Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 2 Episode 8 (The Lateness of the Hour)

One of the sad truths of Hollywood is that if you don’t get the ratings, you don’t get the cash.  In some cases, this means cancellation.  In other cases, it means episodes are made on a shoestring budget.  In the case of Star Trek, it meant both.  (The series was cut short, despite having to do many episodes entirely on the Enterprise during the third season.)

I would imagine that The Twilight Zone was never too good with the ratings.  The show has become a cult classic, but it was still a fantasy series when westerns were big.  Consider that it aired years before Star Trek, a show that was similarly considered different and groundbreaking.  Both shows also had a great many episodes that had one or two sets and a very limited cast.  In an effort to cut costs, Rod Serling was forced to shoot six episodes on videocassette, this one being the first.

The story is about an older couple and their daughter living entirely in their mansion.  All their needs are met by androids.  The Loren family wants for nothing.  Well, except the daughter, Jana.  Jana wants a little imperfection.  She wants to go outside and live life as normal people do.

What good is it to live in a sterile environment if it’s not fun or challenging?  She also seems to resent having artificial helpers.  She pleads with her father to get rid of them, finally threatening departure if he doesn’t.  It isn’t until after he’s destroyed them that she makes a startling realization.

Several things stand out.  First, I have to wonder how the parents could live like that without going stir crazy.  The daughter already seems to be at her wits’ end.  The parents see quite content.  It would seem that they’ve had enough of humanity.  They much prefer a controlled environment, including controlled people.

This brings me to my second point.  At some points, the parents would die.  I would imagine that Jana would no longer be obligated to stay in the house after they’re buried.  If this is the case, she would not be prepared to live on her own.  Even with a certain amount of counseling, she’d lack job experience.  I would imagine that if the estate could support three people, it would be enough for one, but I don’t think Jana’s the kind of person to sit around all day.  It’s also still possible that the money would run out, given inflation.

I would say it’s a testament to Serling and Co. that the episode came out as well as it did.  It’s a fairly contained episode that gives the obligatory twist at the end.  In that sense, it’s still satisfying.  It’s just that this is one of the episodes where a bigger budget might have helped.  Due to the video quality and a little overacting, it almost comes across as a soap opera.  It would be interesting to see what would have become of the episode with some more money.

Monday, April 29, 2019

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 2 Episode 7 (Nick of Time)

I remember reading once that if you removed the star signs from the newspaper’s horoscopes, most people wouldn’t be able to know which one was meant for them.  This is how vague they are.  If you take a step back, how could a set of vague sentences accurately guide the lives of roughly 8% of the population?  There are roughly 327 million  people in the US.  Do you really think that your horoscope can really be that effective for about 25 million US residents?  What about those living in the rest of the world?

Don and Pat Carter find themselves in a similar situation.  They’re passing through a small town when their car breaks down.  The mechanic has to order a part, leaving the newlyweds to explore the area.  They start with lunch in a diner, where they find a small fortune-telling napkin holder.  You can ask any question you want for a penny, provided that it calls for a yes or no answer.

Don is intrigued.  He starts with something simple:  Will he get the promotion he applied for.  The fortune teller responds that it has been decided in his favor.  When Don calls, he finds out that it already has.  One might chalk that up to a lucky response.  So, Don asks other questions with similar outcomes.  When asked about the car being fixed, Don is told that it has already been taken care of.

The answers are vague, but seem accurate.  Thus, Don becomes obsessed with the contraption.  Pat has to be the voice of reason, pulling him back from surrendering control.  What Don fails to realize is that the cards spit out by the machine were probably printed long ago in some factory somewhere.  Much like a fortune cookie or daily horoscope, the person writing the message is doing so for someone they will never even meet.

Most people can take a fortune cookie or horoscope as entertainment.  Even if you believe in such things, I don’t imagine that you’d live your life by either one.  You take it for what it is:  an inspirational message, at best.  For Don to make decisions based on what a simple machine says makes any outcome meaningless.  What good is a fixed car if Don won’t leave the diner?  What good is a promotion if it’s in another city?

