Sunday, July 21, 2019

Stuber (2019)

I remember someone once saying about the character, Frasier Crane, that no psychiatrist would ever act that way.  Any professional therapist would lose their license if they did a tenth of what Dr. Crane did during the run of the series.  This isn’t to say that the show wasn’t funny.  Much of the humor came from someone so intelligent being largely clueless.  The humor came from that disparity.

I don’t think that Stuber was going for that dynamic, though.  Vic Manning would seem to be your typical renegade police officer.  He shoots from the hip and maybe grunts out a few questions later.  The movie starts with Vic and his partner, Sara Morris, trying to take down Oka Tedjo, who sells drugs to kids.   Tedjo gets away, leaving Sara to die.

Cut to some time later.  Tedjo is still on the run.  Vic is still on the job, but his vision isn’t what it used to be.  This leads him to get laser eye surgery, which does require some down time.  Wouldn’t you know it?   Someone gets a lead on Tedjo, prompting Vic to spring into action.  Since he can’t drive, he has to rely on the Uber app, which his daughter thoughtfully installed for him.

Enter Stu, a driver with a 4.1 rating.  His main job is at a sports store; he does Uber for some extra cash.  Vic has Stu drive all over town looking for the next clue that will lead them to their target.  I doubt very much that any police department would allow an officer to put a civilian in the line of fire like this, to say nothing of paying for it.  But, here Stu is, desperately hoping for a five-star rating.

The main problem with the story is that there isn’t much of one.  Movies like Beverly Hills Cop had a pretty solid storyline.  This looked like someone wanted to see how closely they could stick to a template and still get greenlit.  I’d worry about giving away the plot, but anyone watching the movie could probably guess what’s coming next.

For instance, there are two running gags: Stu’s rating and Vic’s eyesight.  The entire reason Vic can string Stu along is the threat of a low rating.  (Stu states that dropping below a 4.0 average gets him kicked off the app.  I don’t know if this is true.)  The entire reason Vic even needs someone is that he literally can‘t see well past his nose.  There’s also Stu’s friend, Becca, who constantly calls him to hook up.  Stu promises that he’ll be right there, thinking that Vic couldn’t possibly need him that much longer.

The funny thing is that the movie doesn’t really feel like a rip off of a particular movie.  It’s more like the most basic entry possible into the genre.  This puts me in the awkward position of sort of liking it because I can’t find any particular fault with it.  It hit many of the marks, but was also kind of basic.

Vic and Stu get into a fight at the sporting-goods store, which sort of deals with toxic masculinity, but doesn’t do a great job of it.  Vic is also not a great father to his daughter, Nicole.  She’s thoughtful enough to put the app on her father’s phone.  Vic isn’t thoughtful enough to try to make it to his daughter’s art opening.  (He winds up there by chance.)

When I left the movie, I felt entertained.  However, it didn’t really have anything new or clever about it.  This isn’t going to make my list of top-ten police movies.  I don’t think it will make any of my top-ten lists.  It’s the kind of movie I’d tell you to rent if your Netflix queue is running low or Redbox is out of your first choice.  It’s probably going to be better than watching nothing, but I don’t expect you’d rent it a second time.


Friday, July 19, 2019

Anima (2019)

It would be nice if Netflix had a category for shorts, or at least a way of limiting movies by running time.  I don’t always feel like dedicating an hour or two to watching something.  Maybe I just want to watch something that’s 15 minutes or so.  Occasionally, I will come across a short film, like Anima, but this is mostly because the film, itself, is featured.

In the case of Anima, it’s one of Netflix’s own offerings, featuring a man in a world of similar people.  The nameless character appears to be heading home when he notices a woman forget what appears to be a toolbox.  He’s able to return it to her, and they would seem to go off on an adventure together.  There’s no dialogue, but it’s all choreographed and set to music.

It’s a hard film to place.  There are components that would seem similar to other things I’ve seen.  Overall, the story and style might seem similar to The Bothersome Man, but not really.  Another tenuous connection might be Daft Punk’s Interstella 5555, in that both films feature a single narrative set to several songs.  Anima would seem to be its own project, though.  It’s trying to tell its own story and is distinct from other films I’ve seen before.

I’ll admit that it was a little esoteric for me.  I can see a lot of people enjoying the film for the movements and whatnot, but I do sense that there is a deeper meaning most people won’t get.  I had to look up what Anima means.  Dictionary.com has it as “the part of the psyche that is directed inward, and is in touch with the subconscious.”  So, yeah.  There’s that.  (In a way, that does sort of make sense.  There was a sort of dreamlike quality to the story.)

I sometimes wonder if reviews like these are useful, at least in the same way other reviews are.  I’m not sure how one might gain access to the film outside of Netflix, and once someone has access to Netflix, this is probably going to be featured prominently on the main page.  In that sense, this is going to be most useful for people who don’t subscribe to the streaming service at the moment.  At the very least, one might get the impression that Netflix is expanding into things beyond TV and movies.

Then again, it’s possible you may have given it a pass or missed it altogether.  After all, new things will come in and replace this.  So, maybe by reading this review, you might be tempted to give it a try.  After all, 15 minutes isn’t a huge investment.  It’s the perfect thing to watch if you’re waiting for something else to happen.


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Stranger Things (Season 3)

I grew up in the 1980s.  I remember Back to the Future and The Soviet Union.  I remember New Coke being a thing.  Since I live in a major city, I had a few malls to choose from.  For the residents of Hawkins, Indiana, many of these things are new.  (Back to the Future was released on July 3, 1985, during this season’s time frame.)  They also have a new mall in town, which has all but killed Main Street.

Speaking of killing, The Mind Flayer is back, so Eleven, Dustin, Lucas, Jonathan and Co. have their work cut out for them.  Add to this the discovery of another menace:  Soviet operatives underneath the new Starcourt Mall.   In fact, they’re the reason that the Mind Flayer is active.  They’re trying to drill a hole to the Upside-Down.  To what end isn’t made clear, but the Mind Flayer is up to something.  It starts with rats consuming fertilizer and becomes stranger from there.  All of this is happening while Mayor Larry Kline just wants to put on a nice Fourth of July show.

When you’re trying to use several elements in a story, you have to find balance.  Here, there’s definitely nostalgia.  We even get to see several clips of Back to the Future. Observant fans will notice stores at the mall tht still exist, like Burger King and The Gap, and those that are no longer with us, like Sam Goody and RadioShack.

There’s even a Jazzercise studio.  It’s a franchise that uses jazz music to set the tone for the exercise.  It started in 1969, but became big in the 1980s.  Oh, how I would have liked to have forgotten that.  I think I was in the fifth grade when they had my entire elementary school do it.  It must have been in shifts, but all of the students had to participate.  I remember some being enthusiastic about it.  I remember doing the bare minimum necessary to look like I wasn’t just standing there.

Anyway, I digress.  Many of the nostalgic elements blend into the background.  You might see an old logo or something.  The big thing is the Soviets.  I think we’re to assume here that the Soviet Union somehow built a huge secret underground base, put a mall on top of it and hoped no one would notice?  Well, someone noticed.  Dustin happened to build a receiver that picked up one of their transmissions.

The other side of this is the tension.  You have good against evil.  Those that were fighting for good are still doing so, only in different groups.  But even the bad guys are nostalgic.  (How many old movies and cartoons had Soviets as the enemy?)  I mean, it works.  They are a pretty solid enemy.  However, it seems odd that they have that large a base with that many people (in uniform) that went unnoticed except for some pesky kids.

From what I’ve read, the show was meant to last three to five seasons, although there is talk of a fourth.  Given how this one plays out, I’m not certain what the next will look like.  Each season so far has focused on going between dimensions.  If I recall, the first season was the only one not to take place on a holiday, although it does happen between Halloween and Christmas.  Will the next one take on Thanksgiving?  Will there be a new enemy from another dimension?  I’d settle for an explanation of the whole Soviet angle.  And please, don’t tell me it was Moose and Squirrel.


IMDb page

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Yesterday (2019)

One could be forgiven for not having heard of Jack Malik.  He’s a musician who sings his own songs.  He has a loyal fan base of his manager and a few friends, but that’s it.  He has absolutely no chance of becoming famous.  It’s frustrating because he really believes that he could.

Just when he’s about to give up, Jack is hit by a bus during a blackout.  When he gets out of the hospital, he comes to find out that no one knows who the Beatles are.  Everyone knows who the Beatles are.  Except that no one does.  He goes home and finds no references to the band.  (Searching for The Beatles brings up the insects.)

This presents an incredible opportunity.  Since no one has heard of any of their songs, Jack could pass them off as his own.  Since they were never published, copyright wouldn’t be an issue,  No one would know.  So, that’s what he does.  He records a few of the songs that he can remember and waits.  And he waits.

Again, despair sets in.  Maybe he really is a crappy artist.  He can’t even get attention with songs that got lots of attention.  To be fair, context does matter.  The actual song is as important as who is singing it.  When it’s released also has an effect.  Songs released 50 years ago won’t have the same impact on modern audiences.  This is why it’s surprising that the songs do attract attention.

