a little lacking.  The episode shows a doctor running experiments that he shouldn’t.  I felt like the episode was a little weak on trying to make it a teachable moment.  It’s almost like it’s just saying, “Here’s someone doing something bad.  What a shame.”  Yes, we know that altering someone’s mind is bad.  I didn’t feel like there was any attempt to mitigate or expound upon that.  You could argue that people are being made better members of society, but that it’s still making someone act against their will.

I suppose that may be the reason the colony was named Tantalus.  In Greek myth, Tantalus was punished by having food and water always out of reach.  I suppose that it would have been too obvious to name one of the doctors Tantalus.  Maybe the moral is that a true cure for psychological problems will always be just beyond our grasp.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Prelude to Axanar (2014)

Sometimes, I come across a movie that’s hard to recommend or not recommend.  With Prelude to Axanar, it’s available on YouTube for free.  It’s not a huge commitment.  If you don’t like it, you’re out 21 minutes.  That’s not even a lunch break.  In this case, it’s more to make it known.  Fan projects like these generally don’t have an advertising budget, so there’s a good chance most people would never find out about it.

It’s set up like a documentary.  Several people are interviewed, including Kelvar Leonard Garth.  Yes, it’s Garth of Izar, from Whom Gods Destroy.  The movie details a battle that takes place about 20 years before the start of the original Star Trek.  There was the Four-Year War between the Klingon Empire and the United Federation of Planets in which Anaxar was the decisive battle. 

Interestingly, two actors known for playing Klingons in Star Trek play humans here.  Tony Todd (Kurn) plays Admiral Marcus Ramirez, who was instrumental in turning the tide of the war in favor of the Federation.  J.G. Hertzler (Martok) plays Admiral Samuel Travis.   Gary Graham also reprises his role as Ambassador Soval.  From both incarnations of Batlestar Gallactica is Richard Hatch as Commander Kharn.

On one hand, I find it strange that such well-known actors would take the time to work with an independent project like this.  You might hear that it’s not affiliated with Paramount or CBS and think it’s just some guy with a hand-held VHS recorder filming some of his friends.  This is a pretty decent production.  The film quality and effects are on par with something you might actually see in Star Trek.

It’s somewhat difficult for me to say that you shouldn’t watch this.  It’s available for free on YouTube and is only 21 minutes, so it’s not like you have much to lose.  Those that haven’t watched Star Trek probably won’t get as much out of it.  There are no regular characters from any of the TV series.  In fact, I think the only one that appeared in the series at all was Garth.

The only thing I found lacking was the running time.  It looked like it was the first part of a TV show.  It looks just like something you’d find on the History Channel.  It’s as if you caught an episode, but only went from one commercial break to the next.  Prelude to Axanar ends with the building of the Enterprise.

I think that may have been the intent.  It looks like there’s another production, called simply Axanar.  From what I’ve read, Paramount, which owns the Star Trek movie rights, has put a lot of restrictions on independent productions.  One is that films can’t be that long.  (They also aren’t allowed to make money.)  It looks like this faux documentary has to be released in segments.  IMDb doesn’t list many details on Axanar; it does look like several of the actors will be returning, though.  Either way, I’m looking forward to the next installment.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Three Identical Strangers (2018)

My mother and I were talking once about adopted children finding their biological families.  I felt that if I were adopted, I’d at least want to know about my family’s medical history.  It’s something that’s important to know about.  My mother held that it doesn’t matter as much, as you still need to lead a healthy lifestyle.  I actually thought of that conversation going in to Three Identical Strangers.

As you may have gathered from the trailers, it’s about a set of triplets that reunite at age 19.  It starts with Robert Shafran starting at Sullivan County Community College in 1980.  He cant figure out why everyone is being so friendly towards him…until someone calls him Eddy.  It turns out that one Eddy Galland had gone to the same school the previous year, but had decided not to return.  One of Eddy’s friends drives with Eddy to Robert’s house, where they discover that they were separated at birth.  This leads to some media coverage, which leads to the brothers discovering that there was a third brother, David Kellman.

The first hour covers the three brothers going through the talk-show circuit and getting to know each other.  They all seem friendly and get along pretty well.  They did manage to get in touch with their birth mother, who was single and didn’t feel that she was in a position to raise three boys.  For the most part, they’re happy to be reunited.