There comes a point where you have to step away and accept that you don’t have all the answers.  The true measure of success isn’t in always being right or knowledgeable.  Instead, it’s how you handle what you don’t know and dealing with things that you don’t get right the first time.  Pat realizes this.  What does it matter knowing where they’ll live if they can’t enjoy it?

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Breakthrough (2019)

There’s a scene, early in the movie, where we see a Christian band performing.  Rather than keep it brief, it goes on just a little too long.  All I could think was that it was time to move on to the next thing.  This proved to be a pretty good analogy for the rest of the movie.  Everything about it is just a little too much.

The movie is based on a book, which was an account of a true story.  The book was written by Joyce Smith about her son, John, who fell into a frozen lake and was pronounced dead.  He makes a full recovery because of Joyce’s faith in the Christian God.  There are a few scenes where this is done subtly.  Tommy Shine, a paramedic trying to get John out of the water, hears a voice that he initially assumes to be his boss’s.  When his boss denies it, it must be God.

Many scenes are more blunt.  When Joyce is allowed to see John’s body, she starts praying.  Right when she asks for His help, John’s heart starts beating.  Coincidence?  It’s probably not that simple.  Between the fact that John’s mother wrote the book and the fact that Hollywood is known to embellish a little, I would think that there’s more to the story.

I would come down harder on Joyce except that the movie does well in portraying her as a mother in grief.  I get that she’s dealing with the possible loss of her son.  My issue is that religion is the only mechanism that she has to deal with that stress.

When Joyce overhears doctors talking about the reality of John’s condition, she forbids any such talk in his room.  When friends and neighbors are gathered in the waiting room Joyce overhears someone telling their daughter that John’s might not make it.  Again, she forbids any negativity.  (Fortunately, Brian calls her on this.)  Instead of religion being a powerful force, it could easily be seen as a crutch.  It’s like that saying: If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Consider something called survivorship bias.  Dr. Garrett indicates that he’s never seen someone that far gone come back.  How many of those other patients had family members and friends praying for them?  Maybe we’re to believe that Joyce is just better at it.  It’s because of her sheer willpower that God let John live.

One might say that this was all a way to let Joyce shine and show her faith.  She gets to tell everyone that God will take care of it.  Maybe it was to show her to tone it down a bit.  She is at odds with a lot of people, including the pastor.  It’s easier for me to believe that it was all random.  To put that much stock in faith undercuts the work that medical professionals do.  John is lucky to be alive and to have parents that love him.  I just don’t think that God was ever part of it.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Terminator (1984)

The Terminator was my introduction to bootstrap paradoxes.  It was the first time that an action was caused by another action that subsequently necessitated the first action.  If John Connor hadn’t been born, he wouldn’t have led the resistance that took down the machines.  That victory caused the machines to go back in time to kill Sarah Connor before John Connor was born, meaning that Kyle Reese is sent back in time to not only protect John Connor, but to ensure he exists in the first place.  Yes, the correct decision would have been to just kill Kyle Reese or to not go back at all.

I’d elaborate on the story, but there’s not much to add.  Humans handed over the world to machines, who took that power and tried to kill the humans.  When the humans won, time travel was the last-ditch effort.  The movie is about two humans trying to survive against a nearly unstoppable machine.  The result is that Sarah Connor knows what’s coming and is able to prepare herself and her unborn child.

Sarah becomes a great reluctant hero.  The future of humanity literally hinges on her being convinced that the end is coming.  She has to protect and train our future leader. (Kyle Reese has the ultimate Cassandra complex, which he passes on to Sarah Connor to exhibit in the second movie.)

It’s interesting that The Terminator became so well known.  By today’s standards, the effects are kind of basic.  (In fact, the reason the sequel took so long to be released was due to the necessary effects not having been invented yet.)  Even Arnold Schwarzenegger’s catch phrase, “I’ll be back” was just some random throwaway line.

I did notice a few clichés, such as detailed records not existing in the future.  It occurs to me that a computer network that has access to all manner of files should have been better able to keep records.  It must have been embarrassing that no backups were kept nor were any printouts made.

