Sunday, December 30, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 26 (Errand of Mercy)

There’s a bit of a conundrum is offering help to other cultures.  If they really need it, why wouldn’t you offer help that you’re capable of providing?  It would be morally reprehensible to let people suffer if you can ease or eliminate that suffering.  On the other hand, that aid may not always be welcome.  In fact, helping a society could be detrimental to them.  This is why the Prime Directive exists in the Star Trek universe.

When The Enterprise is sent to Organia, Kirk offers protection against the Klingon Empire.  However, the local population is adamant in refusing it.  Ayelborne is the closest thing they have to a leader; he assures Kirk and Spock that the Organians have nothing to worry about.  Kirk tells Ayelborne that the Klingons are ruthless.  They’re a dictatorship.  Ayelborne acknowledges that and tries to send Kirk and Spock on their way.

Unfortunately, the Klingons do arrive.  Kor marches in and proclaims himself the new military governor of the planet.  The Organians are able to pass Kirk off as a local and Spock as a trader.  Their identities are revealed to Kor after Kirk and Spock make several aggressive moves against Kor.

It turns out that the Organians really don’t need any help.  In fact, they put an end to the fighting between the Federation and the Klingon empire.  It would limit what each party could do in the future, but it did the trick.  In fact, Ayelborne points out that both governments will one day be friends.  Kor can protest it all he wants, but it will come to pass.  In fact, Kirk and Spock will have a part in it.

I’ve often read about missionaries going to developing countries or to Native Americans and converting them to Christianity.  What makes a missionary think that their way of life is any better?  Spock doesn’t detect any advancement as far back as his tricorder will read. 

The fact that the Organians refuse help should be telling.  Kirk never stops to ask why they would refuse.  He simply sees a primitive culture and instantly knows what they need.  If the Organians are living peacefully, who is Kirk to impose his values on them?  Kor’s method may end their way of life quickly, but is it any better to do it over time?  The result is the same.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

I’ve always wondered why some superheroes become well known while there are plenty of others that are known only to fans of comic books.  You might say that it has to do with exposure.  Wonder Woman had a TV show featuring Linda Carter in the titular role.  Superman has had all manner of movies in addition to the TV show.  But what is it about these superheroes that makes them more marketable?

Spider-Man is popular enough to have had several incarnations both in the comics and on the big screen.  This is the basic premise of Into the Spiderverse.  We start out with a regular kid named Miles Morales who looks up to his universe’s Spider Man, also known as Peter Parker.  When Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider, he gains powers similar to Peter’s.  Peter would train Miles except that Peter is killed by Wilson “Kingpin“ Fisk.

Not to worry, though.  That thing that Peter was trying to stop Kingpin from using happens to be a device that brings forth five other spider-like creatures:  Peter B. Parker, Peter Porker, Peni Parker, Spider-Man Noir and Gwen Stacy.  It’s up to the six of them to stop Kingpin from destroying reality.

So, you might be wondering what it’s like to watch a movie with seven different versions of Spider-Man.  Movies with that many main characters might seem a bit crowded.  We do get to see several different origin stores, even if each lasts only a minute.  Fortunately, it’s not done enough to get repetitive.

I will say that those who have seen other Spider-Man movies will catch at least one reference to another production, such as Spiderman hanging upside-down to get a kiss.  (I might have to keep checking back on the IMDb page to see if there are any new entries on the connections page.)  It also has a very comic-book feel to it, which I imagine was deliberate.  The animation is a little unusual, seeming almost realistic at times.

While I was watching the movie, I kept thinking that it might serve as a platform for spin-off movies.  What I’ve read about the movie confirms this.  The movie would seem to be sort of a back-door pilot.  There’s a good mix of characters to support the movie and would give the studio a chance to gauge the audience’s reaction to the movie.  I would hope that Miles Morales would get his own movie.  I’d also like to see Peter Porker, a.k.a. Spider-Ham have some sort of post-Spiderverse presence.

The plot wasn‘t as heavy as I would have expected.  There are a few chase scenes, but there wasn’t a strong threat.  It seemed more like it was setting Miles up to become Spiderman while getting a chance to show off a few of the different incarnations that Spider-Man has had.  It’s almost like some sort of meta-origin story.  This is one of those movies that seems more like a pilot to a TV show than a standalone movie.  (Of course, this makes sense given the talks of possible spin-offs.)

