Saturday, February 23, 2019

Behind the Curve (2018)

Of all the conspiracy theories out there, flat Earth seems to be the hardest for me to accept.  With the anti-vaccine theories, Stuff is being injected into your child’s body.  It’s natural and understandable to be concerned.  However, there’s a point where I accept that the medical establishment knows what it’s doing and the specter of the threat of autism is outweighed by the fact that we no longer had to worry about polio and smallpox.

However, we’ve sent probes up into space.  We’ve sent people up into space.  We’ve seen the curve.  Granted, it’s a small group that has actually seen the curve, but people have seen it.  I have to ask why NASA and other agencies would perpetrate that kind of hoax.

To be fair, it’s easy to look from the outside and ridicule.  Behind the Curve does present those that believe in a flat Earth without trying to judge or ridicule them.  Most of the people seem to be regular people that have a belief outside mainstream science.  The documentary focuses on Patricia Steere and Mark K. Sargent, who have done videos about flat Earth.  Both would seem like normal people.

There are those that are more hard core about it.  One person even accuses Steere and Sargent of being CIA shills.  (Yes.  A flat-Earther accuses others of the same mind of being in on the conspiracy.)  However, most of the people in the documentary are much less emotional about it.

The documentary doesn’t really offer much in the reasoning of a flat planet.  I’ve often wondered why we can’t see the entire planet if it’s flat.  Couldn’t I see Toronto or Tokyo from Miami if there’s no curvature?  Much like the Spirit Level Flight Experiment video, much of the ‘evidence’ would seem to be anecdotal.  It lacks the rigor and structure that science has.  Those that say, “Do your research” seem to think that a Google search would replace centuries of trial and error.

The flat-Earth theory seems to be a self-reinforcing delusion in which contrary explanations are dismissed.  I’m not really sure how a flat Earth theory would explain things like time zones and eclipses or even gravity.  Would something fall off the edge of the Earth?  If the Earth is flat, then why are other planets round?  I’ve never had a really satisfying answer to any of these questions.

There’s a part of me that wants to let people believe what they want, assuming it doesn’t hurt anyone.  Vaccines do provide herd immunity and protect us from outbreaks, so not getting a vaccine can hurt people unnecessarily.  Then, there’s a part of me that feels like the whole thing is maybe a little backwards.   It seems like there’s so much evidence that the Earth is round and so little that it’s flat.  If it were flat, wouldn’t there have been some sort of major revelation?  Wouldn’t someone have found the edge by now?  A conspiracy seems like an awful lot of effort for something like this.

IMDb page

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Cold Pursuit (2019)

I think that, at this point, Hollywood should just get it over with and release a film called Not Another Liam Neeson Movie.  Actually, this movie would have been a good candidate for that name.  Here, Neeson plays Nelson Coxman.  He’s told that his son, Kyle, died of a drug overdose.  Like most parents, Nelson and his wife, Grace, never saw any signs of addiction or use.

The funny thing is that Kyle wasn’t a user.  Nelson eventually finds someone involved with Kyle’s death.  This leads to two things happening:  Nelson kills the person and gets another name.  This leads to Nelson finding and killing the rest of the people involved, leaving Trevor 'Viking' Calcote.  Viking is the nearly untouchable leader of the local drug cartel.  Of course, that means that Viking will meet an untimely end and that Nelson will somehow be involved.

The movie is a remake directed by Hans Petter Moland, who also directed the original.  You might be forgiven for thinking that it was directed by the Coen brothers, though.  It’s not quite a comedy, but it’s not serious enough that you can take it seriously.  Every time someone dies, for instance, a title card pops up announcing it.  Add to this that many of the bad guys have nicknames like Speedo and The Eskimo.

I also noticed that Nelson murders quite a number of people, yet never gets a drop of blood on his clothing.  He gets blood on the wall of a bridal shop, but never on his clothing.  For that matter, it would seem to be very easy to get away with murder where he is.  We don’t even get one of those scenes where someone walks in on him or he’s pulled over by the police and the officer almost opens the trunk of the car.  He’s in a bridal shop and yet no one walks in on the act.  He fires several shots and no one turns a head.

There are several things I would tell a potential audience member.  First, don’t bring the kids.  I think that should be obvious by now.  Second, don’t expect too much of it.  It’s a straight-up revenge movie.  It doesn’t seem like the script tried to deviate too much from that.  Nelson only wants to kill those who killed his son.  Grace is the one to show any sign of emotion over the loss of Kyle.

I can see people liking it and I can see people not liking it.  The movie wasn’t exactly what I expected, but I was able to see it with AMC’s A-List.  I think had it not been for that, I would have waited for it to come out on DVD.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

What Men Want (2019)

Every so often, I see a TV show or movie that makes me think that there are no original ideas left.  I ask myself if we’re almost at the point where it will be impossible to write a script that doesn’t borrow heavily from something else.  A few years pass and something else comes up.

To be fair, I don’t get the impression that What Men Want is presenting itself as anything new.  It’s a remake of What Women Want, except the genders of the main characters are reversed.  Instead of a man being able to hear women’s thoughts, a woman is able to hear men’s thoughts.

Ali Davis is the woman who gains psychic powers.  She’s a sports agent that wants to make partner.  Unfortunately, she doesn’t quite get how to connect with men.  This is a problem, since most of her coworkers are male, as is the big star her agency wants to recruit.

As is usually the case with newfound thought-reading abilities, the inability to control the ability proves too much.  Ali is hit with all manner of male thoughts from getting a prostate checked to the usual lewd thoughts.  She’s scared until she realizes that she now has an in.  She can sneak into the secret card game that no one wants her to attend.  She can read the mind of Jamal Barry, the would-be client.  She can even read the mind of her hot neighbor with the patently adult nickname.

Ali wants to get an edge only to realize that many of the men are just as worried and insecure as she is.  The movie plays the concept for laughs, though.  There’s a doctor with a drug habit.  Ali is able to get two male coworkers together.  She even takes the lead at a meeting to recruit Jamal.  Stuff like that.  If you’ve seen the trailers you’re going to be in for absolutely zero surprises.  There’s even a case where Ali lies and it comes back to ruin a potential relationship.