Also, there’s the adversary that can mimic anyone, meaning you can’t trust the person at the other end of the phone.  So, what does Sarah do?  She calls the Terminator and gives away her location.  You’d think a machine designed to track someone would just use conventional tracking methods.  Yes, it’s easier just to ask.  Still…

Of course, there’s the one cliché common to all of the Terminator movies, in that a hopelessly outmatched hero takes on and defeats an incredible villain.  No matter what Kyle throws at The Terminator, he keeps coming.  It takes heavy machinery to eventually stop the onslaught.  (This, of course, brings us to the second movie’s bootstrap paradox:  Skynet was based off of technology that it would eventually send back into the past.)

It is nice to know that the franchise is still going strong, with another movie on the way.  It’s hard to believe that the franchise spans so man decades. Consider that in another ten years, we’ll be in the future where Skynet was dominating.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Back to the Future (1985)

Note:  I will be giving away important details.  If you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t blame you for wanting to watch it before reading this.

It seems odd that Back to the Future would be considered a great film, yet it is.  Someone pointed out that the main character, Marty McFly, ends the movie the same way he began it.  He also has a lot of less-than-stellar people surrounding him.   The father, George McFly, is a loser and Biff’s yes man.  His mother, Lorraine McFly, is an alcoholic.  Both of his siblings, Dave and Linda, seem destined for low-end jobs.  That’s not even getting into Uncle "Jailbird Joey”.

He has two things going for him:  Girlfriend Jennifer Parker and best friend Dr. Emmett Brown.  It’s not clear why Doc and Marty are friends or how they met.  However, Doc seems to be a failed scientist.  Every invention he ever made didn’t work.  In fact, a strong case has been made that he’s suicidal.  (If you watch the video, be warned that it’s not safe for work.)  This is why it’s surprising that Doc is willing to test a brand-new time machine.

Not only does he test it, but it works.  He shows off the controls to Marty, demonstrating with several important dates.  The last one he puts in is November 5, 1955.  This is the date that Doc Brown invented time travel, or rather, the flux capacitor.   It provides the necessary 1.21 gigawatts of power necessary to propel the DeLorean through time.  Alas, before Doc can do any traveling of his own, the Libyans catch up with him.  (Don’t judge.  He had to get his plutonium from somewhere.)

Marty is able to escape to 1955, but soon discovers that it’s a one-way trip.  In the rush to avoid a machine gun, Marty neglected to take the spare plutonium with him.  He’s able to find Doc in 1955 and get back home.  The catch is that he has to wait a week, during which he interferes with his parents’ first meeting.  He does get them back together with some interesting consequences.

When I first saw the suicidal Doc theory, I have to admit that I found it interesting.  There were a few things that I missed, like what exactly was Doc doing hanging a clock in the bathroom?  Also, why hadn’t Doc done any sort of small-scale test on the DeLorean?  Really?

I tend to look at it another way, though.  If the suicide theory is true, Doc does eventually get his wish.  It’s a shame that he finally has a working invention right before his demise, but he does die.  When Marty goes back to 1955, Doc finds out that he has a working invention, giving him thirty years to think about it.  He heeds Marty’s warning and chooses to use a bullet-proof vest.

The argument could be made that Marty is a good influence on those around him.  Not only does he make life better for his family, but he gives Doc something to live for.   (Sure, Doc always had something to live for.  It just took Marty to show him.)

I remember reading once that Back to the Future was odd in that Mary didn’t really learn anything.  He did seem to inspire things in others.  In fact, there was some question as to whether the parents knew who Marty was in the altered time line.  We know that Doc did, as he was in on it.  Marty introduced himself and explained everything.

I would say that Lorraine probably didn’t.  Marty didn’t have much interaction with her.  In fact, of all the people Marty interacted with in both 1985 and 1955, the only person Marty dealt with less was Mr. Strickland.  On the other hand, Marty had to deal with his father to help train him to be more assertive.