Ed Sheeran invites Jack to go on tour.  This leads to the long-awaited contract, which leads to the inevitable guilt.  Remember when I said no one would know?  Jack knows.  He comes to realize that he’ll always be waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I came into the movie expecting it to be like Bohemian Rhapsody, and in a way, it is.  The movie showcases the music of The Beatles, but does so in a much different way.  Everyone has that moment when they think no one would know, but Jack has no way of knowing what caused John, Paul, George and Ringo to not form a band.  It’s possible that the music was written, but never released.  It’s possible that one or all of the band members were never born or that they simply never met each other.  Some version of the songs might exist out there.

On the one hand, the movie is enjoyable.  I think most people can relate to someone who wants to make it big.  Those that try and don’t make it often question how someone else made it.  As both a comedy and a fantasy, the movie would have us believe that Jack can make the songs work.  Yes, they’re great songs, but it is a bit odd that it just happens.

It’s also odd that so much of the alternate universe is the same.  Cigarettes and Coca-Cola don’t exist, but it’s never really explained why.  (A search for Coke turns up Pablo Escobar.)  However, there are no small differences to drive Jack mad.  There are no restaurants on the wrong side of the street.  The Eiffel Tower isn’t in Germany instead of France or known by some other name.  I suppose that’s just as well.  Many movies and TV shows have stated that stuff like this is done for simplicity.  Focusing on too many extraneous details can make the movie drag.

Given that the movie has a plot, it’s going to have much broader appeal than Bohemian Rhapsody.  The movie focuses more on Jack’s journey and his ethical dilemma, which it does well.  The script isn’t heavy-handed with it.  It’s exactly the kind of movie you could reference to show the difference between legal and ethical.  There are also shades of grey.

His other options are to be honest all along or to not release the music and go about his life.  If he’s honest, people would think he’s crazy.  If he remains silent, the world is denied some beautiful music.  But, if you do release the music, how do you do it?  You could credit the music to the right people, but they may not exist.  And if they do, they would have no memory of having written it.  So, there is some room for discussion.  I think this is really where the movie works best.


Monday, July 08, 2019

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

It’s natural to long for what we once had, especially if we know we can never get it back.   We tend to remember the good times and wonder where they went.  Jimmie Fails goes to a house and paints it, despite the constant objections of the couple living there.  He just hates to see it in disarray.  One might wonder why Jimmie is so interested in this particular house.

He grew up there.

Jimmy spends his much of his time working at a nursing home or hanging out with his friend, Montgomery.  They live with Montgomery’s grandfather.  Jimmy and Montgomery go to the house when they feel certain that the husband and wife won’t be there.

One day, opportunity knocks.  The house is actually owned by the wife’s mother, or at least was.  When the mother dies, the house is now in dispute and, more importantly, unoccupied.  Due to the situation, it could sit unoccupied for years, giving Jimmy plenty of time to squat.

The problem with a drama is that it’s never that easy.  If it were a comedy, Jimmy would have found a way.  Maybe he would have won the lottery.  Someone would have found some clause in a long-forgotten contract that would have set things right.  Even the squatting might have come through.

Jimmy is not a man in control of his circumstances.  He was just a child when his parents lost the house.  Now that he’s older, he’s denied access by the current occupants.  When that obstacle goes away, he’s presented with more obstacles.  It would seem that any attempt to look for help only leads to someone pulling the rug out from under him.

Add to that the fact that his neighbors would hold him back.  The grandfather and Montgomery would seem to encourage him, but Jimmy doesn’t seem to have many options.  There’s pressure from outside the community, but there’s pressure from within, as well.  The four or five guys that Jimmy sees every day deride Jimmy for being too soft.  He dresses better than them.  On the other hand, he’ll never have the millions of dollars necessary to buy the property.  Even when he promises to do everything he can to get the money, it’s not enough.

Perhaps the hardest part of growing up is realizing that no matter how hard we work, we don’t always get exactly what we want.  Sometimes, we can.  Sometimes, it means coming close or finding something else that would give us joy.  Like the Rolling Stones once said, you can’t always get what you want.  That doesn’t mean you have to focus solely on what you need.  It just means you have to decide what’s important and come to terms with what’s possible.


Sunday, July 07, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 15 (Will You Take My Hand?)

Star Trek: Discovery was a good news/bad news kind of situation.  The good news was that there would be a new Star Trek series after many years.  The bad news was that you’d have to pay for it.  Alas, my local library saved the day with the first season on DVD.  I had to put in a hold and wait, but I was still able to get all 15 episodes of the first season.

So, here we are at the last of those episodes.  It would seem that there’s a resolution to the Klingon War at hand.  Starfleet has a plan to send a probe to the Klingon home world and maybe find a way to threaten the Klingons into submission.  Only, it‘s not really a probe.  It’s a bomb intended to destroy the planet.  And when I say intended, I mean that it’s what Starfleet actually planned to do: Destroy the home world so that the Klingons would realize how serious the Federation is.

I’m not sure I like this plan.  There is a parallel to the United States dropping the bomb on Japan.  It shows that Starfleet is serious.  I had never thought of Starfleet being that serious, but this is what they get for putting a Mirror Universe Emperor in charge of the war effort.  It puts an admiral on the verge of selling Starfleet’s soul just for the sake of winning.

Given that there’s a Klingon home world in the other series and that this is the second-earliest Star Trek series, it’s safe to say that it doesn’t come to that.  The question is how and why it doesn’t come to that.  This is where Discovery has a chance to redeem itself.   The previous series had been about exploration.  Deep Space Nine had a wormhole, which led to a new part of the galaxy to look at.  Even Voyager, which was stranded 70,000 light years from home, took time to look at a new planet or meet a new race.

Discovery was mostly about conflict and war.  It’s almost a darker version of Deep Space Nine.  I am hopeful for the second season.  I know I’ll have to wait a few months if I don’t want to fork over the money, but I waited this long for Season 1.  I’ve also seen some spoilers for Season 2, which have me curious.  Despite what I may have felt before, there is some Star Trek in Discovery.


Thursday, July 04, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 14 (The War Without, the War Within)

Life is rarely fair.  Ash Tyler turned out to be a Klingon spy.  To cover his secret, he killed the chief medical officer and nearly killed Michael Burnham.  He’s allowed to walk around the ship unsupervised.  Also, Michael Burnham saves the Emperor of the Terran Empire.  She’s the most ruthless product of a ruthless version of humanity.  Rather than lock her up, they make her captain of the Discovery.  Makes sense.  Right?  That’s how this episode goes.  But, hey!  We’re back in the Prime Universe!  There’s no more evil humans or Vulcans with goatees to worry about.

The crew can focus on the Klingon war again, which has progressed nine months since they left.  Things aren’t going too well for Starfleet.  20% of Federation territory has been lost.  About a third of the Fleet is no more.  Starfleet Command needs something major and Emperor…er…Captain Georgiou might be the one to give it to her.  They do have the Klingon T’Rell in holding, so she might provide something useful.

The fact that they let two major threats walk freely through the ship is my major issue here.  You might say that there’s some major plot point that will require both Georgiou and Tyler.  And you’d be right.  I have seen the finale.  However, use of those characters would be done grudgingly.  Someone would be forced to let them out of prison to accomplish something.  That’s not the case here.  It would seem that being human, or at least appearing human, has its advantages.

It’s also a bit of an insult to Saru to make Georgiou the captain.  Saru has done a great job commanding the Discovery.  You can’t even argue plot point here.  First off, doesn’t the entire crew know what’s going on?  Why the pretense of saying that it’s the Prime Georgiou other than to remind the crew that they have to keep up an act?  Why even make her captain?  They could just as easily keep her on as an advisor or something.  If anyone asks, you could say that she’s taking time off to recover from being held captive or something.  The fact that she’s given direct command of a starship means that she could take over the Prime Universe.

So, yeah.  The first season of Discovery will end with some major questions.  I’m sure the writers have something planned for Tyler and Georgiou, but many of the details seem forced or unnecessary.  Basically, there are three people on the ship that shouldn’t be trusted and two of them are trusted in this episode.  I’m not sure any explanation would be sufficient, but I am curious to see where the characters go in season 2.


IMDb page

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Good Omens (2019 miniseries)

I’ve never been a religious person.  I had seen Breakthrough out of curiosity, mostly to see if it was as religious as I thought it would be.  When I saw advertisements for Good Omens, I had similar concerns.  Was it meant for an audience that had a better understanding of Christianity?  I wasn’t sure I was willing to watch something like that so soon.

Then, I read that a group of Christians, calling themselves Return to Order, was petitioning Netflix to cancel the series.  There were several problems with the petition.  Most notable is the fact that the series is produced and distributed by Amazon.  It’s also a limited series, a.k.a. miniseries, so there were never any plans for a second season anyway.  So, if 20,000 Christians were that raving mad about it, I knew it was worth a try.

The show centers on Aziraphale, an angel, and Crowley, a demon.  The two are friends, although they may not admit it.  It would probably be better to call them the ultimate odd couple.  They hang out together and occasionally cover for each other.