Spider-Man is accessible and well-known enough that most people will be able to follow the story.  The movie seems geared more towards a teenaged audience, but is good for parents, as well.  It’s exactly the kind of movie parents and kids could see together.  I’ll be checking back to see what happens with subsequent movies.  It definitely has franchise potential.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

I nuovi barbari/Warriors of the Wasteland (1983)

In school, there was always one kid that could hit it out of the park.  He’d do an essay and it would be fantastic.  Then, there was the one that was at the other end of the spectrum.  There were lazy kids, then there were the ones that would copy large chunks out of some encyclopedias.  Very little of their work seemed original and what was seemed uninspired  Warriors of the Wasteland seems more like the latter than the former.

The year is 2019 and the nuclear disaster is over.  Most people are happy to get on with things.  There seems to be enough food and clean water to support small groups of people.  They spend their time listening for The One True Signal, which would indicate that some remnant of civilization had survived.  At any rate, there seems to be more than enough gasoline to support a good number of cars and trucks.  (There are even a few buses.)

Then, there are the Templars.  They hate humanity and are intent on destroying those that have survived.  One is their leader, who demonstrates his hatred by ripping a Bible in half with his bare hands.  Why?  Because books are what caused humanity’s downfall.  These guys are so good at attacking people that they don’t seem to suffer casualties.  The Templars descend upon a group of survivors and within minutes, their cars are up in flames.

Enter Scorpion.  This sounds like the perfect name for a bad guy.  In fact, he used to be one of the bad guys, but has since turned good.  He even rescues Alma, who was hurt in an attack.  Scorpion brings her to a group that happens to have a guy who’s good at fixing things.  He has no medical training, but can seem to repair anything.

It seems that One has it in for Scorpion.  I‘m not sure what happened between the two of them, but it must be bad.  After One captures Scorpion, we’re treated to a psychedelic rape scene.  Yes, One cuts Scorpion’s belt and ostensibly penetrates him.  Scorpion’s pants then miraculously get pulled back up after it‘s all done.

Oh, and there’s a guy named Nadir that comes in and helps Scorpion when he needs it.  I think he bought the Never-Ending Arrows from Olive Garden because he always has one available.  (It’s like one of those guns that can shoot 100 bullets without reloading.)  One interesting thing is that he has explosives that can attach to the arrows.  We get to see several heads and torsos blow up.

Then we have Young Mechanic, who is a small child who is really good with cars.  He looks like someone who was rejected for a Dennis the Menace project for looking a little too much like Dennis.  I supposed if you find a good mechanic, especially after the apocalypse, you can’t really complain.

I think the thing that stands out the most about this movie is how strange it all is.  I mean, how is it that a young boy is able to work on cars like that?  Even if he comes from a long line of mechanics, we never see anyone else around teaching him anything.  It’s like the nuclear radiation imbued him with superhuman mechanic skills.

Most of this is due to how much is left out of the movie.  There’s no text explaining what caused the apocalypse.  We don’t know how the groups formed.  Things that are necessary, like cars and lights, seem to just work.  I suppose it would stand to reason that someone had either found or developed solar power.  Maybe the cars were rigged to run on electricity.  Also, why do so many of the actors look like other actors?  We even have someone that bears a striking resemblance to Edward James Olmos.

As with other post-apocalyptic stories, it stays in one area.  At least there is some mention of looking for others, but this comes only in the form of a radio signal.  People get excited about Morse code, but I don’t think anyone translated anything.  The signal could be saying that all other life was destroyed.  Maybe people are being invited to a certain point or being told to stay away from certain irradiated areas.  We’ll never know.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Widows (2018)

There’s a scene in Ratatouille where Linguine tries to improve a soup by adding every ingredient within reach.  Fortunately, he had Remy to help correct this mistake.  When I saw Widows, it seemed like the writers were adding all manner of plot elements.  The movie starts with a robbery gone bad.  There are two candidates for alderman of Chicago’s 18th Ward, both corrupt in their own way, one of which was the victim of said robbery.  He compels the widow of the lead robber to steal his money back, leading to a group of novices trying to do a job of their own.  Add to this plot elements like racism, religion, grief, sexism, betrayal and loss and the movie seems like it’s trying to do too much.