To that end, we see three people on the cover of George’s book.  There are the two teenagers, presumably representing a George-like and a Lorraine-like character.  Between them is none other than Darth Vader of Vulcan.  To say that Marty made an impression on him is an understatement.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 2 Episode 6 (Eye of the Beholder/A Private World Of Darkness)

There are certain situations where spoilers should be withheld.  There are others where spoiler warnings are unnecessary.  This is a case where I don’t feel bad about giving away major details, as most people should be able to see the twist coming.  It’s almost impossible for me to review this episode without at least hinting at it, even if subconsciously.

You see, Janet Tyler is undergoing her eleventh attempt at corrective surgery.  This is her last chance.  If the bandages come off and she’s still abnormal, there are few alternatives left for her.  All of the characters, including the doctors and nurses, spend the beginning of the episode either in the shadows or blocked from the camera’s view so that we can’t see their faces.

When the bandages come off of Janet’s face, we see a beautiful woman.  The norm is a warped, pig-like face that we would consider hideous.  This society, wherever it is, values conformity.  It values standard people with a standard look.  Janet doesn’t fit the bill, so she’s to be sent to live with others of her kind.  The hospital even brings in a man to ease her into the transition.

When I first saw this episode, I took it at face value, if you’ll pardon the pun.  Ours is a species that values attractiveness.  What attractiveness means is subjective, but we can be cruel to those who don’t have it.  Sure, Janet will still be able to live a productive life.  She just won’t be able to do it with normal society.

It wasn’t until I started reading about the episode that I picked up on other details, like the fact that she’s basically being set to a ghetto.  When the episode ran in syndication, it was called The Private World Of Darkness.  (The alternate title plays on not only the lack of light in the beginning of the episode, but on the fact that darker skin tends not to be viewed as desirable.)

There’s a reason that this is one of the most iconic episodes of the series.  There are subtle jabs at segregation and race that would still have meaning today.  Appearance shouldn’t matter, but it does.  It’s as relevant now as it was in 1960, almost 60 years ago.  We don’t even need to know if the characters are human or not.  It doesn’t really matter.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 2 Episode 5 (The Howling Man)

The original Twilight Zone had a very stripped-down feel to it.  Granted, this was out of necessity, as the network often didn’t want to spend a lot of money on any given episode.  This meant just a few actors and usually one or two sets per story.   Some were effective.  Others, not so much.  The Howling Man was one of the better episodes.  It has only five main characters and gets its point across effectively.

It’s told in retrospect about (and by) a man named David Ellington.  He was walking across Europe shortly after World War I.  Trapped in a rainstorm, he sought shelter in a sanctuary that tried desperately to turn him away.  As David started to leave, he collapsed from exhaustion.

You might ask why the brothers at the sanctuary were so desperate to be rid of visitors.  The reason is the character credited as The Howling Man.  Brother Jerome tells David that this is no ordinary man and that his imprisonment is necessary for the benefit of all mankind.  David is just as suspicious as you or I might be, and with good reason.  The prisoner appears to be just an ordinary man.  Maybe a little crazy, but that’s to be expected. He comes across as desperate to get out of his cell.

Well, David makes the mistake of releasing the prisoner only to find out that he’s made a huge mistake.  The episode ends with David telling his housekeeper that he’s captured the prisoner and is going to make arrangements to have him transported back to Brother Jerome.  No amount of narration of warning is enough to prevent the prisoner from being released again.

The reason that the episode is so effective is that we get just enough details to tell us what’s going on.  The presence of two brothers means that the prisoner is a serious threat.  The fact that David is on a walking tour of Europe tells you that he’s not far from civilization.  The fact that a religious order would send a stranger back into the rain is telling.  Even the fact that the prisoner is held in by little more than a long stick is suspicious.