The adoptive parents wanted to know why the three children were split up.  It’s common to keep siblings, especially twins, together when being adopted.  The official story was that the adoption agency was afraid that parents wouldn’t want three children at once.  There was a suspicion that there was more to the story, but the triplets weren’t that eager to press it.

This is where the story goes sideways and where I’m going to stop giving out details.   I will say that this isn’t necessarily a feel-good movie.  The coming attractions present stuff from the first half of the movie, which gives the impression that it’s more upbeat.  There was something going on behind the scenes that makes you wonder about people.

It takes about an hour to really get into that part of it.  However, once it gets going, there are a lot of major revelations.   The more people dig into the story, the more bizarre it becomes.  I would say that the movie isn’t one for children.  This is mostly due to the subject matter being aimed at older adults.  The situations are rather heavy.  The movie does look into the nature-versus-nurture debate, for instance.  There are also ethical concerns raised about what happened with the children.

I still feel like I would want to know about my biological family if I found out that I was adopted.  My mother was correct in that knowing isn’t always that important.  You still have to take care of yourself and watch out for certain problems, regardless.  I would still like to at least meet people that I’m related to.  I have to wonder how things might have been different if Eddy or Robert hadn’t gone to the same community college.

IMDb page

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 8 (Miri)

For many Star Trek episodes, there was a message.  You could tell that the script was trying to tell you something, even if you couldn’t tell what that message was.  There were a few missteps over the seasons, though.  Star Trek had 79 episodes over its run, not including the episodes from The Animated Series.  The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager each ran for seven seasons and Enterprise had four .  There are bound to be a few stinkers  I’ve always thought of Miri as being one such case.  It’s not so much that it’s bad, but rather that I could never find any redeeming qualities.

The episode starts with the Enterprise finding an exact duplicate of Earth.  The atmosphere is the same.  The outline of the continents is the same.  Kirk leads a landing party that finds buildings to be the same to 1960s Earth.  They soon discover that there are no adults.  The only inhabitants of the duplicate Earth are children.  The reason?  The local population had done experiments to prolong life.  It worked, but it only prolonged the life of those that had not reached puberty.   Anyone past that stage died.  Once the children enter puberty, they will also die.

To make matters worse, the virus is still around.  Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest of the landing party have contracted it.  The good news is that they realized what happened before beaming back up.  The bad news is that they now have a very short period of time to find a cure.  (Spock doesn’t seem to be affected, but might be a carrier.)

Even as a young kid, I never really understood how there was a duplicate Earth.  Yes, there are lots of planets.  Some might look vaguely like Earth.  I get that aliens have to be humanoid in order to save money.  Apparently, using Earth as an alien planet was done with similar motives.  It meant not having to design a new planet or have new buildings.  No official explanation is given, though.  (Having a duplicate Earth was used several more times in the Original Series, but never in any of the spin-off series.)

Also, working against the clock tends to be somewhat cliché.  You think there’d be some protocol about taking air samples before sending an away team.  You know they’re not going to kill off three main characters.  I mean, that’s what security officers are for.  Right?  So, it’s just a question of how it all plays out.

My big cliché oversight is how the children survived that long.  It’s implied that they would be roughly 300 years old.  Even canned food goes bad.  Even assuming they had a lot of food stockpiled somehow or could grow their own, children tend to have medical issues.  It’s hard to believe that even a small group of children never broke a bone or something.  (For that matter, there’s no mention of other groups of children.)

This was a weak episode.  It was difficult for me to see any moral lesson with it, except that getting what you want can sometimes be perverted into a curse.  If it was, it was subdued.  The main focus seemed to be finding a cure for the infection.  It would have been interesting to revisit the planet in another episode.  I know that there were books written around it, but we never hear from the duplicate Earth in any of the series.  (Maybe, instead of the Wrath of Kahn, we could have had the Wrath of Jahn?)

This is one of those episodes that someone will probably explain to me one day and it will all make sense.  Star Trek was notorious for having to work within budget constraints, which explains a lot, like why so many episodes took place on the Enterprise and why so many buildings looked similar to Earth‘s.  There just wasn’t the budget to build new buildings.  It’s still Star Trek and I will watch it when it comes on TV, but it’s not going to make my top ten.

