Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Madame Tutli-Putli (2007)

There’s a certain amount of symbolism that most people can handle.  Sometimes, you get it right away.  Other times, it may take a week or two.  Then, there are some things that, even when explained, don’t really make sense.  Madame Tutli-Putli tends towards that last group.

The movie starts with a woman waiting to board a train.  She has a lot of luggage, which the train is apparently willing to take.  She’s stuck with an oddball group of people, including an offensive man who seems interested in her.  The lady tries to ignore the others, hoping ot be left alone.  While they’re asleep, someone comes into the compartment and takes the internal organs of one of her fellow travelers.  She escapes from the room, but has difficulty running away.

The running time is only 17 minutes and was included on a DVD of 2007 Oscar-nominated short films.  I’m still not entirely certain what to make of it.  I did try to look up explanations of what it means and there are a few that at least make sense.

It’s made a little more confusing by the fact that it starts out somewhat normal.  It looks like it could be on any train anywhere.  There’s no dialogue to give any hint of what’s going on.  We never learn why Madame Tutli-Putli has all that luggage.  Is she moving?  Is it to symbolize emotional baggage?  Maybe she’s smuggling luggage.  I’ll never know.

From a technical standpoint, it’s a great short.  The stop motion seems flawless.  My one complaint is the eyes, which were actually filmed and superimposed on the figures.  It looks kind of creepy.  Imagine having a doll with realistic eyes.  It does give a high level of expressiveness, but I think it would freak out most people.

This short is not going to be for most people.  I think if you were confused by the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, you’re probably going to be confused by this one.  It’s not for anyone who likes a simple, straightforward plot.  I don’t know if it was meant to be obscure, but it does come off that way.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Eames: The Architect & The Painter (2011)

As a child, I became fascinated with a short film called Powers of Ten.  It started in Chicago and zoomed out to show 10^24th meters.  The trip then reversed, going down to show a single proton in a man’s hand at 10^-16th meters.  (The full title was Powers of Ten: A Film Dealing with the Relative Size of Things in the Universe and the Effect of Adding Another Zero.)  I began watching some of their other shorts, many of which are available through YouTube or The Eames Office.  I had wanted to know more about the people behind the film, mostly because they aren’t known by most people as directors.  Whenever I tell people who made my favorite short, they always ask, “The ones who did the chair?”

Enter Eames: The Architect and the Painter.  Charles and Ray Eames were a husband-and-wife team known for making chairs.  He was trained as an architect and she started out painting.  Thus, Charles Eames was good with form and Ray Eames was known for adding color.  The first part of the documentary deals with the furniture, however there were other aspects to their career.  They did design a house, usually referred to as the Eames House.  (It’s also known as Case Study House No. 8.)  The documentary also covers films that they did for various clients, including Powers of Ten.

From the documentary, it would seem that they were very dedicated to their work.  One example is given of Charles Eames eating the cost of project overruns.  He was also the kind of person that would seal a deal with a handshake.  Ray Eames seemed to stay more in the background.  I’m not sure if that was a product of the era, wherein women weren’t necessarily at the forefront.  It didn’t seem to sit well with her, but it doesn’t seem like there was much she could do about it.

It’s pointed out that Charles and Ray Eames were often assumed to be brothers.  It was a mistake I made when I first heard the names.  (She was born Ray-Bernice Alexandra Kaiser.)  I think someone of my age is going to look at something like that differently.  I grew up after the sexual revolution, so it’s a little more alien to me to see a woman not step up to take credit for something.  (I’ve occasionally asked my mother how accurate Mad Men was in depicting the office dynamic.)

I was able to get the documentary on DVD from Netflix.  My parents now have the disc and plan to watch it soon.  It would be interesting to talk about the documentary with someone, as I don’t really have much of a concept of the couple outside of their short films.  I was also born in 1976, so much of what they produced came out before I was born.  This puts a slightly different spin on how I saw the documentary.  Much of it is history to me.

I would think most art students would probably be aware of this documentary.  It’s worth watching for anyone.  Given how much they produced, I think most people won’t be aware of it all.  I could see a lot of people being surprised.  I can see a lot of people knowing them either for the furniture or the movies, but not both.  Even if you were aware of a particular film, you might not know that the Eameses were behind it.  If you have Netflix, put this in your queue.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Même les pigeons vont au paradis/Even Pigeons Go to Heaven (2007)

I’m always looking for stuff to stream on Netflix.  Sometimes, watching something interesting means renting the DVD.  When I saw The 2007 Academy Award Nominated Short Films, I decided to give it a shot.  I hadn’t heard of any of the films, but it meant getting several of them.  And the were all contenders for the Academy Award in 2007.  How could I go wrong?

The first film I watched was this one, Even Pigeons Go to Heaven.  (Or Même les pigeons vont au paradis, if you prefer.)  The short is about an old man, Mr. Moulin, who is about to have a very serious accident.  It starts with a priest, called simply Le curé, racing to get to Mr. Moulin in time.

He does, saving the man before he hits the ground.  The priest takes the opportunity to offer Mr. Moulin the XV-750.  It’s a spherical object that takes the occupant to heaven.  Given Moulin’s list of sins, his life savings would be a small price to pay.

The animation is CGI, but has the look of wooden puppets.  The action is pretty quick, but works.  I don’t think this would have worked as a feature-length film.  The lack of extraneous details makes for a fairly efficient story.  You get the message without a lot of exposition.  You’re given just enough detail about the characters to know what’s going on.

On the one hand, it does look like an indictment of organized religion.  The priest is trying to take Moulin’s money for the promise of eternal life.  The priest has a long list of Moulin’s minor sins.  And Moulin can’t take it with him.  (Then again, neither can the priest.)  It becomes obvious that the priest is just after the money.

On the other hand, it’s also an interesting story.  It’s maybe not a great bedtime story for children, but I think most adults can enjoy it.  There’s a clear protagonist and antagonist.  It’s also possible to read a few things into it.  I could see this being shown in a class to start discussion.  If you have the ability to see this movie, either through Netflix, the library or some other means, I’d suggest doing so.  It’s only nine minutes and very entertaining.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 16 (The Galileo Seven)

Some plots are seamless.  If there are plot holes, you don’t easily notice them.   Other stories are a little more difficult to believe.  You start asking questions that have no apparent answer.  If you were on your way to deliver medical supplies, wouldn’t that be your priority?

The Enterprise is delivering supplies to a colony that has an immediate need for them.  The Enterprise also has standing orders to investigate all quasars and quasar-like phenomena.  So, when the Enterprise passes near such a phenomenon, Kirk orders the ship to investigate.  This irks Galactic High Commissioner Ferris, but Kirk is the captain and they do have two days to spare.  (It will take them three days to meet a ship that will get there in five.)

So, Kirk sends out a shuttlecraft into a dangerous situation.  The shuttlecraft is promptly thrown off course and makes an emergency landing on a planet.  Sensors don’t work, meaning it won’t be easy to find the seven missing people.  Ferris reminds Kirk that they have to get those supplies to the rendezvous point.  Kirk reminds Ferris that they have two days.

Here’s the thing:  Why send out a shuttlecraft knowing the conditions?  Wouldn’t a probe have sufficed?  It shows extremely poor judgment to send out seven crewmembers when they have someplace important to be.  Ferris might be a bit of a jerk in insisting that they continue to their destination, but he’s right.  If you were one of the people that needed those supplies, would you want to hear that the ship stopped to do scientific research?

