Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 2 Episode 2 (The Man in the Bottle)

Genie stories tend to be somewhat predictable.  Mere mortals make wishes and the genie either misinterprets the intent or deliberately gives the person something other than what they wanted.  Wishmaster did this well.  A djinn was granted unlimited power, but could only use it if asked.  He would then twist the wish to suit his own needs.  When he wants to escape from a police station, he uses a wish to make a suspect shoot people to create a distraction.

The Man in the Bottle has Arthur and Edna Castle finding a genie who grants them four wishes.  Arthur tests this by having the genie fix a broken display window.  When the genie obliges, Arthur’s next wish is for a million dollars.  The Castles give so much of it away that when the tax man comes, they’re left with only $5.

Arthur’s next wish is to be put in a position of power where he can’t be voted out.  The Genie puts him in charge of Nazi Germany as Adolf Hitler.  To make matters more pressing, Arthur finds himself in the bunker, ostensibly right before he’s to swallow his capsule.  Arthur uses his last wish to put everything back.  He even ends up cracking the display window again.

The episode sets up the premise pretty well.  The genie isn’t so much someone who grants wishes, but rather makes people realize what they have.  The story doesn’t quite bring it all the way to completion, though.  Yes, the Castles have bills to pay.  However, it doesn’t seem like they’re any better off financially, nor do they have any new prospects.  Yes, things could be worse, but they could also be better.

I suppose an argument could be made either way.  Giving the Castles money, even without the burden of a 90% tax rate wouldn’t solve anything.  After a while, they’d be right back where they started.  Then again, maybe they need more of a bump to get things going.  At least send them a customer or two.

I suppose everyone thinks of how they could reword the wish to get what they want, but the underlying fact remains that wishing for something is rarely the answer.  It might help you along for a little while, but the change has to come from within.

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 2 Episode 1 (King Nine Will Not Return)

Isolation was a theme that came up often in The Twilight Zone.  It was used in the very first episode, in fact.  When the second season started, Rod Serling apparently decided to return to a solitary person trapped in an otherwise vacant area.

Capt. James Embry finds himself next to the wreckage of his plane.  He knows that it’s his plane and that his crew should be nearby.  However, Embry also finds himself alone with no help and no way of communicating with anyone else.  He spends the next half hour wandering about, wondering why he’s there and what he can do about it.

As with many Twilight Zone episodes, one character carries the bulk of the episode.  Many of the better episodes had just enough of the supernatural that you could almost buy it.  There’s also that twist ending that makes us wonder how much of it was real.  Here, not so much.  I mean, we know that it has to be a delusion or a dream.  Right?  People don’t just magically find themselves in the middle of the desert.  And there is a plausible, realistic explanation for it all, except that one hint that maybe it isn’t.

It occurred to me that having the series be an anthology might have been a blessing.  For starters, a viewer could easily pick up in the middle of a season.  Marathons could be aired out of order with little consequence.  Also, could you imagine one character having to go through all of these problems?  This would have to be the unluckiest person in the world.  Then again, there’s no real hook.  We never find out what becomes of Capt. Embry.  I suppose whatever issues he had would be worked out eventually.  He’d get over whatever put him in the Twilight Zone and move on.

It’s a good episode, even if it is similar to the first one.  There is a certain amount of predictability, but the series is still bale to pull it off.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The OA (Season 2)

I’ve been thinking about what level of spoilers I want to put into this review.  On the one hand, talking too much about Part II would reveal a lot about Part I.  If you haven’t seen the series at all, it might be unfair to ruin the experience.  (Note that I will be discussing the first part here, so be warned if you haven’t seen it yet.)  It would also entail a lot of reading.

On the other hand, it’s not the kind of show where spoilers would necessarily turn you off.  The first part was known for being a bit supernatural.  If you’ve seen it, you’ve probably already made up your mind whether or not to come back.  I will say that the show has turned up the strangeness, leaving behind any doubt as to the nature of the storyline.  (If I mentioned that one episode featured a telepathic octopus, would you even care?)

