Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Inside Man: Most Wanted (2019)

It’s somewhat rare to find a sequel that captures the magic of the original.  Often, then tend to be seen as cash grabs.  You get the original cast back together and have a somewhat similar story.  By the time anyone realizes what’s happened, you already have their money.  In many cases, the sequels are released straight to video.  Inside Man: Most Wanted is one such case.

I had seen the original Inside Man and liked it.  When our house was being tented, we came across this movie, which I had never heard of, and with good reason.  It had been released directly to video, which is never a good sign.  Add to that the fact that the cast and crew is all new.  There are some tenuous connections, like familial relationships, but there’s almost no connection to the original film.  Even the music is different.

It does have a similar setup, though.  Some people rob the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City.  (Instead of Nazi diamonds, though, they’re after Nazi gold.)  An expert hostage negotiator is brought in.  After a few plot twists, hostages are released and the negotiator doesn’t know who was really a hostage.

I’d go into more detail, but why bother?  The movie is like that Can I Copy Your Homework meme.  A promise was made to change a few of the details, but we all know what really happened.  They took a copycat movie and turned it into a sequel for a movie that didn’t really need a sequel.  I think that anyone involved in the original was smart enough to pass on this one.  You should do the same.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017)

It would seem that movies based on comic books are popular right now.  DC and Marvel have all sorts of movies lined up.  There’s a new Wonder Woman movie coming out   I saw a coming attraction for a movie featuring Harley Quinn.  Joker is out now.  Yes, we have another Joker origin story.

But have you ever considered the other origin story?  Have you ever wondered how the character of Wonder Woman came to be?  There was a man named William Marston who was in love with two women.  Those women served as the basis for Princess Diana.  This movie tells the story of how that relationship turned into one of DC’s most iconic characters.

It starts with a burning pile of Wonder Woman comic books and flashes back to when William and Elizabeth Marston met Olive Byrne.  She was a student enrolled in his class who would become their life partner.  The movie shows the relationship as being difficult, especially at first.  Elizabeth wasn’t as accepting as William.  However, the three of them went on to have several children together.

It’s hard to tell how accurate the movie is.  Most of the intimate encounters depicted are speculative.  It’s also a major motion picture, which means that liberties are taken, anyway.  I’m sure many parts were glossed over or altered for the sake of the production. (For instance, the movie hypes up the Marstons’ contributions to the lie detector.)

I’d like to say that the movie was informative, but it seemed to be more about the sex than anything else.  Very little of it is about the comic book.  We get to see William talk to  Max Gaines, who would get Wonder Woman accepted for publication at National Periodical Publications.  We also get to see that the comic book wasn’t popular among conservative groups.  But this is very basic.

In fact, I had to look up Wonder Woman to find that Marston’s Wonder Woman isn’t anything like today’s Wonder Woman.  His comics did have more for conservatives to be concerned about.  This is where the movie didn’t really do the story justice.  I would have liked to see more of that.  No, I’m not saying I’m totally disinterested in the polyandrous aspect of it.  It’s just that’s not what I was expecting.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Gemini Man (2019)

I love watching the coming attractions when I go to see the movies.  Some get me excited.  (I’m stoked about seeing the new Terminator movie.)  When I saw the preview for Gemini Man, it looked interesting.  A man is hunted by his own clone.  Little did I know that I had basically seen the entire movie.  I hate to spoil it for everyone, but it’s basically true.

Henry Brogan (The older Will Smith character) is a sniper who realizes that it’s time to quit.  He’s starting to grow a conscience.  His boss hates to seem him go, as Henry is the best.  Shortly after retiring, he realizes something is up.  There’s someone new working at the marina.  A friend gives him information that his last target wasn’t a terrorist.  Suddenly, a guy on a motorcycle starts hunting him.  Who could it be?  Oh, that’s right.  I saw the coming attraction.  It’s Junior, the Will Smith clone.

The two have several engagements and eventually hunt down the people doing this to them.  I was kind of hoping that this might mean some nice action scenes.  It didn’t.  There was some nice scenery.  This made the use of a high frame rate and 3-D worth it.  Being able to see it in Dolby didn’t hurt, either.  But this is basically the only good thing I can say about the movie.  When all a movie has going for it is the visual spectacle, it’s not a particularly good movie.

I kind of felt like the movie put all it’s money into getting a few big names and some good visuals.  There’s very little about the morality of what happened.  Instead, it focuses on the revenge aspect.  Yes, I know it’s difficult to come up with great movies all the time.  I’ve been seeing a few mediocre ones lately.  But this one is like the writer wasn’t even trying.  You know how people complain that cable has 400 channels and most of them are crap?  This isn’t one of the good channels.

There’s nothing really new or exciting about this movie.  Clones aren’t new.  Being replaced isn’t new.  I don’t recall that many witty one-liners.  You’d be better off just watching the coming attractions a few times.  Save yourself the ticket price.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Abominable (2019)

Long ago, I noticed the trend of copycat movies.  I don’t think I was even the first to do so.  One astronaut movie gets released and suddenly, you have three or four more over the next year.  One alien movie gets released and it’s followed by another alien movie or two.

In 2018, we got Smallfoot.  It was an animated movie about yeti that interacted with humans.  That was followed by Missing Link, a Sasquatch who called upon a human to help him find the Yeti.

Do you want to guess what Abominable is about?

The movie starts with a girl named Yi, who finds a yeti living on the roof of her apartment building.  She and two of her neighbors set off on an adventure to return him to his home. The Yeti is even named Everest, as that’s where he’s from.  To put a little pressure on, they’re chased by the seemingly evil businessman, Mr. Burnish.  He wants the yeti so that he might prove that the creature exists.

To be fair, I enjoyed all three movies.  Maybe Smallfoot wasn’t the best.  In fact, it was the weakest of the three so far, which is ironic in that it was the first to be released.  My point is that we do seem to have three distinct movies.  Yes, it’s a little predictable.  You know that the yeti will get home to his family despite a few major setbacks.  It’s a long journey and they will have a few obstacles to overcome.

Each of the three movies I mentioned is at least visually distinct enough that you’ll probably have a favorite.   Of the three movies, this is probably the one I would expect to do the best.  The movie is at least animated well, which is a good thing here.  Yi, Everest and friends visit a few major landmarks which are all rendered in detail.

If you’re looking to watch all of them, I would suggest skipping Smallfoot unless you have children.  Missing Link was done with stop motion, which is going to give it a different look.  (Abominable was done with CGI, as you might have gathered from the posters.)

I do think that this would be a good movie to take children to see.  There are some tense moments where Everest is at risk.  There are maybe one or two scenes that would scare smaller children, like Everest being caged.  Still, it’s one that parents can enjoy as well.  At least it’s a fun movie.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Time Trap (2017)

I’m not really sure what to make of Time Trap.  It’s a fairly simple movie wherein some students and their friends go in search of a missing professor.  The professor had initially gone in search of his parents and sister, who went missing years before.  At the heart of all of this is a system of caves that no one seems to want anything to do with.  Once inside, time slows down.  The further in you go, the slower time gets.  Thus, we have a time trap.

It’s a really good premise.  The problem is that the movie doesn’t do much beyond that.  It’s sort of like The Blair Witch project, which the film does reference.  It’s mostly about a group of people sinking deeper into a problem like quicksand.  The odds of them returning to a normal life seem to go down with each passing discovery.  (Outside light gives the group a clue as to their predicament.)

The ending is a little odd, but not unexpected.  The group is rescued, but finds themselves in a totally alien environment.  I didn’t really get the resolution I wanted.  It’s indicated that they were presumed lost, although we don’t know the exact amount of time that has passed.  All of their loved ones have since perished.  The problem is that we don’t know what will become of them.

Because of this, I’m wondering if this was intended as a backdoor pilot.  It would be the perfect intro to a new series, akin to Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.  The group would presumably have to adapt to life in the far future.  I can’t find anything online about a TV show or any sequels, although it wouldn’t surprise me to find one later on.

It’s kind of difficult to recommend.  The movie is all buildup with little actual resolve.  I kept waiting for something to happen.  It was available streaming on Netflix and has an 87-minute running time, which are definite advantages.  The movie also doesn’t seem to try to overreach.  It stays within the confines of a simple, coherent story and does it fairly well.  It’s just that it’s kind of a letdown not knowing what kind of world the group entered.  I can only hope that that story is for another movie.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Curvature (2017)

It’s funny how good cover art and an interesting premise can lead nowhere while a basic cover and a seemingly basic plot can be the best movie you ever saw.  I found Curvature on DVD through Netflix, thinking it might be something worth watching.  Helen is sent back in time as part of a top-secret project, but she has amnesia because of it.  She also gets a call from herself telling her to flee her house.