On that note, why do they even have two days?  It doesn’t seem like the best plan to have the Enterprise sit around for two days waiting for another ship.  You’d think someone would have picked a better meeting place.  Again, I don’t think I’d want to find out that the ship was sitting around if I needed something that they were carrying.

The episode gives Spock a chance to be in command, which is a whole other can of worms.  I would think that you would have to have some training to be first officer.  However, Spock is out of his element.  He tries to do everything logically and fails.  When defending against giants, he uses the phasers to scare them off thinking that the native inhabitants will act logically.  Spock has pointed out time and again how few races act logically.  An emotional response should come as no surprise.

As for the other crewmembers, this does come as a surprise.  Yes, humans are illogical, but the other six people are Starfleet officers.  They show a high level of insubordination towards the officer in charge.  I can understand the  reaction when two of the officers die, but Spock does have the advantage of being correct.  He is in charge and is responsible for their safety.  Spock is the one that will have to explain everything when they get back and will ultimately face the consequences.  This is how a military chain of command works.

The entire episode seems contrived.  It’s putting Spock in a difficult situation made worse by the scheduling.  It comes across as artificial.  It might have made more sense if the problem arose after the shuttlecraft was lost.  It wasn’t.  It’s a mess created by people that should have known better.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 15 (Shore Leave)

There are certain things that I never noticed about Star Trek when I was growing up.  Mostly, it’s the implausibility of a lot of the episodes.  They had great stories, but would usually break down upon further inspection.  Take Shore Leave.  The crew of the Enterprise finds a planet that seems uninhabited.  After beaming down, strange things start happening.  McCoy sees a white rabbit chased by a young girl.  Sulu is attacked by a samurai.  Not bad for an uninhabited planet

It turns out that the planet is maintained by an alien race, who were underground.  The place is used as a sort of amusement park, only no one bothered to tell the people on the Enterprise.  This was actually the first question I had.  Many of the things that people imagined turned out to be dangerous, like a tiger or a warplane.  Granted, warning signs might ruin the illusion.  However, you’d think there would at least be an automated hail explaining what’s going on.

If a race is powerful enough to read minds and produce what people are thinking of, they have some responsibility to others that visit the planet.  There is an actual caretaker on the planet, and I don’t buy his claim that he didn’t know that the crew didn’t understand.  If the caretaker can read thoughts mechanically, he can also tell that the visitors aren’t members of his race.

It also seems to take a while for the landing party to figure out what’s going on.  No one realizes that what they think is what they get.  Sure, finding a gun is a little implausible, but Kirk should have had a stronger reaction to meeting two people that he knew fifteen years ago.  Add to this that McCoy is seemingly killed and dragged off.   This should be the surest sign that their scanners missed something.

The episode is fun, but it’s hard to take the danger seriously.  We know that everything is going to be ok in the end.  I think this may be the strangest, most trippy episode so far.  It does look like something out of the 1960s.  I have to wonder how it would have looked if it was remade as a Next Generation episode.  Would it have been more straight laced? I do see elements of it in episodes from the spin-off series, but a straight-up remake is hard to imagine.

On that note, the planet isn’t ever mentioned again.  The Next Generation had Risa.  I’m curious if anyone ever came back to the planet.  I could see the caretaker having an issue with too many Starfleet people visiting the planet.  It would make for a great way of exploring overuse.  Alas, it seems to be another aspect that will be never be visited again.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Lost Room (2006)

Way back in 2006, a miniseries aired on what was then The Sci-Fi Channel.  It was called The Lost Room and was about an event, called The Event, that separated the titular room (and its contents) from reality.  Detective Joe Miller comes into possession of the room’s key, allowing him entry through any door that has a normal pin-and-tumbler lock.  When exiting the room, Joe finds that he can go anywhere he wants, provided he exits through a hinged door.  (If no location is selected, the room exits to a random door.)

The main action of the miniseries deals with Joe trying to get his daughter back out of the room.  Anna enters the room without the key.  When the door closes, the room resets with her in it.  Joe has to find a way to get her back out.  He has no proof that she’s still alive, but he has to make the effort.

Joe finds that there are at least 100 every-day objects that were part of The Event.  Each was given a special power when it’s taken out of the room.  A comb allows the user to freeze time for a few seconds.  A pencil creates a penny each time it’s tapped.  (There’s a pair of cufflinks that lowers blood pressure, although it’s admitted that it may be a placebo effect.)  All of the objects are indestructible outside of the room, allowing Joe to use an overcoat as a bullet-proof vest.

Different groups have different theories on what actually happened at 1:20:44 p.m. on May 4, 1961.  Some say God died.  Others say that physics broke down momentarily.  It’s not known what would happen if all of the objects were brought back into the room.  I’m assuming that they were all there at some point in the past.  They also lose their powers inside the room.

The miniseries was intended to be a back-door pilot.  The ending does allow the miniseries to stand on its own, but I would have loved to see it picked up.  The Lost Room got among the lowest ratings for a miniseries on Sci-Fi up to that point, so that wasn’t going to happen.  I also realize that it’s been 12 years, so I’m not holding my breath for The Lost Room:  The Next Generation.

This isn’t necessarily a crazy idea, though.  According to an interview, the intent was to have a new protagonist every so often, as the story was really centered on The Key.  It is conceivable that a new miniseries could be attempted with a new cast of characters.  I remember wanting so badly to find out what happened when the room filled up.  It was also great knowing that many of the objects either had no known use yet or had rather useless functions, like hard-boiling an egg.  (I’d love to get my hands on that pencil, if not The Key.)

I’m surprised that the miniseries didn’t do that well.  Friday the 13th: The Series had a similar premise and ran for three seasons.  Warehouse 13 also had a team that recovered wacky items and also ran for several seasons.  I’m not sure why those two had longer runs than The Lost Room.  (Maybe the trick is having a number in your title.)

At least the miniseries was released on DVD, which I was able to get through Netflix recently.  The Lost Room aired over three nights with a two-hour episode shown each night.  On the DVD, it’s broken up into six hour-long parts:  The Key, The Clock, The Comb, The Box, The Eye and The Prime Object.  Sci-Fi aired the first two hours as The Key and The Clock, which is how it’s listed on IMDb.  This is why the episodes alternate between having just opening credits and just closing credits.

I’d be careful about renting the miniseries.  This is one of those programs that if you fall in love with it, you’ll want more.  Like may other great one-season shows, The Lost Room has its followers and the followers want more.  I would love to see at least another miniseries.  Isn’t 12 years long enough?

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

LEGO House - Home of the Brick (2018)

After having watched The Toys That Made Us, I noticed two different documentaries.  Each seemed to be an expansion of one of the show’s episodes.  The first one I watched was on the He-Man franchise.  The second was LEGO House.  My first impression was that it was about all things LEGO.  I soon realized that it was only about the museum.

The documentary specifically covers construction of the museum in Billund, Denmark. You might ask yourself, “Why Billund?”  That happens to be where the company was first founded 60 years ago.   Sure, a major city like New York or Tokyo might have attracted more visitors.  I don’t think of Billund as among the world’s major tourist destinations.