Most of my problem with the movie is that it wasn’t as nuanced as it could have been.  Even if say it’s a comedy, jokes tend to be better when there are several layers of meaning.  Here, there’s very little that you could understand differently on a second viewing.  It’s a fun movie, but I don’t think there’s going ot be a lot of replay value here.  I’d wait to rent it on DVD.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 29 (Operation - Annihilate!)

Star Trek could be a little inconsistent at times.  This was most notable in The Original Series.  Most episodes were commentary on some sort of issue.  Many were about war.  Some were about power imbalance or racial intolerance.  A few were a little harder to figure out.  Take Operation - Annihilate!  (Yes, there’s really an exclamation point at the end of the title.)  A swarm of pancake-like aliens has attacked Deneva.  It’s not only a Federation colony, but it’s where Captain Kirk’s brother, Sam, lives.  (Sam happens to have a wife and child to add to the tension.)

By the time the Enterprise gets there, it’s too late.  The colonists are already infected.  However, one colonist is in the final stages of piloting a ship into the system’s sun.  His final words are that he’s free.  On the planet, a horde of colonists attack the landing party.  When Kirk checks in on his brother, Sam is already dead.  Kirk’s sister-in-law, Aurelian, is acting irrationally and her son, Peter, is comatose.

Aurelan is able to tell Kirk that the pancake-like creatures use humanoid hosts to build ships to get to the next system.  It’s implied that the Federation, or at least Starfleet, knew about the pattern of civilizations disappearing.  The ship is able to come up with a solution to cure the planet in time, as the next planet has over a million inhabitants.  (It’s implied that someone knew the pattern before the organisms attacked Deneva.  Even if no one knew the cause, why not show up in advance of the problem?)

The previous episode, The City on the Edge of Forever, was a great episode.  It’s a shame to have followed it up with this one.  My big problem is that the subplot of Kirk’s family seemed unnecessary.  One would think that it’s enough that the planet is facing the crisis.  You could have any child affected by the organisms.  There’s no need for it to be the captain’s nephew.

On that note, that angle is never followed up on.  I don’t recall any of the later series having a relative of Kirk on board.  You’d think at some point, someone would have been Kirk’s great-grandnephew or something.  Nope.

Another thing I noticed was that the aliens went in a straight line.  There was no mention of the aliens spreading out.  If they have a concept of space travel, you’d think they’d split into two or more groups to increase their odds of survival.  Reproduction of the organisms isn’t discussed.  For that matter, this is another angle of the episode that’s not followed up on.  (For all I know, they do split off.  If that were true, you’d think that there’d be some mention of it happening elsewhere.)

This was the final episode for the show’s first season.  I’m kind of wondering if they needed one more episode and found this script lying around.  It’s not terrible.  It’s just that it doesn’t really seem to have the impact that other episodes had.  It’s just a case where the Enterprise has to deal with an enemy.  There’s little talk of morals or ethics.  They have to find a way to protect the next planet if they can’t at least protect this one.  I just wish I knew what to make of it.

IMDb page

Monday, February 18, 2019

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 28 (The City on the Edge of Forever)

Star Trek was known for generally not revisiting things.  Useful technology would pop up only to never be used again.  An episode might deal with a very personal issue which, while not resolved by the end of the hour, isn’t dealt with again.  When this happens, it usually raises the question of why.  This was especially true of Voyager, which was looking for a way home.  When something useful came and went, we were left to wonder why it was never explored.

There were a few rare cases where it was obvious why the show wouldn’t want to revisit something.  Take City on the Edge of Forever.  The Enterprise discovers something that can allow people to travel to any point in any planet’s history.  One could understand why the subsequent live-action series would never visit the planet.  (Interestingly, this one time when something was revisited, in this case for The Animated Series.)

Imagine a large, misshapen torus that glows and can speak.  The Enterprise finds itself caught in its wake.  While the ship is shaking violently, Dr. McCoy accidentally injects himself with a drug that makes him crazy.  Before he can be caught, McCoy beams down to the planet where The Guardian of Forever happens to be.  Not only that, McCoy manages to put himself fairly close.

What is The Guardian?   It’s not machine nor living being, but it is sentient.  It’s its own beginning and its own end.  Kirk and Spock are told that they could go to any planet at any era in that planet’s history.  It doesn’t  allow for an exact moment, which makes things difficult when McCoy jumps through.  Not only does he change history, but there’s no way to send someone back to the exact time of place that McCoy landed.

Spock had been recording The Guardian‘s display, which makes things easier.  Still, when Kirk and Spock go through, they could find themselves a year before or after McCoy.  The best they can hope for is to get as close as they can, preferably a little early.  They have only The Guardian’s assurance that they’ll all be returned when history is set right.

Kirk and Spock come out in New York City in 1930.  They eventually find their way to the 21st Street Mission, where they meet Edith Keeler. This is fortunate for several reasons.  She not only sets them up with work and a place to stay, but she happens to be the focal point of whatever McCoy did.  Thus, it’s no surprise when McCoy happens upon the same 21st Street Mission, where he meets the same Edith Keeler.  All becomes clear and Kirk is able to put history back the way it was.

This was one of a handful of Original Series episodes that I remember liking throughout the years.  I’m also not alone in this assessment.  It tends to make a lot of lists of favorite episodes.  It’s funny because I’ve always had a few issues with the episode.

The big one that stood out for me was that someone in the past dies and there seems ot be no consequences.  The character’s name is Rodent, which I’m assuming is a nickname.  He had the unfortunate luck to pick up McCoy’s phaser and shoot himself.  Not only was it questionable that McCoy even hade a phaser, no one mentions it later on.

Not only that, but when McCoy, Spock and Kirk return to their present, the Guardian tells them that history has returned to its original shape.  Is this to say that Rodent was supposed to shoot himself?  The only theory I can come up with was that the Enterprise was supposed to stumble upon the Guardian’s planet and that McCoy was supposed to go into Earth’s past.

