Monday, August 27, 2018

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

I’ve often wondered what an alien race might think of us.  I pointed out in a review of Dark Girls that they might not want much to do with us, given how we treat each other.  We have groups like the Ku Klux Klan that espouse the supremacy of those descended through Europe.  We tend to look down on each other.

When Ron Stallworth joined the Colorado Springs Police Department, he wanted to work undercover.  He got his chance by reporting on a rally hosted by local Black student union.  Speaking is Kwame Ture, who inspires Stallworth.  (Stallworth doesn’t agree with everything Ture has to say, but admits that he’s a powerful speaker.)

One day, while reading the newspaper, Stallworth sees an ad for the local KKK chapter.  On a whim, he calls and leaves a message.  This leads to a callback and a meeting.  It’s bad enough that Stallworth used his actual name.  Now, he needs to enlist fellow undercover officer Phillip Zimmerman.  Stallworth will be the voice on the phone while Zimmerman will play Stallworth for any face-to-face meeting.  The objective is to bring down the chapter of the Klan.  Although that doesn’t happen, the police do manage to stop a few cross burnings.

The movie is based on a 2014 book that Stallworth wrote about the investigation.  While I would imagine that the story is by and large true to the book, it looks like some liberties were taken.  (Ron Stallworth never actually altered his voice on the phone, for instance.)  It’s still interesting to see the events play out.  Apparently, Stallworth never intended the investigation to go that far.  A lot of it was making things up as they went along.

The movie plays out more as a comedy than anything dramatic or suspenseful.  (There is a sense of historical irony when characters comment on things that have actually come to pass.)  There isn’t a sense that either Stallworth or Zimmerman are in any real danger.  You know that even if they don’t win the battle, they’ll live to fight another fight.  They also won’t necessarily make an impact on the larger picture, as the KKK is still around.

As you might have seen in the trailer, the movie doesn’t shy away from using derogatory terms.   There are also a few tense moments.  This is not going to be a movie for children.  There are way too many situations that would either be inappropriate or go over their heads.  Even for adults, ther ewill be a few uncomfortable scenes.  The movie does deal with race directly.

It is interesting to see the parallels between the African-American students and the KKK.  Both want to advance their cause, although the students want equality whereas the Klan (or the Organization, if you will) wants supremacy.  Thus, Stallworth has to walk a fine line.  Those in the African-American community don’t like the police, and with good reason.  As Stallworth points out, the best way to affect change might be to do it from within.




Thursday, August 23, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 10 (The Corbomite Maneuver)

Space is a dangerous place.  Considering how little we know about the rest of the galaxy, I’m kind of surprised that the Enterprise wasn’t running into all manner of hostile aliens.  Sure, there are bound to be those that are friendly or indifferent, but it’s possible that there are many worlds out there where the native population is more than willing to defend its territory.  Some, like the Klingons and the Borg, were even looking for more territory.

When the Enterprise encounters a strange, glowing, cube-like object, Captain Kirk is ready to take it in stride.  Unfortunately, going around it doesn’t work.  Trying to outrun it doesn’t work, either.  Destroying it would seem to be the only option available.

Then, a giant spherical object shows up.  It’s a ship called the Fesarius and it’s commanded by Balok.  Balok isn’t all that happy about what Kirk did to the cube.  As punishment, The Enterprise is to be destroyed.  The crew is given time to make whatever final arrangements they wish.

During this time, Kirk tries to negotiate with Balok.  The title comes from a substance Kirk uses to bluff Balok.  He says that all Federation ships carry a substance called corbomite.  If the Enterprise is destroyed, the Fesarius will be destroyed, as well.

Being that the episode is so early in the first season, one would think that the Enterprise isn’t blown up.  Thus, we know there will be a peaceful solution.  What’s interesting is that the episode alludes to the movies and Kirk’s unwillingness to accept a no-win situation.  He’s not going to sit back and accept fate, but there doesn’t seem to be much that he can do.  If he can’t think his way out of a bad situation, he can at least bluff his way out.