I later found out that the movie is based on a British miniseries.  I think a better cooking analogy might be a reduction.  It looks like the movie is trying to retain as many elements from the source material as it can without sacrificing the basic story.  There’s just enough of each side story to get the idea.

This is one of those movies where the trailers don’t quite do the full film justice.  That can be forgiven, as there are several plot twists.  (No, I’m not going to give them away.)  the basic story is about what you would expect.    Harry Rawlings is the leader of the pro heist crew.  After they pull in to their hideout, the police shoot up their van, killing all four people.

Jamal Manning pays a visit to Harry’s widow, Veronica.  Jamal was Harry’s victim.  It turns out that the cash went up in flames when the van was destroyed.  That money was supposed to finance his campaign for alderman.  Jamal gives Veronica one month to get back his $2,000,000.

Apparently, selling assets isn’t as simple as Jamal would make it out to be.  Instead, she recruits two of the other widows to help her carry out what would have been Harry’s last job.  They have plans, but aren’t really clear on key details, like where the actual vault is.  They do have the resources to find out, though.  If successful, they would be able to repay Jamal and keep about a million each.

Of course, nothing ever goes exactly according to plan.  Veronica is the only one with any motivation, considering she’s the only one Jamal seems to know about.  She does have the ability to give him the names of the other two widows, which serves as leverage.  However, one of the other widows isn‘t too bright and the other has other obligations to worry about.  Veronica doesn’t have a crack team at her disposal.

I’m kind of on the fence about this movie.  I came out of the theater entertained, but it’s not a movie that has any nice people in it.  Both candidates for alderman are not in it for the people, despite appearances.  Jamal is a preacher who is in the race for the money.  When his brother points out that the church makes more money, Jamal tells his brother about all of the kickbacks he could get handing out lucrative projects.  Jack Mulligan, the other candidate, is already doing just that.  He has a project that ostensibly empowers minority women, but takes a cut of their business in return.

There were so many side stories going on that it seemed like the movie was trying to do too much.  There’s one thread about Harry and Veronica losing their son, which seemed unnecessary.  I can see where it would have been better in the miniseries, as it could have been explored in depth.  Here, it felt like it only served to add tension, which could have been done in less-conspicuous ways.  I think for a lot of people, this is going to be a movie to watch at home.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Robin Hood (2018)

Robin Hood and any associated character has long since passed into the public domain, so it’s easy enough to write a new story around them.  (This is the fourth version I’ve seen if you include Robin Hood: Men in Tights.)  Is it too much to ask, though, that someone come up with something a little better?

The basic story is the same.  Robin of Loxley goes off to fight in The Crusades.  He comes back to find that his lands have been seized by The Sheriff of Nottingham.  You see, Mr. Sheriff had Robin declared legally dead.  This means that the lands could be taken to beef up the war fund.  (I‘m not sure how that was supposed to work, as the lands have fallen into ruin.)  Also, Marian gave up on waiting for Robin and has taken up with Will Scarlet.

Robin is stopped by the father of a boy Robin tried to save overseas.  The father’s name proves too difficult to pronounce, so he agrees to go by the anglicized version of John.  The two agree to do what Robin of Loxley is known for:  Take from the rich and give the money to the poor.  Since Robin’s castle is abandoned, they can use it for training.

Do I regret seeing the movie?  Not really.  It was entertaining.  However, it was so anachronistic that I have to wonder what they were trying to do with this movie.  It looks like someone took the Robin Hood story, added a J. Crew catalog, added a pinch of Supercuts and put the whole thing on blend for 30 seconds.  Every time I saw one of the main characters, I couldn’t help but think how nice and neat they looked, as if they had just stepped out of the house.

There’s also nothing particularly new or great about the film.  It seems like it’s supposed to be a vehicle for something, but I’m not sure what.  There aren’t many lines that could be considered quotable.  There are some action scenes, but nothing spectacular.  In fact, it seems to just use familiar names to tell a familiar story.  It looks like no one was really trying.

The story has been redone so many times that you really have to up your game to stand out.  This version seems to have gone in the opposite direction, offering a stripped-down version.  I think that I’ll probably have forgotten about it by this time next year.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

The Grinch (2018)

There’s a part of me that didn’t want to write this review.  I wasn’t sure I’d have much to contribute that a hundred people haven’t said before.  This is The Grinch, after all.  Between the book and the coming attractions, there won’t be too many surprises in the movie.  Aside from which, it’s not like I get many page views anyway.  I’m not sure this review will be the deciding factor for a lot of people.