Sure, it’s possible that Rodent had no effect on history.  He was a homeless man that most people might have ignored.  It’s even possible that he was supposed to die around that time, anyway.  But why even include the scene?  This episode was said to have had a lot of rewrites.  It’s possible that this was a holdover from an earlier draft.  It’s also possible that it’s a way of saying that you can’t go back into the past without consequence.  However, McCoy is the only possible witness and he was under the influence of drugs.  And, as I said, The Guardian implies that there were no real consequences.

Speaking of The Guardian, what is it he’s supposed to be guarding?  Yes, he’s in the middle of a civilization’s ruins.  I would imagine that there was some sort of building and/or support staff that would have aided in guarding literally all of history.  But the structure is called The Guardian, meaning that there should be some sort of measure to prevent basically anyone from changing history.  The Guardian not only realizes that the landing party is mostly human, but identifies itself and offers up human history without being asked.  Starfleet and The Federation are temporarily wiped from existence as a result.

One could argue that whoever or whatever built The Guardian knew enough to trust that the universe wouldn’t be wiped from existence due to a civilization’s carelessness.  Granted, it did almost happen, but any race smart enough to make it to a distant planet should be smart enough to realize what’s at stake.  This is the one time I can forgive The Next Generation-era shows for not revisiting something from The Original Series.  (I would have like a nod, though.  Maybe have someone mention that The Guardian is too dangerous to use.)

One thing that gets me with the alternate timelines is whether or not the adventure still exists.  I’m assuming that the original timeline still exists after the movie reboot split off.  Still, Voyager and The Next Generation each have their own adventure that might not have happened.  It’s enough to give me a headache.  Maybe I should just stop here.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Kid Who Would Be King (2019)

I’m not sure what I really expected going into The Kid Who Would Be King.  I knew it was geared towards children, but I have A-List now and it’s not costing anything for the ticket.  So, why not?  (Also, the coming attractions showed Patrick Stewart.)

You could probably tell by the previews that the movie is about a child named Alex who finds Excalibur in a stone and becomes the next King Arthur.  At his side is his faithful friend, Bedders.  The two of them are often squaring off against the school bullies, Lance and Kaye.

Things get interesting when a new student shows up in Alex’s class.  It’s actually Merlin, who has come to train Alex.  Unfortunately, Merlin got the timing wrong.  He thought he had four years to train Alex.  Instead, he has four days.  No rush.  It’s just that Morgana is going to take over the planet when the upcoming eclipse occurs.

They say that the difference between a comedy and a drama is that in a comedy, no one dies.  The biggest thing that stands out for me was that Alex, Bedders, Lance and Kaye had four days to train.  They recruit the rest of the school, who gets a whole two hours of training.  The good guys suffer no casualties.  Sure, they wreck the teachers’ cars.  They also seem to make a mess of the school.  But not so much as a stubbed toe among what would appear to be several hundred students.

As an adult, I find it just this side of obvious what the message is.  It’s not about killing your enemy.  In one way, I suppose it is.  As Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”  Alex does this with the two bullies.  On the other hand, it’s more about finding your place and some skills to go with it.  Alex and Bedders aren’t ones to be taken seriously.

The movie would seem to be aimed at those in middle school.  There are some battles with actual demons, which would be unnecessarily scary for younger audiences.  The problem for older audiences is that it may seem a little boring.  It’s not exactly as nuanced as one might expect.  I think most adults watching this with children might spend most of the movie looking at the clock.  Fortunately, the target audience seems to be about that age where you might reasonably be able to leave them at the theater by themselves.

IMDb page

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Miss Bala (2019)

I’d like to think that people go to movies for a thought-provoking narrative.  Certainly, some moviemakers would spin their product that way.  A person grows as they go on a harrowing journey where they make life-long friends and discover themselves.  The audience even learns a little bit about themselves or a different culture.

But who am I kidding?  Give us a trailer with some attractive women and an explosion or two, and we’ll buy tickets.  Take Gloria Fuentes, an American who grew up in Mexico.  She’s visiting her friend, Suzu, to help her win a beauty pageant.  Gloria is a makeup artist, which helps.  Suzu has to impress the local chief of police at the local night club.  (He would seems to be able to fix the pageant.)

Armed gunmen enter the nightclub, chaos ensues and Gloria barely makes it out alive.  Suzu isn’t anywhere to be found.  You’d think at this point, the movie would have Gloria go through some elaborate plot to find Suzu.  Maybe she even meets someone who can help her.  If you’ve seen any movie, you know not to go to the police.  You especially don’t go to the police when you know that the chief is the least bit corrupt.

When Gloria goes to a local police officer and explains everything, the police officer takes her straight to the same gunmen that shot up the night club.  They take her passport and ID and have Gloria drive a car to a building.  (This is the scene from the trailer, wherein she blows up the safe house.)

This draws the attention of the DEA, who would flip Gloria into helping them take down the gang.  Sure, they could help find Suzu.  It’s the same offer that the gang made.  What the DEA have as leverage is the ability to lock her up and/or leave her to the gang, who might very well kill her.  So, yeah.  Gloria has no options.

There’s a part of me that would like to have been around while the movie was being written.  I’d like to know the thought process.  I get that Gloria doesn’t know the area that well.  I would think that she would have had at least one other person to turn to, even if it was one of Suzu’s family members or friends.  Instead, she does the one thing that most people in her situation should have at least thought about avoiding.  (At least keep information to a minimum.  If your primary objective is finding your friend, don’t offer up the fact that you can identify the criminals.)

Another bothersome aspect is that there are basically three main groups of people:  Beautiful women, corrupt police and gang members.  I wouldn’t think this is something Mexico would want to be associated with.  Well, the first one is debatable.  No one likes being called ugly, but women should have more to offer than their appearance.  Either way, I don’t think I’d want my country associated with violence, drugs and kidnapping.