It sounds like it might be exciting.  Right?  The entire movie is the definition of meh.  This is despite being chased by her deceased husband’s business partner and the fact that there’s some sort of secret weapon she left for herself.  It turns out that there’s some sort of time-travel project that Helen’s husband was working on before he committed suicide, except maybe it wasn’t suicide.

It’s also a little confusing.  One of the side effects of time travel is the amnesia.  This makes it somewhat difficult to use in any practical sense.  It’s not clear if the Helen we’re watching is the future or the past Helen.  She has the amnesia associated with time travel, but she’s getting help from her other self, which is supposed to be her past self.  So, how does she know what she needs to know to help our Helen?

Helen also seems to have amnesia from before the time travel.  This, I can at least accept.  There’s no reason that the amnesia should correlate exactly to the time frame of the travel being done.  This just makes it even less useful.  Not only can you not remember what happened during the week you went back, but you’re going to lose a few more days on top of that.  It’s kind of an interesting side effect, if you’re looking for one to make time travel useless.  It doesn’t kill the person, but it does make it harder to change anything.  Even if you send back a note, there’s no way to know if it’s accurate or meaningful.

The entire thing seems like a story you might come up with in a writing class.  It’s a decent story, but there’s not too much to hold your attention.  Part of what makes a good time-travel story is that it uses the time travel aspect as a backdrop.  Terminator, for instance, was about the fate of humanity.  It was about people versus machines.  Going back in time was an interesting way to head off the problem of a great leader:  Make sure the leader was never born.

If you’re looking for a simple time-travel movie that works, go with Timecrimes.  It’s a little more complex, but it gives you that complexity in a way that’s easy to follow.  If you’re looking for something way more complex, go with Primer.  It may get difficult to follow, but it will keep you thinking.  I’d avoid Curvature.  I don’t need an entire week.  I’d settle for getting my 90 minutes back.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)

There are some movies that have a timeless feel to them.  I can watch The Princess Bride and it will always be a great movie.  Others tend to feel dated after a while.  Movies like Blazing Saddles were definitely a product of their times.  This isn’t to say that it’s a bad movie, but rather that it hasn’t aged well.  Somewhere in the middle is Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  It’s still a most excellent adventure, but it still has a slight whiff of the late 1980s.

The movie centers around Ted “Theodore” Logan and Bill S. Preston, Esquire.  They’re two slackers who are about to flunk out of high school.  This is some seriously bad news.  If this happens, Ted will be shipped off to a military school in Alaska.  Without Ted, the band Wyld Stalyns won’t form and serve as the basis for a wonderful future where everyone gets along.  So, the future residents of San Dimas send Rufus back to make sure that Bill and Ted pass an oral report.

Rufus lends the duo a time machine in the form of a phone booth.  They can dial any time and place they want, so Bill and Ted decide to visit a bunch of historical figures, like Socrates and Billy the Kid.  Instead, eight people from history come to the San Dimas of 1989 to tell Bill and Ted’s school about what they think of modern society.

Needless to say, it’s not easy.  Bill and Ted have to bust the people out of jail, for instance.  There’s also the issue of getting Napoleon out of a water park named Waterloo.  Bill and Ted are also not the brightest.  Billy the Kid is referred to as Mr. The Kid.  They also pronounce Socrates more like it’s spelled.  So, yeah.  The future of the world rests on these two.

I remember really liking the movie when I first saw it.  This is probably because I was closer in age to the two main characters.  It’s still a funny movie and would probably get a few laughs on first viewing.  However, it’s not quite as funny when you know the jokes are coming.

The movie doesn’t delve into the paradoxes of time travel too much.  The movie is a comedy and is more focused on the jokes, like Beethoven discovering synthesizers at a mall.  (Like I said, 1980s.)  It does make for a smoother movie and I didn’t find myself finding too many plot holes or inconsistencies.  It is a little odd that no one reacts to modern-day clothing in the past, though.

I was prompted to watch this when I heard news of Bill & Ted Face the Music.  It would seem that Keanu Reeves is destined to be a man of trilogies.  Interestingly, both The Matrix and John Wick franchises each seem to have a new movie coming out.  This would make Mr. Reeves very busy for the next few years.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 10 (Journey to Babel)

Star Trek tended to focus mostly on the stories.  The crew of the Enterprise is made up of people that presumably have families.  Very little is said about these families  We’ve seen that Kirk had a brother.  But we never see Uhura’s family.  I think there was mention of Dr. McCoy being married.  The only notable exception is meeting Spock’s parents, Sarek and Amanda.  This would be their only appearance in the TV show.  In fact, we’d be surprised to learn in one of the movies that Sarek had another son.  In Star Trek: Discovery, we’d learn that he has a stepsister.  This is how little character development there was.

The episode revolves around the Babel Conference.  The Enterprise is escorting various Federation ambassadors to the location, including Spock’s father.  The purpose is to discuss admission of a system to the Federation.  There’s all sorts of infighting as the various member planets don’t always get along.  When they get to Vulcan, Kirk suggests that Spock beam down to see his parents.  Kirk is surprised to learn that Sarek and his wife are Spock’s parents.  You’d think that Spock would have mentioned who his father was, given that he was supposed to be married at the beginning of the season.  (Spock’s family was curiously absent.)

Well, this planet that they’re discussing is important.  It’s so important that there’s a ship following them.  Kirk is stabbed and Sarek suffers an episode due to heart problems.  This leaves Spock in command when his father suddenly needs a blood transfusion.  Spock could be a donor, but it would be difficult.  Just moments before the operation is to begin, the ship is attacked.  Spock refuses to turn command over to Scotty, saying that he’s not experienced enough to handle the situation.  It seems like a run of bad luck, but there it is.  Kirk has to trick Spock to go down to sickbay and help his father.

I have to wonder if this was done just to get the character development.  I get that Vulcans are logical and all, but the entire thing seemed forced.  To have Spock refuse to go to sickbay to retain command made him seem spiteful.  Kirk thought Scotty could take command.  Why wouldn’t Spock?  Is this his way of spiting his father?

There also seemed to be a lot of fighting among the ambassadors.  One even turns up dead, with Sarek as the likely suspect.  I looked up the definition of federation.   It‘s a group of states with a central government, but still have independence in terms of their own affairs.  This is why they have ambassadors in the first place.  Still, you’d think they’d get along better.  You don’t hear of ambassadors to the UN killing each other.

It’s a shame that the series didn’t have better continuity.  I was never really clear on the structure of The United Federation of Planets.  This was the only episode to give any sort of real insight into that.  We‘d also have to wait for the movies to see Sarek again.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 9 (Metamorphosis)

Star Trek has a lot of history.  There were occasions where the writers saw fit to introduce a character that was from a long time prior to the main action.  In some cases, like Space Seed and The Neutral Zone, suspended animation was used.  Other characters span centuries because they live for centuries.  Guinan was encountered in 19th-century San Francisco, despite still being alive in the 24th century.  That’s how long her species lives.

Metamorphosis was a bit odd, in that the crew of the Enterprise find themselves in the presence of Zefram Cochrane.  Cochrane is important in that he invented warp drive, at least as far as Earth is concerned.  To find him on an otherwise-lifeless planet is a bit strange.  Stranger yet is the fact that he’s 150 years old, yet looks like he’s in his 30s.  (The actor playing him would have been 34 at the time.)

Another oddity is an energy cloud that inhabits the planet with Cochrane.  He has a shelter built from his ship and enough food to last.  However, leaving’s not an option.  The energy field prevents any form of propulsion from working.   This is a problem as Kirk, Spock and McCoy are transporting a sick ambassador back to the Enterprise for further treatment.

It turns out that the energy field is keeping Cochrane alive.  (The energy field would seem to be Cochrane’s companion, and is thus called The Companion.)  Further examination reveals that The Companion is actually in love with Cochrane, which he initially finds revolting.  When The Companion merges with the rather attractive ambassador, it’s not quite that bad.  The episode ends with Cochrane and the ambassador being left on the planet to live out their days, each presumably aging normally from that point on.  Kirk, Spock and McCoy are allowed to leave.

There were a few things that stuck with me on repeated viewings of this episode.  I’ve occasionally wondered why the Enterprise didn’t come to the ambassador, considering that she was on an important mission.  For that matter, why didn’t The Enterprise deliver her outright.  I’m assuming that they were on some other important mission.  Having the ambassador on a vulnerable shuttlecraft allows for the story to progress.

The big thing for me is how Cochrane lasted that long on a planet with no real companionship, other than an energy field that he can’t directly communicate with.  I probably would have gone crazy long ago.  It’s amazing that he seemed rational at all.