That’s where the documentary is probably going to attract people.  I don’t think I’m going to fly to Denmark just for the museum.  It at least gives you an idea of what it’s like.  In fact, it comes across more like the video version of a brochure.  There’s a very shiny feel to the transitions.  It hits a lot of the main features, like the cafeteria and the basement.  It shows how people interact with the different areas.

The movie does acknowledge adult fans of LEGO, or AFOL.  I wouldn’t think that most adults would feel comfortable there without bringing there kids, but there is a grown-up segment to the LEGO fandom.  Adult users of LEGO do seem like a largely misunderstood segment.  Mostly, it seems to be people who do larger builds.  The museum houses a few of the better ones.

I could see a lot of people watching a few minutes of this documentary and moving along.  It’s not going to be for everyone.  I think most people who never used LEGO will just shrug.  I’m not sure how many fans of LEGO will watch the documentary, as anyone who might be interested in the subject would probably be inclined to just go.  Basically, it’s the perfect documentary for streaming.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 18 (Brain Drain)

They say that the devil is in the details.  Part of having a good story is giving the right amount of the right kind of information.  Unfortunately, Friday the 13th: The Series didn’t do that.  Some episodes were better than others, but all we really know is that Uncle Lewis left an antiques shop to Micki and Ryan.  When they discover that many of the items are cursed, they enlist the help of Jack Marshak to retrieve them.

In Brain Drain, Harry goes from having an IQ of 58 to being a genius.  His secret is something called the Trephanator.  It pokes a hole in the back of the neck of both the user and a victim.  The camera shows a neat shot of some liquids flowing and suddenly the user has the intelligence of the victim.  Harry magically becomes Dr. Stewart Pangborn, who continues the work of his victim, Dr. Robeson.

It’s not really clear why he does this.  He could easily skip town.  Granted, the trephinator isn’t the kind of thing you throw in your trunk.  It’s this big contraption and we wouldn’t have much of a plot if Harry didn’t use it again.  Enter Dr. Viola Rhodes, former love interest of Jack Marshak.  Has any former love interest ever made it to the end of an episode?  Even if she lives, there’s no chance that she’s going to stick around.

As with many of the previous episodes, the trio of antique hunters is able to get the cursed item back to their shop where they can store it safely.  Intelligence for the user comes at a price.  The victim is reduced in intelligence greatly and eventually dies.  (Harry becomes the item’s final victim, as is tradition in this series.)

As I mentioned, not many details are given.  It’s an interesting premise, all right.  Who wouldn’t want to be smarter?  However, Dr. Robeson is working on perfecting AI by teaching a gorilla’s brain to speak.  He’ll then transfer the intelligence onto a chip or something.  It’s not really explained how this works.  I’d imagine that this is one of those things were an expert on AI was sitting at home watching the episode, sarcastically wondering why they didn’t think of that.   (“Oh, yeah.  Just hook a primate brain up to a chip.  Why not?”)

It’s kind of a shame that all of these gifts come at a high cost.  I understand that they’re cursed, but every victim seems to have to die.  It’s not enough that the victim winds up with the mental capacity of a two-year-old.  It’s also an all-or-nothing proposition.  Someone can’t transfer just a little.  It might have made for a better story if Harry took a little at a time and worked his way up.

I’d say that the series so far has had as many marginal episodes as it has had horrible ones.  I’m kind of hoping that it picks up.  I really don’t remember a lot of these episodes.  I’m not sure if my memory is bad or if I didn’t watch it that much while it was first on.  Either one should tell me something.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 17 (The Electrocutioner)

I sometimes wonder how some older movies and TV shows ever made it to market.  Were audiences less demanding?  Did studios and networks not actually watch what they were letting through?  Friday the 13th:  The Series had some good episodes, but there were a few that required you to suspend disbelief.   I think The Electrocutioner has to be the least plausible yet.

The episode starts in 1978.  Eli Pittman is being electrocuted for a crime he maintains he didn’t commit.  They throw the switch, but the chair doesn’t work.  Since they can’t electrocute the same man twice for the same crime, they let him go.  It eventually turns out that he really was innocent.

In 1988, Ryan Jack and Micki are hunting down cursed antiques that Lewis Vendredi sold to people.  Next up is, lo and behold, the electric chair.  It turns out that a doctor has come into possession of it.  That doctor happens to be Pittman, who has changed his name and now become a dentist.  Ten years have passed and Eli is just now getting around to exacting revenge on those that wronged him.

The chair is now cursed.  It can be used to vaporize a victim, who is then turned into electricity.  When Pittman sits in the chair, he can absorb that energy and go out to electrocute someone, such as the warden of the prison he was held at.   Where does he get the victims?  He happens to be the in-house dentist at a reform school.  Many of the students are runaways to begin with, so it’s likely no one will go looking for them.

This seems to me the oddest way of getting revenge.  It might be more difficult to trick someone into the chair, but I would think it’s better than killing some innocent teenager.  One of the teens even admits to liking the dentist, which gives Pittman a reason to pause momentarily.

It also means having to kill twice the people, half of whom had nothing to do with Pittman’s imprisonment and electrocution.  Yes, a man who didn’t kill anyone now kills twice as much as he needs to.  I would think it would have been more efficient to buy a gun.  For that matter, you’d think Pittman would sue the pants off the state and everyone involved.  He probably could have gotten a nice pile of cash.

I also had to wonder why a reform school would have an in-house dentist in the first place.  I don’t know how many children they could have there that it would be worth the effort.  Even if we assume a relatively high turnover rate, it would probably have been simpler to use a nearby dentist.  If they’re going to have a medical staff, I would think psychiatrists.  This seems mostly like lazy writing.  I think they just needed a way to have a large supply of victims that no one would report missing.

Interestingly, they did seem to do some research.  When Pittman tries to electrocute two of the trio in their car, the current doesn’t affect them.  I was under the impression that the rubber tires would prevent something like this, but that’s not necessarily true.  If you’re trapped in a car during a lightening storm, the correct behavior is similar to what is shown in the episode.

This is an episode that I think was supposed to be serious, yet ended up being more laughable.  If you’re watching it, you could probably skip this one.  If it was airing on TV, I wouldn’t feel bad if you were doing something else when it came on.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 16 (Tattoo)

Gambling seems to be a mixed bag, morally.  It’s seen by many to be a victimless crime.  As long as you stay within your limit, what’s the problem?  Those that oppose it might point out that those that don’t stay within their limit might steal or physically hurt someone.

Take Tommy Chen.  As they say, he doesn’t have a gambling problem; he has a losing problem.  He’s borrowed from the wrong people and they want their money back.  Tommy has turned to gambling as a way of getting the money, but he’s up against someone with a cursed artifact.  One of the other players has a tattoo needle that can make the user lucky.  The catch is that they have to draw something deadly, like a venomous spider or snake.  When the tattooed person dies, the person who made the tattoo gets perfect luck.

One of my complaints with the previous episode, Vanity’s Mirror, was the lack of any direct moral lesson.  That holds true here, but the episode does seem to hit the marks with gambling.  The guy who Tommy owes money to isn’t a nice guy.  Tommy is also desperate enough to hurt and steal.  This is how he comes into possession of the cursed needle in the first place.

In hitting the marks, the episode is fairly cliché.  Both of the people that use the needle seem to know how to ink someone perfectly.  There’s also no shortage of available victims.  Several are tied up and another is so high on drugs that she can’t offer any resistance to danger.