On the bright side, there are some really good action scenes.  We get a few gun fights and whatnot.   There’s also the explosion.  With all the death and destruction, though, there’s not much for the kids.  Oh, and the drug references.  Like I said, corrupt police and gang members make up a good portion of the movie.  Yeah.  I’d leave the young ones at home.  Even with teenagers, this is a movie you’re probably going to have to have a discussion on the way home.  It’s a watchable movie, but it doesn’t make for a very good message.

Monday, February 11, 2019

On the Basis of Sex (2018)

You wouldn’t think of a Supreme Court Justice as being popular.  Sure, they may get some news coverage during the confirmation hearings, but that’s generally it.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg seems to have gotten a lot of attention in the movies lately.  There was a documentary about her last year.  She got a mention in Deadpool 2.  She even had a cameo of sorts in The Lego Movie 2.

Before she was on the Supreme Court, she was a lawyer.  Before she was a lawyer, she was a law student in a class of almost all men.  She had to face the challenges one might expect.  The dean of Harvard Law, Erwin Griswold, thought she was wasting a space that could have gone to a man.  Once she graduated, she was offered all manner of excuses as to why she shouldn’t be hired.  So, she’s relegated to teaching about law rather than practicing it.

At least she has a supportive husband.  No, seriously.  Marty Ginsburg brings her a case wherein Charles Moritz was denied a $296 deduction related to caring for his elderly mother.  The reason?  He’s a man who has never been married.  Had he been a woman or a widower, he would have gotten the deduction, no problem.

Some might say that it’s not worth fighting.  Even Moritz needs a little convincing.  ($296 in the early 1970s would probably translate to about $1800-$2000 in today’s money.)  To Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it’s about the principle.  Moritz was denied a deduction on the basis of sex.  That’s not right.  Winning this case would set a precedent for other, similar cases.  No pressure.  Right?

Well, the other thing she has going for her is actual skill.  She doesn’t have the experience, but her husband is willing to help her.  She also has another lawyer helping her, which makes for a strong team.  We get the fumbles and setbacks and everything.  In the end, the good guys win and Mr. Moritz gets his deduction.

The movie does a good job of showcasing Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  I think this has to do with balancing her with the supporting characters.  If you focus too much on the main character, it can become too intense.  If you try to work in too many additional characters, it can become a circus.  Instead, the movie focuses on the story and how Ginsburg had to work that much harder because she was a woman.  (She not only did her own coursework at Harvard, but helped with Marty’s when he was sick.)

I’ve often wondered if the sexism was really that bad.  In this case, I’m inclined to think so.  I know that lines are put in for the sake of storytelling, but there was a time when women weren’t welcome in law.  When Griswald has a dinner for women, he almost seems aware of the sexism.  He asks the women why they would want to take a man’s place.  It should come as no surprise that she eventually transferred to Columbia.

It’s hard to believe that something like this went on except that it still does.  (How can you graduate first in your class and still not be able to find a job in your field?)  I’d say that maybe husbands and boyfriends would be dragged to see the movie except that it does have a popular and powerful main character.

It also does a good job of illustrating the disparity.  When you’re the beneficiary of discrimination, it’s easy to justify it and put it out of mind.  It’s easy to say, “Oh, yeah.  The wives would be jealous,” when you’re saying it to someone who has no recourse.  There is a scene with a cat call, but the movie does do more than that.  I don’t think this is a movie you should feel like you were dragged to.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

First Man (2018)

There were 17 missions named Apollo.  In addition to these, there were 12 Gemini missions, all in low-Earth orbit, all as a way of testing what would be needed for the lunar missions.  There have been all sorts of movies made, like Apollo 13.  Other motion pictures, such as Hidden Figures, have brought the support staff to our attention.   This isn’t even getting into miniseries and books.

It occurred to me while watching First Man that it‘s impossible to capture all of it in one movie.  In fact, the movie left a lot of it out, focusing on Neil Armstrong.  It caught me off guard.  Then, I remembered what the name of the movie was.  A movie called First Man should focus on Neil Armstrong.

The movie starts in 1961 with Armstrong testing an X-15.  Upon attempting reentry, he bounces off the atmosphere, but is able to get everything under control and return safely to the ground.  Regardless, he finds himself grounded.  He’s distracted, and with good reason.  His 2-year-old daughter is being treated for a brain tumor.  No one can do anything and it’s weighing on him.

The movie moves forward to major events, starting with his applying for the Gemini project.  Throughout, there are major historical events, like the Soviets beating America to several milestones.  Several fellow astronauts die, which doesn’t sit well with his wife, Janet.  (It’s not easy to see her husband and father of their two children go into space, knowing how many unknowns there are.)

Being that this is based on historical events, I’m not going to worry about spoilers so much.  The movie doesn’t rely on any sort of shock value, nor does it play up any sense of tension.  Plus, Armstrong lived until 2012.  Saying that he makes it back to Earth isn’t ruining any part of the experience.

It’s somewhat difficult to get my head around the scope of it all.  The movie does convey that people didn’t make it home safely.  Apollo 1 didn’t launch due to an electrical fire, killing all three occupants of the craft.  Wives have to deal with the reality of their husbands not coming home.  Even when everything goes right, it’s not over until they walk through the door.

There is also a muted feel to the movie.  There are arguments, but it’s not uncomfortable.  There is excitement, but it’s not overdone.  There’s a very even pace and tone throughout.  I’m not sure that it’s necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not good, either.  It seemed like the movie was stripped down to just the facts.  I will say that there was a decent flow to the movie.  It seemed long, but it didn’t seem boring or jerky.

I’m not sure that any one project could do all the space missions justice.  Even to focus on one mission, like Apollo 11, would have to cover a lot of ground, including all the research that went into it and all of the people that were involved.  Even a miniseries would be hard pressed.

There is a value in watching it, though.  I could see people of high-school and college age watching it.  It would be interesting to see the opinion of those that lived though the 1960s and know more about it.  As I’ve indicated, I’m sure that there’s a lot that was left out.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man (2018)

Working at Wolf Camera, I came across a few famous names.  One customer was married to the grandson of Franz Kafka.  (She was surprised that I recognized the name.)  Another was an actress who had appeared in a lot of Spanish-language television. 