It’s also odd that no one recognized Cochrane.  Granted, no one would expect to find Cochrane on a remote planet, as he was lost in space and would be presumed dead by now.  Also, the average person doesn’t know what every historical figure looks like.  Someone like George Washington, sure.  The big hint, though, would have been that Cochrane not only recognized that Spock was Vulcan, but seemed to think that it was relatively significant.

It’s also kind of strange to me that they didn’t really deal directly with the relationship, other than to have Cochrane weirded out.  Maybe it was a way of showing how far we had come over the course of a century.  A human from that time wouldn’t consider making it with something so strange, yet he’s in the presence of a character who is the result of a human/Vulcan union.  Still, to have The Companion assume human form is avoiding the issue, at best.

It’s also not clear to me if there are other energy fields similar to The Companion.  It’s always odd to me that there’s exactly one of a species.  I get it if the species is nearly extinct.  However, are we to assume that there’s only one energy field out there?  Is The Companion an anomaly?

The episode doesn’t really seem that satisfying.  The conclusion basically leaves Cochrane not far from where he started.  He knows what The Companion is, although it had to change form to become palatable to him.  I don’t think we ever find out what happened to them.  I don’t recall any episode dealing with the aftermath of this episode.  It might have been interesting to see what became of them.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Ad Astra (2019)

Space is boring.  It’s mind-numbingly boring.  It’s a whole lot of nothing with a little bit of stuff thrown in here and there.  You might find something worth looking at, but you’ll probably spend most of your time with little or nothing to do.  Maybe you’ll be alone.  Maybe you’ll have someone to pass the time with.  All things considered, though, you have a lot of nothing to look forward to.  Bring a book.

I’m sorry.  Did I say space?  I meant Ad Astra.  When I saw the coming attractions, I thought that it might be some big thing about how a space mission went wrong.  The movie starts with Roy McBride.  He’s supposed to be this legend.  His pulse never goes above 80, which makes him great for dangerous work.  Unfortunately, dangerous work doesn’t lend itself to things like marriage.

One day, he’s called in to a top-secret mission about the Lima Project.  What’s so special about the Lima Project?  It was headed by H. Clifford McBride, Roy’s father.  The mission was lost in the outer reaches of space.  The military thinks that the space ship might be responsible for power surges on Earth.  It’s never explained exactly why this is.  All we know is that Roy is supposed to go to Mars so that he can send a message to his father asking what’s going on.

So, Roy goes to the moon, where he’s attacked by space pirates or something.  He makes it to where he’s supposed to be so that he can get to Mars.  Along the way, the crew of the ship has to stop for another ship in distress.  It turns out that’s a lost cause, so it’s on to Mars, where Roy sends several messages to his father.

I don’t want to go much further, on the off chance that you really want to see the movie.  I will warn you that it is boring.  (Go back and read the first paragraph with Ad Astra standing in for space.)  I spent a good chunk of the movie waiting for something to happen.  It’s one of those movies where you expect some major revelation, yet get something that’s not at all that major.  I suspect it was supposed to be a big revelation, but it wasn’t.

In fact, the only good thing that I can say is that it’s a good movie to watch in IMAX.  The visuals are great, but I think we’re past going to the movies to see pretty pictures of the planets.  I would have preferred a little more substance.  It’s almost like one of those paintings where the artist has a line and a dot.  You know it’s supposed to represent something, but what?  I think the detour to help the stranded ship was supposed to mean something.  I’m not sure if it was just there to liven things up.  Maybe make sure the audience was still awake.

In the end, the movie is like Roy’s pulse.  It never gets above a certain pace.  We might get one or two exciting scenes, but there’s no thrill because we can see it coming.  I’d tell you to see it in IMAX, but I’m not sure it would be worth the extra money.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

The first two Terminator movies were a bit of a headache because of the bootstrap paradoxes.  If The Terminator hadn’t been sent back to kill Sarah Connor, Kyle Reese never would have been sent back to protect her only to become John Connor’s father.  Thus, the correct way to get rid of John Connor before he was born was to not try to kill him before he was born.

When this movie opens, Sarah is in a mental ward and John is in foster care.  He’s grown up thinking that she’s a nut job, which is a justifiable point of view.  She’s telling everyone that a machine from the future came back to kill her before her son was born.  This hasn’t stopped the apocalypse, which she needs to help John prepare for.  This would look like maybe the absolute worst Cassandra complex ever.  Except that it’s true.

Skynet has sent back an even better Terminator, the T-1000, to terminate John as a child.  Also returning from the future is a reprogrammed T-800.  This time, the original Terminator is going to protect John rather than kill him.  The same dynamic exists with a superior hunter and an inferior protector, but the same imperative exists: John Connor must live to defeat the machines.

The movie is done well enough that you can enjoy it without asking too many questions.  I originally wondered why the T-1000 didn’t, say, overload a power plant and destroy the whole city.  That would have been too easy.  Plus, the T-1000 has to be sure.  This means actually finding John Connor.  Still, you’d think that a computer system designed for defense could make a machine that could do better, or maybe even send back several terminators to work in concert.

In this case, I understand why some ideas weren’t used.  Sure, Skynet could have killed Sarah Connor while she was pregnant or killed John Connor as a baby, but this is something audiences wouldn’t react well to.  Sending something back in time is probably difficult, so sending an army back probably isn’t a viable option.  There isn’t a really great, obvious idea that I can think of.

We do get two more bootstrap paradoxes.  First, it seems likely that the arrival of the T-1000 either allowed Sarah Connor to get out of the hospital, or at least got her out early.  This allowed her to further train John Connor, who doesn’t appear to be battle ready just yet.  (Had she stayed in the hospital, John may not have done as well against the machines.)  We also find out that the arrival of the T-800 in the original movie gave Cyberdyne the idea for the terminators’ hardware, thus allowing for the creation of Skynet.  So, where did Skynet come from?

The movie could have been a simple action movie about two machines fighting over the future of the planet.  Instead, we get a commentary on the destructive nature of humanity.  Throughout all of the Terminator movies, the downfall of human civilization is inevitable.  We tend to fight one another.  This is what leads to the creation of Skynet in the first place.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Helvetica (2007)

There were a handful of fonts that everyone knew about, only because teachers told us that our papers had to be in one of those fonts.  They had to read a lot of papers, so they didn’t want anything fancy or hard to read.  So, you’re choices were something like Times New Roman or Arial.

Then, there was Helvetica.  I wouldn’t blame you if you’ve never heard the name.  Yet, someone made an entire documentary about the typeface, which started out as Neue Haas Grotesk way back in 1957.  Someone suggested changing the name to Helvetia, which was the Latin name for what would become Switzerland.  Rather than use the name directly, someone added the C.

You may be asking what’s so special about Helvetica.  It’s a very widely used font.  In fact, it’s common because it’s relatively generic.  Before the font was introduced, advertisements could have all sorts of crazy fonts.  Helvetica gave a very clean, easy-to-read look.  It was meant to convey information without the word itself becoming a spectacle.  When you look at signage, you look at the word or the letter and get what information you need from it without thinking about it.

Those interviewed for the documentary seem to fall into two camps.  Some believe that Helvetica was genius.  It did exactly what it was designed to do, which was convey information.  There’s an elegance in its simplicity.  Others thought that it was too bland.  It’s like glorifying white bread for being flavorless.  Why would you want someone to not notice the font?  That’s part of the design of an ad or a logo.

The film was 80 minutes, which was a little long for me.  I felt like 20 minutes or so could have been cut off.  I didn’t really feel like I learned much about the font, other than where it came from and what the intended use was.  Honestly, though, I don’t think most people would watch it at 60 minutes.  This isn’t to say the documentary is without merit or use.  I’m sure there are people that would be interested in it, but I don’t think most people would rent the DVD.  Maybe streaming, but I doubt there will be many rentals.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

Sequels tend to be a mixed bag.  Jumanji is more so.  It had this other movie named Zathura: A Space Adventure, which wasn’t really a sequel and not quite a knockoff.  (Both Zathura and Jumanji were based on books with Zathura’s book being more of a true sequel, apparently.)  Apparently, someone decided to make a sequel to Jumanji which is only marginally more of a sequel in that it uses a few names from the original film.

The story centers around four high-school students:  Spencer, Fridge, Bethany and Martha.  One day, they all find themselves in detention where they discover a video-game console.  This is no ordinary console.  It’s a special no-name console that has a cartridge which was actually the Jumanji board game that remade itself.  It was actually found by another kid, Alex Vreeke.  He’s trapped in the game much like Alan Parrish was in the original movie.