Monday, July 23, 2018

In the Year 2889 (1967)

There are certain descriptors that generally mean that a movie is bad.  Rover Corman has been associated with a lot of movies and is associate with many low-budget productions.  Made-for-TV movies, similarly, aren’t known for having better production values.  Remakes, at least, are a mixed bag but are generally worse than the original.  When I say that In the Year 2889 is a made-for-TV remake of a Roger Corman film, that should tell you something.

The movie takes place at the house of John and Joanne Ramsey, who are father and daughter.  John has stockpiled supplies for three people to last three months.  The third person was supposed to be Joanne’s fiancé, but poor Larry didn’t make it home in time.  The bombs went off and nearly everyone was killed.  How did the Ramseys survive?  Their house is in the middle of a valley that’s bordered by lead-filled mountains.  There’s also a heated stream or something.

Anyway, five other people show up.  Steve and Granger are the first two.  They’re brothers.  Steve appears normal, but Granger was hit by enough radiation to kill the entire main cast.  You can tell because it looks like someone put white house paint on part of his face.  Surprisingly, he survives the radiation.  There are also Mickey and Jada.  Jada’s a stripper and Mickey is her loser manager.  She does a striptease in one scene and he spends most of the movie trying to take control or rape Joanna.  Rounding out the crew is Timothy.  He has whiskey.

The entire group looks like they were leftover characters from other movies.  This would be appropriate, as this is where they got the title.  American International Pictures was going to do a movie based on the Jules Verne story, but the project was cancelled after they registered the title.  Rather than let it go to waste, they used the name for this movie.  (There’s absolutely no indication that the movie takes place 900 years in the future.  It looks exactly like 1967.)

It actually sounds like the click-bait version of a bad joke.  (Two brothers, an alcoholic, a stripper and her deadbeat manager walk into a guy’s house.  You won’t believe what happens next.)  The movie is set in and around Casa del Ramsey.  There’s even a pool nearby, which I’m assuming must be on a neighboring property or something.  The story follows the seven survivors, who basically get on each other’s nerves.  There’s even a telepathic mutant that’s also taken an interest in Joanna.  (You can tell he’s a mutant because of the really crappy makeup.)

It looks like very little effort was put into this movie.  I noticed that animals didn’t appear to mutate at all, even though humans did.  There also seems to be a minimal understanding of science.  I’m not even sure they were using a standard unit to describe the amount of radioactivity.  I always imagine that there’s some expert out there watching movies like this and repeatedly asking if they actually had done even minimal research.  (Then again, this is before the World Wide Web.)

It seems to be a favorite of those 50-movie bundles you get and with good reason:  It’s public domain.  Consider that the original Corman production, Day the World Ended, had a bigger budget.   I actually got this as part of a nine-movie set.  The only one I have left to watch is Metropolis.  Even as part of a set, I’m not sure this movie is worth the price.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

How It Ends (2018)

I’d like to review this movie with no spoilers, but I don’t know if that’s possible.  I’m going to have to give away some detail, even if it’s minor and vague.  The first such detail is that How it Ends is a misnomer.  Not only do we never really find out how everything ended, the movie doesn’t have much of an ending, itself.

It starts with Will and Samantha looking at an ultrasound of their baby-to-be.  Will then goes to Chicago to meet with Sam’s parents, Tom and Paula.  Tom and Will don’t seem to get along that well, which is a shame, as Will wants to ask for Sam’s hand in marriage.  The evening ends with Tom and Will arguing.

As Will’s waiting for a flight back to Seattle, all the flights suddenly get canceled.  He gets back to Tom and Paula; Paula will be staying with a friend while Tom and Will drive to Seattle to find Sam.  Being that the apocalypse has now begun, it should be no surprise how the drive plays out.  Their trip is punctuated with scenes that alternate between someone trying to hurt them and someone that can help them.  Along the way, they pick up Ricki, who’s good with cars.

We never get any sense of what happened.  People speculate, of course.  It might be aliens.  It could, of course, be a natural disaster, but that wouldn’t affect the entire country at once.  It might even be China and/or North Korea attacking us.  Some people head to Canada, but there’s no evidence that things are better there.

This is another Netflix movie that would make more sense as part of a larger story arc.  It has better-than-moderate production values.  However, it’s basically a weak road-trip plot with a disaster as a backdrop.  Speaking of which, I find it odd that America went from all normal to roving bands of outlaws overnight.  Yes, people will steal your gas and leave you for dead and it didn’t even take two days.

