Thursday, June 20, 2019

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

I have this line I say to myself whenever a character dies in a movie:  No sequel for you!  I found myself saying that a lot while watching the first John Wick.  I found myself saying it just as much with Chapter 2.  Almost an entire mob outfit dies at his hands, all because Iosef Tarasov saw a car he liked and had to have it.  It wasn’t even about the car, though.  Iosef made the mistake of killing John’s puppy.  Chapter 2 begins with John killing the remnants of the organization, starting with Iosef’s uncle, who had been selling the stolen cars.  Yes, John is out to get his car back, which he promptly totals.

The movie’s real story starts with Santino D’Antonio, who visits John to call in a marker.  He wants his sister, Gianna, killed.  Being that she holds a seat on the underworld’s high council, Santino can’t do it himself.  John initially refuses, but eventually accepts.  Lots of people get in John’s way and die as a result.  Once John completes his mission, a lot more people die.

In fact, Santino calls in a hit on John.  (As he points out, what kind of brother would he be if he didn’t?)  So, yeah.  The rest of the movie is John evading and/or killing bad guys while searching for Santino so that Santino might be denied a major part in Chapter 3.

Sure, the plot is little more than a vehicle for the fight scenes.  And yes, the plot is at least coherent.  Still, you’re not thinking about watching this because of the plot.  You came for the fight scenes, which are as impressive as the first movie.  In this regard, there’s a part of me that wonders why one needs a coherent plot line for action like this.  You could easily have three (or, shortly, four) separate movies with different characters.

That’s how stylized the fight scenes are.  John Wick has earned the right to be called franchise.  I’ll be going into Chapter 3 with a pretty good idea of what I’m getting.  And yes, there is a story going on.  It’s nothing deep, nor is it high art, but there is something to follow between fight scenes.

So, I will be seeing Chapter 3 and, probably, Chapter 4 when it comes out.  The funny thing is that I’ve never particularly been a fan of fight movies.  This is most likely the result of having access to movies at the library and paying for the movie theater by the month.  You come to realize that an action movie can be exciting.


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 12 (Vaulting Ambition)

WARNING:  I’m going to give away major plot points for this episode, including the major twist at the end.


I have to admit that things got a lot more complicated on Star Trek: Discovery.  The ship is in the mirror universe and things are what you might expect.  Many of the same people exist there, albeit in different positions.  The deceased Captain Georgiou is now Emperor Georgiou.  First Officer Saru is now servant to Michael Burnham, who went from mutineer to Captain.  Tilly also made a similar move, from cadet to Captain.  Lorca was supposed to have killed the alternate Burnham, though.  Stamets, the chief engineer, actually meets his counterpart.  The two seem to get along pretty well.

The episode deals with Burnham trying to get information on the U.S.S. Defiant.  This isn’t the Defiant from Deep Space Nine.  Rather, it’s the one that the Tholians tried to put their web around.  It was sent back in time to the Mirror Universe and might be useful if the Discovery crew can get their hands on it.  Or, at least, an unredacted report.  You see, anyone who has come in contact with the ship has gone crazy.

You might be asking how they got there in the first place.  Stamets was able to navigate between universes, but that’s what put him in a coma.  Even though he comes out of it by the end of the episode, trying it again would be risky.  So, The Discovery is their best bet right now.

Here’s the thing, though.  Lorca is actually the Mirror Lorca.  It would explain a few things, like how his former ship got destroyed.  (Incompetence as a captain or covering up that you’re not who we think you are?)  It also creates a rather interesting bootstrap paradox.  As I said, the ship traveled back in time about ten years.  This means that the ship would have information on the Prime Universe’s major players, including Burnham.  It casts much of what happened so far in a new light.  It also explains why Kirk and Crew wouldn’t have discussed the events of the series so far.  This is one more thing that would have been heavily classified.

Interestingly, Burnham makes the decision to level with Emperor Georgiou.  It turns out she already knew about the Prime Universe.  At least she has the Emperor’s help.  Alas, Burnham realizes that she’s eating what might have been Mirror Saru. 