When the four kids find the console, they each chose a character.  Fridge takes “Moose” Finbar.  Bethany takes Professor Shelly Oberon.  Spencer gets Smolder Bravestone.  Martha becomes Ruby Roundstone.  This mainly serves as a way for each kid to see what life’s like the other way around.  The muscular Fridge is now played by Kevin Hart whereas the nerdy Spencer is now played by Dwayne Johnson.  The shy, less-than-attractive Martha is now played by Karen Gillan whereas the attractive, self-absorbed Bethany is now played by Jack Black.

Each character also has certain attributes.  Smolder is known for his smoldering good looks and strength.  Ruby is good at dance fighting.  Each player has three lives, which is usually used to comic effect.  The game itself has all sorts of dangerous obstacles to overcome. Along the way, the characters eventually meet up with Alex, who has been stuck on one area for a while.  And when I say a while, I mean 20 years.  (He’s living in a tree house that Alan Parish built.)

The movie, like the video game, seems like an update for a more modern audience.  There are in-jokes, like the character selection and attributes.  It’s almost as if it’s a remake rather than a sequel.  (There’s only a tenuous connection to the original.)

I will say that this installment seems to be more levelheaded.  The first Jumanji was a wild ride and seemed to exist just for the thrills.  This movie has a little more character development, although most of that is cliché.  Everyone comes to understand the others a little better.  As with the original movie, everything is set straight again.  The major difference is that this time, everyone in the game remembers what happened.

It’s rare that I admit that a sequel is an actual improvement over the original, but in this case, it’s not saying much.  The first movie didn’t really set the bar too high in many regards.  To say that cliché is an improvement should tell you something.

I’m kind of wondering if the next installment will explain how the game came to be.  I’m not sure if I really want that, though.  I don’t think it would really be necessary.  It doesn’t matter who or what created the game.  Knowing that such a sadistic thing exists is enough.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Back to the Future Part III (1990)

It took me a while to get going on the reviews for the Back to the Future trilogy.  Yes, I know that they came out over 30 years ago.  The first one was such an iconic movie that I wasn’t sure how to handle it.  The trilogy was also a bit of an anomaly to me in that it formed a continuous narrative, despite the fact that the second and third movies weren’t planned.  (It’s been noted that the second picks up where the first left off and this one picks up where the second left off.)

Part III goes in a new direction, taking us to the Old West.  It turns out that Doc was stranded in 1885, 70 years prior to the end of Part II.  (I’m not sure what it is with multiples of five.)   He writes Marty a note, to be delivered by Western Union, a few minutes after his disappearance.  Doc instructs Marty to find the Doc of 1955 so that they might repair the DeLorean and return Marty to 1985 once again.

Things aren’t that simple, though.  While retrieving the car, Marty and Doc discover a tombstone with Doc’s name on it.  He’s to die about a week after writing the letter.  So, a new plan is hatched:  Send Marty to 1885 to save Doc without altering the timeline.  Only, the fuel line is punctured, rendering the car inoperative.  The Flux Capacitor still works, but Mr. Fusion can’t power the car and there won’t be a gas station in town for quite some time.  So, it’s just a matter of figuring out a way to push the car to 88 MPH while keeping Doc alive for a week.  What could go wrong?

As much as I might hope for a Part IV, this is a fitting end for the franchise.  Everyone ends up happy and realizing that fate is what you make of it.  You just have to do so responsibly.  Yes, I know that there’s a TV show.  If I can find it on DVD, I might get around to watching it.  (I’ll have to see if the library has it.)

It was nice that there was a shift in the story to include Doc.  He even gets a love interest, which could complicate things.  I always felt sad when I saw the end of the movie.  Marty was stuck in 1985 while Doc got to go exploring time.  I suppose it’s possible that at some point in the future, Doc will meet Marty again.  (I’m assuming that this is what the TV series is about.)

Back to the Future seems to be a franchise that people either love or ignore.  I’ve always loved it, mostly because of its simplicity.  I’m sure that the movie’s representation of the Old West is simplistic, but it’s serving as a backdrop.  It’s more the setting for the story in which both main characters a great conclusion.  Marty McFly finally seems to learn his lesson and stops letting people push him around.  Also, Doc seems to be a happier person.  He has a family and the time machine that he originally wanted.  Both seem to have realized what’s important:  Life is what you make of it.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019)

When I saw the coming attractions for this movie, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see it.  I knew it could go one of two ways.  It would either try too hard (and possibly fail) at trying to make Brittany a sympathetic character or it would actually be a decent movie about someone making her life better.  There is an actual Brittany who did go on to complete a marathon.  This doesn’t preclude the first option, nor does it necessitate the second.  However, I decided it was worth a watch.

The story begins with Brittany slogging through life.  She doesn’t have a great job.  She sleeps too much, parties too much and doesn’t seem to have a lot of energy.  At least, she wants a doctor to write her a prescription for Adderall.  Doctor Falloway gives her an alternative:  Lose 55 pounds.  That would get her to her target weight and might just improve her options.

Brittany has to overcome several obstacle.  Those first few steps prove to be overwhelming, but a second attempt gets her around the block.  There’s also Catherine, who is initially an advice monger.  Brittany initially sees her as obnoxious, which she sort of is.  But Catherine becomes one of Brittany’s biggest supporters.  Then, there’s the superficial roommate Gretchen, who proves to be little more than a drag on Brittany’s ambitions.

Brittany’s biggest obstacle proves to be herself.  She has to learn to let people in.  There are those out there that want to help her.  I think that this is where the story is written well.  Catherine is the best example of Hell being other people.  It doesn’t matter where her advice is coming from.  Brittany sees it as obnoxious.  Even when the two grow closer, Catherine and another fellow runner, Seth, offer Brittany a check so that she can run in the New York City Marathon.  She refuses it, wanting to raise the money on her own.

Getting to the marathon is not an easy path for Brittany.  She starts with shorter runs, which she can manage.  She works her way up to larger runs.  She has setbacks, like an injured leg.  Even running a marathon has problems.  There are people who train years and still have serious medical issues during the race.  A marathon isn’t something to take lightly. 

Almost everyone in the movie has their own demons.  Catherine is going through a divorce.  Seth wants his son to respect him.  It’s hard to get over what you think other people think of you.  Brittany comes to realize that, while there are other people holding her back, it’s ultimately her own choices that matter most.  Some of the people around her can help her.  Others will only serve to distract her.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Silent (2014)

Occasionally, I come across a short film that looks interesting.  Part of the appeal is that they’re only a few minutes long.  I don’t have to commit to several hours on what might be a stinker.  I can also probably get  a review out of it.  Most of the shorts I come across tend to be like Silent.  It looks like it was meant to accompany a feature-length film and not stand on its own.  Yet, here it is, available streaming through Netflix.

It’s about two street performers, presumably father and daughter, showcasing the history of music in film.  It starts with the two of them on a street corner when it starts to rain.  They take refuge in a movie theater, where the man is sucked into the silver screen while the girl plays music to accompany various films.  It runs from horror to action.  The only specific movie I could make out was Safety Last!, with the man hanging from the face of a clock tower.

There’s no voice work.  There’s only the music.  It would seem to honor the soundtracks, if only briefly.  It’s not great, but it’s not terrible.  It’s very firmly in ’meh’ territory.  If you have Netflix, it might be worth a watch.  It’s exactly the kind of thing you could take a look at while waiting for someone else to join you or if you’re looking for something else to watch.

IMDb page

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Black Hole (1979)

2001: A Space Odyssey was a great movie about a ship sent to check on another ship.  The Black Hole isn’t that movie.  It’s not even the knockoff written by some nobody with a $50 budget.  It’s more like the foreign version where someone got a few pages of the script, the actors adlibbed the rest and the whole thing was mistranslated back into English.  Honestly, I have no idea if it was supposed to be this bad or if several key crewmembers walked out before shooting began.  And the amazing thing is that this was distributed by Disney.

The story begins with The Palomino returning to Earth after a long mission when they find the Cygnus near a black hole, hence the title.  The Cygnus appears to not be moving, so the Palomino moves in to investigate.  As they approach, the crew discuses how the Palomino was ordered back to Earth, but the order was disregarded.  For all they know, the Palomino’s crew is dead.

When they board, they find only one survivor:  Dr. Reinhardt.  He has some sort of gravitational shielding that allows him to be so close to a singularity without being crushed.  Reinhardt has spent the intervening two decades perfecting  his equations so that he can take the entire ship through the black hole.  Why?  To see what’s on the other side, of course.

Reinhardt is just about ready, but not quite.  He needs just enough time to allow the crew of the Cygnus to walk around the huge ship and make some horrifying discoveries.  Like, they have to get off the ship as soon as possible.  Reinhardt has gone crazy over the years.