I imagine that there are a few people that have forgotten about The OA.  Part I was released December 16, 2016.  Part II was released a few days ago on March 22, 2019.  We’ve been hearing hints and rumors during the intervening years, hoping that the new episodes would live up to their predecessors.  If you let your Netflix membership lapse during that time, you might want to consider renewing.  Part II has taken the story to the next level.

It starts right after the end of the first part.  However, the first half hour deals with Karim Washington, a private investigator that was hired to find a missing teenager.  It isn’t until the second half that we get any continuity.  Prairie finds herself on a ship, having some sort of chest pains.  She wakes up in a hospital to find out that her name is still Nina Azarova.  (She was adopted by the Johnsons and renamed Prairie.)

She comes to realize that she’s in an alternate dimension, where many of the same people exist.  Joe Biden is the president, for instance.  Hunter Aloysius "Hap" Percy is there, too, and it’s the version of him from the main dimension.  So, her story was real.  And several characters made it over.  So, what does that mean for getting back?  That much, I don’t want to give away.  It is discussed, but is a minor point.  Instead, it focuses on the mysteries of an unnamed game and a strange house meant to guard psychedelic spring water.

In case you may have been on the fence for Part I or reading about the show for the first time, Part II seems to have refined the writing a bit.  It is a much better narrative that doesn’t really drag as much.  There’s no ambiguity.  We know what’s going on.  It takes on the metaphysical aspect head on.  Instead of asking if there’s another dimension, we wonder what that means.  There’s even a traveler who has been to many dimensions.

This isn’t for someone who likes simple stories.  This isn’t Law & Order or the Hallmark Channel.  This is full-on Twilight Zone/Outer Limits stuff.  (Did I mention the telepathic octopus?)  I would recommend starting from the beginning.  I do recommend it for people who are looking for something different.  Netflix took a risk on such a strange show and it paid off.  I look forward to Part III.  Unfortunately, we’re left with another ambulance-chasing cliffhanger which promises to be interesting.  I just hope we don’t have to wait another 2½ years for it.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

There’s something about the future these days where it usually involves humanity’s downfall.  It’s odd how many movies have the planet’s population technologically worse off and a lot smaller than it is today.  In Alita: Battle Angel, there seems to be one city left.  There aren’t many people living there and the ones on the ground (Iron City) seem to live in relative squalor.  However, there is a great city in the sky (Zalem) where the people have it good.

It’s the 26th century.  The residents of Iron City produce goods for those in Zalem.  Many live in hope that they my get to move up, but that sort of thing doesn’t usually happen.   In fact, the only way to get up there is to be the best a roller derby-like competition.

Enter Alita, or what’s left of her.  Dr. Dyson Ido finds her head in a scrap heap.  By head, I mean a cybernetic skull and face with a human brain.  Amazingly, the brain has suffered no damage, despite having been there for who knows how long.  Dr. Ito is able to attach the head to a robotic body and revive her.  Unfortunately, she has no memory of her past life.

The movie comes across as the first part of a larger story.  The movie is based on the first few of a series of books.  Even if I didn’t know that, there would seem to be too many loose ends and not enough of a resolution.  Alita wants answers about her past.  We also never get to see much of Zalem.  (Everything is a wide shot and is usually from below.)

Comparisons to other movies aren’t undeserved.  Whenever I saw Zalem, I thought of Elysium.  The big difference is that we don’t actually see how the people live above.  The entire movie takes place on the ground.  The movie sets up a sequel and I have read that more movies are planned, so we probably will get to see Zalem at some point.  Still, having a population that’s divided based on class is nothing new.

The entire movie seems to be a vehicle for the 3D format.  I’m not saying it wasn’t entertaining, but it seemed to rely more on the visuals than the narrative.  In fact, I probably would have been disappointed if the movie wasn’t setting up Part II.  There are too many unanswered questions, like where Alita came from or how she managed to survive 300 years without a body.  This would seem to be the first act of a larger plot rather than a self-contained story.

I do think it’s a good start and is worth seeing in the theater.  I just wouldn’t go in expecting it to be like other movies.  In this regard, I think it’s a little unfair to compare it to other movies.  It does seem to be setting up a larger experience.