I’m watching the series on DVD.  This was the last episode on disc 3, meaning I’ll have to wait a while to see the next episode.  A lot of people had the same idea I did, which is to get the DVDs from the library rather than pay money for CBS All Access.  I’d recommend at least starting the series the same way to help gauge your interest in the series.


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 11 (The Wolf Inside)

WARNING: I will be giving out major spoilers ahead.



After Star Trek’s first dealings with the Mirror Universe, Kirk asked how Spock was able to identify his counterpart so easily.  Spock noted that it was easier for our Kirk to impersonate his alternate than it was for the alternate to impersonate Kirk.

Michael Burnham would find that of little comfort.  She’s had to take her alternate’s place and make some of the same decisions Kirk had to.  She’s tasked with wiping out a group of rebels, and the Terran Empire shows no mercy.  She manages to stall, saying that she’ll beam down to at least pump some information out of them or something.  She then gives them an hour to evacuate.

During this time, we learn several things.  Commander Saru’s counterpart is Burnham’s slave, which is a little troubling, but not unexpected.  Ash Tyler is also starting to lose it, which…is a little troubling, but not unexpected.  At the end of the episode, we find out who the mysterious Emperor is.  (This time, it’s not really that troubling and totally expected.)

One might say that the series is easing into the mirror universe.  I think someone had the idea early on to split the season between the two universes, not realizing how hard it would be to write for the Mirror Universe.  I can totally understand those that feel that the pacing is slow.  I can’t say that it’s unnecessary, as everything seems to havfe a purpose.  (For instance, Burnham lies to Saru about his having a Mirror counterpart.)

Also, whoever programmed Tyler did a horrible job.  Spoiler alert:  He’s a Klingon spy.  In the original series, we know that Klingons have done this at least once and that Tribbles will rat them out.  Granted, this isn’t for another ten years.  It’s possible that the procedure hasn’t been perfected yet or that the Klingon who did it this time was a hack.  Either way, there were some indications that something like this was coming.  I just wasn’t expecting this.  The one down side is that Samets was blamed for killing his husband.  (I would hope that all of that will be straightened out.)

It’s an interesting episode.  Tilly, the talkative cadet, has to play a confident captain.  She’s also shaping up to be Discovery’s version of Wesley Crusher.  She’s young and inexperienced, but seems to have some really great ideas.  At least the series seems to be playing that character a little better.  Tilly is a cadet and, as such, has had some training.  These are also unusual circumstances, meaning not many people would be qualified.  (In fact, the one person we know is qualified to help Samets is Samets, and he‘s in a spore-induced coma.)

So, some aspects of the episode are promising.  The show seems to be going the 24 route with each episode ending with a major revelation.  It gets a little tiring having to get excited each week.  (It was also odd that, on 24, major plot twists happened every hour on the hour.)  I’m still wondering what they’re going to do with the rest of the season.


Monday, June 17, 2019

Late Night (2019)

Katherine Newbury is not an easy person to work for.  When someone asks her for a raise, she fires him.  His main reason for asking is the birth of a child, who will contribute nothing to the show.  Also, most of her writing staff has never met her.  Many haven’t even seen the stage where she hosts her late-night talk show.

She’s pressured to add diversity to the writer’s room because all of her writers are white and male.  As luck would have it, Molly Patel is looking to become a writer for the show and happens to show up moments after an opening becomes available.  Yes, Molly does have comedic talent, but she’s coming from a chemical plant where she worked in quality control.

It’s a rough ride at first, but Molly starts to find her place.  She even gets a joke in the monologue after convincing Newbury to be more daring.   Success doesn’t last long for Molly.  She has to put up with seven men who aren’t happy to see her there.  Her boss doesn’t really much like her, either.  (Molly finds herself fired twice during the course of the movie.)

She’s also constantly reminded of the fact that she’s a diversity hire.  (The workplace is so dominated by men that they’ve taken to using the ladies’ room, as there are no women there.)  She’s faced with a choice, though.  She can concentrate on the ‘diversity’ aspect of her employment or she can focus on the ‘hire’ part of her employment.  She has the job she wanted.  Does it matter how?