The story starts around 4004 B.C. in the Garden of Eden.  The miniseries hits on a lot of Biblical events, like Noah’s Ark.  Most of the story takes place in the present day, though.  Both Crowley and Aziraphale are told that the Antichrist is about to land.  Crowley was the one that had to deliver the baby to an American diplomat.  Through a misunderstanding, the bouncing baby boy goes home with another couple.

He grows up to be a normal kid named Adam Young.  He has friends and would like a dog for his eleventh birthday.  Funny thing is that his eleventh birthday is supposed to be the beginning of the end of the world.  (He even gets a small dog that’s actually a hellhound.)

Aziraphale and Crowley realize that they have to do something.  Aziraphale finds the thought of killing Adam distasteful, but might prove necessary.  Even if they did decide to do something, their respective bureaucracies are adamant about letting The Devine Plan unfold as it should.  Plus, it takes them a while to realize that they gave the baby to the wrong couple.  They have no idea who the actual couple is or where they live.

There is a satirical element to the miniseries.  We’re given an angel and a demon who have to face normal problems.  Both have bosses that don’t seem to do their due diligence.  (Crowley has admittedly been phoning it in for a few millennia.)  Both sides are intent on a war that could be easily averted because it’s part of an ineffable plan.  The Four Horsemen even get an updated look, riding motorcycles instead of horses.  There’s also a book of prophecies that happens to be true.  It acts as more of a McGuffin, but it has its moments.

It’s difficult for me to say if the Christian group has a point.  It’s easy for me as an outsider to think they have no sense of humor about this, but I do get that it’s a religion.  People tend to take that sort of stuff seriously.  I don’t think that it was anyone’s intent to poke fun at Armageddon.

Rather, it serves as a mirror of just how easily we are to do battle.  Look at how easily people argue over issues when we might find we agree.  No one wants to be shot.  Do we limit access to guns or do we arm more people?  No one wants to go hungry.  Do we give tax breaks to corporations?  Do we extend unemployment benefits?  It’s easy to see our differences when maybe we should be looking at our similarities.  If Aziraphale and Crowley can get along, maybe there’s hope for the rest of us.


Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 13 (What's Past Is Prologue)

Nothing is ever simple in television.  It’s bad enough that your car breaks down, but it only happens on the way to a meeting, rather than on the way home.  It’s also raining and the only available tow truck will be there in three days.  Oh, and your mechanic just left for a long vacation.

Such is the case with Star Trek: Discovery.  The crew is trapped in the Mirror Universe.  They’re not sure how it happened, but they know they can use the spore drive to get back.  The problem is that they also have to stop the Mirror Universe’s Terran Empire from overusing spore technology and destroying all life in every universe.  To do so would probably leave them stranded, unless they can come up with a better plan.

We also find out that Captain Lorca was from the Mirror Universe and that the Mirror Version of Georgiou is the Emperor over there, at least until Lorca stages a coup.  He wants Burnham to stay, but that’s not going to happen.  Unless, of course, Burnham can use it as leverage to let the Discovery go home.

Saru, who’s becoming a very good captain, gets the crew to work towards a better option.  (Whatever else happened in the first season, there is at least some character development.)  The episode ends with three major events:  Lorca dies, Burnham saves Georgiou and the Discovery makes it back to the Prime Universe…Nine months after they left.

There’s a part of me that feels like the story is coming together.  Saru and Burnham seem to each have their own character arcs that are progressing nicely.  We see Saru becoming a leader and Burnham becoming comfortable to being part of a crew again.  Then, there are certain things that seem either overly sentimental or done for the sake of progressing the plot.

Why save Emperor Georgiou, for instance?  Trek is no stranger to letting people die.  Heck.  Georgiou has died once already.  Well, Lorca dies and it looks like they’ll be needing an evil character later on.

Then, we get to Tyler.  We know he’s a Klingon sleeper agent.  He does have his uses, but he’s allowed to roam freely, maybe because he looks human.  L’Rell is kept in confinement, but she’s Klingon on the outside.  Whatever Tyler’s fate may be, why not keep him locked up?  Isn’t he as much of a threat?

I do think the story is progressing, but it’s doing so it fits and starts.  This is a trend that I’ve seen with streaming series, though.  Since the shows aren’t confined to a broadcast network’s schedule, the writers have more leeway.  Episodes can be 30 minutes or 75 minutes, as the story needs.  The modern series had 26 episodes per season.  Discovery seems to be happy with half that.

This is also the first series to start out serialized rather than episodic.  The Klingon War spans over a season.  Going into the Mirror Universe takes a few episodes.  This can be good if handled well.  Here, it would seem to have been done to draw in those long-time fans.

Discovery uses the continuity, but takes liberties with it.  Yes, it draws on the previous series, but one would think that the Mirror Universe was new in Mirror, Mirror.  Yes, the appearance of Klingons has changed before.  I’m just hoping that subsequent episodes will put some detail on those broad strokes.


Monday, July 01, 2019

The Dead Don't Die (2019)

Who knew that polar fracking was a bad thing?  I mean, the fracking industry said it’s perfectly safe, so it must be.  Right?  I mean, so the Earth’s orbit was tilted just enough to raise the dead.  No biggie.  How bad could it be?  The people of Centerville are about to find out.

The police department has only three members:  Chief Cliff Robertson, Officer Ronnie Peterson and Officer Mindy Morrison.  (It would seem that Mindy serves mostly as a dispatcher, though.)  It’s a small town with just over 700 residents, not including the undead.  The epidemic starts with two bodies rising from their respective graves searching for coffee instead of brains.  That takes them to the local diner, where the two zombies kill the staff.

Soon, zombies are everywhere.  It becomes overwhelming for the three police officers, who have to defend the town essentially by themselves.  No attempt is made to call in for backup from neighboring towns, but they do have new undertaker Zelda Winston on their side.  As with most zombie movies, decapitation seems to be the main means of stopping the undead., so it’s fortunate that she’s really good with a blade.

The zombies aren’t particularly good in combat, but there are a lot of them.  Each becomes obsessed with what they loved in life.  This could be as general as their favorite type of drink or as specific as a particular brand of candy.  Ronnie and Zelda are each good enough to take out quite a few of them, but it’s not enough.  They just keep coming and there’s no end in sight.

The movie tries to walk the fine line between being subtle and being obvious.  We get that being a zombie is akin to being a good consumer and buying the lies of an entire industry.  But I’m not really sure where the movie is going with it.  All anyone does is try to avoid the zombies.

Farmer Miller is a key example of this.  He wears a Keep America White Again cap and goes so far as to say that his coffee is too black…er…too strong, or whatever.  Everyone just sighs and goes back to what they were doing.  Then, the first zombie Farmer Miller has to deal with is, or was, a black man.

There’s also a certain amount of irony is the anti-consumer message given that there’s a fair number of products mentioned.  Ronnie and Mindy discuss specific brands of cars.  As I mentioned, brads of candy are named.  Ronnie has a Star Wars keychain, prompting Zelda to comment that it was a good piece of fiction.  (Given how many times the title track is mentioned, I suspect this is meant to satirize product placement rather than promote a particular item.)

The movie has its funny moments, but falls flat sometimes.  For instance, I didn’t get the whole thing with the pets and livestock disappearing.  Is it that they knew our time was up?  It’s not shown where they go or what they intend to do.  They simply leave.  (The same could be said of Zelda, for that matter.)

There are even some self-aware moments, such as when Ronnie reveals that Jim (presumably referring to writer/director Jim Jarmusch) let him read the entire script.  I do think that Ronnie was right, though.  This isn’t going to end well.


Sunday, June 30, 2019

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)

I suppose that there are two ways of looking at the John Wick films.  One is to see them as movies with lots of fighting.  Each one serves as a vehicle for some pretty awesome action.  The other is to think of it as a group of action sequences so spread out that it requires way more than two hours to tell the story.  After all, Mr. Wick is going up against almost everyone.  That’s a lot of people to take out with just once pencil.

Now that I’ve seen all three movies, I’m leaning towards the second explanation.  If you were to remove or greatly reduce the fighting, you’d probably be down to a pretty short story.  Mind you, it’s a decent story, but that’s not why you came to see John Wick: Chapter 3.  After all, para bellum translates as Prepare for War.  That’s just what the title character has gotten himself into.  (As a single word, Parabellum likely refers to a model of gun.)

The movie picks up right after Chapter 2 ends, with Wick having most of his hour lead left.  He heads to the New York Public Library to find a book.  Specifically, it’s hollowed-out book that contains some a cross, some coins and a picture of his deceased wife.  He puts the picture back and takes the other items.  Using them won’t be so easy; he has to fight his way out of the library, using the book as a weapon.

After what Wick did in the second movie, everyone is after him.  There’s a bounty on his head in excess of $10,000,000.  It’s in his best interests to get the heck out of Dodge.  That’s what the cross is for, though.  It’s his ticket to Morocco, where he meets up with someone who owes him.