Tommy is also shown to be a very unsympathetic character.   Most of the items require some sort of down side.  Usually, it’s death.  Tommy seems to have no problem using the needle knowing full well that it will result in someone’s death.  (I find it odd that so few of the people who use cursed items are either monsters to begin with or so easily persuaded to turn to evil.)

The entire series has been marginal episodes so far.  I’ve been getting DVDs from either the library or Netflix.  If you’re into light horror, this may be a good series for you, but I’d check it out of the library first.  This is one of the better episodes so far, but that’s not saying much.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 15 (Vanity's Mirror)

Some shows have internal consistency.  Shows like 24 have a single narrative.  Others, like the X-Files, may be more episodic, but at least have a mythology going.  I’ve come to realize that Friday the 13th: The Series is more of anthology that uses the same characters.

Micki and Ryan inherited an antiques shop that sold cursed stuff.  Along with the uncle’s former business partner, Jack, they’ve taken it upon themselves to retrieve as many of the cursed items as possible.  This serves as a backdrop for the episodes, which seem to follow an item-of-the-week format.  Each week, an item comes to their attention.  With some effort, the trio manages to get the item.

This week, it’s a compact that makes someone fall madly in love with the person using it.  All a lady has to do is use the mirror to reflect light onto an unlucky guy.  Suddenly, she’s his entire world.   The episode starts with a flower vendor using it on a customer that has never really noticed her.  She uses his newly found obsession to lead him into a back alley so that she can kill him.  Her success is short lived, as she’s soon hit by a bus.

A girl by the name of Helen Mackie finds the compact and picks it up.  She accidentally figures out what it does when she uses it on a boy at her school.  The boy is now enamored with Helen, who makes him go into a trash compactor to retrieve something.

Why would she do this?  Helen isn’t that popular.  Her sister, Joanne, has a good-looking boyfriend, Scott.  It’s cruel that two sisters would be so different in terms of appearance and popularity, but life can be cruel like that some times.  Helen decides to use the compact to repay that cruelty to the other boys who tease her.  Thus, several of them meat a similar end.

This is the first episode where the team doesn’t actually retrieve an item.  As far as they know, someone walked off with it.  They just have no idea who.  (This isn’t far from the truth.  In the final scene, we see a hand reaching for it.)  This leads to some major overacting by Louise Robey, who plays Micki.  She’s all torn up over the fact that such a dangerous item is out there.  As Jack points out, they’ve had a pretty good run.  There are also a lot more items out there.  At 23, they’ve almost gotten 10% of the items in the manifest.  That means that there are more than 200 items still floating around.

My big problem is that the episode is more about the item than the issue.  There’s no talk of Helen being beautiful on the inside or using her inner light or anything.  She’s just a homely, awkward teenager that takes revenge when given the opportunity.  She only has a change of heart when she snares someone she actually likes.

Another thing that I noticed was an obvious lack of parents, or any adults for that matter.  All of these students go to a school that doesn’t seem to have many teachers.  Even at the dance, there’s an obvious lack of adult supervision.  Am I to believe that Helen and Joanna don’t have parents?  You’d think that a proud mother and/or father would want to see them off.  There’s no mention of parents working late or Joanna taking care of them.  Having some sort of adult present, other than Jack, Micki and Ryan, would have been a great way to have some commentary, even if it’s along the lines of, “kids these days.”

The show did manage to last three seasons, so I am hopeful that the episodes will get better.  I think there’s a reason why I don’t really remember the show, though.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2017)

I don’t remember a lot of specific details from my childhood.  I remember having an Atari 2600.  I even remember liking a few of the games, such as Super Breakout.  Similarly, there were things about the Commodore 64 that I recall.  I think I may still have a few of the floppies lying around somewhere.

One thing I remember is playing with the He-Man toys and watching the cartoon as a child.  I don’t really remember that much about the show other than a few details, like Prince Adam being the alter ego and his mother being from Earth.  Since Netflix has the series available streaming, I might go back and have a look at a few of the episodes.

Power of Grayskull is a documentary that covers the basic history of the franchise.  The characters were first envisioned as toys, which came with small booklets containing comics.  There wasn’t much continuity between them, but the toys were popular.  Then, came the Saturday-morning cartoon.  And a movie.  And several other cartoon series.  The franchise has been around for a while..

I felt that the documentary dragged a little in the beginning, which covered the original toys and cartoon.  Part of this is probably because I already watched The Toys That Made Us, another Netflix production.  The episode covering He-Man seemed to have a lot of the same information at a third the running time.  Power of Greyskull went into more detail, but I didn’t really feel like I learned that much more.

For instance, there were interviews with Dolph Lundgren and Frank Langella, both of whom were in the live-action movie.   Other people involved with the movie also talked about why Battlecat and Orko didn’t make appearances.  It’s sort of like a sampling of DVD commentaries about different aspects of the franchise.

Someone who hasn’t seen anything about He-Man before might enjoy this.  The main advantage for me was getting to see artwork, but I don’t know if that’s going to be enough for everyone.  If you only have a passing interest in He-Man, I’d recommend watching The Toys That Made Us, instead.  You get about the same detail at a third the time.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Timecop: The Berlin Decision (2003)

I remember the first time I heard the term cash grab.   There were a few movies that came to mind.  I’m not saying that Timecop: The Berlin Decision is a cash grab, but the evidence would lean that way.  Consider that the two movies were directed by different people and have no overlapping actors or characters.  The script also seems to have been written by someone who has a very vague concept of time travel.  The movie seems like it’s a sequel in name only.

The movie is set in the year 2025.  Ryan Chan is the main protagonist.  He’s been sent on a mission to Berlin in the 1940s because it looks like someone’s going to alter history.  It turns out that Brandon Miller is going to try to kill Hitler.  Who is Brandon Miller?  He’s actually in charge of the Society for Historical Authenticity, which is charged with making sure that timecops don’t alter history.  And here he is, trying to assassinate Hitler.

Chan manages to stop him and preserve history.  In the process, Miller’s wife is killed.  Miller is subsequently tried and sent to prison.  Thus, Miller is now the main antagonist, sworn to take revenge on Chan and the rest of the Temporal Enforcement Commission.  He eventually escapes and starts erasing timecops from history by killing ancestors.  When this happens, the cop in question disappears in a puff of smoke.

So, Chan is sent back to stop Miller.  He’s first sent to the prison, although that changes history more even if Chan doesn’t interact directly with Miller.  So, Chan is sent way back to Texas in the 19th century.  This is because Chan is the last officer left.  How does an Asian guy have relatives that far back in Texas?  That’s not really explained.

Anyway, Chan chases Miller across the generations of the Chan family tree only to meet up with Professor Chan (Ryan’s father) and a younger version of Miller.  It turns out that Miller was a student of the professor’s and the two argued about the morality of changing history.  Chan is able to convince Miller the Younger to be a better person, which causes Chan and Miller the Elder to disappear.  Back in 2025, all is right.

So, where do I begin?  It’s never explained why Chan and the others can see officers disappear, yet the entire office is changed when Chan goes and comes back.  If an officer is erased from history, how does it mean that no one was hired?  Also, why are they still erased from history in the altered timelines?