Newbury also has some facts to face.  She’s trying to hold on to a show she’s been hosting for nearly 30 years.  She’s not willing to admit that she’s stuck in a rut.  Just because it was successful before doesn’t mean that it will connect with today’s audiences.  She’s not getting any tweets or followers on social media.  What she is getting is replaced and by a comedian who’s very crude.

The movie comes across as a showcase of problems in the motion-picture industry.  Male privilege, age discrimination and Tokenism are addressed.  None of it seems forced, though.  It’s more a way of using the movie as a way to introduce various talking points while not being too pointed about it.  (Molly finds herself crying in the ladies’ room until she’s kicked out by a man who needs use it.)

So, Newbury and Molly need each other.  They both have similar stories.  Each is trying to make it among a crowd of men.  Each has issues they have to face because of that.  Ultimately, each will succeed or fail on their own terms.


Sunday, June 16, 2019

Men in Black: International (2019)

I was so excited for a new Men in Black movie.  It didn’t have Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones in it.  Ok.  Fine.  That’s not the end of the world.  Emma Thompson’s there, offering some bit of continuity.  Frank the Pug has a cameo, as do The Worms, so there’s that.  Even thought it’s a mostly new cast, this could still work out.

The Men in Black are facing two threats.  One is from the Hive, an insidious organism that absorbs races rather than kill them.  The other is from an apparent mole in the organization.  When Agent M and Agent H are tasked with protecting an alien dignitary, said dignitary is killed under their watch.  Agent M is understandable, as she’s the probationary agent.  H is more experienced, although it doesn’t really show.

So, the two go off on a planet-wide adventure to figure out what’s going on and to protect the Earth from aliens that might do it harm.  Not everything is what it seems, though.  Friends might be enemies.  Enemies might be ordinary people just trying to protect themselves.

While the movie was fun, it didn’t quite capture the magic of the first three movies.  K was a straight man to J’s comedic personality.  The first three movies seemed to flow naturally as almost a single story.  This seems to be a case of trying one too many times.  Yes, it hits a lot of the marks, like fast action sequences and interesting aliens, but it’s just not the same.

Part of it might be that the first three movies had a clear enemy.  (Edgar the Bug, Serleena and Boris The Animal, respectively.)  The Hive is a little too amorphous and hidden to be taken seriously.  I get that having your own people pose a threat is something in itself, but the movie focused too much on the chase scenes and not enough on any real sense of urgency.  Agents M and H get to spend the night in the desert repairing an alien motorbike.

I also get that the stories for J and K had an arc and that arc came to an end, but it seems kind of sudden to simply replace them as lead characters.  It might have worked better to replace one or the other first.  Having cameos by other characters isn’t enough.  It’s too much of a clean break to really carry the momentum.

The London branch seems like a pale comparison of the New York branch.  How, exactly, did H become an agent, anyway?  He seems too laid back to be taken seriously.  I get that he does have skills, but the first time we see him, he’s “meditating” on the job.

While we’re at it, it’s evident that there are more than 26 agents.  New York didn’t seem to have that many agents and could have done with letters for names.  London has a lot of people.  Do they reuse letters?  MIB 3 had an agent AA, if I recall, but all of the characters shown on screen have a single letter: Z, J, K, O, M, H or C, for instance.  It’s also possible that people just use their first initial.  James D. Edwards became Agent J.  Molly Wright became Agent M.  Dealing with two agents with the same letter might be like dealing with two agents with the same name.  It also might explain why Liam Neeson’s character is called High T.

There are a few other issues that I have with the movie, some of which can’t be asked without spoiling the ending.  While it was a fun movie to watch, I was a little let down.  It’s just not the same.  I suppose another installment might do better, but this could very well be a case of a franchise going one movie too far.  It might have been better to leave well enough alone.


Saturday, June 15, 2019

Happy! (Season 1)

There are some characters that may get to the right place, even if they’re willing to bend or break a few rules.  In 24, Jack Bauer is framing his actions as part of the greater good.  What’s a few broken fingers if millions of lives are saved?  He’s the guy you send in when conventional means aren’t an option.