Meanwhile, The Adjudicator shows up in New York City.  The organization that Wick used to work for has rules and Wick broke the big one.  Wick was declared excommunicado, which was the appropriate punishment.  The Adjudicator is there to determine who else is guilty and what their punishment is to be.  Needless to say, it leads to a few good fight scenes.

If you’ve already seen Parabellum, I would imagine that you weren’t disappointed.  It does seem like a natural extension of the first two movies.  You get some new cities, which provide new visuals.  It also provides Wick with another city to depopulate.  (I can see some guy standing on the edge of town, next to the sign that reads, “Casablanca:  Population 3,359,818”.  After Wick takes out a few people, he has to change it to 3,359,816.  Before he can update the sign, Wick kills three more people.  The guy sighs in disbelief and silently curses to himself.)

You might wonder how many new ways there are for Wick to fight.  He does use horses to kick people.  His contact in Casablanca has two trained dogs, each of which helps attack the bad guys.  Neither the horses nor the dogs seem forced, which is good.  (There did seem to be a touch of CGI with the horses, though.  That might just be my imagination, but I don‘t think the actors would want to risk actually being kicked by horse.  That would have to hurt.)

For those that haven’t seen the first two movies, I’d recommend doing that first.  While you could probably follow the action, this really is one big story.  Things will make more sense if you view the movies in order.  It is worth it, though, if you like action movies.


Saturday, June 29, 2019

Dark (Season 2)

Generally, saying “more of the same” isn’t a good thing.  It could be.  In the case of Dark, it might be, since the first season was done well.  It would be a way of letting you know that the second season is just as intricate as the first.  However, it would be misleading and a bit inaccurate.

For those that haven’t heard of the series, Dark takes place in a fictional German town called Winden.  It might seem normal town.  The first season was released in 2017 and took place in 2019.  Winden’s nuclear power plant is slated to be decommissioned.  A young boy named Mikkel went missing, which mirrored another  disappearance 33 years prior.  Oh, and there’s a wormhole in a cave that can take you back in time 33 years.  Thus, parts of the season also took place in 1986 and 1952.  It ended with a boy named Jonas stranded in 2052.

For those that were turned off by the confusing nature of the first season, it doesn’t get better.  This one has the same intricacies, only more of them.  Season 2 picks up some time after the end of the first season.  Jonas has been in the future for a while and has been looking for a way back.  The apocalypse hit and he has to try to stop it, or at least try.  The residents of 2053 aren’t keen on letting him into the remains of the power plant, which would help him get back.

People go back and forth and talk to their younger selves.  There’s a time machine that people give to themselves or to other people.  (Keeping track of who has which version of it is a task in and of itself.)  There’s also the chicken-and-the-egg nature of where the entire time loop began.  If Jonas is to undo everything, where does he do it?  Does it matter?  Even if he does succeed, it would come at a great personal cost to himself.

We also have two additional years to keep track of: 1921 and 2053.  It appears that 1921 is the earliest time period, chronologically.  It’s not clear, though, if 2053 is the last.  (The second season takes place in 2020, so the other years have advanced to 1954 and 1987.)

In my review of Season 1, I mentioned the Novikov Self-Consistency Principle.  This continues in the second season.  Those that are aware of the nature of their reality try to cheat fate, as if that’s possible.  Many of the younger versions seem idealistic, wanting to prevent the future, but it always happens as it was meant to.  (It would be so easy to just shoot your former self or something, but no one thinks of that!)  Once they’re older, it would seem that the characters get more jaded and see things differently.

There’s a part of me that wants to reveal more of the plot, but I don’t know that I can.  It’s so complicated and confusing, it’s better that you just watch it.  The first season was 10 episodes and this was 8, meaning you could probably watch both seasons in two or three days if you had nothing else to do.  (In fact, Season 3 is supposed to be the last.  I wouldn’t blame you for waiting until that drops so that you could watch the entire thing at once.)

This series seems to be made for people that like to pay attention.  If you were planning to watch this while doing something else, you’ll probably miss things.  Also consider that it’s in German, so you might have to use the subtitles.  If you start watching, prepare to actually watch it.


Thursday, June 20, 2019

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

I have this line I say to myself whenever a character dies in a movie:  No sequel for you!  I found myself saying that a lot while watching the first John Wick.  I found myself saying it just as much with Chapter 2.  Almost an entire mob outfit dies at his hands, all because Iosef Tarasov saw a car he liked and had to have it.  It wasn’t even about the car, though.  Iosef made the mistake of killing John’s puppy.  Chapter 2 begins with John killing the remnants of the organization, starting with Iosef’s uncle, who had been selling the stolen cars.  Yes, John is out to get his car back, which he promptly totals.

The movie’s real story starts with Santino D’Antonio, who visits John to call in a marker.  He wants his sister, Gianna, killed.  Being that she holds a seat on the underworld’s high council, Santino can’t do it himself.  John initially refuses, but eventually accepts.  Lots of people get in John’s way and die as a result.  Once John completes his mission, a lot more people die.

In fact, Santino calls in a hit on John.  (As he points out, what kind of brother would he be if he didn’t?)  So, yeah.  The rest of the movie is John evading and/or killing bad guys while searching for Santino so that Santino might be denied a major part in Chapter 3.

Sure, the plot is little more than a vehicle for the fight scenes.  And yes, the plot is at least coherent.  Still, you’re not thinking about watching this because of the plot.  You came for the fight scenes, which are as impressive as the first movie.  In this regard, there’s a part of me that wonders why one needs a coherent plot line for action like this.  You could easily have three (or, shortly, four) separate movies with different characters.

That’s how stylized the fight scenes are.  John Wick has earned the right to be called franchise.  I’ll be going into Chapter 3 with a pretty good idea of what I’m getting.  And yes, there is a story going on.  It’s nothing deep, nor is it high art, but there is something to follow between fight scenes.

So, I will be seeing Chapter 3 and, probably, Chapter 4 when it comes out.  The funny thing is that I’ve never particularly been a fan of fight movies.  This is most likely the result of having access to movies at the library and paying for the movie theater by the month.  You come to realize that an action movie can be exciting.


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 12 (Vaulting Ambition)

WARNING:  I’m going to give away major plot points for this episode, including the major twist at the end.


I have to admit that things got a lot more complicated on Star Trek: Discovery.  The ship is in the mirror universe and things are what you might expect.  Many of the same people exist there, albeit in different positions.  The deceased Captain Georgiou is now Emperor Georgiou.  First Officer Saru is now servant to Michael Burnham, who went from mutineer to Captain.  Tilly also made a similar move, from cadet to Captain.  Lorca was supposed to have killed the alternate Burnham, though.  Stamets, the chief engineer, actually meets his counterpart.  The two seem to get along pretty well.

The episode deals with Burnham trying to get information on the U.S.S. Defiant.  This isn’t the Defiant from Deep Space Nine.  Rather, it’s the one that the Tholians tried to put their web around.  It was sent back in time to the Mirror Universe and might be useful if the Discovery crew can get their hands on it.  Or, at least, an unredacted report.  You see, anyone who has come in contact with the ship has gone crazy.

You might be asking how they got there in the first place.  Stamets was able to navigate between universes, but that’s what put him in a coma.  Even though he comes out of it by the end of the episode, trying it again would be risky.  So, The Discovery is their best bet right now.

Here’s the thing, though.  Lorca is actually the Mirror Lorca.  It would explain a few things, like how his former ship got destroyed.  (Incompetence as a captain or covering up that you’re not who we think you are?)  It also creates a rather interesting bootstrap paradox.  As I said, the ship traveled back in time about ten years.  This means that the ship would have information on the Prime Universe’s major players, including Burnham.  It casts much of what happened so far in a new light.  It also explains why Kirk and Crew wouldn’t have discussed the events of the series so far.  This is one more thing that would have been heavily classified.

Interestingly, Burnham makes the decision to level with Emperor Georgiou.  It turns out she already knew about the Prime Universe.  At least she has the Emperor’s help.  Alas, Burnham realizes that she’s eating what might have been Mirror Saru. 

I’m watching the series on DVD.  This was the last episode on disc 3, meaning I’ll have to wait a while to see the next episode.  A lot of people had the same idea I did, which is to get the DVDs from the library rather than pay money for CBS All Access.  I’d recommend at least starting the series the same way to help gauge your interest in the series.


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 11 (The Wolf Inside)

WARNING: I will be giving out major spoilers ahead.



After Star Trek’s first dealings with the Mirror Universe, Kirk asked how Spock was able to identify his counterpart so easily.  Spock noted that it was easier for our Kirk to impersonate his alternate than it was for the alternate to impersonate Kirk.

Michael Burnham would find that of little comfort.  She’s had to take her alternate’s place and make some of the same decisions Kirk had to.  She’s tasked with wiping out a group of rebels, and the Terran Empire shows no mercy.  She manages to stall, saying that she’ll beam down to at least pump some information out of them or something.  She then gives them an hour to evacuate.

During this time, we learn several things.  Commander Saru’s counterpart is Burnham’s slave, which is a little troubling, but not unexpected.  Ash Tyler is also starting to lose it, which…is a little troubling, but not unexpected.  At the end of the episode, we find out who the mysterious Emperor is.  (This time, it’s not really that troubling and totally expected.)