We also don’t get to see many characters for more than a few minutes.  It’s mostly about Tom, Will and Ricki.  Even Samantha gets maybe 15 minutes of screen time total.  This means that three actors have to do all the heavy lifting.  Their characters seem to be somewhat generic.  Tom is a former Marine, which is just enough to give him combat skills to protect Will.  Will is sort of a stock husband/boyfriend who cares about the person they’re going to meet.  Even the dynamic of a man at odds with a potential father-in-law is nothing new.  It’s like the writers took some basic elements and used that for a fairly generic movie.

If you do put this on your Netflix list, I’d save this for last.  You might think that it’s good that Netflix gives you a decent selection, except that many of the options I’ve seen aren’t that good.  Altered Carbon and Lost in Space seem to be fairly good, but I’m still waiting for Netflix to hit one out of the park.  This isn’t going to be the one that makes you sign up for the service.

IMDb pge

Monday, July 16, 2018

Sorry to Bother You (2018)

When deciding whether or not to include spoilers in a movie review,  I take into account whether or not it would serve any purpose.  After thinking about it, I don’t know that giving specific details about the movie’s ending would benefit anyone.  Aside from which, I’m not sure there’s any way I could properly explain the plot if I wanted to, as I’m still trying to figure it out, myself.  But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Sorry to Bother You focuses on Cassius “Cash” Green.  He’s so broke, he’s filling up his gas tank 40¢ at a time.  He’s four months late on his rent to his Uncle Sergio.  This is why a crappy telemarketing job with RegalView looks great.  Despite being caught faking both a trophy and an employee-of-the-month plaque, he’s hired.  He’s selling encyclopedias, but there’s the promise of being promoted to power seller if he does well.

Cash does do well enough to earn the promotion, but it comes with several tough choices.  His fellow telemarketers unionize and strike, meaning Cash has to choose between money and principle.  When the job puts a strain on his relationship with his girlfriend, Detroit, she gives him an ultimatum:  Either he leaves the job or she leaves him.  It’s easy to say that you’d support your friends, but it is a lot of money he’s being offered.

I don’t want to say anything more about the plot than this.  For those that may have read other reviews of the movie, I will say that the rest of the movie is bizarre.  It’s as if Spike Lee directed a Monty Python film.  There is a fair amount of seriousness and commentary on society.  Consider that Cash and other employees of color have to use a white voice to be successful.  (David Cross, Patton Oswalt and Lily James provide voiceovers.)   However, there is a fair amount of bizarre elements.  These elements are what I don’t want to give away.  It’s probably better that you go into the movie unaware.  This isn’t to say that the movie is bad.  It is unexpected.  I did see a couple walk out of the theater when the movie started down the rabbit hole.

This isn’t a Hallmark movie.  If you tend towards more mainstream entertainment, you will likely be put off.  I was going to say that the movie is like an avant-garde art piece, but the movie is avant-garde in its own right.  I’m not entirely certain what the movie is trying to say, other than it’s tough needing money.  When you’re that in need of it, there aren‘t really any good options.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 7 (What Are Little Girls Made Of?)

It’s a bog universe.  There seems to be a lot of planets that were once inhabited.  Exo-III is one such planet and it’s being studied by Dr. Roger Corby.  Or, at least it was.  He hasn’t been heard from in a while and landing parties have been at a loss to locate him.  He’s also engaged to be married to Nurse Chapel, who signed on to the Enterprise in hopes of finding him.  When the Enterprise approaches Exo-II at the start of the episode, Korby does respond.

Korby insists that Kirk beams down alone.  When Chapel identifies herself, Korby allows her to beam down, as well.  Kirk and Chapel do beam down, but with two security officers.  (This begins the trend of security officers who won’t see the end of the episode.)  Kirby has made an incredible discovery.  He can duplicate a person and transfer their memories and consciousness into the newly formed android.  This would allow everyone to become immortal.

Kirk doesn’t seem to like the plan and tries to stop Korby, who duplicates Kirk and sends the android back to the ship.  Korby reveals his plan to infiltrate some colony, preferably one of Kirk’s next few stops, and test out the procedure there.  He can do it incognito and see how it goes.  Fortunately, Kirk is able to thwart Korby.