Oh, and why does Miller skip generations at a time?  If he fails to kill one of Chan’s ancestors, why not go ahead or back a few years?  Why not chose a different ancestor?  You have a lot of great-great-great-grandparents to chose from.  32, to be exact.  Miller finally tries to kill Chan as a child, but kills the father by accident.  This actually happened in the original timeline, meaning it was always destined to happen?  That attempt was the tail end of a series of failures that only happened after Miller’s wife was killed, but didn’t seem to happen in the original timeline.

If you’re confused, don’t worry.  I watched it and I’m not even sure what happened.  Like I said, I’m not even sure the writer knew what was going on.  I think the plot was just a way of setting up some fight scenes.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the movie wasn’t originally intended to be a sequel.  It may have been slightly modified to ride on the coattails of the first Timecop.  If you’re in to time-travel movies or movies that make sense, I’d tell you to skip this one.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 14 (Balance of Terror)

There were some things about the original Star Trek that made you wonder.  For instance, exactly how did stardates work?  It was supposed to be a way of having a standard calendar, but what was a year?  How did you measure a week or a month?  I don’t think it was every explicitly stated.  (To make matters more confusing, The Next Generation seemed to use a different system.)

Balance of Terror introduced the Romulan Star Empire, which posed an interesting problem: The Romulans didn’t have warp drive.  This meant that they had to go between stars at sublight speeds.  Romulans are suspected to be an offshoot of Vulcans, which would make them long-lived.  However, even if we assume this, that’s no way to run a star empire.  The closest star outside of our system is 4 light years off.   That means that it takes light four years to get from there to here.  It would take years (if not decades) to travel interstellar distances.  (For that matter, how did they destroy the outposts in short order?)

We can ignore that for now.  Why?  Because the Romulans have a cloaking device.  The have to become visible to use their super weapon, but they can travel and not be seen.  It makes for a pretty good episode because the commanders of both ships (Kirk on the Enterprise and the unnamed Romulan Commander) have to use their wits.  Both seem equal in skill.  The Romulan Commander even admits that they may have been friends under different circumstances.

The episode works because it deals with the issues.  At least one crew member is paranoid.  No one has ever seen a Romulan, meaning anyone could be a spy.  When the appearance of a Romulan is revealed, it ups the paranoia.  Not only do they look like Vulcans, the Romulan Commander is played by Mark Lenard, who would go on to play Spock’s father.  Does this mean that Spock is one of them?  Even though Spock has been in Starfleet for years, his pointy ears are a liability now.

This is to say nothing of the potential for war.  The Romulans have crossed The Neutral Zone.  This would be an act of war, except that the Romulan ship has some deniability in that they usually can’t be seen.  If the Enterprise crosses in, that would give the Romulans cause to start a war.  (Does it really even matter who started a war?)

The thing I like most about the episode is the use of appearance.  Romulans and Vulcans look similar.  This is the only reason that doubt is cast upon Spock.  Simple appearance.  This still holds true today, where people of a certain nationality or skin color are suspect simply because of the way they look.  Sometimes, no other consideration matters.

The Romulans are also portrayed in a sympathetic light.  The Romulans all have families waiting for them.  They really aren’t much different that the crew of the Enterprise except that they’re from the other side of a border.  Reacting out of fear and impulse might be understandable, but will often lead us to the wrong conclusion. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 13 (The Conscience of the King)

I’ve always hated when someone says, “Oh, but he’s such a nice guy.”  Usually, the person that’s supposed to be such a nice guy really isn’t.  Maybe it’s someone accused of a crime.  Maybe it’s someone who’s a jerk.  There’s usually someone who knows that he’s not such a nice guy.

Anton Karidian would seem to be a nice guy.  He has a loving daughter.  He’s part of a Shakespearian acting troupe.  He seems friendly enough.  However, Dr. Thomas Leighton is on to him.  Leighton things that Karidian is actually Governor Kodos, referred to as Kodos the Executioner.  This is because, as governor of Tarsus IV, he killed thousands of people.  Food shipments were late and sacrificing part of the population would have saved the rest, except that the food arrived on time.

Kirk doesn’t believe Leighton at first, even though Kirk was on Tarsus IV at the time.  Kirk becomes concerned when Leighton shows up dead, so he arranges to have the Enterprise bring the troupe to their next destination.  Also on board is Lt. Kevin Riley, who was also present on Tarsus IV.

Riley manages to survive what looks like a attempt at poisoning.  There’s also an attempt made on Kirk’s life.  Kirk is hesitant to confront Karidian about it, even after getting a voice match.  At this point, does it really matter?  Kodos is believed dead and Karidian doesn’t show any intent to harm anyone.  Is bringing him to justice that important?

I think the episode may have faltered a little bit.  There would seem to be a parallel between Karidian and Nazi war criminals.  Does it matter how many people he killed?  Granted, what Kodos did wasn’t genocide, but he did still kill people.  I would think that many of his victims would probably have families who would want closure.  It’s also not as if Kirk would have to pass judgment on Kodos.  Kirk would simply be turning in someone suspected of being Kodos.

Letting him go seems like the easy way out.  There are only two people left who could identify him, so it’s not like anyone would know.  Right?  I can’t really think of a good reason to let him go.  Even if we were to say that he’s dying, wouldn’t punishment be for the courts to decide?  Get the man a good lawyer and let the justice system sort it out.

There is some debate within the episode on the potential merits of what he attempted.  Had the food ships not arrived, it would have cast Kodos in a better light.  He would have saved people that might have died otherwise.  However, Kodos did kill people and he was selective about it.  He saved the people that he thought were better.

I can see where the episode might be trying to show both sides of the argument.  Kirk is hesitant to do anything.  Riley is quick to take action.  Is it understandable that Riley would want revenge or is Kirk right to think it through?  Once someone like that has been caught, what would be the correct way to treat them?  My only problem is that the question would be better posed in a courtroom.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Somnio/Infinity Chamber (2016)

WARNING:  I’m going to give away major details about the movie, including the end.

The movie doesn’t start well for Frank.  He finds himself in a room with no obvious means of exit.  His only company is a voice at the other end of a video camera.  The voice identifies himself as Howard.  Who is Howard?  He’s Frank’s Life Support Operator, in charge of keeping Frank alive during processing.  It takes a while, but Frank realizes that Howard is artificial intelligence.

Frank also comes to realize that no one is going to release him.  He has no idea why he was arrested.  Oh, and there’s a machine in the room that can make Frank relive memories.  The only one he seems to relive, though, is the day he was captured.  Why?  Well, there must be some important information there.

It’s somewhat difficult to give away much more without revealing the whole movie, hence the warning.  Frank does seem to escape.  Twice.  The first time, Frank quickly realizes that it’s an illusion.  The machine is tricking him into thinking he’s escaped.

The second time is more ambiguous.  There are three main theories on this.  One is that Frank really did escape.  Whatever coincidences you might notice are just that.  The second theory is that Frank was tricked into thinking he escaped to give up important information.  The third is that Frank is really his father, lying on the bed.

I’m not sure I buy any of these.  It’s possible that Frank did escape.  The camera used to monitor his cell is probably common enough.  Also, a government would probably buy in bulk, meaning the same camera would be used everywhere.

As for the second possibility, Frank shouldn’t be so trusting of any reality given the first failed attempt.  Then again, it’s possible that he knows and is intentionally misdirecting those that are watching.  He seems to have given away what his captors were looking for, but there’s no way for us to know that the information is accurate.