Unfortunately, we don’t hear anything from Balok again.  I know it’s a big universe and there are a lot of strange, new aliens to get to and everything, but it does start a long tradition of introducing something only to have it forgotten about by the next episode.  When Balok says he’s part of the First Federation, it would imply that there are a great number of worlds.  Rather than set up some sort of diplomatic arrangement, Kirk sends one his officers to stay with Balok.  (Maybe that’s how they do things in the 23rd century.)

One thing of note is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance of Jonathan Goldsmith, The Most Interesting Man in the World.  And yes, he wore a red shirt.  I remember seeing a meme with Goldsmith as The Most Interesting Man in the World, captioned with something like, “I don’t always wear a red shirt, but when I do, I make it all the way to the end of the episode.” 

Like many of the other early Star Trek episodes, The Corbomite Maneuver is more enjoyable if you don’t take it too literally.  It’s more about trying to convey some sort of a message.  I’d say that it’s not one of the best episodes, but it’s on par with the series as a whole.



Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Vampire Sisters (2004)

If you ever want to find mediocre or bad movies, there are certain things you have to look for.  No one’s going to say that their movie is crappy.  Instead, you might look for a set of movies.  More movies usually means less quality per movie.  (Yes, $10 will get you 50 movies, but few of them will be worth the effort.)  The straight-to-video label is also a good indicator of low quality.  Movie theaters have to be selective about what they show.  Even made-for-TV indicates a certain standard.  I got Vampire Sisters as part of a six-pack of vampire movies, only to find out that it was also released direct-to-video.

The movie is about three sisters who run an adult site called vampsisters.com.  They just happen to be vampires that use the site to find unwitting victims.  Whenever they’re hungry, they find a local client or two and invite them for a special bonus.  That bonus is ostensibly a private show, but it soon turns into the sisters’ snack time.  The main story is nothing more than several people being invited to the sisters’ house.  Along the way, they attract the attention of Det. Sonny Renko, who is investigating the various missing persons.  When he links all of them to the site, he decides to go in undercover with Det. Jennifer Hunt.

You’re not going to have many surprises here.  The movie hits all of the vampire tropes, like commenting on garlic or having a Bible turn up.  It’s little more than soft-core porn.  (Yes, there is some nudity.)  The story is just a way of stringing together a few various encounters.  It seemed like it was the kind of thing that was meant to serve as a sampler.  (One guy liked pain.  One victim was a woman.  It’s the kind of thing that’s meant to attract a larger audience.)

The acting is also what you would expect.  Many of the actors have ben in a few other movies, although nothing I’d recognize.  The dialogue is so stilted that it’s as if they’re using the first or second take of each scene.  It’s just good enough that it might warrant a single rental.  I wouldn’t buy it, though.  It has low-budget written all over it.


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Alien Contact: Outer Space (2017)

I used to think that there was some barrier to having a movie made that would guarantee that most movies would be good.  Even though there isn’t someone giving thumbs up or down to let a movie through, you have to get financing.  You have to find a distributor.  Professionals have to commit time to the project, both in front of and behind the camera.  There are several stages at which someone could conceivably derail a movie and spare an unsuspecting public.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that many such movies do actually make it to market.  It’s just that most people never hear about them.  Maybe they’re condemned to late-night television.  Many are packaged and sold as those 50-packs of movies.  Others, like this, manage to find their way to streaming services.  I’m not sure if the distributor lowered their fee to make some of their money back or if someone at Netflix actually liked the so-called documentary.

I looked at the description thinking that it might actually be informative.  The blurb talked about new facts being uncovered or something.  Talk about misleading.  It sort of reminds me of Chariots of the Gods in that it mentions some bizarre phenomenon and gives some random details before moving on.

There’s a minute or two on the Ashtar Galactic Command.  Technically, it’s about an incident wherein some garbled audio was transmitted over the airwaves because a transmitter was easy to hack.  It was probably some prank, but the documentary passes it along as if it was some serious threat that was never followed up on.

There is also a section on numbers stations, which are these strange radio stations that broadcast seemingly random numbers.  From what I’ve heard, no one knows what these things are.  Are they coded messages to spies?  That seems to be the prevailing theory.  Alas, we may never really know.