This is one of those episodes that raises questions rather than attempting to answer them directly.  My first question would be why Chapel signed on to the Enterprise thinking that she’d be the one to find Korby.  At best, it would give her an inside track if someone did find here.  There’s on reason to believe she’d be on the ship to locate him, assuming he’d be located at all.

The big question, though, is what it means to be human.  Assuming the transfer were successful, is it still the same person?  How much does the duplicate Kirk resemble the actual Kirk?  Korby also mentions that undesirable traits, like fear and jealousy, could be edited out, meaning that the androids would be less like an actual human.  (It’s not mentioned if the offer of immortality would be extended to other races.)

There’s also the problem of humans not being able to reproduce again.  The androids aren’t immune to everything.  (Phaser fire seems to be a notable weakness.)  There might come a point, even with the androids, where humans would no longer exist.  Consider that a civilization died off, despite having this technology.

It’s hard to think of Korby as being a villain, but he is.  He seems to genuinely want to help humanity.  It would remove the threat of disease.  It’s more his desire to do it outside of official channels that makes him the antagonist.  He could submit his findings to Starfleet Medical or some other agency for further study.  Instead, he wants to do experiments covertly.

I would call this one of the better episodes, despite the familiar elements.  We have someone studying a long-dead planet.  Kirk is duplicated.  The use of androids is new, but would be no stranger to the franchise.  It uses familiar elements to tell a new story.  It does leave you wondering about certain things.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 6 (Mudd's Women)

Any advanced society is going to have an undesirable element.  There will be places that aren’t safe.  There will be people who are less than reputable.  The United Federation of Planets is no exception.   Harcourt Fenton “Harry” Mudd is one such example.  He tries to evade Starfleet’s flagship only to be brought aboard with what would seem to be his crew, except that the three beautiful young women are not his crew.  They‘re his cargo.  You see, he supplies lonely men with wives.

In rescuing Mudd, The Enterprise burns out it’s dilithium crystals.  They can get more, but Mudd sees an opportunity.  Dilithium miners tend to be especially wealthy and especially lonely.  He’s able to contact the miners and do his own negotiating, knowing that the ship is in no position to negotiate.  If Captain Kirk refuses, the ship will stay in orbit of the planet indefinitely.  What’s a captain to do?  Kirk is able to eventually get his crystals and help both the miners and the women.  As for Mudd, he’ll be brought to justice.

If you’re wondering, yes, the women really do appear to be that attractive.  All the men, with the exception of the half-Vulcan Spock, fall for them.  In fact, Mudd is able to use the women to get information from various male crewmembers.  The catch is that the beauty comes from a pill.  Without the pill, the women seem much more plain.  Herein lies the moral:  Attractiveness need not come from a chemical.  It’s not clear if Mudd’s pill is a fake, but Kirk is able to get the same effect through a placebo.

One thing I find odd, at least from a modern perspective, is how it would seem that almost all of the male crew fawn over the women and the female crewmembers don’t.  Yes, it’s the 1960’s.  That may have been a bit too daring for Star Trek at the time.  Still, to even have that kind of attention paid to beauty is a bit much.  Humans are supposed to be more evolved than that.

Speaking of which, it was a minor miracle that Mudd was as likable as he was, considering that he was trading in people.  He’s trying to use women to turn a profit, which would seem to be a rather inappropriate way to make a living.  This is mentioned, albeit briefly, since it does put Kirk in an awkward position.  He doesn’t want to use the women to get the crystals he needs, but he has little other choice.

This brings me to a third point.  It would seem that Kirk has some time in orbit before it would decay.  It’s not mentioned whether or not he could call for backup.  (At the very least, another ship might be able to bring some dilithium crystals.)  Space is big, so it’s conceivable that the nearest ship would take too long to get there.  Kirk does also point out that there would be consequences for the miners if they insist on taking the women as payment.  It’s not a major issue, as Kirk is able to deal with the situation himself.  It’s just one of those things I wondered about.

The episode did pretty well considering that this is only the sixth episode of the first season.  It could have been better, but I’m saying this with the advantage of fifty years of hindsight.  There are certain aspects of the episode that are undoubtedly a product of the era and it did manage to get a message across effectively.

Roger C. Carmel is also able to sell the character of Harvey Mudd.  Had he been played any other way, the episode might not have come across as well.  Carmel also plays well off of William Shatner.  Mudd is as goofy as Kirk is serious.