The captain, first officer, doctor and robot run back to the ship only to have the one guy onboard launch without them.  No matter.  Reinhardt destroys the ship, so it kind of works out.  There is a probe ship they can use, but they have to run all the way across the huge ship to get to it.  Unfortunately, the ship programmed to go through the black hole.  I say unfortunately not because the ship is crushed.  I say unfortunately because it’s not crushed.  We’re treated to a montage of images not unlike the final scenes of 2001, except that we have some idea of what’s going on, but not really.

I suspect that the science advisor was the first to walk out.  Whoever wrote the script had no idea how a black hole actually works.  All three ships should have had some ill effects, such as stress on the hull and warping of time and space.  Even with the shielding, the probe ship should have been crushed.  There’s no way anyone should have made it through.

I’m actually surprised that a major studio had anything to do with this.  You might think that it’s a horrible or silly idea that was made workable.  This was a workable movie that was made horrible and silly.  Maybe, with the right people behind it, it could have worked.  In fact, I do recall some movies with a similar plot that seemed better.

I have to wonder if this movie was rushed to production.  I noticed a change in image quality depending on whether or not there’s a window in the background.  Granted, this could be because the movie has been remastered.  However, it doesn’t bode well that the effects are cheesy all around.  I’d say that the movie disregards science or quality standards, but the truth is that it disregards anything that might make a movie good.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Jumanji (1995)

Robin Williams always had a childlike energy that made him perfect for that overly outgoing character that just never grew up.  In Jumanji, he plays the adult version of a child trapped in a board game for 25 years.  One might be forgiven for thinking the part was written for him.  However, the movie is based on a book.  I would think that Williams would at least have been the first choice for the part.  But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The movie starts in 1869.  To people are seen burying the titular board game, hoping that no one ever digs it up.  Heaven help whoever does find the game.  That’s how sinister it is.  Cut to 1969 and a young Alan Parrish happens upon the box containing the board game and convinces his friend, Sarah Whittle, to play.  Each move brings about some odd and dangerous event, like bats descending on Sarah.

A few moves in, Alan becomes trapped in the game.  This leads to years of therapy for Sarah.  Alan’s father spends the family fortune trying to find Alan, since no one believes Sarah.  The house is eventually sold to Nora Shepherd, who moves in with her niece and nephew, Judy and Peter.  The two kids find Jumanji in the attic and continue the game, miraculously freeing Alan from the game.

The entire time, Alan was trapped in a jungle.  He’s now an adult (played by Williams, of course) and wants nothing more than to go back to his old life.  Unfortunately, his parents are dead and he has to finish the game, which means finding a now-adult Sarah.  As you might imagine, she’s not eager, but she relents.

Each move made brings another disastrous event, like a stampede or a flood.  The house is all but destroyed, but there’s the promise that it will all return to normal at the completion of the game.  Once the game is completed, Sarah and Alan find themselves back in 1969 as if nothing had ever happened.  They’ll have to wait 26 years for Judy and Peter to be born.  And, of course, they won’t remember anything.

The movie is all mania and no real substance.  My first thought is that it’s odd how sadistic the game is.  How would such a thing come into existence?  If someone created it, how and why?  What purpose does it serve to put people through that?

In the end, it doesn’t seem like anything was learned.  Alan and Sarah grow up to be regular adults with regular lives.  The Parrish shoe factory is still in business.  It’s kind of sad that Alan and Sarah can’t talk about the ordeal with the kids, or anyone else for that matter.  They just have to hide the game and hope no one unleashes the terror again.

It’s also a fairly scary movie.  It’s too childish for most adults, but it’s way too vivid for younger audiences.  Teenagers would be able to handle it, but that age group seems a bit too advanced for a movie like this.  As I said, it seems more like a vehicle for Williams.  (From what I’ve read in IMDb, he had to be told to hold back on the improvisation so as not to throw off the story.)

It’s an entertaining movie, but not a great movie.  Part of the problem is that it tries to do too many things without doing any of them well.  The aunt is away from the children for most of the movie.  The action is silly as many of the animals look fake.  It comes across as an action movie for children as written by someone who had never seen an action movie or an actual child. 

I would love to have been in the meeting to pitch this movie.  So, you have this board game that traps a kid in a jungle and makes another one go crazy.  It throws wild animals at them, although no one really gets hurt.  I mean, everything goes back to normal at the end of the game, so none of it really matters.  But we got Robin Williams to star in it!  That should tell you if it’s a movie you’d want to see.

Monday, September 09, 2019

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Season 1)

There has always been a market for nostalgia.  There are t-shirts for 80s bands and old Nintendo games.  There are even emulators for the Commodore 64.  But to do a prequel series for a movie that’s 37 years old?

My first clue was when Netflix started streaming The Dark Crystal.  I hadn’t watched the movie all the way through in decades.  When I did make the attempt, something else would come up about 30 minutes in.  When I found out that Netflix was going to do a series about the Gelflings, I decided to set aside 90 minutes to watch the whole thing.

Both the movie and the series take place on the planet Thra.  The series would appear to be set well before the events of the movie.  There are seven tribes of Gelfling, all under the rule of the evil Skeksis.  Gelfling view the Skeksis as benevolent, which is just a little ironic if you’ve seen the movie.  The Skeksis have abused the planet for their own evil ends.  They want to live forever and will drain the essence of the Gelfling to get their immortality.

The ten episodes start with the Skeksis draining the essence of one Gelfling, Mira, and blaming her death on another, Rian.  Rian and two other Gelfling, Deet and Princess Brea, come to realize what the Skeksis really are.  This is what starts the Gelfling resistance to the Skeksis.

My one question was how true the series would be to the movie.  Stylistically, it would appear to be the same.  CGI was kept to a minimum, making the visuals look almost identical.  While many of the same characters are still present, very few of the actors have returned.  This is understandable, considering how much time has passed.   (IMDb has a tool to compare the cast and crew of any two productions.)

The story doesn’t drag as much as other series do.  You expect a little bit of padding, since it is a ten-episode arc, but there were very few places where this was evident.  A good deal of this is because we’re tuning in for the visuals.  With the movie, only a small portion of the planet was explored.  The series expands that quite a bit and gives each area a distinct look.  One tribe lives underground.  Another lives in a desert area.  It’s a lot to take in, but it still leaves you hoping to see more if we get a second season.

And it is a somewhat complex narrative.  There are three characters making their way to the same point to unite all seven tribes against a common enemy. Add to this the fact that they have to convince people that the Gelfling are an enemy.  It’s not that easy.  This is, after all, an epic undertaking on more than one level.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Ready or Not (2019)

It’s bad enough getting yourself into a fight to the death.  To do so without realizing it seems a bit cliché.  “Fight this guy,” they said.  “It will be fun.”  Then you find out that neither contestant leaves until the other one is lying flat on their back.

Strictly speaking, Grace isn’t fighting against her new family, but the result is the same.  The movie starts on her wedding day.  She’s madly in love with Alex Le Domas.  What she doesn’t know is that the Le Domas family has a bit of a tradition.  When someone becomes a member of the family, they draw a card.  She and at least one family member have to play that game.  If it’s a game like checkers, it’s no big deal.  They just play checkers and that’s it.

There’s one card that’s a death sentence.  If you’ve seen the coming attractions, you can guess which game Grace shouldn’t draw.  Alex and his brother try to talk Grace out of the wedding on the off chance that she might get Hide and Seek as her game, but they can’t tell her outright.  Grace insists, not knowing what she’s getting herself into.

Long ago, great-grandfather Victor Le Domas made a deal with a mysterious businessman.  He and his family got rich off of whatever business Victor chose.  The catch was that the family was bound by the machine.  It would spit out a card every wedding night.  If that game was Hide and Seek, the new person has to be sacrificed.

The movie seems a bit excessive.  I wonder if it was meant to be that way.  Grace has to be taken alive, yet the Le Domas family is armed with lethal weapons.  In fact, most of the staff is killed accidentally.  It makes you wonder why they don’t use tranquilizer darts, instead.  (That would be too simple.)

There’s also a legend that everyone in the family will die a horrible death if they don’t make the sacrifice.  They admit that only one other family to make The Deal is rumored to have met this fate, so they can’t be certain that it’s true.  But it might be.  But it might not be.  Maybe it’s better to just catch Grace and sacrifice her.  No one wants to be the guy who gets the entire family killed.  No pressure.  Right?