And yet, it packs that punch.  As soon as the prisoner leaves, you know it’s a mistake.  Any one of us would probably do the same thing.  Yes, the prisoner is dangerous.  We get that because we’re the audience.  However, what would you do if you found someone being held in a neighbor’s house?  Even though the story, itself, is implausible, the reactions are very much understandable.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Hellboy (2019)

I think, on a certain level, it might be fair to compare the Hellboy franchise to the Ghostbusters franchise.  In both cases, a movie was released.  Both movies were followed by a sequel and talk of a third movie.  However, the third installment of each morphed into a respective reboot that was met with critically negative reviews.  While I enjoyed both movies, I can see where people were coming from.  In the case of Hellboy, the transition from Part III to reboot wasn’t quite as good.  It seems to want to do both, yet doesn’t do either that well.

The movie starts with King Arthur cutting up Blood Queen Nimue.  This doesn’t kill her, so her various body parts have to be spread all over the British Isles.  Cut to the present day and she seems to have a plan to get herself back together.  This would bring about the end of civilization as we know it.  It’s thus up to Hellboy and The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense to stop her.

That’s it.  That’s all the plot review I really need.  I could say more, and believe me, I will.  But, if you want to know what the movie is about, that’s basically it.  It’s an action movie that has way too many subplots.  For instance, we get the rehash of Hellboy’s origin story.  He was a half-demon that was born and somehow summoned to Earth during the tail end of the second World War.  He’s also supposed to bring about the end of the world, which he almost does.

The problem is that the sequel part of the movie makes it seem almost like the movie is trying to distance itself from the first two movies.  Franchises have survived recasting.  I’m sure the audience would have understood that a new actor is portraying the main character.  Thus, the reboot aspect comes off as unnecessary.  You could drop the origin story and just do Part III.

Even if you did, though, there are some aspects of the plot that seem a little strange.  For instance, Hellboy is called to Britain to help the Osiris Club hunt some giants.  This serves to set up the club betraying him.  The humans hunting the giants decide to turn on Hellboy because he was supposed to be killed at birth.  Hellboy is only saved because there are actually giants in the area.  The entire subplot seemed out of place.

Many of the other subplots at least seemed to work.  I would say that they seem natural, except that we have a giant talking boar named Gruagach who took Alice Monaghan as a baby, thus giving her some paranormal abilities.  So, natural might not be the best word.    I would say that if the movie had tried to be an outright sequel, it would have worked.

It would seem that the movie will try to bring back characters from the first two movies.  The final scene before the credits has a large water-filled container labeled Ichthyo sapien.  A post-credits had me thinking that Grigory Rasputin might be coming back, although there is a character named Koschei that would be a better candidate.

I don’t know that this will be the end of the Hellboy movies, as comic books seem to be a good source for movies  The franchise could go a lot of different ways.  Plus, if the Star Trek movie franchise proven anything, it’s that a few missteps aren’t the end of the world.  It’s entirely possible that a fourth movie might do well assuming that we even get that far.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 2 Episode 4 (A Thing About Machines)

The Twilight Zone had a lot of great episodes.  It also had a few not-so-great episodes.  There are a few, like A Thing About Machines, that I probably never would have heard of had it not been for my ability to stream them.  Unless a TV station is dedicated to playing the series in order or you buy the boxed set, I don’t imagine you’re likely to come across this one, either.

It’s about one Mr. Bartlett Finchley, a writer for food magazines.  He’s surrounded himself with all manner of devices that he hates.  (The episode starts with a repairman fixing the TV.)  It’s not clear how this came to be, but two things are clear:  It’s been going on for a while and Finchley is not a nice person.

His mistreatment of devices may be an outlet for his dim view of other people, as neither the repairman nor his secretary seems pleased to deal with him.  He’s the kind of guy that would chase people off his property just because they’re there.

Things come to a head when the devices start to talk back.  The woman on the television tells Finchley to leave.  The typewriter keeps producing a similar message.  His electric razor even chases him.  The episode ends with Finchley being chased into a neighbor’s pool.

I think the reason that this episode is forgotten is that there’s no real plot other than Kill Finchley.  It’s not even explained why he has so many electric devices.  A car is understandable; it’s necessary for mobility.  One could easily do without a TV or radio, though.  An electric razor could be replaced with a regular blade.  Even an electric typewriter/word processor could be replaced with a manual typewriter.  It seems a bit excessive for someone that doesn’t want it unless it’s neurotic behavior we’re talking about.