There was one story that sticks out most in my mind.  It was during the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas when the store was really busy.  We had more customers than we had employees, which meant that people had to wait.  As I’m helping someone, I see who I think is Tony Soprano milling about.  I want to give my full attention to the person I’m helping, but I can’t help but glance over.  Unfortunately, we were so busy that he ended up leaving without being helped.  That was the time that I almost met James Gandolfini.

The experience of meeting a celebrity can vary.  Some are nice.  Some aren’t.  They tend to be regular people going about their business, which makes for a normal assortment.  Then, there are celebrities like Bill Murray.  He’s almost taken on an Elvis-like aura.  People have seen him at parties.  He’s done dishes.  The first one I heard had him taking a French fry and saying, “No one will ever believe you.”

Tommy Avallone got the idea to make a documentary.  This is how widespread the stories are.  It’s not an easy task, though.  Bill Murray has no agent.  He has a phone number with an answering service that he might occasionally listen to.  (It’s not clear if Avallone made the documentary with Murray’s consent, as the director is not shown having contacted the actor directly.)

You’d think one man making this sort of documentary wouldn’t be interesting, but it is.  It doesn’t have the glitz and polish of a big studio, but it does have a story to tell.  This is probably due in no small part to the fact that Bill Murray is a fairly recognizable name.  There are a few documented events shown and the majority of the people present knew who he was.  Despite this, everyone had a good time.  He even crashed someone’s wedding photos.

The documentary paints Murray in a fairly good light.  I’m sure there’s another side to him, but it’s also kind of nice to hear a good story.  Most stories I hear of celebrity encounters tend to be negative.  (Celebrities seem to have their fair share of bad people.) 

This would make for a good movie to watch when you need something a little different.  While there are interviews with a lot of people, it’s hard to believe that all the stories are true.  It does also appear that Avallone was sticking to the stories that had some sort of verifiable documentation.  The wedding photographer has the photos, for instance.  There are also cases with grainy video footage.

I hage to seem unenthusiastic about the movie, but I think this is going to be mostly for fans of Bill Murray.  It’s a good movie and I think most people might find it at least a little interesting.  However, I don’t see this being something of general interest.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

2036 Origin Unknown (2018)

WARNING:  I’m going to discuss details that will probably spoil the ending.  If you’re not into that, you might want to hold off on reading this review.

It’s been said before that there are no new stories.  Every book or movie you might come by is simply a different version of some other story.  The settings and characters may change.  Usually, a writer is good enough to come up with enough new details to entertain the reader.  At the very least, one wants to avoid making it look like an obvious rehash of some earlier story.

Take 2036 Origin Unknown.  I wouldn’t be the first person to draw comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey.  You have a few human characters dealing with an AI that comes across as just a little suspicious.  There’s a mission to another planet.  The AI is given some control over the mission, which worries at least one of the humans at some point.  Oh, and the ending is really confusing.

The main human is this case is Mackenzie ‘Mack’ Wilson.  Her father was lost on a mission to Mars.  Now, she works at a secret location as part of a secret mission to explore Mars and maybe figure out what happened.  When I say part of, though, she’s working primarily with ARTI, an artificial intelligence that’s been given a great deal of control.  In fact, ARTI has replaced most of the humans.  (Aside from Mack, only a few guards seem to be present at the secret ground-control location.)

Instead of a monolith, Mack and ARTI find a strange cube on Mars.  It has writing on it, which ARTI could identify, except that access to the database of strange symbols has been restricted.  The monolith seems to be made of nanites and would seem to be of alien origin, except that it might be of human origin.  It can also teleport itself to Earth in an instant.

Much of the movie seems to want to make you think about things.  For instance, what role would AI have in our lives?  Would it be our servants or our equal?  How long before it would replace us?  This takes the form of some banter between Mack and ARTI.  (Mack points out that ARTI might have one the Nobel Prize, except that he’s not human.)

The movie started out with a good deal of promise only to look like something that was slapped together.  First off, the AI is called ARTI.  This isn’t something one of the characters calls the program offhandedly.  This is the actual name of the AI.  We see ARTI on a wall.  If you want lazy writing, there’s lazy writing.

Also, ARTI came up with some sort of hyperlink signal that allows for instant communication, regardless of distance.  ARTI is at a loss to explain how he did it, as his memory has been wiped.  Oh, and his origin is also hazy.  It would seem that ARTI programmed himself.  At least, that’s what I gather.  Are we to gather that he just came into existence?  Is he his own Alpha and the Omega or something like that?  (If you understand it, please leave a comment.)

Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, the movie left me with a few questions.  Where they differ is in the fact that I really wasn’t as motivated to think about them.  It would seem that the entire narrative takes place in a simulation.  (I knew that instant communication was too good to be true.)  The movie doesn’t say who is running the simulation, though.  Is it aliens?  Is it ARTI?  Did ARTI or aliens subdue humans?

This wasn’t even one of those movies where I things occurred to me hours or days after I watched it.  It sort of faded from memory.  I’d say that I could go back and pick up new things on a second viewing, but I think I got most of it the first time.  I think that the movie could have been so much better.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019)

Making a sequel means walking a fine line.  How do you capture the magic of the first movie without doing a remake?  To be, again, yet to not be again.  That’s the problem.  The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part almost gets it.  In fact, I can see a lot of people being polarized.  You’ll either think it was a natural successor to the first movie…or not.

The Second Part picks up five years after the evens of the first movie.  (If you haven’t seen it, you’ll probably want to.  Certain aspects of this movie will make more sense.)  The Duplo invaders have all but laid waste to Bricksburg.  Anything new is destroyed shortly after it’s built.  Nothing is awesome anymore.  Wyldstyle is brooding at the loss of her former life, although Emmett is still as happy and clueless as ever.

Enter General Sweet Mayhem, who kidnaps Batman, Wyldstyle and three other characters.  They’re to be taken to the wedding of Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi.  Being that the queen is a Duplo creature, this can’t happen.  Emmett decides to go after them and stop the wedding.