To be clear, Nick Sax is no Jack Bauer.  Nick used to be a cop, but he made a series of bad choices, like sleeping with his partner.  He’s become about as apathetic as one can get.  He’s working as a hit man when he gets an unexpected visitor:  Happy.

Who is Happy?  Happy is a purple winged unicorn who happens to be the imaginary friend of Hailey Hansen, who has been kidnapped by Very Bad Santa.  She sends Happy out to find her father to help her and the other abducted children.  Nick is reluctant to help, mostly because it’s hard for an imaginary friend to be that persuasive.  (He’s also reluctant to believe that he has a daughter.)  Nick eventually comes around and starts tracking Hailey.  Also on the case are his former partner, Meredith McCarthy, and his ex-wife, Amanda.

You might wonder how a show about an imaginary friend would work.  There are some rules, like imaginary friends disappearing when the child dies.  (If the child stops believing, the imaginary friend still exists, unseen.)  It would also appear that imaginary friends are more real than one might expect.  Happy is able to relate information to Nick that Nick might not otherwise have access to.

Nick and Happy make for an extremely odd couple.  Nick is about as jaded as you can get.  Happy is about as optimistic as one could make a cartoonish character.   Nick can’t stand Happy and Happy is mostly doing this for Hailey’s sake.  In fact, may of the relationships can be defined as unwanted.  His ex-wife and ex-partner don’t want to work together, but do.  McCarthy is also being pressured by the show’s main antagonist, who is, in turn, being pressured by a client in a giant bug suit.  I’d say they only two characters that want to interact with each other are Hailey and Happy, who see the least of each other during the first season’s eight episodes.

It’s surprising that SyFy put out such a dark show.  It’s a lot closer to Breaking Bad than 24.  It’s almost like Breaking Bad and 24 were put into a blender with a heavy dose of sarcasm.  Even though it features a kids’ show, this is definitely for adults.  There’s plenty of graphic violence in each episode.  There’s also more subtle imagery, like two teletubby-like characters, shooting a rainbow between their respective places where the sun doesn’t shine.  (You may not even want to know where Smoothie got his nickname.)

The first season was ridiculous in a few areas, but generally worked pretty well.  The plot twists seemed to be in all the right places and none of them seemed unnecessary.  Part of this is probably because the season was so short.  You can only miss the bad guy so many times before it becomes a cliché. 

 

John Wick (2014)

I got the DVD out of the library in preparation for John Wick 3.  (I’ll be seeing John Wick Chapter 2 in the next few days.)  the story is very action oriented.  There‘s an XKCD where two characters are discussing Summer blockbusters.  One laments that there haven’t been any good action films.  At best, the films were at least 60% non-action.  While John Wick isn’t River Tam Beats Up Everyone, it’s probably the closest I’ve seen so far.

The movie starts with the title character grieving for the loss of his wife.  In anticipation of her death, Helen Wick arranged to have a puppy named Daisy delivered to John after her death.  She knew that the only other thing in this world that he paid attention to was his car.  The puppy would allow him to have someone there for him as he grieved.

Enter Iosef Tarasov.  He’s the entitled son of mob boss Viggo Tarasov.  When Iosef sees Johns nice, shiny car, Iosef wants it.  John rebukes Iosef, which ;leads to Iosef breaking into John’s house one night.  Iosef steals the car and kills Daisy.   Normally, this might be the end of the story, but John Wick used to work for Viggo as a hit man.  As Viggo points out, John’s not the bogeyman.  He’s the one you send after the bogeyman.  That’s who Iosef pissed off.

The rest of the movie is John seeking revenge on Iosef.  Viggo tries desperately to protect his son, including putting out a $2,000,000 bounty on John’s head.  Viggo has essentially sentenced his entire organization to death.  Anyone who gets in John’s way is shot.  Both of the people who take the contract also end up dead, even though one is John’s friend.  (I suspect that John Wick will be the only one who will make his way to Chapter 2.)

The world that John lived in is pretty complete.  There’s even a cleaning crew that takes ‘dinner reservations’ when bodies need to be disposed of.  Services are paid for in gold coins.  There’s even a hotel where hit men can rest without fear of being killed.