If you’re watching the series streaming or on DVD, I’d say it’s worth watching.  Mudd will make an appearance later in the series.  It’s worth noting that he doesn’t seem to have learned his lesson.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Tau (2018)

I think many of us have had a teacher or boss that valued quality over quantity.  It’s better to have one great idea than a lot of bad ones.  I’ve noticed the same thing about Netflix’s movie.  They seem to be putting out mediocre movies.  (Bright comes to mind.)  Tau is a movie along those same lines.  It has a decent concept that has potential, but the movie is undermined by a weak story.

When I read the premise, I imagined it would be someone trapped in their own head and forced to go through a series of trials to escape.  It turns out that I was very wrong.  Instead, it’s about a woman who is kidnapped and used as a test subject.  Her kidnapper is Alex, who we gather is working on some new form of AI.  Alex is basically hoping to cheat by scanning people’s brains to use as a template.  Julia is simply the latest such person.

We get to see very little of Alex.  Most of his time spent is spent coming home and going back out again.  (He also has to rebuild the lab that Julia destroyed.)  Instead, she spends most of the movie with Tau, the house’s AI.  Tau is programmed to obey only Alex, but Julia is able to find ways around this.  He has an interest in learning more about the outside world, which she can use as leverage.

The problem is that the story and characters have very little depth.  All we know of Julia’s life before the movie is that she stole stuff for money.  It’s just enough that we know no one will call the police on her.  We know that Alex is some sort of egotistical genius because of all the magazine covers on the wall.  Also, Julia’s not far off when she calls him a psychopath.  He likes to torture Tau and has no reservation about doing the same to Julia.

This is where the character development ends.  Julia makes several attempts to escape, but we learn very little about where she came from or how she grew up.  We have a device that can actually read her memories and all we see is scenes from earlier in the move.  Alex seems motivated only by coming out with the next great AI product.  He’s not conflicted about it.  It’s not from some outside pressure or anything.  He’s just the guy that Julia has to escape from.

It’s almost like someone found a template for a movie and deviated just enough to make it their own.  There’s no real reason to care about anyone.  When a character was hurt or threatened with death, I didn’t react with any sort of panic or empathy.  I would say that this could have been part of a series, or even a pilot.  It does generate some interest in the characters, but doesn’t really deliver on it.

IMDb page

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Uncle Drew (2018)

Many years ago, when MMORPGs first came out, people seemed to be addicted.  The truth was that such games charged by the month, prompting people to play as much as possible.  I’ve noticed that MoviePass has had a similar effect on me.  Since the program charges by the month, there’s little incentive not to see a movie if I’m even marginally interested in it.  Such is the case with Uncle Drew.  My parents and I went out to see a movie and this was one we could all agree on.

The movie is about a man named Dax.  As you may have gathered from the coming attractions, he’s coaching a team entered in the Rucker Classic.  He’s literally put all of his money into the tournament.  Unfortunately, his entire team defects to his archrival, Mookie.  Thus, Dax has to get a new team together.  By chance, he meets a legend by the name of Uncle Drew.  Uncle Drew played in the tournament years ago, but he and his team disappeared before the final game.  Drew agrees to get his team back together for one more game.

I will admit that I probably wouldn’t have seen the movie in theaters had I not had MoviePass.  I probably would have waited for it to come out streaming, if anything.  This isn’t to say it’s bad.  It’s just that with three people going to see a movie, we needed something that we’d all agree on and this seemed the safest choice.

I’d warn of spoilers, but that’s kind of pointless here.  You can see a lot of the plot twists coming.  First, the team is geriatric.  Dax and Drew visit an actual nursing home to pick up one of the players, who’s bound to a wheelchair.  Another is legally blind.  So, yeah.  It’s about people you wouldn’t expect to be able to hold a ball beating those that would seem more capable.  And, yes.  They do quite well for themselves.

This is going to be my biggest spoiler:  You also know that one of the players will have to be replaced, most likely due to injury.  It’s just a question of when and how.  We also get not one but two replacements.  This leads to another cliché of Dax having to confront Mookie about their past.  Dax never could get over being denied what would have been the game-winning shot.