The third possibility is the weakest to me.  There’s only implication here.  I’m not sure I can totally accept it.  I do think that it’s all in his head, though.  My theory is that Frank was hooked up to a machine.  Much like the original Total Recall, I think that his mind snapped and what we see here is his fractured personality.  My theory is that Frank is really Fletcher, the guy in the next cell.

It kind of makes sense.  Fletcher is the Ego, or identity.  Frank would represent the id, which is the basic stuff like needs and desires.  The AI is the super-ego, which brings rules and order.  Howard imposes rules and tries to make sense of things.  The news reports would indicate that many people died in the prison.  I think that it’s actually it’s sort of like the theory that Frank is the only man except that it’s Fletcher who’s the old man.  He‘s laying on a table somewhere, taking on the identities of various members of the resistance.  Each body that was reported as having been found was a different life that Fletcher lived.

I’m not sure if the details come from Fletcher’s own mind or if they came from the other people having been probed.  Memories could have been transferred to Fletcher’s mind.  Fletcher as Frank may have been the first identity to escape with his mind realizing that the only way to maintain the illusion was to do so somewhere other than the cell.  The key to success was in actually living the person’s life, such as it was.

The biggest clue as to this is when Frank finds the ID number on the computer console and says that it was someone else’s ID number.  He claims mistaken identity.  When Fletcher and Frank talk, it almost seems like they’re the same person.  Fletcher gives Frank advice, but Frank seems to already know.  In any event, the ending is still leaves questions.  Most importantly:  What happens next?

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 12 (The Menagerie: Part II)

The Menagerie was the first two-part episode for the Star Trek franchise.  As I mentioned in the review of the first part, it was done as a means of getting the show back on schedule.  Spock abducted the former captain, Christopher Pike, so that he might be brought back to Talos IV and live out his days with a happy illusion.  He’s now confined to a wheelchair, but the Talosians could make him believe that he has is old body back.

Part II picks up where Part I left off.  Spock’s trial resumes, as does the transmission from Talos IV.  The transmission being shown is actually footage from the original pilot, The Cage.  Either way, appears that the Talosians’ reach goes far beyond their planetary system, making it seem useless to threaten would-be visitors with the death penalty.

This episode is almost entirely the reused footage from The Cage.  The episode ends with Spock taking Pike to the transporter room to be beamed down to the planet.  The Talosians give Kirk one final message that Pike will be taken care of.  However, I wonder if they’ll be able to do this.  It was established in The Cage that they had never seen a human before and it would stand to reason that they haven’t seen one since.  I’m not sure what they’ll do if Pike needs medical attention.

Either way, the entire trial was an illusion generated by the Talosians.  They knew that Kirk would never just sit back, given the situation.   Starbase 11 contacts the Enterprise and tells them that no charges will be pressed.  I have to wonder, though, why go through all the effort in the first place?  Did the Talosians feel that it was a way of repaying Pike for what they put him through?

Consider that the Talosians wanted Pike to start a population of humans to rebuild their planet.  It would have been bad to keep him captive for this reason.  I suppose Pike is little more than a captive either way, but why is it better for the Talosians to have him now?  Is being able to think he’s healthy again really worth it?  Is their guilt that bad?

Unfortunately, we never hear form Pike or the Talosians again in any of the TV series or movies.  It would have been interesting for The Next Generation to at least mention it.  (I have to wonder what would have happened if the Borg assimilated the Talosians.  That really would have been a threat.)  I always wondered if the Talosians had kept their word.  Their final line, “Captain Pike has an illusion and you have reality.  May you find your way as pleasant,” could just be a way of alleviating any worry or guilt on Kirk’s part.  The Next Generation was a lot better with continuity.  It would have been nice to have even a small throwback.

IMDb page

Friday, September 07, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 11 (The Menagerie: Part I)

Certain episodes make more sense once you learn what happened behind the scenes.  It always bothered me that Star Trek: The Next Generation’s third-season finale had only Captain Picard get assimilated by the Borg.  It would have made more sense to me to assimilate more of the bridge crew, if not the whole ship.  Then, I read that there was some doubt as to whether or not Patrick Stewart would return.  Apparently, there was some sort of contract dispute.  Picard would live or die depending on the outcome.

Similarly, The Menagerie raised a few questions for me.  It starts with the Enterprise called to Starbase 11, ostensibly at the request of Captain Christopher Pike.  Commodore José Mendez is a bit confused by this, as Pike couldn’t possibly have sent out any such request.  Pike has been confined to a wheelchair since a recent accident.  That same accident has left him unable to speak with anyone.  His mind is still active, but his body is useless.

It turns out that Spock lied.  He’s brought the Enterprise to Starbase 11 to abduct Pike.  The reason?  Spock will bring Pike to Talos IV, where the inhabitants can let Pike lead a seemingly normal life.  Spock has the ship programmed not to stop until it reaches its destination.  In the meantime, he’s put on trial.

As evidence, Spock shows Mendez, Kirk and Pike footage from the first mission to Talos.  Using this, he explains his plan.  The Talosians can generate very real illusions.  Pike can believe that he’s living out any fantasy.  This is why Starfleet has banned travel to the planet.  Spock risks death not only for himself, but for the rest of the crew as well.

The episode ends partway through the trial.  As a cliffhanger, one would have had to wait until next week to find out what happened to Spock.  Of course, through the magic of steaming and home video, it’s just a matter of calling up the next episode.

The premise had me a bit confused.  The most obvious flaw, as brought up by others, is that Pike can only communicate through a flashing light.  One flash means yes; two flashes means no.  Morse code existed back then.  I would also imagine that other forms of binary communication existed, which would have allowed for better communication.  It appears to be done more to show how bad Pike has it.  He can’t even communicate with people, so going to live with the Talosians seems like a good idea.

That being said, why did Spock have to hijack the Enterprise?  We’ve met Harry Mudd, so there are shady individuals that would have transported Spock and Pike for a price.  I suppose that few would have been a match for the Enterprise.  One could also argue that Spock would have needed a decent ship with a doctor onboard.  Still, it doesn’t appear that Spock even entertained the idea.

The entire episode is little more than a cheat.  From what I’ve read, production was behind schedule.  The Menagerie allowed the show to produce two episodes wile basically filming one.  They just had to film the Starbase and the trial.  It also serves as a way of getting the original pilot into canon.  (If you haven’t seen The Cage, don’t worry.  It looks like most or all of the footage made it in.)

One might also wonder why the Talosians didn’t make an illusion of Pike so that he might speak for himself.  The truth is that Jeffrey Hunter wasn’t available.  He had already moved on to other projects.  He is shown in the footage from The Cage.  However, the man in the wheelchair is a different actor.

It’s an interesting premise, at least.  A main character risks life and career for a former commander.  It’s not the thinnest of plots, but it is up there.  It does help if you try not to think about it.  I suppose Pike is lucky that Spock was still serving on the Enterprise.  The premise might not have worked, otherwise. 

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Idaho Transfer (1973)

WARNING:  This review gives away details, including the ending.

Some things are pretty straightforward.  A vessel that goes under the surface of the ocean is called a submarine.  You look at the name and you have a good sense of what it does.  Maglev comes from magnetic levitation.  Again, this gives you a good idea of how it operates.  Idaho Transfer gets its name from the fact that it’s about an experiment in Idaho dealing with matter transfer.  This is the only part of the movie that I really understand.