It seems that satire movies are tending towards the bizarre.  This isn‘t the extreme that Sorry to Bother You gave us.  I mean, I get where they’re going with this, to some extent.  But it does seem excessive.  In fact, Alex is the only one that has any sort of reservations about hunting down Grace.  Everyone else accepts it like it’s paying for your utilities.  Sacrificing Grace is just the cost of business.

There are worse ways to spend 95 minutes.  One could easily read into the movie about how the rich have every advantage.  Grace grew up a foster kid and is enthralled with the idea of a stable home.  If you want to ignore the subtext, the movie is enjoyable.  You wouldn’t think you could make a movie out of Hide and Seek, but here it is.

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Farewell (2019)

Sometimes, it’s difficult to see the bigger picture.  There’s what we want and what’s best for others.  It can be difficult to reconcile the two, especially when thinking in terms of what you would want.  You might select a certain path in life, but that doesn’t mean the same path is best for everyone

When Billi learns that her Nai Nai (father’s mother) is dying, she takes it pretty hard.  Nai Nai has a few months to live, so Billi’s parents are going to China (without Billi, no less) to visit her.  The extended family has decided, as is custom, not to actually tell Nai Nai that she’s dying.  Instead, they use a wedding as a cover to get together.  (I’m still not entirely clear as to whether the wedding was real or just staged.)

Billi follows her parents to China and agrees not to tell her grandmother about the diagnosis.  It’s difficult for her to do this, considering that Nai Nai might have things she‘d want to do before passing away.  She was born in China, but raised in America.  She asks why Nai Nai isn’t given the chance to know and maybe make peace with her life.  Her parents counter that it’s already too late.  She’s going to die and it’s the family’s responsibility to carry that burden.  This way, Nai Nai can enjoy her final months.

There are some levels on which I can connect with the movie.  I was born and raised in the United States and am of European descent.  However, Billi was raised in the United States and leans American culturally.  It’s difficult for her to wrap her head around her parents wishes.   She makes the perfect surrogate for the audience.  She understands the language well enough to get by, but she’s asking all the questions that we might ask in that situation.

The movie did remind me of going to my brother’s wedding in China.  I de recall cigarettes being everywhere, as well as the occasional offer of baijiu.  (I even have a photograph of several high chairs with packs of cigarettes for the guests.)   The activities surrounding the wedding looked very familiar.

The movie doesn’t necessarily go into all the differences between East and West.  Instead, it focuses on the concept of death and how we treat those that are dying.  In the West, we’d tell someone, even if there is no hope.  We’d see it as the patient’s right to know.  Billi has a point in that Nai Nai may want to make peace with people.  There may be things she wants to do.

The rest of her family also has a point.  If there is nothing that can be done, would it not be better to let her live unencumbered by the knowledge?  There is a certain burden in knowing that you have three months to live.  In this case, what would really be gained by sharing the information?  There is also a group dynamic.  The family takes on the burden for the grandmother.  They’re there to help her.

The movie does focus on the choice, but there is more to it.  It does give Billi a chance to go back to the place where she grew up.  Some of it has changed, but so has she.  There’s a lot for her to come to terms with.  In a way, it was a good choice for her to go to China.  She could just as easily have told her grandmother over the phone.  Going gave her the chance to reconnect with her family.  I have to wonder what would have happened had she stayed in America.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Kitchen (2019)

It’s not easy being a single-income family.  If anything should happen to that source of income, things can be difficult for the entire family.  This is no different for criminals.  Jimmy Brennan, Rob Walsh and Kevin O’Carroll are members of the Irish Mob.  They get arrested by the FBI while robbing a convenience store, leaving their respective wives in the lurch.   The Mob helps with finances, but it’s not enough.  Kathy Brennan, Claire Walsh and Ruby O’Carroll decide to take things into their own hands.

This might sound like the basis of an exciting movie.  And it is, to an extent.  Or, at least, it could be.  Some of the plot twists, you can see coming.  They work with various other members of the organization until the organization puts pressure on them to stop.  Others seem contrived or forced.  Ruby, a black woman, has a racist mother-in-law to contend with.  The entire dynamic seems a bit much.

It would also seem that the movie would end one of two ways.  Either the women end up dead or everyone else does.  At times, it seemed like it was difficult to tell which way it was going.  They would do very well.  Then, they’d face a big setback, which they would deal with.

Most of the movie is the three women working their way up.  They collect protection money from places where the Mob hasn’t been protecting so well.  They earn respect, expand their territory and take on another mob.  It eventually comes to a head when the husbands are released early, but the women are good at what they do.

Comparisons to Widows aren’t undeserved.  Both movies involve a group of women who have to step up in the absence of their criminal husbands.  With The Kitchen, they’re not as reluctant, but the basic storyline would seem to be the same.

The movie seemed haphazard, though.  It was as if someone took episodes of a TV show and put them in a blender.  It was coherent, but it was all over the place.  The women start off struggling, but not a lot was shown to establish this.  (We see Kathy go on one job interview.)  Then, they extort money.  (So, Claire needs a little encouragement, but goes all in after that.)  They do what they have to until the husbands get out.  Again, they do what’s necessary to survive.

I think the movie could have been done better.  It almost looks like there’s enough material for two or three movies here.  It seemed to me like half the movie was missing.  I might have had the first movie be the women hitting rock bottom before making their way alone and the second movie dealing with the husbands getting out and the women going all in.  I would say that this is a good movie to maybe check out of the library one night.

IMDb page

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)

Comedies tend to take certain liberties with the plot.  I can accept that to an extent.  The point of a comedy is to get laughs.  Similarly, the point of an action movie is to have, well, action.  You go to see explosions and car chases.  I can understand if the plot stretches reality, a little.  To an extent, anyway.

I’ve never seen any of the previous Fast & Furious movies.  I may get around to watching them one day, but I was drawn to Hobbs & Shaw for some reason.  I went in knowing that the plot would probably be a little bit ridiculous.  After all, the coming attractions featured Idris Elba’s character being referred to as the Black Superman.  I never expected this.

The movie takes two characters from the Fast & Furious franchise and gives them their own movie.  It starts with a covert MI6 team trying to retrieve a deadly virus.  The team is attacked by Brixton, a.k.a. Black Superman, and his henchmen.  Rather than allow the virus to be taken, Hattie injects herself and runs off, becoming the lone survivor.  Brixton calls it in and sets Hattie up as the one responsible for the attack.

Cut to Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw each starting their respective days.  Each eventually gets a call to come in to track down the virus.  It isn’t until the briefing that each realizes that the other was called.  So, they’re off to find Hattie.  There’s just one catch:  Hattie is Shaw’s sister.  Oh, and the reason that Brixton is so strong is that he’s been given mechanical enhancements.  And, although the virus is in small capsules, Hattie has 72 hours to get the virus out of her system.

So, here we go off on an adventure of implausible proportions.  Consider some of the action scenes.  Hobbs is able to jump from bad guy to bad guy while falling down the side of a building.  Apparently he has good aim and flexible physics.  The trio also has to do a little traveling.  Their first flight is from London to Moscow, which takes about 3-4 hours, give or take.  That’s not so bad.  The second flight is from Moscow to Samoa.  I looked up these flights and found that most would take more than a day.  You’re also looking at two layovers.  So, that would mean that Hattie has wasted half of her time on a plane or waiting for one.

Also, is it just me, or is odd that an air marshal would be on a London-to-Moscow flight?  I get that he might be on vacation or transferring, but the United States only claims jurisdiction if at least one of the stops is in the United States.  Neither London nor Moscow is within the United States.  What’s he doing there?

These were the two big ones for me.  The movie has all sorts of insane stunts and explosions.  The only other thing I took issue with was that a device could clean Hattie’s blood of the virus in 30 minutes.  It’s a dangerous virus and they trust a machine to extract it that quickly?  Um…ok.

So, if you’re considering seeing this, I’d recommend going in expecting explosions and fights.  If you’re expecting something comparable to Shakespeare, you’re going to be disappointed.  Of course, if you’ve seen the coming attractions, I don’t think this is going to be news to you.

Monday, August 05, 2019

The Dark Crystal (1982)

There were a lot of movies from my childhood that I liked.  Watching them again as an adult isn’t always the best decision.  I recall liking the live-action He-Man movie to an extent.  Recent viewings of the movie don’t do as much for me.  Similarly, I recall liking The Dark Crystal when I was growing up.

My parents probably let me watch it because it was made by Jim Henson.  The production values are certainly there.  You have big, strange-looking creatures.  The Mystics, also called the urRu are peaceful and look kind of plain.  The Skeksis are kind of weird looking and are out to rule this strange world.  Caught in the middle is Jen, a Gelfling raised by the Mystics.  He believes that he’s the last of his kind until he’s sent on a mission.