This is where the episode falls flat.  We never come to understand Finchley.  We never come to appreciate him or sympathize with him.  Even villains have to be relatable.  This is someone who has probably never been relatable.  He makes no attempt to relate to others.

There’s not even a twist ending.  Other similar episodes have some sort of clue that it might have been real, even when all other indicators point toward fantasy.  Fortunately, episodes like this are rare among The Twilight Zone.   Most are at least decent.  I’m happy to think of this episode as being the exception rather than the rule.

Monday, April 08, 2019

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 2 Episode 3 (Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room)

Jackie Rhoades is a petty criminal.  More than that, he’s a relatively minor person in the overall scheme of the criminal organization and life in general.  He never stands up to people and has nothing to show for his inaction.  He’s a nobody.

Jackie begins the episode in a cheap motel room, as the title would imply, waiting for instructions from his handler, George.  Those instructions are to kill a barkeeper who isn’t keeping up with protection money.  This is beyond what Jackie thinks himself capable of, which is exactly why he’s given the job.

While talking to himself in a mirror, Jackie finds a different version of himself.  This version is confident and willing to do what it takes to get noticed.  For purposes of this review, we’ll call this version John Rhoades.  John and Jackie argue about what to do.  Jackie could shoot the barkeep and risk the death penalty or he could not do the job and risk the wrath of George.

The term bottle episode originated with Star Trek, although such episodes have been found in series both before and since.  A bottle episode tends to refer to episodic television using established sets and as few guest actors as possible.  (The term comes from Star Trek having to use only ship sets, hence a ship-in-a-bottle episode.)   The Twilight Zone also had a few entries, this being one of them.

The entire narrative for Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room takes place in one room and involves only two characters.  To make it more of a character study, George only appears for a minute or two at the beginning and the end of the episode.  The advantage is that we get to know both sides of Mr. Rhoades very well.

It actually works kind of well.  The say that you have to be able to look at the man in the mirror.  Imagine having a whole conversation.  It would seem a little simple by today’s standards.  I imagine that this is why the show keeps getting an update every few decades.  Given that the second-season episodes are only 30 minutes each, it’s worth a watch, especially if you can get it streaming.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Shazam! (2019)

Within the various comic-book universes, there seem to be a few well-known characters.  Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman have seen a great many incarnations.  I have to admit that there are those, like Shazam!, that I’m not as familiar with.  In fact, I might not have heard the name at all if not for a line of trading cards produced almost 25 years ago.  It makes me wonder if there’s some push to release superhero movies.  Given that there might be another Justice League movie, it’s possible that this is one of the movies setting up that narrative.  (It was mentioned that there were several extra seats.)

Shazam! is the origin story of the title character.  The Wizard Shazam is looking for a successor, as he’s nearing death.  The movie starts with Shazam pulling a young Thaddeus Sivana out of his reality to The Rock of Eternity so that Shazam might test the purity of Thaddeus’s heart.  Thaddeus fails and is sent back to Earth.  Cut to the present day, and Thaddeus is now a doctor.  He hasn’t stopped looking for a way back.  When he finds it, he takes the power of The Seven Deadly Sins as his own.

Meanwhile, we learn that Billy Batson is a troubled kid.  He lures a police car to a fake robbery so that he might find information on a woman who might be his long-lost mother.  He’s been through many foster homes, as he tends to run away and/or get in trouble with the police.  His latest escapade lands him in the foster home of Rosa and Victor Vasquez, where he meets Freddy Freeman, one of the Vasquezes’ other foster children.  The two become reluctant friends after Billy comes to Freddy’s defense.  After escaping to bullies, Billy finds himself on The Rock of Eternity, being asked to say Shazam and take with him the dying wizard’s powers.

Those that grew up in the 1980s may remember a TV show called The Greatest American Hero.  During the three seasons of the show, teacher Ralph Hinkley is given a superhero’s suit by aliens.  The running gag is that Ralph has difficulty landing and doesn’t know what kinds of powers the suit has.  (He lost the instruction manual.)  Shazam! initially takes a similar approach.  Billy and Freddy have do idea what the suit does.  Initially, they’re not even sure how to get rid of the suit.  They do manage to help some people, like stopping two would-be robbers.