At some point before the start of the movie, someone was trying to figure out how to build a transporter.  They accidentally invented time travel.  For some reason, the people running the project chose 56 years as a good arc of time.  (The movie was made in 1973, meaning that the future is 2029.)  I’m not sure how they know the date, as there don’t seem to be any signs of civilization.  They’ve checked the area and everything looks abandoned.  There are also no TV or radio transmissions.

Time travel comes with several limits.  First, you can’t wear anything metal.  This includes jeans and eyeglasses.  It doesn’t seem to include any metal already in your body like iron.  I suspect that this is a way to get the teenage girls to strip down to their underwear.  (The girls are young enough that it’s a little pervy.)  Another thing is that anyone over 20 gets hemorrhaging in their kidneys, so no adults.

What this means is that the project sends a bunch of teenagers to study the future.  (By study the future, I mean pick up snakes to measure and tag them.)   The long-term plan is to send lots of teenagers through to rebuild society.  I’m not sure how they’re going to do that, since adults (read: people with any sort of proficiency or training) can’t be sent through.  I guess no one read Lord of the Flies.

Mostly, it’s the teenagers just doing stuff.  Two sisters, while in the present, talk casually about one of them being raped.  On a trip back from the future, one of them dies.  The other hides in the future and seems to mope around about it.  Oh, and the government takes over.  It’s never really said why.  Do they know about the secret time travel?  Are they tired of waiting for transporters?  Either way, the kids can’t get back to 1973.

So, they all decide to walk from whoever they are in Idaho to Portland.  (Yes.  The one in Oregon.)  They split into three groups.  A few stay behind in case the machines start working.  The main group takes a river path while two people take another path.  I’m not sure why it was a good idea for two people to travel separately like that.  It doesn’t seem like a safe thing to do, since they’re supposed to help rebuild society.

When the two teams finally meet up, another big revelation is laid out:  Going to the future makes you sterile.   Yes, the future of humanity depends on kids who can’t have kids of their own.  Apparently, at least the doctor knew.  I’m not sure if the rest of the adults knew, as well.  It seems like a bad idea to send the future of humanity ahead without fixing this.  This is despite the mopey girl thinking that she’s pregnant.

When she gets the news, she goes back to the main encampment to find almost everyone dead.  One girl attacks her, but little miss mopey manages to make it back to 1973, where she’s greeted by military personnel.  She locks herself in the room so that she can play with the controls.  She manages to send herself to another time, forward of everyone else.  (We can tell this because there are a bunch of supplies without any people.)

She’s picked up by a car and put in the trunk.  I think the implication here is that she’s been used as fuel.  Either that, or the family will be saving her for a snack.  (We can’t hear any screaming, but the trunk might be soundproofed.)  the girl in the back seat wonders what they’ll do when they run out of people to use.  Maybe they’ll have to turn on each other.

There are so many questions here.  First off, how did they manage to build the chambers in the future?  Time travel seems to rely on being deposited into a chamber.  It’s never stated that it’s necessary, but it does seem to be.  Even if you built it in the present, you have to trust that it will be there 56 years in the future.  What happens if a meteor hits and leaves a big crater?  There could be a landslide that covers the compartment?  So many things could go wrong.

Speaking of which, whatever happened to humanity didn’t seem to affect the chambers.  Why not send people into the future in increments?  This would at least narrow down when it happened.  Given that there were people in the future, it seems like they did really crappy reconnaissance.

I think the movie was made with a shoestring budget in mine.  Take that very few of the actors have any other acting credits.  Also, they’re almost all teenagers.  I think someone had access to a deserted area and a warehouse and decided to see what kind of script they could come up with based on that.   The one redeeming quality is that there seems to still be some good scenery in the future.  Some of the shots look like they were from ads for the National Park Service.

The big complaint that I have is that there’s no real tension or danger.  There’s no talk of grandfather paradoxes.  There’s no one chasing the teenagers.  It seems like the big threats are a train full of dead people and snakes that don’t bite.  This is the kind of script that might have been written by a bored teenager one weekend.  Had I not had access to this movie already, I probably wouldn’t have watched it.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

The Most Unknown (2018)

Most documentaries are pretty straightforward.  They deal with something that’s known.  A documentary on the Civil War has a well-defined scope.  We may not know everything about everything on a subject, but there’s usually enough to present a view.  Even UFOs, there are things like Project Blue Book and Groom Lake to tackle.

How do you make a documentary on what we don’t know?  The Most Unknown is a self-proclaimed experiment in which the director tries to highlight several topics that aren’t that well-defined.  There are nine scientists, each dealing with something that we know little about.  One physicist deals with dark matter while a psychologist tries to tackle what consciousness is.

Another interesting thing about the documentary is the way that the various scientists are shown.  It’s almost like a relay race, where the first scientist meets the second.  The second then travels to meet the third.  In each case, the two scientists discuss the host’s field of study.  (The guest usually seems to understand what’s going on.)  What we get is a long string of snippets from conversations.

I don’t think it’s meant to be informative like a NOVA special might. It’s meant to give us an idea of what the big unknown is in different fields.  It’s showing that there are still things left to discover.  We may never fully understand what consciousness is.  We’ll probably never be able to catalog every species within my lifetime.  Even when these problems are solved, there will undoubtedly be new problems to solve.

It’s about 90 minutes, which makes it a bit long for a class.  It’s the kind of thing that could be assigned for homework, except that it’s available on Netflix.  It does look like there are screenings in theaters, but I don’t know how long this will go on.  I can’t say that you’ll be able to find one near you, even if it’s done indefinitely.  It is something that’s worth checking out if you have access to it.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Anno zero - Guerra nello spazio/War of the Planets (1977)

People have asked me why I watch bad movies.  Some are entertaining in their own right.  I watch others because they’ve become cultural icons.  (Plan 9 From Outer Space is pretty much only famous for being bad..)  My reason for watching War of the Planets is that I had it laying around.

When my brother cleaned out his storage unit, he left me with a set of movies that seem to be mostly Italian-produced, cheaply made science fiction movies.  I’m going through these to see if any of them have any redeeming qualities.  If there is one, this one isn’t it.  How bad is the movie?  I’d describe it as the most horrendous assemblage of random scriptwriting ever.

I’m not even absolutely certain that I have the correct IMDb page listed below.  May of the user and external reviews seem to be talking about the same movie.  The problem with movies like this is that there are often several different cuts and each cut can have several dubs.  For instance, there seem to be at least two first names for Captain Hamilton.  He’s either Fred or Alex, depending on who you ask.  Also, the title on the DVD is Cosmos: War of the Planets, whereas IMDB simply has it listed as War of the Planets.  (Apparently, Cosmos is used in the English title for boxed sets in Japan.)  This should have told me something going in.

The movie starts with some random stuff, including a guy fixing an ancient satellite alone, which he’s not supposed to do.  There’s a very strict buddy system in place and he’s just violated it.  Anyway, he’s reprimanded.  Rather than being punished, he’s given command of his own ship.  Eventually, that ship is told to go to the source of a strange transmission.  Captain Hamilton, if that is his real name, refuses because he can do that under the new rules.

At some point, the ship winds up at the planet.  I’m not sure if he changed his mind, if he stumbled upon the planet by accident or there was some other motive.  Anyway, the ship almost crashes, right up until it doesn’t.  The crew makes it to the ground safely, but the ship needs repairs if it’s going to fly again.