One might say that the series is easing into the mirror universe.  I think someone had the idea early on to split the season between the two universes, not realizing how hard it would be to write for the Mirror Universe.  I can totally understand those that feel that the pacing is slow.  I can’t say that it’s unnecessary, as everything seems to havfe a purpose.  (For instance, Burnham lies to Saru about his having a Mirror counterpart.)

Also, whoever programmed Tyler did a horrible job.  Spoiler alert:  He’s a Klingon spy.  In the original series, we know that Klingons have done this at least once and that Tribbles will rat them out.  Granted, this isn’t for another ten years.  It’s possible that the procedure hasn’t been perfected yet or that the Klingon who did it this time was a hack.  Either way, there were some indications that something like this was coming.  I just wasn’t expecting this.  The one down side is that Samets was blamed for killing his husband.  (I would hope that all of that will be straightened out.)

It’s an interesting episode.  Tilly, the talkative cadet, has to play a confident captain.  She’s also shaping up to be Discovery’s version of Wesley Crusher.  She’s young and inexperienced, but seems to have some really great ideas.  At least the series seems to be playing that character a little better.  Tilly is a cadet and, as such, has had some training.  These are also unusual circumstances, meaning not many people would be qualified.  (In fact, the one person we know is qualified to help Samets is Samets, and he‘s in a spore-induced coma.)

So, some aspects of the episode are promising.  The show seems to be going the 24 route with each episode ending with a major revelation.  It gets a little tiring having to get excited each week.  (It was also odd that, on 24, major plot twists happened every hour on the hour.)  I’m still wondering what they’re going to do with the rest of the season.


Monday, June 17, 2019

Late Night (2019)

Katherine Newbury is not an easy person to work for.  When someone asks her for a raise, she fires him.  His main reason for asking is the birth of a child, who will contribute nothing to the show.  Also, most of her writing staff has never met her.  Many haven’t even seen the stage where she hosts her late-night talk show.

She’s pressured to add diversity to the writer’s room because all of her writers are white and male.  As luck would have it, Molly Patel is looking to become a writer for the show and happens to show up moments after an opening becomes available.  Yes, Molly does have comedic talent, but she’s coming from a chemical plant where she worked in quality control.

It’s a rough ride at first, but Molly starts to find her place.  She even gets a joke in the monologue after convincing Newbury to be more daring.   Success doesn’t last long for Molly.  She has to put up with seven men who aren’t happy to see her there.  Her boss doesn’t really much like her, either.  (Molly finds herself fired twice during the course of the movie.)

She’s also constantly reminded of the fact that she’s a diversity hire.  (The workplace is so dominated by men that they’ve taken to using the ladies’ room, as there are no women there.)  She’s faced with a choice, though.  She can concentrate on the ‘diversity’ aspect of her employment or she can focus on the ‘hire’ part of her employment.  She has the job she wanted.  Does it matter how?

Newbury also has some facts to face.  She’s trying to hold on to a show she’s been hosting for nearly 30 years.  She’s not willing to admit that she’s stuck in a rut.  Just because it was successful before doesn’t mean that it will connect with today’s audiences.  She’s not getting any tweets or followers on social media.  What she is getting is replaced and by a comedian who’s very crude.

The movie comes across as a showcase of problems in the motion-picture industry.  Male privilege, age discrimination and Tokenism are addressed.  None of it seems forced, though.  It’s more a way of using the movie as a way to introduce various talking points while not being too pointed about it.  (Molly finds herself crying in the ladies’ room until she’s kicked out by a man who needs use it.)

So, Newbury and Molly need each other.  They both have similar stories.  Each is trying to make it among a crowd of men.  Each has issues they have to face because of that.  Ultimately, each will succeed or fail on their own terms.


Sunday, June 16, 2019

Men in Black: International (2019)

I was so excited for a new Men in Black movie.  It didn’t have Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones in it.  Ok.  Fine.  That’s not the end of the world.  Emma Thompson’s there, offering some bit of continuity.  Frank the Pug has a cameo, as do The Worms, so there’s that.  Even thought it’s a mostly new cast, this could still work out.

The Men in Black are facing two threats.  One is from the Hive, an insidious organism that absorbs races rather than kill them.  The other is from an apparent mole in the organization.  When Agent M and Agent H are tasked with protecting an alien dignitary, said dignitary is killed under their watch.  Agent M is understandable, as she’s the probationary agent.  H is more experienced, although it doesn’t really show.

So, the two go off on a planet-wide adventure to figure out what’s going on and to protect the Earth from aliens that might do it harm.  Not everything is what it seems, though.  Friends might be enemies.  Enemies might be ordinary people just trying to protect themselves.

While the movie was fun, it didn’t quite capture the magic of the first three movies.  K was a straight man to J’s comedic personality.  The first three movies seemed to flow naturally as almost a single story.  This seems to be a case of trying one too many times.  Yes, it hits a lot of the marks, like fast action sequences and interesting aliens, but it’s just not the same.

Part of it might be that the first three movies had a clear enemy.  (Edgar the Bug, Serleena and Boris The Animal, respectively.)  The Hive is a little too amorphous and hidden to be taken seriously.  I get that having your own people pose a threat is something in itself, but the movie focused too much on the chase scenes and not enough on any real sense of urgency.  Agents M and H get to spend the night in the desert repairing an alien motorbike.

I also get that the stories for J and K had an arc and that arc came to an end, but it seems kind of sudden to simply replace them as lead characters.  It might have worked better to replace one or the other first.  Having cameos by other characters isn’t enough.  It’s too much of a clean break to really carry the momentum.

The London branch seems like a pale comparison of the New York branch.  How, exactly, did H become an agent, anyway?  He seems too laid back to be taken seriously.  I get that he does have skills, but the first time we see him, he’s “meditating” on the job.

While we’re at it, it’s evident that there are more than 26 agents.  New York didn’t seem to have that many agents and could have done with letters for names.  London has a lot of people.  Do they reuse letters?  MIB 3 had an agent AA, if I recall, but all of the characters shown on screen have a single letter: Z, J, K, O, M, H or C, for instance.  It’s also possible that people just use their first initial.  James D. Edwards became Agent J.  Molly Wright became Agent M.  Dealing with two agents with the same letter might be like dealing with two agents with the same name.  It also might explain why Liam Neeson’s character is called High T.

There are a few other issues that I have with the movie, some of which can’t be asked without spoiling the ending.  While it was a fun movie to watch, I was a little let down.  It’s just not the same.  I suppose another installment might do better, but this could very well be a case of a franchise going one movie too far.  It might have been better to leave well enough alone.


Saturday, June 15, 2019

Happy! (Season 1)

There are some characters that may get to the right place, even if they’re willing to bend or break a few rules.  In 24, Jack Bauer is framing his actions as part of the greater good.  What’s a few broken fingers if millions of lives are saved?  He’s the guy you send in when conventional means aren’t an option.

To be clear, Nick Sax is no Jack Bauer.  Nick used to be a cop, but he made a series of bad choices, like sleeping with his partner.  He’s become about as apathetic as one can get.  He’s working as a hit man when he gets an unexpected visitor:  Happy.

Who is Happy?  Happy is a purple winged unicorn who happens to be the imaginary friend of Hailey Hansen, who has been kidnapped by Very Bad Santa.  She sends Happy out to find her father to help her and the other abducted children.  Nick is reluctant to help, mostly because it’s hard for an imaginary friend to be that persuasive.  (He’s also reluctant to believe that he has a daughter.)  Nick eventually comes around and starts tracking Hailey.  Also on the case are his former partner, Meredith McCarthy, and his ex-wife, Amanda.

You might wonder how a show about an imaginary friend would work.  There are some rules, like imaginary friends disappearing when the child dies.  (If the child stops believing, the imaginary friend still exists, unseen.)  It would also appear that imaginary friends are more real than one might expect.  Happy is able to relate information to Nick that Nick might not otherwise have access to.

Nick and Happy make for an extremely odd couple.  Nick is about as jaded as you can get.  Happy is about as optimistic as one could make a cartoonish character.   Nick can’t stand Happy and Happy is mostly doing this for Hailey’s sake.  In fact, may of the relationships can be defined as unwanted.  His ex-wife and ex-partner don’t want to work together, but do.  McCarthy is also being pressured by the show’s main antagonist, who is, in turn, being pressured by a client in a giant bug suit.  I’d say they only two characters that want to interact with each other are Hailey and Happy, who see the least of each other during the first season’s eight episodes.

It’s surprising that SyFy put out such a dark show.  It’s a lot closer to Breaking Bad than 24.  It’s almost like Breaking Bad and 24 were put into a blender with a heavy dose of sarcasm.  Even though it features a kids’ show, this is definitely for adults.  There’s plenty of graphic violence in each episode.  There’s also more subtle imagery, like two teletubby-like characters, shooting a rainbow between their respective places where the sun doesn’t shine.  (You may not even want to know where Smoothie got his nickname.)