A thousand years ago, a crystal was shattered, creating the two main races.  If the crystal is fixed, Thraa will know peace.  If not, the Skeksis will reign for the rest of eternity.  A prophecy holds that a Gelfling will be the one to fix the crystal, so the Skeksis wipe out the Gelfling village, not knowing that Jen survived.  He’s sent on his way by a dying Mystic, who doesn’t give him a lot of information.

He is able to find Aughra, who provides Jen with some answers.  It’s not enough to make the mission’s objective much clearer.  He does meet another Gelfling named Kira along the way.  The two make it to the Skeksis’ lair and are able to reunite the crystal and saving the world.

The movie is a little strange.  It’s kind of simple for adults.  It’s a rather direct story.  It’s also populated by Muppets, which will make a lot of people think it’s for kids.  It is a somewhat dark movie, though.  The Skeksis are able to drain the essence of other beings for the purpose of keeping young.  There isn’t a lot of fighting, but there are a few scary moments.  I’m not really sure who the target audience was, here.

There was a planned sequel, which makes sense.  I could see this setting up a larger storyline.  Unfortunately, that  never came to pass.  It would have been interesting to see where that went.  The Jim Henson Company did begin producing a prequel series, which is set to be released at the end of this month.  I’m not sure what the series will bring.  It may detail how the crystal was fractured.  It may explore the Gelflings or other races.  Either way, I would probably watch it.

This is a world that could use some exploring.  There are some tie-in products like books and novels.  It would be interesting to look some of those up before the series airs.  I’m not sure what kind of availability each has.  Either way, I am definitely interested to see where the Netflix series goes.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Astronaut (2019)

Going into space is not a cheap or easy endeavor.  It costs a lot of money just to get someone out of Earth’s gravity well.  Add to that the fact that it takes three days to get to the moon and another three days back.  (I realized once that the Apollo astronauts easily had the worst commute ever.)  Space travel has, so far, been the domain of governments.  We’re at a point now where a select few are rich enough to consider putting people into space.

In Astronaut, a billionaire by the name of Marcus has designed and nearly built a ship that could take people into space.  He’s even holding a contest to allow one lucky winner to come along.  Angus wants to be that one.  The only thing holding him back is that he’s in his late 70s and not in very good health.  That doesn’t stop him from trying.  His daughter and son-in-law have even put him in an assisted-living facility.  Angus enters the contest anyway, saying that he’s 65.  (Grandson Barney knows someone who can get him a fake ID.) 

If this were real life, Jim and Molly would have nothing to worry about.  Angus would have the nursing home and Barney to cheer him on, but the sheer number of entries would prevent Angus from actually becoming one of the 12 candidates for that seat.  This isn’t real life, though.  Angus is given the opportunity to present his case to become an astronaut.

The opportunity isn’t without setbacks, though.  He does have a medical issue while being interviewed.  He also notices an issue with the runway.  It just so happens that he’s an expert, but no one will listen.  After all, he’s just some crazy old guy who wants to go into space.  (So, here’s someone that wants to get onto a ship that may be too heavy for the ground it’s supposed to take off from.)

It’s not a very complicated movie.  The script is at the TV-movie level, and I wouldn’t even say cable TV.  This would be somewhere just above network television.  Angus isn’t overloaded with problems, but he has enough that you know he’s not going into space.  (He has two or three medical episodes during the course of the movie.)  He’s also saddled with debt from when his recently deceased wife bought a donkey farm, complete with donkeys.

So, there are really only two things going on.  Angus wants to go to space, which has one set of issues, and Angus wants to save the mission, which has a few issues of its own.  There aren’t many distractions, other than Jim being suspended from work for doing something stupid.

I wouldn’t say that the movie is depressing, but I could see where someone could make the argument.  No one likes being told that they’re too old.  Being sent to the Sundown Valley Manor probably doesn’t help matters.  The name is just depressing enough that you feel for anyone living there.  I suppose this is all the more reason for him to go.  He’s at a point where the alternative isn’t too appealing.

I can’t quite bring myself to recommend seeing the movie in theaters.  It’s good, but not good enough that I would spend $35 to take a few people with me.  For those wondering, I have AMC A-List.  I would have probably skipped this movie if not for that fact.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 8 (I, Mudd)

Harcourt Fenton “Harry” Mudd is an odd character.  He’s annoying, outlandish, conniving and opportunistic.  The character could easily have gone off the rails.  Roger C. Carmel did well enough in Mudd’s Women that he was asked to come back for a second episode called I, Mudd.

The Enterprise is commandeered by an android called Norman.  He takes the ship to a planet with over 200,000 androids and one human.  Somehow, Mudd came to live on that planet.  The inhabitants have been good to him so far, in that they’ve given him everything he could ever want.  The only notable exception would be a way off the planet.   That’s where The Enterprise comes in.  The crew is beamed down to the surface.  Mudd is told that he’ll be beamed down.

It isn’t until the androids start making modifications to the ship that their ruse is discovered.  Given Mudd as their only example of humanity, the androids have come to the conclusion that humanity needs to be tamed.  They will do so by serving humanity and making them complacent enough that they’ll need the androids.  The scary part is that it could work.  Of course, the humans are able to outsmart the androids.  Kirk gets his ship back and leaves Mudd to the androids.  Mudd can leave, provided that he becomes a better man.  However, it will likely be a rather long sentence.

This is one of those episodes that could only have worked in the context of The Original Series. The Next Generation-era shows tended to be more sophisticated.  Here, the androids are undone by simple logical paradoxes.  Spock claims to love one android and hate another android, despite the fact that they’re both the same model.  Norman, who acts as a controller, is undone by the liar paradox.  It’s all neat and orderly.

It’s also a bit odd that given a population of 200,000 androids that can create anything, no one thought to build a ship.  Their creators are long gone, but created a ship that could travel from the Andromeda Galaxy.  Mudd must have also had a ship.  How is it that they had to steal the Enterprise?

For that matter, how did Norman insinuate himself into the crew?  He would have had to have been transferred.  I suppose it’s no big deal for them to fake orders, but it’s still a lot of effort given that they didn’t really need a ship.  Even if you say that they needed a Federation ship, why not build an exact replica?  (For that matter, how did Norman get off the planet if they didn’t have a ship in the first place?)

It’s one of those episodes that becomes confusing if you start to think about it.  Given that the planet’s androids were so easily outmaneuvered, it’s hard to believe that a full-scale invasion would have worked.  It would have been a matter of time before someone would have figured out how to stop the androids.  If not that, then another race, such as the Vulcans, would have come to our aid.

The story is more about humans not being able to survive in captivity.  Even the best cage is still a cage.  There has to be some motivation to do better.  Even when Kirk leaves Mudd on the planet, he gives Mudd an out.  If he doesn’t want to stay there forever, he has to change his ways.

In a way, it’s a shame that more wasn’t done with the concept.  It’s conceivable that other similar outposts were located elsewhere in the galaxy.  I realize that The Next Generation couldn’t rely on The Original Series for too many episodes, but it would have made for a nice reference.  Maybe have an Andorian or Romulan mention finding a group of the same androids.  Maybe they’ll show up on Star Trek:  Discovery.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 7 (Catspaw)

Holiday specials aren’t that uncommon in television.  Doctor Who usually has a Christmas episode.  The Simpsons have their Halloween special.  I even seem to remember that The Dead Zone had something about Thanksgiving in one episode.  Star Trek even has its own vague Halloween-like entry with Catspaw.

The story goes that the Enterprise comes across an uninhabited planet.  When a landing party consisting of Sulu, Scotty and Disposable Crewman go missing, the ship is in a bit of a panic.  Disposable Crewman is beamed back to the ship, but collapses; Dr. McCoy pronounces him dead.  That doesn’t stop some strange voice from using the dead crewman to warn the ship to leave, or else a curse will be placed on the crew.

So, Captain Kirk beams down with McCoy and Spock.  They find a castle with two inhabitants:  Korob and Sylvia.  Sulu and Scotty are also there, both apparently zombies.   Sylvia first appears as a cat, but changes into a beautiful woman for Kirk to seduce.

Both Sylvia and Korob are part of some sort of advanced force to assess life in our galaxy.  They’ve set up the castle as something they found in the crew’s minds.  Why, of all things, the Halloween motif is anyone’s guess.  It appears that they missed the mark, in any event.  Korob to bribe Kirk only to be told that replicators have made gems worthless.  Sylvia tires to use sympathetic magic only to have Kirk and Spock figure out the source or their power.

Yes, this is a weak remake of The Squire of Gothos.  Instead of their parents or superiors coming to bail out the ship, Kirk is able to defeat the two aliens by himself.  Once their amplification device is broken, Kolob and Sylvia revert to some sort of puppet-like creatures, presumably their true forms, and would seem to die.

