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.

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Lion King (2019)

There was a line, delivered in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.  I don’t know that it was meant to be important, but it stood out for me.  As said by the Federation President, “Let us redefine progress to mean that just because we can do a thing, it does not necessarily mean we must do that thing.”  It could have been an insignificant part of a monologue, most of which we wouldn‘t get to hear.  Either way, there have been a few times in my life that have illustrated it perfectly.  The remake of The Lion King is one such example.

The 1994 version was an animated classic.  It was about a young lion, Simba, who watched his father die.  In reality, it was his uncle’s fault.  However, this evil Uncle, Scar, convinced Simba that Mufasa’s death was really the young boy’s fault, thus leading Simba to exile himself.  In so doing, he meets Pumbaa and Timon, a warthog and meerkat, respectively.  As an adult, an old friend, Nala, discovers that Simba is still alive.  She convinces Simba to return and overthrow Scar, who has taken over the throne.  Thus, The Circle of Life is complete.

This movie follows the same basic premise.  Many of the songs and lines are present in both movies, as are all of the main characters.  It’s a spectacle, to be sure.  I left the theater entertained, but I was asking one question:  Why was a remake necessary?   The Lion King was a great movie that will be remembered by many as such.  There’s no reason to do this other than to show off the CGI.  You could have done that with any movie.  You don’t need to remake a classic.

This isn’t to say it’s a total waste.  John Oliver stood out for me as Zazu.  (Between this and Wonder Park, Oliver seems to do well with voice work.)  It was also probably a given that James Earl Jones would return as Mufasa.  There were also bits of the animation that seemed to work well.  This doesn’t counter the fact that many of the other elements didn’t seem better than the original.  Scar, on the whole, was less of a villain to me than in the original.  He just didn’t seem as menacing.  Much of this had to do with the animation and isn’t meant to say Chiwetel Ejiofor did anything wrong.  After all, he does have Jeremy Irons to live up to, which isn‘t easy, given the role.

To me, this is the big problem.  The Lion King is enough of a legend that people who have seen both versions will constantly compare the two.  It’s almost impossible for this version to exceed that expectation.  Even if it were to hit every mark perfectly, it’s still not the original.  Simba truly does have a big paw print to fill.


Thursday, July 25, 2019

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 24 (Pipe Dream)

It’s been pointed out that Law & Order was unusual in that many of the characters didn’t have much of a backstory.  You might get details, like a character being married or having kids, but it didn’t make for a lot of continuity in the show.  The advantage of that was that you could easily pick up the show anywhere during the show’s 20-season run and easily follow it.

Friday the 13th: The Series was similar in that regard.  There was very little history given for the regular characters.  Jack Marshak, for instance, seemed to have exactly the right skills necessary for certain episodes.  Similarly, friends and ex-lovers were introduced as necessary and were seldom heard from again.

In Pipe Dream, we meet a man who has a pipe.  It’s a cursed pipe that kills people when used.  The resulting smoke surrounds the victim and causes them to disintegrate.  We soon come to find out that the man with the pipe is Ray Dallion, father of Ryan Dallion.  Ray has just used the pipe to kill someone and steal his idea for a new weapon.

Ryan is estranged from his father, but gets a wedding invitation, ostensibly from Ray.  It turns out that the invitation is actually from his soon-to-be-stepmother, Connie.  So, Ryan and Micki go up to visit dear old dad to find that he’s finally had a run of good luck.

After a while, the truth is discovered and Ryan has a choice to make.  He can either reclaim the cursed item or he can continue to mend his relationship with Ray.  Unfortunately, things aren’t that easy.  Ray has a secret to keep and the pipe helps him do that.  This eventually causes Ray to make a difficult choice.

This is the second episode in a row that features an item that simply kills.  Usually, someone gets something like money in return for killing.  Here, it’s more that the body disappears, leaving little evidence.  (I’ve always wondered what would happen if a case involving a cursed item went to trial.  It would be difficult to convince a jury what happened.)

There’s not much in the way of family history here except to learn that Lewis was apparently Ray‘s uncle, making Lewis a great-uncle to Ryan.  It’s also exactly what you’d expect between two family members who haven’t spoken in years.  It takes a trick to get them together.  They make some progress and have a setback or two.  In the end, it either doesn’t work out or there’s a little grudging progress.  There are usually indications that, at best, it will be years before the two speak to each other again.

There are only two more episodes left in this season.  I’m kind of wondering if maybe the writers and producers weren’t trying to maybe stretch it a little.  The first season had an order of 26 episode.  It looks like they just made it.  I’d say skip the episode, but if you’ve made it this far, you’d have to have a fair amount of stamina.  Part of the reason I’ve made it this far is that I’m borrowing the series on DVD from the library, which gives me time to space it out.

In all honesty, I had to go through three automatic renewals before I started watching this DVD, which started with the previous episode.  I’d like to watch and review the episodes before my current due date, as I  really don’t want to pay any overdue fines on the DVD.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 23 (Badge of Honor)

Russ Sarko is a decent enough police officer.  He’s fairly close to retirement.  That’s why it’s so difficult when he botches an raid.  He’s fired and told to clear out his desk.  Before he leaves, though, he finds a sheriff’s badge.

Now, if this weren’t Friday the 13th:  The Series, you would be forgiven for thinking that this was an ordinary badge.  No.  This is not an ordinary badge.  Lewis Vendredi made a deal with the devil to sell cursed items, all of which involve killing people.  This is one such item.  When the badge is touched to a person’s body, the person is killed.  The death almost looks like electrocution, but played at varying speeds.  When it’s over, the badge returns to the user’s hand.  Russ uses the badge to go after the people that killed his wife.

What makes this item unusual is that it’s the first item featured that is used solely to kill.  Many of the other items so far had some benefit, such as spitting out money or making a person younger.  In other cases, the item created a surrogate to carry out the murder, thus creating an alibi.  Here, the only benefit Russ gets is killing someone he wanted to kill anyway.  Plus, he has to touch the person directly, anyway.  I mean, it’s cleaner than shooting someone, but that’s about it.

This episode made me wonder if maybe they were running short on ideas.  An item that just kills isn’t very creative.  I think maybe they just wanted to do a cop-themed episode and came up with this.  The acting is about what you’d expect of the era, including an overacting captain.

The episode was a little strange.  First off, the effect for the deaths was kind of weird.  It looked like maybe they were experimenting with effects or something.  It didn’t really work.  Also, spoiler alert:  Russ keeps his dead wife in a separate room in his house.  All I can say is: Creepy!

I don’t think I’d include this in a best-of list for the series.  I can see where they’re trying some new stuff, but it doesn’t quite work out.  In a lot of ways, the series is all over the place.  Many episodes feature some new location or theme and this was one of them.  It’s almost like an anthology show with  regular characters.  One of the advantages of DVD sets is that you get all of the episodes.  If not for that, I’d say that the episode was worth skipping.

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. 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.