I suppose if you’re going to do a movie like this, you’d better do it well.  I didn’t really have many issues with the movie that weren’t to be expected.  Yes, it’s cliché when one person manages to kill dozens of armed people that are chasing him, but John Wick is supposed to be that good.  I was a little surprised that he didn’t sleep with a gun under his pillow.  (Granted, he wasn’t expecting someone to break into his house, but still…)

My only other question deals with the end of the movie and I’ll probably have it answered shortly.  I don’t want to ask it here so as to not potentially ruin the ending.  However, I may ask it in the next review if the answer isn’t clear.

I would say watch this movie only if you like very violent stories.  Consider the death count.


Friday, June 14, 2019

The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019)

In The Secret Life of Pets, we learned that Max is a very lucky dog to have a home and a human named Katie to care for him.  He’s still lucky.  He has the same home and all and a canine roommate that he learned to get used to.  Things rarely ever stay the same, though.  Max and Duke receive a shock when their human brings home a boyfriend, Chuck.  Chuck becomes Katie’s husband.  Then, Katie becomes pregnant.

Yes, Max is going to have to put up with a rug rat.  After seeing what small children do to other dogs, Max isn’t thrilled.  However, he learns to love Liam.  Max and Duke are like an extra set of parents, doing what they can to help their newest family member.

The trouble is that Max isn’t as good as Duke at handling stress.  Now that Max has to worry about Liam, he sees danger everywhere.  This leads to a nervous habit of scratching his neck, which leads to a visit to the doctor.  And…Max gets The Cone of Shame.

We now have three divergent storylines.  Max, Duke and family go to a farm for a vacation, prompting Max to entrust fellow dog Gidget to watch over his beloved toy, Busy Bee.  Meanwhile, Snowball gets to play hero and rescue a tiger from a circus.  The three stories converge at the end, making for an interesting chase scene.

I’ve been reading complaints about having three story lines.  It’s not that bad.  Each one is at least entertaining and it’s not unusual for a TV show to do the same thing.  (CSI would often have two cases per episode.)  My impression is that the movie was written this way rather than having several otherwise-rejected story lines being merged together.

I could see them having been written as filler.  It’s not clear why Max would need someone to babysit his toy.  It would be more likely that Katie would bring it with them.  That does seem like it’s being done to set up the detour into The Land of the Crazy Cat Lady.  However, that was a pretty epic journey.

Having Snowball save a tiger was also strange.  At this point, circuses are anachronistic.  (Do we even have any traveling circuses any more?)  If I were writing the movie, I probably would have gone with a collector of exotic pets.  It would have made more sense.  It’s also a little odd that the tiger is so docile.  Tigers are wild animals and have been known to attack their captors, even after years or decades in captivity.

It still ends up being a fun movie.  It would seem that many of the errant details are done more for a joke, like having the tiger act like a house cat might.  It’s going to be fun for both kids and adults.  I just wonder how many kids will want a pet tiger.


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 22 (The Pirate's Promise)

The premise of Friday the 13th: The Series was pretty simple.  Two cousins inherit an antique shop from an uncle only to find out that some of the items are cursed.  They rename the shop Curious Goods and run it as a front so that they might track down those cursed items that Uncle Lewis unleashed on the world.  They then store the items in a vault so that no more harm can come as a result of those items.

This week, it’s a cursed foghorn.  Cousins Micki and Ryan travel to a coastal town only to find that it was sold to someone who was traveling and can’t be reached.  Well, maybe not.  The guy who sold it, Joe, lures a young lady back to his cool lighthouse only to show her the nifty foghorn that he supposedly sold to some unnamed person.  He then kills the woman, drags her down the stairs and hands her over to a cloaked figure in a rowboat.

The town was founded by the crew of a ship.  They mutinied, setting their captain adrift.  It turns out that the cloaked figure is the ghost of said captain.  He’s using Joe to kill the descendants of the crew, who all miraculously still live in the town.  Oh, and each crewmember has exactly one descendant, each of which is really easy to find and subdue.  (No one has left town nor have they received any martial-arts training.)  Micki and Ryan retrieve the foghorn only after Joe has killed all of the descendants and subsequently died as the final victim of the curse.