It’s hard for me to tell where the episode is going.  It would seem to be an exploration of fear, but not a very good one.  Neither Sylvia nor Korob would seem to pose a credible threat.  At least, they’re not a threat on the same level as Trelane.  They also don’t seem to do to much to try to sway the crewmembers.  The most they can do is turn someone into a zombie.  It’s not even clear what their endgame is.  Are they simply studying the inhabitants of our galaxy or is this a prelude to invasion?  If so, to what end?

I also find it odd that the episode would seem to be geared toward what humans find scary.  Even though Vulcans have repressed their emotions, they were once violent.  There must also be members of other races on the Enterprise.  How is it that everything is something a human might find scary?  And European, at that.  Uhura comes from Africa whereas Chekov is Russian.  Surely, each of their respective cultures must have different takes on what’s scary.  Whatever message there might have been is lost in the episode’s cheese factor.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 6 (The Doomsday Machine)

There were certain things about Star Trek that didn’t always make sense.  For instance, there were omnipotent or near-omnipotent beings that could have crushed the Enterprise, yet were eventually defeated.  There was also a planet that acted as a giant recreation area, yet came with no warning of how powerful the technology was.  Now, we get a gigantic planet-eating vessel of unknown origin built for some unimaginable mission.  It’s already killed the crew of the USS Constellation and left the ship itself in ruins and now threatens to do the same to The Enterprise.

When Kirk finds The Constellation, only it’s commander, Commodore Decker, is alive.  He’s not very responsive to questions, making it difficult to ascertain what happened.  From what Decker tells Kirk, he beamed his crew down to the surface of the third planet before the transporters gave out.  Kirk is quick to point out that there are only two planets.  It’s not until the giant Planet-Eater shows up that he fully understands what Decker’s talking about.

The thing is a long, huge cone with energy beams in the large end.  The opening is large enough to allow the machine to eat planets whole.  There’s no indication of where it came from or why it was deployed.  All anyone knows is that it will consume all of the planets in a system for energy before moving on to the next system.

Kirk and Scotty are trapped on the Constellation, leaving Decker to take command of the Enterprise.  Decker is intent on destroying the Planet-Eater at all costs.  Eventually, Scotty gets off, leaving Kirk to hopefully destroy the Planet-Eater.  All is saved at the last minute and the crew are off to their next adventure.

I have several questions about this episode.  The most obvious is why one would build such a large machine in the first place.  Kirk compares it to the nuclear weapons of our time.  Why would we have something that could render a large part of our planet uninhabitable?  Neither scenario makes much sense.

But why would you build a machine large enough to consume planets and set it off on a course that might come in contact with inhabited worlds?  In fact, part of the tension in the episode comes from the fact that the next system will be the most densely populated in Federation territory.  If you were out to kill an enemy, why not build the weapon there and make sure it stays there?  It seems like an awfully inefficient way to destroy your enemy.

Of course, I’m assuming that it was meant for that purpose, but I can think of no reason why you’d need a large machine that seems to exist only to eat planets.  But that’s another problem.  We have no indication of exactly what necessitated the machine.  It has no regard for life.  It has no clear purpose other than to consume planets.  It exists to give The Enterprise something to fight.  Kirk compares the machine to nuclear weapons, but a better analogy might be war in general.  War takes life and would seem to have no purpose other than to destroy.

The episode was followed up in a book called Vendetta.  I remember reading it decades ago and recall that it was designed to be a weapon against the Borg, which would make sense.  It’s still a little unsettling that it was just wandering the galaxy like that.  There are still easier, more efficient ways to destroy the Borg.

I will admit that there is a certain simplicity to the episode.  It doesn’t go off on too many tangents and doesn’t have a lot of characters.  This is likely due to budget constraints, though.   The Constellation is the same type of ship as The Enterprise, allowing the studio to avoid building new sets.  I’ve often wondered what Star Trek would have looked like had it been given a larger budget.

It’s a shame that the story was never got an in-series explanation.  It would have been perfect for an episode for one of the spin-off series.  Maybe the crew of Voyager would find another or the race that built it.  Even Deep Space Nine had access to a different part of the galaxy.  Maybe it was something designed by The Dominion.  There are so many possibilities with this episode.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 26 (Bottle of Dreams)

So, I actually made it all the way through the first season of Friday the 13th: the Series.  And how do they thank me?  With a clip episode.  I hate clip episodes.  I see it as an easy way to knock out an episode.  This entry into the history of clip episodes is no different.  Usually, it’s to save money, as clip episodes don’t often involve new sets.  Any new footage is filmed on existing, permanent sets and relies on segments of previous episodes for filler.

In this case, a mysterious man brings an urn by the shop while Jack, Ryan and Micki are celebrating.  Jack swears that the urn wasn’t in the registry of cursed items before, but it‘s there now.  Jack realizes that it’s a trick too late; Micki and Ryan are trapped in the vault, condemned to relive clips from six previous episodes.  These aren’t ordinary clips, though.  They‘re overly long and most of them appear towards the end of the episode, when the team got a cursed item back.

Jack calls Rashid, an old friend that might be able to help.  Fortunately, Rashid is in town.  He comes right over and tells Jack that the situation is dire.  Given information about the urn, Rashid informs Jack that Micki and Ryan are in a dream world .  The urn will use memories to scare Micki and Ryan to death if Jack and Rashid don’t intervene.  After a few failed attempts, Jack makes it through only to have roadblocks thrown up.  He makes it through to Ryan and Micki, saving them both.  With the threat over, they can go back to retrieving cursed items.

So, did I mention that I hate clip episodes?  I mean, it’s bad enough when you have a decent series.  Stargate SG-1 would do one every season, it would seem, and they were at least passable.  Most of the episodes feature in this clip episode weren’t that memorable.  That brings me to my next point:  There’s only one season to choose from.  It’s kind of early to do a clip episode.  One might be forgiven for pretending the first season had only 25 episodes.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 25 (What a Mother Wouldn't Do)

Friday the 13th: The Series had an interesting premise.  There are hundreds of cursed items out in the world, due to Lewis Vendredi making a deal with the devil.  When Lewis realized his mistake, his soul was claimed and the antique shop passed to his niece and nephew, Micki and Ryan, who are now trying to retrieve as many of the items as possible, with the help of Lewis‘s former business partner, Jack.   Many episodes were cheesy, but a few were fairly decent.

Take, for instance, What a Mother Wouldn’t Do.  Martin and Leslie Kent find out that their baby probably won’t survive and poses a significant risk to Leslie, should she decide to carry the baby to term.  The doctor’s advice is to abort the pregnancy, but she won’t hear any of that kind of talk.

While wandering around town, she pops into an antique store.  She’s greeted by none other than Mr. Vendredi, who notices her looking at a cradle.  She can’t afford it, but Lewis assures her that things have a way of working out.  Sure enough, some of Leslie’s friends buy the cradle and give it to her as a present.  At some point, Leslie finds out that the cradle has a very specific curse.

It was brought over on the Titanic.  While the ship was sinking, a mother tried to bring her child and the cradle onto a life boat.  When the other seven occupants refused, they all died, leaving the baby unharmed.  Thus, if the mother or a sick child were to kill seven people, a baby left in the cradle would be given perfect health.  The catch is that all seven victims have to die in a manner that involves water, such as drowning.

This puts a sick twist on the trolley problem.  Instead of killing one stranger to save three strangers, Leslie and Martin have to kill seven strangers to save a loved one.  Martin is distraught about it, but Leslie seems rather eager.  Given the opportunity to save a sick child, how could any mother just ignore it?

Many episodes end with the people using the cursed objects dying by the cursed objects, and this episode is no different.  Leslie kills Martin by knocking him into a fish tank before throwing herself into a fountain down below.  The baby is saved, but Micki, Ryan and Jack notice that  the baby is now missing.  They can only hope that the baby is safe.  After all, how would you report something like that?  Both of the parents are dead and a sick child is missing, although there’s no rush, as the baby is no well if she’s even alive at all.  (The child is shown to be safe and well, by the way.)

Overall, it’s a relatively good entry into the series.  It is a little bit fast and loose with the rules sometimes.  (It would seem that the death has to involve water, even if peripherally.)  We also have a few people who would seem to have died, only to come back.  I mean, if someone’s on to you, make sure they’re dead.  Don’t just dump them in a lake and assume they’re not coming back.  It’s your baby’s life at stake, after all.

I’m almost through the first season.  Given the varying quality of the episodes, I’m not sure about season two.  I may have to take a break before continuing.