This is the kind of thing that you might watch and maybe look up the stuff on Wikipedia.  The documentary doesn’t go into any real depth on anything.  It’s like a shout out to a few strange phenomena.   These might even make for a few good ideas for a sci-fi series akin to the X-Files.  It’s too bad that the narration is boring and the animation is generic.  I think we finally may have found something the History Channel would pass on.



Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Occhi dalle stelle/Eyes Behind the Stars (1978)

There are two kinds of bad movies:  Some seem to aim for bad while others don’t seem to aim for anything.  Eyes Behind the Stars seems to be the latter.  It’s a story of a photographer that stumbles on evidence of aliens, but seems to be put together somewhat hastily and doesn’t make much sense.

It starts with the aforementioned photographer and a model doing their thing when they start to get a weird feeling.  Their watches stop working, so they stop with the modeling.  Later that day, the photographer is taking more pictures.  He somehow manages to capture images of space ships without seeing any.  (I’m not sure if he had some indication of where the ships were or happened to capture the images by accident.)

While developing the pictures, an alien comes and takes all evidence from the photographer.  How do we know it’s an alien?  He has this weird metallic suit and a motorcycle helmet.  He also has fisheye vision.  Fortunately, a reporter has some of the evidence.   The reporter talks to people and goes places to hopefully put a story together.  Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen.  The aliens are on to him.  There’s also a group called The Silencers that don’t want the public knowing about aliens.  (I never understood why fear of public panic has always been the go-to excuse.)

There are also members of the Royal Air Force involved in this.  (At least, I think they were British.  They may have been American.  Or Italian.  Or maybe aliens.)  Somehow, information was leak.  The bas commander wants answers.  I’m not really sure how it fits into the rest of the narrative, except that I think they found the aliens’ landing site or something.

Oh, and the photographer and model were abducted by the aliens.  The model is returned, but not the photographer.  What’s a reporter to do?  He hires a psychic to probe the model’s mind for answers.  The psychic feels that the model saw something that fried her mind.

The movie ends with some text saying that the entire thing was based on real events.  Well, a set of real events.  Everything supposedly happened, although not necessarily as the same series of events.  That would at least explain why the writing was so bad.  Someone hobbled together a conglomeration of narratives to come up with something that sort of made sense to them.  The movie is sort of like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but without the scene at Devil’s Tower to bring everything into focus.

The entire plot is barely cohesive.  I kept waiting for something to tie it together.  That never happened.  I also thought there might be some big reveal, like who the aliens are or what they might want.  That never happened, either.  It’s just some reporter chasing a story and the aliens chasing down the evidence.  The least they could do is maybe spend some money on makeup.  Give us some idea of what the aliens look like.

I think that this is going to be a frustrating movie for anyone that watches it.  If you go into it expecting a normal movie, you’ll be sorely disappointed.  If you’re in to bad movies, like I am, I wouldn’t get this movie by itself.  I’d get it as part of a set of movies, which shouldn’t be hard to do.  I was able to watch it as part of a collection my brother had.  (The DVDs were so disorganized, I’m not really sure which collection this was part of.)  This is definitely among the worst movies I’ve ever seen.


Monday, August 13, 2018

Extinction (2018)

I remember learning that Netflix doesn’t necessarily produce its original movies.  The company may buy the rights at some point during or after production.  This is good for movies that might not otherwise make it to a screen.  This can be bad for viewers who don’t always get the best movies out there.  It ends up padding Netflix’s offerings with mediocre movies.  Take Extinction.  The movie was going to be released in theaters.  When distribution fell through, Netflix stepped in.

The movie takes place at some point in Earth’s future.  No date is shown, but technology has advanced considerably.  Peter and Alice are two normal parents.  Peter works at a factory and Alice has some sort of public-works job.  Their kids seem like normal children.  They even live in a nice apartment building.

Peter and Alice have just finished hosting a party.  Suddenly, attacks come from above.  No mention is made of a foreign nation and the ships are unfamiliar, so it must be aliens.    One guest from the party remains, so the adults find their kids and try to think of a way to safety.  The factory where Peter works is a safe place, but it’s ten blocks away.  Alice knows enough about the sewer system to get them there.  Along the way, they have to fight off the aliens.