The movie plays out very realistically for me.  It takes a while for the novelty of the superpowers to wear off.  Billy is caught up in being popular and powerful and Freddy is just a little resentful.  Billy could be using his newfound abilities to help, yet is trying to make a few dollars off of them.

It’s not until Dr. Sivana confronts Billy that it comes into focus.  You see, Sivana wants Billy’s powers.  You might ask why this is if Sivana has similar powers.  Billy is the only real threat Sivana might face.  (The only thing holding Billy back is his inexperience.)

I’d say that Shazam! is what I’d expect of an origin story.  The first part of the movie deals with the learning curve.  This is followed by the call to action, where everything comes into focus for the main character.  Because of the release of the movie, I have been learning a lot about the character.  Comparisons were also made to Superman.  Lawsuits ended that until DC bought the rights from Fawcett Comics, allowing the character to come back.  By the time that happened, Marvel Comics had already begun publishing their own Captain Marvel, leading DC to call the character Shazam!.  I find it interesting that this movie was released just four weeks after the Captain Marvel movie.  (it’s also notable that Djimon Hounsou appears in both.)

I will say that the movie is enjoyable.  As I said, it’s easy to relate with Billy Batson.  I think that’s probably close to how I would deal with being given those powers.  The comparisons to Big aren’t undeserved, especially considering that Billy finds one of those big walk-on keyboards.  I will say that there does seem to be a fair amount of product placement for other DC properties.  I mean, even Aquaman gets a nod in the post-credits scene.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Future Man (Season 2)

Future Man was one of those TV shows that probably could have done well with just one season.  While a second season was implied, it was a complete story that could easily have left you wondering.  Josh Futturman was a guy that was trying to beat an unbeatable game called Biotic Wars.  When he becomes the first person to do so, he’s visited by the game’s two main characters, Tiger and Wolf.  It turns out that the game was a recruiting tool.

The entire first season was a series of in-jokes and references to time travel stories and their tropes.  Over various trips, little changes and what does change is usually for the worse.  The season ends with Josh in jail, having ruined his life.  He doesn’t mind so much, as he seems to have saved humanity from Dr. Elias Kronish‘s cure for herpes.

Season 2 begins with Josh visited by Tiger and Wolf again, only to realize that it’s all an illusion.  Humanity wasn’t saved, only it was the actions of Dr. Stu Camillo that did us all in.  Josh must reunite with Tiger and Wolf to once again try to save humanity.

There’s a similar dynamic with the trio.  Instead of Tiger and Wolf being the fish out of water, Josh is also out of his element.  The entire season takes place in the future, leaving the present-day world behind.  (All but the last episode take place in 2162.)  Tiger and Wolf still look down on Josh, even though he makes important contributions.   Names in the new future are based on function rather than being named for an animal.  Wolf finds out that his counterpart makes wheels and is called Torque.  (Tiger’s counterpart is named Ty-Anne.)

Those that haven’t seen the first season may want to start there.  This isn’t a series where you can pick it up anywhere.  It’s also meant for people who are familiar with science-fiction movies.  The season finale alone makes light of all the divergent timelines that the trio has created.  (It would appear that changing events doesn’t erase the original set of events.)  Much of it will seem ridiculous, but this is meant to be a comedy.

There’s a part of me that wonders how long the series can keep this up.  The second season does set up a third.  I’m very curious to see what that would look like.  Could they keep it going for a fourth or fifth?  Possibly.  There’s plenty of science-fiction to parody.  The overall stories are well-planned and obstacles seem natural.  It’s also not concerned with having to use all of the characters.  As with the first season, episodes may focus on Wolf or Josh.