So, the crew explores the seemingly uninhabited planet.  Several crewmembers find some strange Stonehenge-looking thing and disappear.  In reality, they’re transported to the other side of a mountain where a giant robot attacks them.  Also, there are people on the planet who are supposed to be painted blue.  (In the version I had, they looked dark grey.)

The captain manages to find the robot, or a computer resembling the robot, and is instructed to replace a circuit board, which he does slowly to stall.  It turns out that this is the only repair that the machine needed.  Now, he can make more machines and board the ship to take over Earth.

Captain Hamilton manages to undo this by throwing a rock at a red button.   How does Hamilton know to hit the red button?  His onboard computer said that there would be a machine and its undoing would be a button that would probably be red.  Anyway, the robot blows up, apparently taking the planet with him.  I’m not sure, really.  There were a lot of explosions and stuff.

However, the crew does make it back with one of the planet’s inhabitants.  He doesn’t seem too broken up about the destruction of the planet or the rest of his people, so maybe it wasn’t that bad.  Either way, he looks good in an Earth uniform.  That is, until he gets blown out an airlock.  Why?  Because he’s in the same room as a mutated crewmember who starts attacking people.  No one seems to be broken up about it.  At least Earth is safe.  Or is it?

The only reason I might want someone to watch the movie is so that they might explain it to me.  If you have seen this movie and understand anything about it, please leave a comment.  For instance, there was supposed to be a ship above Antarctica.  Did I miss this?  Was this removed in one of the cuts of the movie?

Also, why did the robot need humans?  I get that the inhabitants of the planet weren’t too bright.  The Evil Robot Overlord may have tried, only to find them not good enough.  However, he could apparently move around.  If he did have a ship over Antarctica, couldn’t he have gotten himself to Earth or another planet?  For that matter, this robot is supposed to be the one that makes all the other robots and machines.  Why not make one to repair the main computer.  That would seem like a good plan.  Make sure that you always have one or two of those around.

If you can tolerate really horrid movies, this one may be for you.  It seems perfect for Mystery Science Theater 3000, although I don’t see it listed under the movie’s connections.  I’d say that there may be a copyright issue, but movies like this one tend to have lapsed or nonexistent copyright.  That’s how they find their way into the movie packs to begin with.  If you’re looking for a movie with a coherent plot and decent acting, I’d say keep moving.  There’s nothing for you to see here.

Monday, September 03, 2018

The Equalizer 2 (2018)

I’m not really certain what to make of Equalizer 2.  It seems like some effort was put into writing it, but I still have issues with it.  When the first movie ended, I though that the sequel would be along the same lines.  Not necessarily a remake of the first, but at least McCall helping someone.  In fact, the trailers alluded to this.  We had McCall talking to someone on a train to retrieve a girl abducted by her father.  However, once the girl is returned, this is the end of the character’s involvement in the movie.

The main story is McCall’s friend, Susan, having to investigate the apparent suicide of a CIA operative overseas.  It doesn’t go well, leading McCall to risk exposing that his death was faked.  It’s difficult to go into a lot of details for two reasons.  One, I would have to unnecessarily give away spoilers.  Two, I’m not entirely certain where the plot was going.  It seemed like it was setting up the final fight, yet there really wasn’t a three-act structure.

Add to this several other elements like the girl.  While McCall is working as a Lyft driver, he comes across a woman who he realizes had been sexually assaulted.  He drops her off at a hospital before dealing with the men she was with.  Again, this is only one five-minute stretch of the movie.  Then, there’s a Holocaust survivor who’s trying to prove that a picture was his.  I’m not sure what purpose this has other than to fill in the movie.

The movie wasn’t boring, but it was different.  I spent most of the movie waiting for the action to start.  Once I realized that it wasn’t going to happen, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  It might be that this is serving as a bridge to a third movie.  I’d like to rent the TV series that this is based on.  That might at least shed some light on things.  I remember the TV series being about a man who helped those that couldn’t be helped through traditional channels.  Even after a few days, I’m still sorting through it.  I’m waiting for that moment where it all makes sense, but I expect that won’t happen, either.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Project Kronos (2013)

Things aren’t always that simple.  I was just looking at a movie that was edited and redubbed from a Russian movie.  You also have movies, such as Frankenweenie, that have two versions by the same director.  When I was looking into The Beyond, I found that the director had also made this movie, which was similar.  Both movies are set up like documentaries.  The primary difference is that Project Kronos deals with humans looking for aliens whereas The Beyond has an unknown intelligence coming to us.

In Project Kronos, The Space Agency, Inc., wants to build a probe.  The problem is that the memory required would need a huge storage device.  The solution is to use a human brain, instead.  Gross?  Maybe.  Ethical?  Probably not.   It is an interesting idea and not without merit.  It’s pointed out that a human could deal with extraterrestrials better than an AI could.

It sort of reminds me of Prelude to Axanar in that it’s incomplete.  Both seem like they’re the first part of a documentary.  If you watch this before watching The Beyond, you might think that you got cut off or that you just watched the first of two parts.  In a way, the second part is The Beyond.  I think that it may have been a way of gauging audience reaction, not unlike a backdoor pilot.

If you can find the movie online, I’d say that Project Kronos is worth a shot.  It’s only 14 minutes.  It also looks like there’s another entry on IMDb called Project Kronos with the same writer/director.  This may be a full-length version.  I’m not sure, but it would be interesting to see how the two compare.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

The Beyond (2017)

Many movies have some sort of reveal.  It serves as a way to resolve the tension.  With mystery, you find out who did it, usually in the final moments.  With horror, there may be a similar moment where you realize why the villain is so bad.  Even with a drama, there’s some sort of resolution.  Maybe the protagonist gets what they were after.  Such things are easy to define.

Not so much with The Beyond.  There is a well-defined threat: A wormhole appears not to far from Earth.  It’s like the roach trap, where probes check in, but they don’t check out.  They stop transmitting shortly after they cross the threshold, providing very little information.  Cue the fear and panic among those that know.  The military starts shooting at smaller voids.

Thus, a manned mission is devised wherein those participating are given robotic bodies.  The technology is so secret that participants have to have their deaths faked.   The original plan is to send two scientists.  When the launch comes, one scientist is sent with a soldier.  Only the scientist returns, providing some information.  The only message seems to be from another lost scientist, saying not to worry.

The movie is set up like a documentary, much like Europa Report.  It’s filled with footage of the principal characters going about their business and explaining what’s going on.  We get a lot of slow buildup leading to a climax that’s not much of a climax.  I didn’t even really feel like there was any actual danger to Earth.  I never felt like there was going to be some big threat.  Although there does seem to be a purpose to the events, we never get to see the intelligence behind anything.

I could see this as being the start of several similar movies or the pilot for a TV show.  It has an interesting premise that’s not really utilized.  Everything is very simple and scaled back.  In fact, the space agency is simply called The Space Agency.  There’s no reference to a specific agency, such as the ESA or NASA.  Similarly, the military doesn’t seem to be any particular branch of service nor is any specific country mentioned.  The Void would concern the entire planet.  I don’t recall much talk of various countries pitching in.  Maybe we’re supposed to assume that they are.

The 103-minute running time becomes a major disadvantage.  I’d understand if someone didn’t make it all the way through.  If you do stop midway, you’re not really missing anything.  In fact, this is one of the few cases where spoilers might be advantageous.  You can infer the message without wasting the time.