The first season was ridiculous in a few areas, but generally worked pretty well.  The plot twists seemed to be in all the right places and none of them seemed unnecessary.  Part of this is probably because the season was so short.  You can only miss the bad guy so many times before it becomes a cliché. 

 

John Wick (2014)

I got the DVD out of the library in preparation for John Wick 3.  (I’ll be seeing John Wick Chapter 2 in the next few days.)  the story is very action oriented.  There‘s an XKCD where two characters are discussing Summer blockbusters.  One laments that there haven’t been any good action films.  At best, the films were at least 60% non-action.  While John Wick isn’t River Tam Beats Up Everyone, it’s probably the closest I’ve seen so far.

The movie starts with the title character grieving for the loss of his wife.  In anticipation of her death, Helen Wick arranged to have a puppy named Daisy delivered to John after her death.  She knew that the only other thing in this world that he paid attention to was his car.  The puppy would allow him to have someone there for him as he grieved.

Enter Iosef Tarasov.  He’s the entitled son of mob boss Viggo Tarasov.  When Iosef sees Johns nice, shiny car, Iosef wants it.  John rebukes Iosef, which ;leads to Iosef breaking into John’s house one night.  Iosef steals the car and kills Daisy.   Normally, this might be the end of the story, but John Wick used to work for Viggo as a hit man.  As Viggo points out, John’s not the bogeyman.  He’s the one you send after the bogeyman.  That’s who Iosef pissed off.

The rest of the movie is John seeking revenge on Iosef.  Viggo tries desperately to protect his son, including putting out a $2,000,000 bounty on John’s head.  Viggo has essentially sentenced his entire organization to death.  Anyone who gets in John’s way is shot.  Both of the people who take the contract also end up dead, even though one is John’s friend.  (I suspect that John Wick will be the only one who will make his way to Chapter 2.)

The world that John lived in is pretty complete.  There’s even a cleaning crew that takes ‘dinner reservations’ when bodies need to be disposed of.  Services are paid for in gold coins.  There’s even a hotel where hit men can rest without fear of being killed.

I suppose if you’re going to do a movie like this, you’d better do it well.  I didn’t really have many issues with the movie that weren’t to be expected.  Yes, it’s cliché when one person manages to kill dozens of armed people that are chasing him, but John Wick is supposed to be that good.  I was a little surprised that he didn’t sleep with a gun under his pillow.  (Granted, he wasn’t expecting someone to break into his house, but still…)

My only other question deals with the end of the movie and I’ll probably have it answered shortly.  I don’t want to ask it here so as to not potentially ruin the ending.  However, I may ask it in the next review if the answer isn’t clear.

I would say watch this movie only if you like very violent stories.  Consider the death count.


Friday, June 14, 2019

The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019)

In The Secret Life of Pets, we learned that Max is a very lucky dog to have a home and a human named Katie to care for him.  He’s still lucky.  He has the same home and all and a canine roommate that he learned to get used to.  Things rarely ever stay the same, though.  Max and Duke receive a shock when their human brings home a boyfriend, Chuck.  Chuck becomes Katie’s husband.  Then, Katie becomes pregnant.

Yes, Max is going to have to put up with a rug rat.  After seeing what small children do to other dogs, Max isn’t thrilled.  However, he learns to love Liam.  Max and Duke are like an extra set of parents, doing what they can to help their newest family member.

The trouble is that Max isn’t as good as Duke at handling stress.  Now that Max has to worry about Liam, he sees danger everywhere.  This leads to a nervous habit of scratching his neck, which leads to a visit to the doctor.  And…Max gets The Cone of Shame.

We now have three divergent storylines.  Max, Duke and family go to a farm for a vacation, prompting Max to entrust fellow dog Gidget to watch over his beloved toy, Busy Bee.  Meanwhile, Snowball gets to play hero and rescue a tiger from a circus.  The three stories converge at the end, making for an interesting chase scene.

I’ve been reading complaints about having three story lines.  It’s not that bad.  Each one is at least entertaining and it’s not unusual for a TV show to do the same thing.  (CSI would often have two cases per episode.)  My impression is that the movie was written this way rather than having several otherwise-rejected story lines being merged together.

I could see them having been written as filler.  It’s not clear why Max would need someone to babysit his toy.  It would be more likely that Katie would bring it with them.  That does seem like it’s being done to set up the detour into The Land of the Crazy Cat Lady.  However, that was a pretty epic journey.

Having Snowball save a tiger was also strange.  At this point, circuses are anachronistic.  (Do we even have any traveling circuses any more?)  If I were writing the movie, I probably would have gone with a collector of exotic pets.  It would have made more sense.  It’s also a little odd that the tiger is so docile.  Tigers are wild animals and have been known to attack their captors, even after years or decades in captivity.

It still ends up being a fun movie.  It would seem that many of the errant details are done more for a joke, like having the tiger act like a house cat might.  It’s going to be fun for both kids and adults.  I just wonder how many kids will want a pet tiger.


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 22 (The Pirate's Promise)

The premise of Friday the 13th: The Series was pretty simple.  Two cousins inherit an antique shop from an uncle only to find out that some of the items are cursed.  They rename the shop Curious Goods and run it as a front so that they might track down those cursed items that Uncle Lewis unleashed on the world.  They then store the items in a vault so that no more harm can come as a result of those items.

This week, it’s a cursed foghorn.  Cousins Micki and Ryan travel to a coastal town only to find that it was sold to someone who was traveling and can’t be reached.  Well, maybe not.  The guy who sold it, Joe, lures a young lady back to his cool lighthouse only to show her the nifty foghorn that he supposedly sold to some unnamed person.  He then kills the woman, drags her down the stairs and hands her over to a cloaked figure in a rowboat.

The town was founded by the crew of a ship.  They mutinied, setting their captain adrift.  It turns out that the cloaked figure is the ghost of said captain.  He’s using Joe to kill the descendants of the crew, who all miraculously still live in the town.  Oh, and each crewmember has exactly one descendant, each of which is really easy to find and subdue.  (No one has left town nor have they received any martial-arts training.)  Micki and Ryan retrieve the foghorn only after Joe has killed all of the descendants and subsequently died as the final victim of the curse.

My first obvious complaint is that each crewmember had exactly one descendant.  The town was founded in 1720, meaning that something like 12-15 generations have passed.  How is it that each generation had only one child?  Assuming two children per generation, you should be talking 4,000 descendants.  Plus, given that no one seems to move out of town, there might be people descended from several people on the ship.

Another thing I noticed is that Micki and Ryan dropped the ball on this one.  If the curse is that descendants have to die and that Joe seemingly completed his mission, the artifact would be useless.  Even if the curse would allow someone else to use the foghorn, there are no more descendants left.

This curse also seems awfully specific to me.  Most of the cursed items are generic.  Cursed items could be used by anyone and applied to anyone.  I’m assuming that the nature of the curse wasn’t determined until Uncle Lewis’s deal with the devil, but I could be wrong.  It is an interesting curse, at least.

Overall, the episode is fairly decent.  The show at least put some effort into the history of the item.  I just think a few points could have been done better.  At the very least, Joe was lucky that none of the family lines had died out.


Monday, June 10, 2019

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 21 (Double Exposure)

If you caught a marathon of Friday the 13th episodes without watching the first few, you might wonder why all of them have to be so evil.  The truth is that many of the items were cursed by Satan.  He’s not going to make a cursed item that shoots out puppies and rainbows.  It’s a fair point, though.  Most episodes involve death.  In fact, many end with a cursed object taking the life of the person that was trying to gain from it.  Even if there was a rainbow-spewing item, it would be better to go after the dangerous ones first.

Double Exposure is no exception to this.  It involves a TV news anchor named Winston Knight who comes across a camera that allows him to make a duplicate of someone.  All he has to do is photograph them with the camera and develop the negative.  The duplicate would then seem to be pliable enough that Winston is able to have his duplicate commit murder.  This is advantageous, as his news program isn’t doing too well in the ratings.  It might be helpful to have a serial killer call in.

As it would so happen, Ryan happens to be on a hot date.  He and the lovely lady happen upon an attempted murder with the killer looking exactly like Winston.  The police don’t by it.  Yes, Ryan is a main character and we know he saw it, but Winston was on air at the time.  Ryan, Micki and Jack are persistent enough to get the camera back.  Unfortunately, Ryan’s girlfriend won’t be seen in any subsequent episodes.  As you might expect, the item is recovered and both Winston and his duplicate are killed as a result.

The stories in the series are getting a little better.  I do have issues, though.  It does seem odd that murder is usually involved in these stories.  With a duplicating camera, one could get creative.  Maybe have the duplicate rob a bank or something.  It would be a great way to set up someone you don’t like.  Love interest turning you down?  Go out with her duplicate.

Also, when Winston develops the negative to create the duplicate, he’s standing awfully close to the fluids.  This is concerning mostly because the chemical is bubbling.  I would take a few steps back.  I might even consider better ventilation.  (Actually, ventilation would be a good idea for any darkroom.)  It’s amazing that Winston didn’t keel over from fume inhalation.