Yes, we do get the big reveal.  We find out who the invaders are and what they want.  I found it wasn’t really enough to support a feature-length film.  It’s the kind of thing that would be better suited for a Twilight Zone episode.  Unfortunately, we don’t really get enough suspense (or anything else, for that matter) to support the movie.

I felt like it was a very minimal effort.  Peter and Alice had just enough of a history to make it so that the story could move along.  We don’t even know exactly what they do.  We just know that Peter does something technical in a place that could provide shelter and that whatever Alice does means that she can get them there.  Even having children seemed to be a way of giving them something to protect.

A lot of things seemed cliché about the movie.  The main group has to make it down the side of a building on one of those window-washing perches.  Seriously, though:  Has that ever worked?  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie where no one was in danger of falling off.

At the risk of sounding cliché, myself, the movie looks like it could set up a series or at least a sequel.  It’s like a pilot episode that had additional material put it to bring it up to 95 minutes.  I think maybe a sequel was planned, but I’m not counting on it ever being produced.  I think maybe Universal had the right idea in not distributing it.


IMDb page

Thursday, August 09, 2018

The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018)

The Spy Who Dumped Me is a fairly descriptive Title.   Audrey gets dumped by Drew only to find out that Drew is a spy.  Not only that, Drew needs Audrey to deliver a package (in the form of a fantasy-football-league trophy, no less) to someone in Vienna.  He’s shot before he can give her details, like what her contact might look like.  So, Audrey is off with her best friend, Morgan, to Vienna.  It just so happens that they have their passports in their glove box, so they can basically go straight to the airport.

If you’ve seen other movies with unwilling spies, you could probably figure out how the movie will unfold.  Morgan and Audrey have no idea what they’re doing, no idea of who to trust and are put in several dangerous situations.  Somehow, they manage to survive and do what’s best.

Had I not had MoviePass, I probably would have skipped this one.  I really don’t think I would have missed anything.  I don’t feel like the movie did much that was new or different.  There were a few good jokes, but most of those were in the first half of the movie.

The movie seems to take a certain number of liberties.  For instance, I’ve always wondered how someone could get on an international flight so easily.  It was a bit of a stretch that the two main characters happened to have their passports available.  According to the US State Department, they wouldn’t need a visa to go to Vienna if they’re staying under 90 days, but they still had to pay for the ticket, which probably weren’t that cheap at the last minute.

Morgan also seems to have a very big skill set.  Given all of the things she claimed she could do, I assumed she might have been exaggerating.  However, she did seem to actually know Edward Snowden and was able to handle herself on the trapeze.  (Even though she was telling the truth a few times, it’s difficult to tell where she draws the line.)

To say that the movie was better than I expected would be an understatement.  Plotwise, it was almost exactly what I expected.  Even though there were no real surprises, it was at least entertaining.  While I don’t think the trailers give away the entire plot, I don’t think anyone will be surprised coming out of the movie.


Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Death of a Nation (2018)

When I was a child, I remember hearing that a lot of people would vote along party lines.  Republicans would go and select any name with (R) beside it.  Democrats would select anyone with (D) by their name.  It confused me because it meant that winning a race usually meant getting your party to turn out.  How could we become so partisan?  Then, Obama got elected and Republicans stonewalled.  Trump got elected and Democrats stonewalled.  Is this what politics has come to?  Sadly, the answer is yes.

Enter Dinesh D'Souza.  I hadn’t heard of him, but he apparently has a few movies out.  (I only knew about this one because of a poster at my nearest AMC.)  The movie opens with a reenactment of the final moments of Adolph Hitler’s life.  There are all sorts of segments with people not believing that Trump will win the primary or the general election.  There are calls for impeachment.

D’Souza draws a comparison between the current Republican president and the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln.  You see, both are hated by Democrats.  Lincoln, for wanting to free the slaves and end the way America operated at the time.  Similarly, Trump is working to make America great.  Democrats will whine, sure, but we’ll survive.

The only problem I have with the documentary is that it’s basically propaganda.  There are way too many shots of flags or the Statue of Liberty for me to say otherwise.  There’s also a lot of the usual rhetoric, like how Democrats are evil and believe in eugenics because, you know, Margaret Sanger.  D’Souza also compares Democrats to Hitler and Mussolini because both dictators wanted to take away people’s guns, just like Obama.