Like the first movie, the Lego plot is the result of real-world events.  We discover that the story was created by Finn, who was controlling the Lego pieces.  The Duplo characters were controlled by his sister, Bianca, who was seen as an invader.  The Second Part continues this dynamic.

At first, this may seem like an oversimplification, especially considering that both siblings are now five years older.  However, the movie does make use of it with some skill.  Sure, you’re going to see some things coming, like Ar-mom-ageddon.  This doesn’t mean the movie can’t be fun.  I’m not saying the script will win any awards.  Rather, I would advise you to not take it too seriously.  The movie doesn’t even seem to take itself that seriously, which works to its advantage.

When we walked out of the theater, one viewer found it to be confusing.  It’s possible that he didn’t see the first movie, but there were also a lot of references to other movies, such as Back to the Future and Aquaman.  The dialogue can come at you in rapid succession at times and it may be a little difficult to keep up if you’re not expecting it.  Overall, I found it easy to follow.  Then again, I was able to catch a lot of the references.  (I don’t think it will be a problem for most people.)

I would say that this is definitely one of the better sequels.  It doesn’t rely on the original movie too much.  Rather, it does seem to follow the first one, much as a sequel should.  It also has a slightly different message than the first.  If you’ve seen the first movie, I think the coming attractions should give you a good idea of whether or not seeing The Second Part will be worth your time.

(For those wondering, A few of us theatergoers stayed past the credits so that you don’t have to.  There was no post-credits scene.)

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018)

It’s strange to think of how inventions can change things.  Movies by mail or kiosk wouldn’t be possible without the invention of the DVD.  (When I was your age, we had these things called VHS tapes…)   Then, Internet speeds became fast enough to allow for streaming.  Not only were we able to watch movies on a whim, it allowed for a different kind of movie.  The concept of choose your own adventure isn’t new.  It was a popular line of books back when I was in elementary school.

I keep meaning to watch Black Mirror.  That’s why when Netflix released a stand-alone movie called Bandersnatch, I thought I’d take a look.  It was basically a Choose Your Own Adventure movie.  I was a little nervous because Choose Your Own Adventure books had multiple endings.  Paths didn’t cross back on themselves, so this meant that I might be watching the movie several times.  The movie is actually closer to the Time Machine books.  There’s only one true ending.  If you make the wrong choice, you have to go back and make the correct one.

The story follows Stefan Butler, a 19-year old in 1984.  He wants to program a game based on his favorite book, called Bandersnatch.  You start off with two basic choices, neither of which seem to affect the game.  (You have to choose your breakfast cereal and which tape to listen to on the way to a meeting.)  Then comes an important choice.  Mohan Thakur offers to produce and distribute the game through his company.  Do you accept?

To give away the plot would be pointless for two reasons.  First, there’s so much of it, it would be impossible.  It also wouldn’t be fair, as that’s the whole point.  To give you an idea, I’ve read that not making a choice (or making all the right choices) will make for a 40-minute run time.  Given a moderate number of ‘wrong’ choices, you could expect somewhere around two hours.  Supposedly, over five hours of footage were recorded for the title, so you could be there for a while, depending on how you decide.

If you don’t have NetFlix and are think of signing up because of this, I should warn you that you may not be able to watch this on your laptop.  I have an ancient desktop and was told that I’d need to use another device.  Fortunately, my iPhone was up to the task.  I’m not sure about devices like Roku, but Bandersnatch will display a special icon if the device can play it.

I would imagine that this has to do with the technology that allows you to make a choice.  You are given two choices at the bottom of the screen.  On the iPhone, I tapped my selection.  You’re supposed to use the remote if your device has that for input.

Despite Choose Your Own Adventure books being marketed towards children, Bandersnatch is much darker.  It involves things like drug use and murder.  Even the book Bandersnatch has a morbid origin story.  Also, Stefan slowly descends into madness.  He begins to question what reality is.  He has a very nominal awareness of the fourth wall in that it exists.  He just doesn’t know where it is.  (This leads to a nice bit of self-referential humor if you don’t go straight to the credits.)

This movie isn’t going to be for everyone.  I can see a lot of people my age going in for the nostalgia.  We grew up on those books and on the video games of that era.  We remember titles like Zork.   This is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book written for adults.  In that regard, I would suggest watching it alone the first time.  As I mentioned, the fun is in making the choices.  Each choice has to be made in ten seconds, so it’s not the kind of thing you can discuss.  Given the amount of footage, I would say that it’s possible to watch again, so watching it with a group might be fun the second time around.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Vice (2018)

My mother asked why someone would make a movie about a vice president.  That’s how seriously the job is taken.  I was trying to find a joke to lead off this review, but I think that’s the best lead I can find.

Then again, this is Richard Bruce Cheney we’re talking about.

He’s been called a lot of things.  I don’t imagine most of them were nice.

The movie’s timeline starts with him being pulled over for driving under the influence of alcohol.  That and a fight land him in jail, meaning that his wife, Lynne, has to bail him out.  She puts it to him to clean up his act.  He promises to do so, and does he.  This doesn’t get him back into Yale, but he does go into politics.

This leads to another turning point.  As an intern, he’s given the choice to work for a Democrat or a Republican.  After seeing Donald Rumsfeld speak, Cheney knows who he wants to intern with.   The two work well together, leading to more turning points and decisions.

The movie is said to be based on the true story, but I think the actual narrative falls somewhere between satire and sarcasm.  I got the impression that certain parts weren’t literally true.  (Take, for example, a claim that Cheney won the Iron Man competition.)  When his name is floated as a possible contender for president, he turns it down.  Part of it is that he doesn‘t want to expose his daughter to media attention because she‘s a lesbian.  It also doesn’t help that his odds of being elected put him two spots below Dan Quayle.

You do get the sense that Cheney is not a nice person.  The line goes that power corrupts, but Cheney may have been corrupt already.  He was just looking for the next opportunity.  When presented with the possibility of being vice president, Lynne won’t hear of it.  It’s a nothing job.