The big thing, though, was that Ryan had a new girlfriend.  We just had a two-part episode where Ryan met the love of his life.  It seems odd that he moved on so quickly.  I know that he’s a popular guy and all, but still…

Overall, it’s a decent episode.  I’d hope that maybe the rest of the season could be as good.  I’m not sure I’ll be renting the second season.  If I do, I may take a rest for a while.  Even with the better quality of this episode, I’m not holding out hope.


Sunday, June 09, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 10 (Despite Yourself)

When you have a television franchise, there’s a certain dilemma.  The advantage of having a history like that of Star Trek allows for a lot of stories to be carried over from one series to another.  The Enterprise would occasionally visit Deep Space Nine.  Voyager would call on events that happened in the Dominion War or that happened in the movies.

If you do that too much, you run the risk of seeming uncreative.  True, Discovery has already called upon previous incarnations.  Michael Burnham is the foster daughter of Sarek.  Harry Mudd has already made two appearances.  To do this too often might undermine Discovery as a separate entity.  Then again, maybe not.

The previous episode had the U.S.S. Discovery jump into the Mirror Universe.  This was established in the original series episode Mirror, Mirror.  Instead of a federation, Earth is at the head of the Terran Empire.  The crew of the Discovery finds out that humans are ruthless and will conquer any alien race they come across.  Fighting them are the Klingons, apparently with the help of Vulcans and Andorians.

The episode is spent mostly getting the crew acclimated to the other universe.  Cadet Sylvia Tilly is now the captain of the Discovery.  Burnham’s alternate was presumed dead at the hands of Captain Lorca’s alternate, which provides them with a challenge when hailed by another ship.  Tilly, who’s normally talkative and nervous, has to put on a brave face (or voice, actually) and get rid of the other captain.

It does provide them with an opportunity.  Whereas the U.S.S. Shenzhou was destroyed, the I.S.S. Shenzhou is still out there.  So, the crew has to make the U.S.S. Discovery look like the I.S.S. Discovery an have everyone get used to being more ruthless.  This way, Burnham can take Lorca and Tyler to the Shenzhou and get more information on how to get home.

This is the kind of episode that’s going to be confusing for people that have never watched Star Trek.  There are references to at least two Star Trek episodes.  Even for someone who’s seen the episodes, it can be a lot to keep up with.  Then again, if you’re paying for CBS All Access so you can watch Discovery, there’s a good chance you’re not a casual viewer.

As I’ve noted with other mirror-universe episodes, it’s odd that everyone has a counterpart.  (Well, almost everyone.  No mention is made of Saru’s counterpart.)  It’s not clear when or how this other universe split from ours.  It does go back to Star Trek: Enterprise, to say the least.  How probable is it that everyone has a counterpart in both universes?

This does pose a problem, since Burnham’s alternate is presumed dead and Lorca’s is on the run.  There’s a chance, however small, that either one will show up at some point and create problems for the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery.  There’s also the issue of what happened to the I.S.S. Discovery.  Was it destroyed or was it transported to the Federation’s universe?  I imagine some answers will be forthcoming during the rest of the episode.


Saturday, June 08, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 9 (Into the Forest I Go)

Star Trek: Discovery began with a war with the Klingons.  It also began with its central character, Michael Burnham, betraying her captain and effectively ending her Starfleet career.  Both of these plot points have been central to the show so far.  Burnham is not only responsible for the lives lost at The Battle of the Binary Stars, but also those that died in the resulting war.

To figure out how to see through the Klingon’s cloaking device would put a serious dent in their offensive and defensive capabilities.  The crew of the U.S.S. Discovery doesn’t want to let the planet Pavlo be destroyed by the Klingons, but the inhabitants have technology that could cut through the cloaking device.

Fortunately, the crew devises another method that might work.  The catch?  The ship has to use it’s spore drive over a hundred times very quickly.  This wouldn’t be a problem except that Paul Stamets has to be hooked in.  One or two trips take a toll, to say nothing of dozens.  He agrees to do it, knowing that it could end the war.

The mission is completed, but not without complications.  Admiral Cornwell, who had been abducted by the Klingons,  is discovered on the ship and subsequently rescued.  Also, Ash Tyler is hit with PTSD, leaving Burnham to complete the mission by herself.

I will say that the series seems to be progressing better than I expected.  I still have issues.  For instance, the mission requires two huge devices to be placed on the Klingon ship for the cloaking technology to be understood.  How are Tyler and Burnham able to place such a large device out in the open on an enemy ship without someone noticing it?

The good news is that Burnham seems to be getting her sense of duty back.  For most of the series, she seemed to have given up on redeeming herself for an irredeemable act.  Here, she sees that she can not only help, but is necessary for the mission to succeed.

Conversely, we get glimpses into Tyler’s past that raises questions.  We see that he was tortured and raped during his time in captivity.  Captain Lorca has already expressed doubts about how someone could have survived that long.  This might hit at a bigger revelation.

This episode was the mid-season finale.  As such, it ends on an interesting cliffhanger.  Stamets promises one more jump, which leads them to a destroyed Klingon cruiser where a Federation starbase should be.  Yes, it’s the Mirror Universe.

So, I guess that means I’m in for the rest of the season.  I am more hopeful, given that the writing is getting better.  I am getting the sense that there is a bigger plan here.  I also have to see how this plays out.


Friday, June 07, 2019

All Is True (2018)

The title of the movie, All is True, is a bit ironic.  I always wonder how much of any biopic is actually true.  You imagine that some liberties are taken.  For instance, the English sounds modern.  Granted, this is done to make it more relatable.  No one wants to wade through a thick Elizabethan accent.  I’m just saying that most people watching this title probably aren’t expecting total accuracy.  (It would seem that the title of the movie comes from an alternate title for Shakespeare’s play, Henry VIII.)

I’m not exactly sure what prompted me to see this movie.  There are a lot of options at the theater right now.  Why this one?  Why not rent a movie or read a book?  There is a part of me that’s trying to branch out from the movies I know I’ll like.  One of the advantages of a subscription service is that the ticket is basically paid for.  Rather than waste a spot, I figured I might like the movie.

About ten minutes in, I started to regret that decision.  The movie deals with Shakespeare’s life from the end of his career to the end of his life.  The fact that the Globe Theater burned down stopped The Bard from writing any more.  So, he returns home to Stratford-upon-Avon, where his wife treats him as a guest.  That’s how long he’s been in London.  Yes, he sent money home to support his family, but he missed a lot, like his son’s funeral.

The movie is about this absence, as well as the loss of his son and not having a male heir.  Shakespeare is portrayed as being progressive, but this is still a time when money was passed down to men.  There are several lines about which daughter might control the estate.  (Susannah is married, but only has one child, a daughter.  Judith is unmarried, but might get married someday and have a son.)

Summer is known for being the season of blockbusters.  I found this one a little lackluster.  I have Men in Black: International and Terminator: Dark Fate to look forward to.  Both promise to be exciting.  I could see many high school students dragged to see this by their parents and subsequently falling asleep.  (The parents and the students, to be clear.)

I don’t know that anything would have been accomplished by having Michael Bay direct it, though.  This is something that probably will be viewed by those with an interest in Shakespeare.  The movie is disjointed at first, but does come together later on.  This isn’t to say that it’s going to be for everyone.  I think most people will be correct in assessing whether or not they want to see it.  If you think you wouldn’t like All is True, I think you’d probably be correct.


Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Bill Randa is a man on a mission, and that mission is to visit Skull Island.  What will he find there?  He’s not quite sure.  It’s the last undiscovered piece of land, so no one’s really sure.  It could be the next cure for something.  It could be nothing.  Either way, he has to go.  He even hires James Conrad, tracker extraordinaire, to guide the mission and arranges for a military escort led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard.  Joining the group is photographer Mason Weaver.

The group makes it to the island safely.  That safety lasts about five minutes.  Once they start dropping seismic charges, something attacks, and it’s big.  It starts throwing the helicopters back at the rest of the formation.  Yes, it’s Kong.   He’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it any more.  All of the helicopters are destroyed, leaving a few survivors.  Those survivors have three days to make it to the other side of the island to be rescued.  If they don’t, they’re going to have a lot of time to get to know the big ape.

Along the way, they meet the island’s natives, who have been hosting downed pilot Hank Marlow.  Marlow seems to know the area pretty well.  He explains that Kong is like a god to the locals.  Killing him would be a bad idea.  Packard develops an Ahab-like hatred of Kong, which is understandable.  A lot of his men have died at the giant’s hands.

The carnage isn’t even limited to the initial encounter.  There are a lot of other creatures on the island, many of them huge.  Several people are attacked by a giant spider.  Others are killed by these weird looking things I can’t even describe.  Several dozen people land on the island.  Don’t expect to see most of them in the sequel.  (There is a post-credits scene linking this movie with the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong.)

It’s odd that for a shared universe, the first three movies seem to have such little continuity, especially since Godzilla and Godzilla: King of the Monsters are both about the same creature.  Kong, I can understand being different.  It’s about a different creature that will be brought in later.  However, Godzilla was one of maybe four characters shared between the other two movies.  (There are a few common references, like the Monarch organization and the theory of a hollow Earth.)