I also find it odd that in any movie involving a tournament, archrivals will be seeded so that they’ll have to face off in the finals.  The teams will never face off in the first round and both teams will definitely make it all the way, no matter how many obstacles are thrown at them.

It’s also a noticeably male-dominated movie.  Dax’s initial girlfriend, Jess, seems to be little more than an annoyance for him to move past.  Even the love interest, Maya, is little more than that.  She’s granddaughter to Boots and initially just his caretaker.  Yes, Preacher’s wife agrees to play, but it’s only for the final game.  The women are there, just not as main characters.

The movie was based on a series of commercials that Kyrie Irving stared in for Pepsi, hence Pepsi co-producing the film.  It also explains a lot of the product placement, like Pepsi vending machines and Gatorade-bottles.  (Gatorade and Pepsi are both produced by PepsiCo.)  I even noticed a sign for Oberto, which was distributed by PepsiCo subsidiary, Frito-Lay.  The product placement wasn’t over the top, but it was noticeable.

Despite all of this, the movie is enjoyable.  I wouldn’t call it memorable.  It’s the kind of movie you would probably see in a group because everyone can agree on it.  I don’t know that you’ll get a lot of replay out of it, though.  It’s an excuse to see basketball players star as older basketball players.  This is where a lot of the humor comes from.  Boots is unresponsive until Drew throws a basketball at him.  Later on, he can miraculously walk.  Boots is nearly blind and can’t make a shot at a Dave & Busters.  With corrective lenses, he can do quite well for himself.

There is a certain logic in having basketball players play basketball players.  Shaquille O'Neal is no stranger to acting.  The other basketball players don’t have as many credits to their respective names, but do alright.  I’m not sure I’d rush to see it unless you have one of the pay-by-the-month programs like MoviePass or AMC’s A-List.  I think most people will be happy waiting for it to come out on DVD.

 IMDb page

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

I’ve seen people propose that Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye run on the same presidential ticket in 2020.  If I were to pick two celebrities, I probably would have wanted Carl Sagan for president with Fred Rogers as his running mate.  Both were great communicators.  Both were even-tempered people.  The primary difference is a balanced ticket.  Whereas Sagan dealt with science, Rogers worked more with emotion and feeling.

It actually surprised me years ago to learn that Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister.  He wasn’t known for bringing religion into the show, which ran from 1968 to 2001.  It was a very simple show that dealt with all manner of topics.  It was usually something simple, but there would occasionally be shows on something more serious, like assassination.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor covers Rogers’s adult life, starting with his nearly completing Seminary.  He did eventually go back to become ordained, but felt that his calling was in television.  The movie has interviews from his family and people who worked on the show.  François Clemmons recalls what it was like being asked to play a police officer when he didn’t have a great image of police at the time.

Clemmons also recalls what it was like when someone spotted him at a gay bar.  When the news got back to Rogers, Clemmons was asked not to go back.  The main concern had more to do with advertising.  Being gay wasn’t as welcomed back then and there were certain lines the show didn’t want to cross just yet.  However, Rogers did eventually make it known that he accepted Clemmons just the way he was.  This is the only time the movie shows him being pragmatic.  I really got the sense that Fred Rogers wanted to reach children and give them a safe space.

There aren’t many revelations with this movie.  You’re not going to come out of it thinking of him differently.  The only thing that really shocked me was finding out he was a registered Republican.  However, he’s presented exactly as I would expect him to be presented.  Mr. Rogers wanted to speak to children to let them know that they were special, not in the sense of being entitled, but rather in the sense of having value.  In a sense, that kind of surprised me.  I would have thought that there was more to him, but Fred Rogers was Mr. Rogers.  Despite what others may have thought, there didn’t seem to be much more than was presented in the show.

The movie is rated PG-13, but I’m honestly trying to think of anything that would be overly objectionable.  I think it comes from some historical footage.  One clip shows a hotel owner pouring cleaning fluid in a pool to scare off African-Americans.  Still, I think most of the people seeing this movie will be adults.  It will either be the children who grew up watching the show or the parents of those children.

In a way, the documentary shows how easy it was to just watch Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.  The show was so simple, it was difficult to think that there would be any deeper meaning.  The show was very much a product of its time, but also of Fred Rogers.  He did put a lot of himself into that show, with the puppets representing different aspects of himself.  I’d say that anyone who grew up watching the show should probably watch the documentary.