My first obvious complaint is that each crewmember had exactly one descendant.  The town was founded in 1720, meaning that something like 12-15 generations have passed.  How is it that each generation had only one child?  Assuming two children per generation, you should be talking 4,000 descendants.  Plus, given that no one seems to move out of town, there might be people descended from several people on the ship.

Another thing I noticed is that Micki and Ryan dropped the ball on this one.  If the curse is that descendants have to die and that Joe seemingly completed his mission, the artifact would be useless.  Even if the curse would allow someone else to use the foghorn, there are no more descendants left.

This curse also seems awfully specific to me.  Most of the cursed items are generic.  Cursed items could be used by anyone and applied to anyone.  I’m assuming that the nature of the curse wasn’t determined until Uncle Lewis’s deal with the devil, but I could be wrong.  It is an interesting curse, at least.

Overall, the episode is fairly decent.  The show at least put some effort into the history of the item.  I just think a few points could have been done better.  At the very least, Joe was lucky that none of the family lines had died out.


Monday, June 10, 2019

Friday the 13th: The Series -- Season 1 Episode 21 (Double Exposure)

If you caught a marathon of Friday the 13th episodes without watching the first few, you might wonder why all of them have to be so evil.  The truth is that many of the items were cursed by Satan.  He’s not going to make a cursed item that shoots out puppies and rainbows.  It’s a fair point, though.  Most episodes involve death.  In fact, many end with a cursed object taking the life of the person that was trying to gain from it.  Even if there was a rainbow-spewing item, it would be better to go after the dangerous ones first.

Double Exposure is no exception to this.  It involves a TV news anchor named Winston Knight who comes across a camera that allows him to make a duplicate of someone.  All he has to do is photograph them with the camera and develop the negative.  The duplicate would then seem to be pliable enough that Winston is able to have his duplicate commit murder.  This is advantageous, as his news program isn’t doing too well in the ratings.  It might be helpful to have a serial killer call in.

As it would so happen, Ryan happens to be on a hot date.  He and the lovely lady happen upon an attempted murder with the killer looking exactly like Winston.  The police don’t by it.  Yes, Ryan is a main character and we know he saw it, but Winston was on air at the time.  Ryan, Micki and Jack are persistent enough to get the camera back.  Unfortunately, Ryan’s girlfriend won’t be seen in any subsequent episodes.  As you might expect, the item is recovered and both Winston and his duplicate are killed as a result.

The stories in the series are getting a little better.  I do have issues, though.  It does seem odd that murder is usually involved in these stories.  With a duplicating camera, one could get creative.  Maybe have the duplicate rob a bank or something.  It would be a great way to set up someone you don’t like.  Love interest turning you down?  Go out with her duplicate.

Also, when Winston develops the negative to create the duplicate, he’s standing awfully close to the fluids.  This is concerning mostly because the chemical is bubbling.  I would take a few steps back.  I might even consider better ventilation.  (Actually, ventilation would be a good idea for any darkroom.)  It’s amazing that Winston didn’t keel over from fume inhalation.

The big thing, though, was that Ryan had a new girlfriend.  We just had a two-part episode where Ryan met the love of his life.  It seems odd that he moved on so quickly.  I know that he’s a popular guy and all, but still…

Overall, it’s a decent episode.  I’d hope that maybe the rest of the season could be as good.  I’m not sure I’ll be renting the second season.  If I do, I may take a rest for a while.  Even with the better quality of this episode, I’m not holding out hope.


Sunday, June 09, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 10 (Despite Yourself)

When you have a television franchise, there’s a certain dilemma.  The advantage of having a history like that of Star Trek allows for a lot of stories to be carried over from one series to another.  The Enterprise would occasionally visit Deep Space Nine.  Voyager would call on events that happened in the Dominion War or that happened in the movies.

If you do that too much, you run the risk of seeming uncreative.  True, Discovery has already called upon previous incarnations.  Michael Burnham is the foster daughter of Sarek.  Harry Mudd has already made two appearances.  To do this too often might undermine Discovery as a separate entity.  Then again, maybe not.