There’s also the compulsive part of me that has to write a review.

The Grinch follows Dr. Seuss’s basic story pretty closely, from what I can tell.  (It’s an 86-minute adaptation of a relatively small book, so there are going to be a few embellishments.)  The Grinch doesn’t like Christmas.  He decides to steal Christmas from Whoville by stealing all of the presents and decorations.  In the end, he realizes the true meaning of Christmas.

I’m not sure why we need another adaptation.  There’s the 1996 version, with Boris Karloff.  There’s also the 2000 version with Jim Carrey.  There’s even a 1992 version that I hadn’t heard of.  The problem with calling the movie into question is that I risk seeming a little grinchy myself.  However, it does seem like a pretty safe movie to make, especially right before Christmas.

This version makes the Grinch not so mean.  We even get a little back story as to why he is what he is.  Benedict Cumberbatch plays him as someone who just doesn’t like people, which is understandable to anyone who has had to deal with a lot of people.  He’s the personification of that impulse to just stay away from everyone.  (It’s sort of like that Mark Twain quote, “The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.”)

I went into the theater wondering if it would be a cash grab, but it was a fairly good production.  It might be bearable for most adults, but it’s definitely going to be enjoyed more by the children.  This movie comes across as a viable alternative to the 1966 movie.  I think the older version is going to come across as dated, especially considering that it’s over 50 years old.  I could definitely see a TV station or two playing this version for Christmas next year.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Out of Time (1988)

There are a few TV shows and movies that aren‘t available on DVD or streaming.  In some cases, like Doctor Who, the tapes were wiped.  New episodes are made available as lost tapes are found, but many are still missing.  Other productions don’t have enough demand to be released on DVD.  It’s a shame because many of them were good enough to at least be worthy of streaming.

One made-for-TV movie that I remember watching was called Out of Time.  It was about a police officer from the future who chases a criminal back to what was then the present.  It was exactly what you’d expect of a failed pilot episode, but I remember liking it.  My only option, apparently, was to watch it streaming on Amazon.

The movie starts in the year 2088.  Channing Taylor is a Los Angeles police officer who doesn’t trust a computer to do a human’s job.  He’s after Richard Marcus, who is up to something.  Taylor comes to realize that Marcus might have a time machine.  It’s the only thing that makes sense.  Taylor figures out when and where the time machine will appear.  Marcus shows up just in time to get the machine, himself.  The two end up back in 1988, where Channing Taylor meets his great-grandfather, Max Taylor.

The movie wasn‘t quite as good as I remember it.  (I can see why it wasn’t picked up for a full series.)  Channing is your typical fish out of water.  Even in 2088, he’s a police officer mostly because Max Taylor was such a great police officer. (No mention is made if any other Taylors made the force.)  When Channing tries to navigate 1988 Los Angeles, he seems to know just enough to get what he wants.  He’s able to use future technology to win money in a scratch-off lottery, but has no idea what a tie is.  He also seems ambiguous on what a bank is, even though Marcus is going to rob one.

The movie is somewhat generic and cliché.  Part of this could be attributed to the fact that it was supposed to be a TV series.  The writers may not have wanted to use up all of their good stuff in one episode.  Other things, I can’t let off so easily.

For instance, Channing has to use his last bit of fuel to save Maxwell.  Since the fuel won’t be invented for a while, it’s used to strand Channing in the past.  Couldn’t the writers have found another way?  Maybe have enough to make one trip back, but have Channing decide to stick around.  He was suspended, so I could understand there being no rush to get back to 2088.

I’d say that it could make for a good TV show, but a similar concept was used for Time Trax.  (This is another TV series I’d like to see released on DVD.)  I think Out of Time may have suffered from more than a few setbacks.  Part of it is the writing.  I’d like to think the movie would have made more sense as part of a series, but it just doesn’t work as a standalone release.  Channing and Maxell seem just too goofy to take seriously.

Also, I suspect that there wasn’t enough of a budget to make it work.  There are almost no special effects to speak of.  We see a laser effect maybe two or three times.  When we do see it, it comes across as just this side of obvious.  The props look like rejects for kids toys.  Channing’s gun looks like someone found a piece of acrylic somewhere and found a way to make it vaguely look like a gun.  I’m really not surprised that it didn’t get picked up for a full season.