Sure, it might serve as a springboard to the presidency.  (From the 1980 election until 2008, either the sitting President or Vice President sought the office of President.)  Still, Vice President?  Instead of turning it down, Cheney looks into how he can make the job to his own liking.  It’s like Anakin Skywalker being trained in The Force.  It’s just a matter of time before he becomes Darth Vader.

I will say that the casting is spot on.  To see Cheney, you don’t even realize that it’s Christian Bale.  When you see George W. Bush, you’re not thinking of Sam Rockwell.  Sure, Steve Carell is a little obvious as Rumsfeld, but that’s actually forgivable.  (Having seen pictures of Runsfeld, I would say that Carell is a pretty awesome choice.)  Even having Jesse Plemons narrate the story was the way to go.

So many things come down to random events.  Imagine if Cheney hadn’t flunked out of Yale.  Suppose he hadn’t married Lynne.  What if Rumsfeld hadn’t spoken to the interns that day?  It would make for an interesting alternate-history story.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Escape Room (2019)

Most stories operate on the premise that you’re supposed to care about the characters.  At the very least, you should have some connection with the protagonist.  I don’t think that anyone involved with Escape Room got that memo.  Six people are trapped in a series of rooms, each one a puzzle.  Solve one puzzle and they find themselves in the next room.

Each person is different.  Zoey is a student that‘s rather shy.  Ben is a stock boy who can’t seem to catch a break.  Danny is a huge escape-room fan boy.  Jason is a trader.  Amanda is a war veteran.  Mike used to be a miner.  Each one was given a box with an invitation to the escape room.   Whoever survives will be given $10,000.

At first, the contestants assume that they won’t actually be killed.  Who needs that kind of a lawsuit, much less six of them?  Danny meets his demise in the second room.  I reveal this for two reasons.  First, it’s that kind of movie.  This isn’t some big team-building exercise where everyone remains friends for years afterwards.  People are going to die.  The second reason is that Danny’s death didn’t have the emotional impact that I’d expect.

Part of this is because I knew it was coming.  (Most of the movie operates as a flashback.)  Another part is that Danny isn’t really set up as a character I cared much about.  He’s that annoying, super hyper guy that’s enjoying it way too much.  It’s not that I wanted to see him go.  It’s more that it was a horrible way to go.

This also applies to most of the subsequent deaths.  Anything I felt was about not wanting to be in that situation more than not wanting to see the person die.  (You feel bad for the people, but not really.)  There’s no real tension.  There’s just the expectation that at least one person will make it to the next room.  There’s not even the longing for the reveal.  We get that it’s kind of a sick person who would do this.  All we have to do is wait until the end to get the all-revealing monologue.

I definitely think the movie could have been done better.  Only Ben and Zoey have any real growth during the movie.  None of the characters play well off of each other except that they were probably meant to bicker.  We don’t even get that much back story except to explain what they all have in common.

I would have thought that the worst thing you could call a movie was uninspired, but I was wrong.  This movie is derivative of other movies without learning anything from them.  They say that all stories borrow from other stories, but you have to improve on it.  Give it a new context that makes it more enjoyable.

This didn’t do that.  Some of the scenes were entertaining, but I didn’t walk out of the theater really liking it.  I can’t even recommend waiting for it on DVD.  If this movie came on television, you’d probably do better changing the channel.

Monday, January 07, 2019

How to Operate Behind Enemy Lines (1943)

Everyone has had to see an instructional video at some point in their lives.  It might have been for work.  (I think there’s an old Blockbuster video floating around Facebook.)  Maybe it was in school for your health or phys. ed. class.  Even the United States Government made a few.

Back before we had the CIA, there was the OSS, which stood for Office of Strategic Services.  They were the agency that sent spies out into the field.  Before you could become an undercover asset, you might have had to watch this film.

It’s pretty basic in every regard.  It shows two students as they’re being deployed into the field.  Student Al is the better student.  Al follows all the rules and pays attention to detail.  His cover story isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough that a changed detail or two is enough.  Student Charles is less than perfect.  He knows his stuff, but is too confident.  He’d rather be hitting on the pretty barmaids than doing his job.

The movie also shows other spies, like one who tries to use outdated currency.  Another spy is caught when he uses hair grease that’s nearly impossible to come by.  It’s not meant to impart all of the important information.  Rather, it’s meant to give a brief review.  It might help a future spy make sense of their training.

There appear to be two different versions of the movie.  One was called How to Operate Behind Enemy Lines.  It was subsequently edited into Undercover, which might also be called Undercover:  How to Operate Behind Enemy Lines.  I’m not entirely certain what the difference is.  (I think it’s that Undercover is framed by an introduction and an end scene.)

I don’t think that this will be making any general-interest must-see lists.  I think it’s going to be limited to students taking classes and former OSS spies showing their kids or grandkids what they did for a living.  The fact that it’s public domain will make it easy to come by.  I found it on Netflix, although I imagine you could find several thousand copies on YouTube.  The fact that it was once classified means that the information is probably no longer totally relevant.  I’m sure that a current video would be a lot better and go more in depth.

(Note:  I'm not entirely certain which version Netflix has.  Since they list the year as 1943, I'm going with How to Operate Behind Enemy Lines.)

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Aquaman (2018)

I remember watching Heroes and thinking how awesome the superpowers were.  People could fly or read minds.  Everything was extremely useful.  No one had a really crappy superpower.  Some of them came close towards the end.  But, there was no one that had, say, the ability to press clothing as their power.  It’s like, “Great.  Hiro can travel through time and Claire can regenerate.  On the bright side, at least I never have to buy an iron.”

I kind of wonder if Aquaman started out as a conversation along those lines.  Don’t get me wrong.  Being able to talk to fish might be cool and all, but I think the novelty might wear off after a while.  I’d also never be able to enjoy salmon again.  I went into the movie wondering what the most recent take on the character would look like.

It looks a lot like National Treasure.  Think about it:  A man of important lineage has to go on a hunt for a special item/set of items while being chased by a bad guy.  If he gets the item, which we know he will, it will alter the course of events, presumably for the better.