Yes, D’Souza invokes reductio ad Hitlerum.  Because Hitler and Mussolini did it, it must be bad.  I’ll admit, it is similar to saying that Trump is like David Duke because both used America First.  It’s a like that a politician might be inclined to use if they were running for president.  It’s a little more complicated than that; Trump has done other, more serious things like demonize the press.  (No leader should do that.  The free press is necessary to a free society.)

There are a few interviews, some of which seem more skewed than others.  An interview with Richard Spencer seemed overly edited.  It may be coincidence; choices had to be made given how many people were interviewed.  Still, the entire argument is skewed towards the right.  D’Souza points out that the Democratic Party was founded to oppose slavery and that the Republican Party tended to be more liberal.  He then tries to say that nothing has really changed.  Democrats still oppress minorities and Trump would welcome anyone of any nationality.  Yes, Mr. Shithole Nation, the same guy who wanted Mexico to pay for the wall, would welcome everyone regardless of origin or background.

Oh, and apparently, Hitler learned everything he needed to know about genocide from Andrew Jackson.  I’m not saying that Jackson was a great president.  He did try to forcibly relocate Native Americans.  But to blame Hitler on Democrats seems like a bit of a stretch at best.  Add to this the claim that Hitler was pro-homosexual, as he tolerated gays among the Sturmabteilung.  There are a lot of claims in the movie that seem unbelievable.

Everyone is welcome to hold their own views and canonize anyone they want, but it will always amaze me that Trump will have as many people voting for him as he did.




Thursday, August 02, 2018

Vampire Hunter (2004)

I had started this blog with two goals.  First, I had wanted to repost as many of my reviews from Epinions as I could.  The second goal was to review as many bad movies as I had the patience to sit through.  I had also wanted to review better-known movies, as well.  However, I wanted to specialize in those films that were of lower quality.  I found these movies to be easier to review on a certain level.

I came to realize in recent months that I was getting away from this.  I was reviewing a lot of TV shows and short films.  I’m not going to stop doing this, but I wanted to get back to the crappy movies that I loved.  Then, I met Vampire Hunter.

The movie is part of a six-pack of movies, which usually tells me that it’s going to be bad.  The same person wrote, produced, directed and starred in the movie.  This is almost always the mark of a stinker.  If those two things didn’t scare me off, the bad video and audio quality should have.

As the name implies, it’s about a man who hunts vampires.  We start with John O'Ryan doing some sort of martial-arts/exercise routine. We find out that he’s pretty good at drawing pin-up girls and has an awesome action-figure collection.  He’s also about to cross paths with Morgan Bane, art dealer and vampire extraordinaire.

Bane is hundreds of years old and is bored with life.  He’s looking for a new woman to have a fling with and maybe find someone to fight.  He’s already gone up against Ramone, having turned his one true love.  When John’s wife, Heather, makes an appointment with Bane, Heather becomes Bane’s next infatuation.  With Ramone’s help, John might be able to defeat the evil vampires and save Heather.

This movie is of such low quality that it’s actually impressive that it found any distribution.  It has the telltale audio and video distortions of a VHS tape that’s been sitting around for a decade or so.  I knew early on that I wasn’t going to be able to make out most of the dialogue.  Fortunately, I was able to follow the basic plot.  This isn’t saying much, though.  It’s the garden variety of crosses, wooden stakes and garlic that’s common with low-budget vampire movies.

The quality was so low that I’m actually wondering if it was deliberate.  Many of the main actors do have other credits, although many of those credits aren’t for acting.  Sean Gallimore, who stared as John O’Ryan, has fifteen credits in the art department, including The Lion King.  Leonardo Millán, who played Bane, did Voicework for Grand Theft Auto V.

I’m not really sure what the impetus was for making the movie.  Was it something that Gallimore wanted to do?  Did he want to show off some skills or try something different?  IMDb shows an estimated budget of $5,000.  It’s possible that he just had some spare time.  Despite there being talent here, it doesn’t look like a lot of effort was put into it.