This entry was at least decent.  It was a solid, single-track story.  The movie doesn’t jump around from one story to another.  It’s about a group of people trying to make it off an island they had no business being on in the first place.  We get to see a fair amount of action, but there‘s also some dialogue.  (Most of it is about war, as the movie starts on the last day of the Viet Nam War.)

I had seen this in hopes of watching next year’s Godzilla vs. Kong, although I don’t know that it will matter.  As I may have indicated, there doesn’t seem to be much overlap between this movie and the others.  In fact, Godzilla vs. Kong will seem to have a few characters in common with Godzilla: King of the Monsters.  Other than that, there doesn’t seem to be much in common except the title monsters.  I guess I’ll have to watch the movie to see what happens.


Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Back to the Future Part II (1989)

Really good sequels are hard to come by.  I don’t know if it’s just me, but there was a time when follow-ups were little more than an attempt to get a little more money out of audiences.  Home Alone was cute.  The second one was unnecessary.  I have a vague recollection that others may have been made.

There are cases, like the Lord of the Rings movies that were planned all at once.  It’s not a series of movies, but rather one story told in installments.  For whatever reason, each entry into the franchise is solid and worthy of paying for another admission.

The Back to the Future trilogy is an odd occurrence.  The first movie was going to be one movie.  There was the final scene where Doc takes Marty and Jennifer into the future, but it was meant to be just that:  The final scene.  When the movie did well, two more movies were made, back to back.

Back to the Future Part II picks up where Part I left off.  Doc takes Marty and Jennifer into the future.  Doc tells Marty and Jennifer that their children are in trouble.  The DeLorean has been modified so that it can accept waste as fuel, making things easier.  Oh, and where they’re going, they don’t need roads.  The DeLorean can now fly.

There are a few signs that the sequel wasn’t planned.  Jennifer has to be sedated, as Doc can’t have her asking too many questions.  (From what I recall, her presence wasn’t though that far through.  Sedating her was easier than changing the end of Part I.)  It does lead to a little trouble, as she’s taken to her future house and meets herself.

Once Marty and Doc return to 1955, they soon realize that they have bigger problems.  Marty hatched the idea to take a sports almanac back with him.  Doc discovered the plan and admonished Marty.  Unfortunately, Biff overheard them arguing and stole the idea.

Biff took the DeLorean back to 1955 and gave the almanac to his younger self so that he might bet on stuff and win big, which he does.  This leads to Hill Valley (and the surrounding areas) becoming an urban wasteland.  Marty enters his house to discover another family living there.  Principal Strickland is reduced to chasing away newspaper thieves with a shotgun.  And the clock tower is now the BiffCo casino.

This leads to a somewhat complicated third act where Marty and Doc have to return to the past to set the present right again.  They also have to avoid their former selves so that the events of the first movie aren’t changed.  It takes Marty a lot longer than it should to retrieve the almanac, but he does and eventually burns it, setting things right.  The movie ends with the DeLorean being hit by lightening (with Doc inside) and being sent back to 1885.  Thus, we get to see some pre-credit coming attractions for Part III, which takes place in the Old West.

The most noticeable thing about the movie for some is the conspicuous product placement.  (Personally, I’m still waiting on that Black & Decker device to rehydrate my Pizza Hut carryout order.)  Fortunately, it’s not that bad.  It is fun to see the Café 80s, where Ayatollah Khomeini and Ronald Reagan have been given the Max Headroom treatment and compete to take your order.

Marty and Jennifer get to see where they live, which is nice.  One thing that’s always bothered me, though, was having kids that look like one of the parents.  Both Marty, Jr., and Marlene are played by Michael J. Fox.  With the son, I can understand.  An important plot point rests on this being the case.  Still, do we need to have both kids played by the same actor?  Not to mention that Thomas F. Wilson plays both Biff and his grandson Griff.

As with the first movie, people have raised questions, a few of which I have myself.  First, why didn’t time change around Marty and Doc when Biff came back from the past?  If this would be the case with Jennifer and Einstein, why not anyone else?  (It’s probably a conscious decision to allow for the story to hold together.  It is a bit odd, though.)  Also, how did Doc know to drop the rope at the end of the tunnel?  That was pretty good timing.  Maybe Doc got lucky.  Maybe not.  We may never know.


Sunday, June 02, 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

It occurs to me that Godzilla is like The Incredible Hulk minus Bruce Banner.  You have this giant creature that goes around smashing things without remorse.  If you like to see cities leveled, this is your character.  Motivations and origins may change, but the underlying narrative seems to be the same.

When I first saw coming attractions for Godzilla: King of the Monsters, I was all set to see it.  I mean, who doesn’t love seeing a major city left uninhabitable?  Then, I took a look at the IMDb page and realized that it was a sequel.  I was worried that I might need to see Godzilla to understand this incarnation.  It turns out I was worried for no reason.  Very little of this movie’s continuity relies on the previous movie.

In fact, had I not just told you, you could have watched this movie without knowing that any other movies came before this one.  You might have had some inclination that something was off, but not felt motivated to check.  (I have the DVD for Kong: Skull Island, which also exists in-universe.)  In fact, the two movies have exactly four actors in common.  That should tell you something.

In this outing, Godzilla is going up against several other monsters.  An organization called Monarch is all set to awaken all of these ancient creatures, including Mothra.  Why?  Well, this is the Earth’s way of taking care of itself.  We’ve become an infestation and Godzilla is the cure.  Working for Monarch is Dr. Emma Russell, who has a device that can control the monsters.

Then, there are those, such as Mark Russell, who say kill all the monsters.  He never trusted them, and he never will. He could never forgive them for the death of his boy.  (Wait…Maybe that was Kirk from Star Trek VI talking about Klingons.)  At any rate, they are a threat.  And yes, he was married to Emma.  They even have a daughter, Madison.

So, yeah.  It turns out that maybe Godzilla is a good thing.  Like in the first movie, he can keep the other monsters in line.  The main difference is that we now have 17 different monsters running around.  (It was Monarch’s plan to release one at a time, but things got out of hand.) 

One thing I like about having AMC’s A-List is that the premium movies are included in the plan.  So, whatever else, I got to see this movie in 3D.  I would tell you to do so if you can upgrade at no additional cost, since it would seem to be a vehicle for the effects.  Other than that, it wasn’t a particularly memorable movie.


Saturday, June 01, 2019

Godzilla (2014)

I was all set to watch Godzilla: King of the Monsters until I realized that it was actually a sequel.  Or, at least, IMDb had listed movies that had preceded it.   So, I set out to find a way to stream it.  Netflix had removed it from their streaming service on May 1.  With Hulu and Amazon, I had to pay extra.  (Hulu required a special package and it didn’t appear to be available with Prime.)  I wanted to watch King of the Monsters the next day, so the library wasn‘t looking good.  Finally, I found an option through my cable provider.  I’m wondering if I should have just skipped it.

The movie, as you might expect, is about a giant lizard creature that terrorizes the human population.  We don’t get much of a back story, except to say that America’s nuclear tests were attempts to rid ourselves of the giant creature.  Oh, it comes from a time before humanity.  And since it’s an American production, it’s mostly American cities that are destroyed.  (If you live in Las Vegas or San Francisco, I have bad news for you.)

The action revolves around Godzilla fighting two other large creatures.  (Part of the suspense comes from the fact that one is pregnant.)  There are also several humans trying to stop them.  It’s clear that the mating pair is dangerous, but what of Godzilla?  Is he helpful or will he turn on us once the other two monsters are gone?

The Navy wants to nuke all three of them, but that means getting them far enough away from civilization.  Not an easy task, especially considering that these monsters feed on radiation.  Would the blast be enough to kill them?  If I understand correctly, it‘s like luring someone in with their favorite food hoping they‘ll choke on it.

The entire movie was a little confusing.  There was very little in the way of commentary.  Shin Godzilla at least had a nuclear meltdown as a backdrop.  This incarnation is more about people fighting unstoppable monsters, hoping that another unstoppable monster might save them.  Oh, and there’s a sequel.  It almost seems like it’s a vehicle for the effects.

The movie was successful enough that two sequels were green lit during this film’s opening weekend, which would mean that enough people go for that kind of action.  I also watched both of the first two movies within a 24-hour span, so there’s that.  Still, my decision to see Godzilla vs. Kong will probably be based on whether or not I still have AMC’s A-List.  (Similarly, I’d like to see Kong: Skull Island if I can get it from the library or through Netflix.)

I’d imagine that there are worse ways to spend two hours.  I’ve you’ve seen a lot of Godzilla movies, I’m sure this one will be at least a little repetitive.  I don’t know how many times you can see a city destroyed before it gets old.  For me, I always think about all the people that have to evacuate if the city is entirely destroyed.  Even when a monster steps on someone’s car, I imagine someone coming out and freaking because something important was in there.  (“My dry cleaning!  What am I going to wear to that big interview!”)  The movie’s not great, but at least it’s not radioactive.