I will warn you that it is for adults.  If you’ve seen the first season, there won’t be any surprises.  Much of it will come across as juvenile.  There are a lot of sexual humor, some of it even Freudian.  Scatological humor isn’t unheard of in the second season.  You get some of it in the trailer I’m including, but not all of it.  (Soiling oneself is used as a test to see if you’re a biotic or not.)  If you made it all the way through Season One, you should be fine with Season Two.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Captain Marvel (2019)

I was recently in Portland, not to far from the last remaining Blockbuster Video.  I was tempted to make the trip over, but I was traveling with my parents to see family.  It was too far out of the way and I don’t think my parents would have wanted the side trip.  For me, it’s really more a curiosity.  It’s not so much that video stores came and went.  Nothing lasts forever.  Rather, it was more about the fact that it was still around.  What was it about the location that gave it that sort of staying power?

The only reason that I bring this up is that Captain Marvel uses Blockbuster and other icons of the 1990s as a backdrop to tell its story.  It starts out in the Kree Empire with Vers (pronounced with a long E) training.  She has full retrograde amnesia, leaving most of her memories beyond her reach.

She and her team are sent to recover an undercover operative, but that mission goes sideways.  Vers finds herself captured by the Krull, who attempt to probe her memory.  One thing leads to another and Vers finds herself stranded on Earth, with all manner of things not meant to last, like two-way pagers and Nick Fury without an eye patch.

This is the origin story where Vers finds out who she is and what’s going on all while trying to save the planet.  Yes, there’s danger and not everything is what it seems.  (The instant I saw the cat, I knew it was more than a cat and I’ve never read the comics.)

This is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first female-led title.  I think there’s something about being second that steals the thunder a little bit.  Wonder Woman was epic.  Captain Marvel seemed a little less so.  Both featured strong women.  Both had amazing coming attractions.  Something about Captain Marvel seemed a little off, though.

Don’t get me wrong.  It was still a good movie.  It’s just that the movie seemed a little too grounded in nostalgia.  The soundtrack was straight out of the 1990s.  Someone my age is going to get a lot of it.  I don’t envy someone who has to explain to their children what a payphone is.  (“You see, you could put a quarter in and make a call to someone.  No, this was before cell phones.  Why are you looking at me like that?”)  Given that this is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we know that Vers will show up again.  I’m just wondering what a second stand-alone movie would look like.

Monday, April 01, 2019

The Samuel Project (2018)

There are many movies about the Holocaust.  Some, like Schindler’s List, treat the topic seriously.  Others, like Life is Beautiful, have a more comedic tone.  The Samuel Project isn’t quite either, although it tends more towards the serious.  It takes place in the present with Eli being given an animation project for his media class in high school.  It’s going to be a big project, so it has to be something important.

Shortly after being given the assignment, Robert, Eli’s father, drops Eli off at the apartment of Samuel, Eli’s grandfather.  When Samuel gets a phone call, grandfather and grandson are off on a road trip to visit a dying friend of Samuel’s.

Actually, she’s more than a friend, although Samuel won’t say much about it.  It takes some prying on Eli’s part, but it turns out that this mysterious friend helped Samuel survive Nazi Germany and get out of the country.  Samuel has found the topic for his project.

The movie doesn’t focus on the Holocaust.  In fact, Samuel is reserved with details.  For survivors, it’s not the kind of thing most people want to talk about.  It was a difficult time for many who survived and carries with it a lot of emotion.

Instead, the movie focuses on Eli trying to put the project together and his attempts to get Samuel to open up about it.  Eli is able to use his phone to record his grandfather and animate scenes around that.  He even enlists the aid of classmate Kasim, who plays the guitar.  The two bond over family.  Eli wants to go into art, but Robert would have him get a stable job.  Kasim is trying to fend off his father’s attempts to get him to take over as a butcher.  They realize that both have fathers that don’t really know them that well.

I don’t see a lot of people rushing to the theater to see this or rent it on DVD.  It seems like the kind of movie you might watch streaming.  I’m not exactly sure where to place it.  It’s definitely not a major blockbuster, but it’s not exactly a Hallmark movie, either.  It’s the kind of thing that could be shown to get people thinking hot just about the Holocaust, but those who lived through it, as well.