That’s basically it.  If you’ve seen the coming attractions, you know the plotline.  Aquaman, a.k.a. Arthur Curry, was born to a land-dwelling father and a sea-dwelling queen.  He eventually has to reconcile his aquatic heritage by defeating his half-brother.  To do so, he must find a special trident.

Sure, there are some great fight scenes and the CGI was at least halfway decent.  (Although, there were a few shots that looked a little off to me.)  Still, it wasn’t a great movie.  It was almost like it was written by a brooding teenager.  The movie wants to be taken seriously, but anyone trying to take the movie seriously is like, “Nope.”

One thing that kept bothering me was Arthur’s trident.  What’s wrong with the trident?  It has five points.  Aren’t tridents, by definition, supposed to have three points?  Every time I saw it, it stood out.  I think it was supposed to look cool or something.

That was the thing. The movie seemed to be all show and spectacle.  There seemed to be very little substance.  The movie was an excuse to string together scenery, CGI and fight scenes.  It was enjoyable, but it was the least enjoyable of the superhero movies so far.  I’m kind of hoping that if Aquaman comes back to the big screen, it’s part of the Justice League.  It’s going to take a while to write a better standalone movie for him.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

The Mule (2018)

Earl Stone is not a nice person.  He’s the kind of father that would skip out on his daughter’s wedding to talk with strangers.  It’s not that he couldn’t make it.  It’s that he didn’t even bother.  He seems to like his flower business and the attention that it brings more than family.

Years later, both his marriage and his business have dried up.  His house is in foreclosure and other businesses moved to the Internet.  Again, it’s not that Earl couldn’t keep up.  He just didn’t seem to think the Web was going to pan out.  Enter someone who knows someone who needs drivers with clean records.  Being that Earl is an old, white male, he’s perfect for the job.

As you might infer from the title of the movie, Earl is given a package to hide in the back of his old pickup truck.  The friendly guys at the garage want to make a compartment, but Earl won’t hear of it.  He has them just throw it in with the rest of the stuff back there, assuming no one will think twice about it.  (He’s right.)  Earl is told to park his car at an arranged address and leave it there for an hour with the keys in the glove box.  He returns an hour later to find $10,000 in cash, which he uses to get his house out of foreclosure.

If you’re familiar with drug use in movies, you may have heard the claim, “I can quit any time I want.”  Earl can quit any time he wants.  Except that he doesn‘t.  He could certainly use a new truck.  Then, his VFW post needs renovations after a fire.  So, Earl moves more product, which earns him more cash, which gets attention from the cartel’s management.

Earl seems like he knows what’s going on.  To an extent, he’d have to.  Except that he doesn’t.  When picking up a delivery, one of the guys at the garage gives him an address that happens to be where the drugs are going after he parks the car.  Earl decides to go there directly on a whim.  He is either really bold or really stupid.

He seems to be the only one that doesn’t seem to care how things will end for him.  He’s getting the money he needs.  He’s also getting the attention he wants.  He’s even invited to a party with beautiful women who seem very friendly.  (This is the one scene where your kids might actually cover their own eyes.)

I’m not sure what to make of the movie.  On one level, it’s very cliché.  You have someone that’s prone to making bad choices.  He’s more than eager to sign up for more, though.  It’s not until the end of the movie that he really reforms, but it’s too late by then.

There’s also the drug cartel that does things exactly like you’d expect.  They move large amounts of drugs and have lots of money to throw around.  They’re even perused by an agent that wants to make a name for himself.  It’s just a matter of time before everything comes tumbling down.

There’s also a sense that the movie was supposed to be more than that, but I’m not sure exactly what.  Was it supposed to be funny?  There are a few scenes that would play on stereotypes, but it’s hard to read them.  I could see them meant as a joke or as some sort of message.  When Earl’s handlers are stopped by police, Earl is able to get rid of them by claiming that the two other men are his employees.  It shows how Earl can take advantage of white privilege quire easily.

It’s based on a true story, but not all true stories make for good narratives.  It’s hard to say that the movie has potential.  It could have been done better, but I’m not really sure how.  That’s how low-key it is.  The movie went for such a deep level of subtle that the plot went into a coma.  I wonder if anyone other than Eastwood would have gotten the movie made.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 27 (The Alternative Factor)

Some science-fiction stories are heavy on the science.  Others are heavy on the fiction.  Either you rely on science to explain things or you use science as a backdrop to differentiate it from pure fantasy.  The Alternative Factor would seem to lean towards the latter rather than the former

The episode starts with existence winking out for a moment or two at a time.  The Enterprise traces the cause to a planet, where they find a man named Lazarus.  Mr. Lazarus is chasing a planet-killing monster.  He’s chased this monster across all of time and space.  What does this monster look like?  We soon find out that the monster looks exactly like Lazarus.

You see, both versions of Lazarus come from different versions of Earth, each in a parallel dimension.  It’s not clear if those universes are products of our own, as both men come from the future.  However, only one can exist in our universe at a time. If both meet, they annihilate each other.  One is said to be matter while the other is antimatter.  I suspect that this is meant not to be taken literally, as antimatter doesn’t need to meet its exact opposite to have a destructive reaction.

It’s the goal of one Lazarus to trap both of them in a corridor between dimensions.  If this happens, the two of them will fight each other for eternity, but both universes will be safe.  (It’s not clear why they won’t annihilate each other in the corridor or what they’ll do for food.)  However, they do end up in the corridor and all is well.

I think this may be one of those episodes where the story got lost in the message.  Both versions of Lazarus look the same.  One acts crazier than the other, but it becomes harder to tell which is which towards the end of the episode.  That may have been the point, though.  We’re always the sane one in any argument.  It’s the other guy who’s crazy.

The episode seemed a little rushed.  Take, for instance, the effect when the two Lazaruses switch places.  It looked like one of those animations where the newspaper comes up to reveal a headline, but is reversed before we get the text.  And what, exactly, is this blinking out of existence?  The episode could have been better.