The previous episode had the U.S.S. Discovery jump into the Mirror Universe.  This was established in the original series episode Mirror, Mirror.  Instead of a federation, Earth is at the head of the Terran Empire.  The crew of the Discovery finds out that humans are ruthless and will conquer any alien race they come across.  Fighting them are the Klingons, apparently with the help of Vulcans and Andorians.

The episode is spent mostly getting the crew acclimated to the other universe.  Cadet Sylvia Tilly is now the captain of the Discovery.  Burnham’s alternate was presumed dead at the hands of Captain Lorca’s alternate, which provides them with a challenge when hailed by another ship.  Tilly, who’s normally talkative and nervous, has to put on a brave face (or voice, actually) and get rid of the other captain.

It does provide them with an opportunity.  Whereas the U.S.S. Shenzhou was destroyed, the I.S.S. Shenzhou is still out there.  So, the crew has to make the U.S.S. Discovery look like the I.S.S. Discovery an have everyone get used to being more ruthless.  This way, Burnham can take Lorca and Tyler to the Shenzhou and get more information on how to get home.

This is the kind of episode that’s going to be confusing for people that have never watched Star Trek.  There are references to at least two Star Trek episodes.  Even for someone who’s seen the episodes, it can be a lot to keep up with.  Then again, if you’re paying for CBS All Access so you can watch Discovery, there’s a good chance you’re not a casual viewer.

As I’ve noted with other mirror-universe episodes, it’s odd that everyone has a counterpart.  (Well, almost everyone.  No mention is made of Saru’s counterpart.)  It’s not clear when or how this other universe split from ours.  It does go back to Star Trek: Enterprise, to say the least.  How probable is it that everyone has a counterpart in both universes?

This does pose a problem, since Burnham’s alternate is presumed dead and Lorca’s is on the run.  There’s a chance, however small, that either one will show up at some point and create problems for the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery.  There’s also the issue of what happened to the I.S.S. Discovery.  Was it destroyed or was it transported to the Federation’s universe?  I imagine some answers will be forthcoming during the rest of the episode.


Saturday, June 08, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 9 (Into the Forest I Go)

Star Trek: Discovery began with a war with the Klingons.  It also began with its central character, Michael Burnham, betraying her captain and effectively ending her Starfleet career.  Both of these plot points have been central to the show so far.  Burnham is not only responsible for the lives lost at The Battle of the Binary Stars, but also those that died in the resulting war.

To figure out how to see through the Klingon’s cloaking device would put a serious dent in their offensive and defensive capabilities.  The crew of the U.S.S. Discovery doesn’t want to let the planet Pavlo be destroyed by the Klingons, but the inhabitants have technology that could cut through the cloaking device.

Fortunately, the crew devises another method that might work.  The catch?  The ship has to use it’s spore drive over a hundred times very quickly.  This wouldn’t be a problem except that Paul Stamets has to be hooked in.  One or two trips take a toll, to say nothing of dozens.  He agrees to do it, knowing that it could end the war.

The mission is completed, but not without complications.  Admiral Cornwell, who had been abducted by the Klingons,  is discovered on the ship and subsequently rescued.  Also, Ash Tyler is hit with PTSD, leaving Burnham to complete the mission by herself.

I will say that the series seems to be progressing better than I expected.  I still have issues.  For instance, the mission requires two huge devices to be placed on the Klingon ship for the cloaking technology to be understood.  How are Tyler and Burnham able to place such a large device out in the open on an enemy ship without someone noticing it?

The good news is that Burnham seems to be getting her sense of duty back.  For most of the series, she seemed to have given up on redeeming herself for an irredeemable act.  Here, she sees that she can not only help, but is necessary for the mission to succeed.

Conversely, we get glimpses into Tyler’s past that raises questions.  We see that he was tortured and raped during his time in captivity.  Captain Lorca has already expressed doubts about how someone could have survived that long.  This might hit at a bigger revelation.

This episode was the mid-season finale.  As such, it ends on an interesting cliffhanger.  Stamets promises one more jump, which leads them to a destroyed Klingon cruiser where a Federation starbase should be.  Yes, it’s the Mirror Universe.

So, I guess that means I’m in for the rest of the season.  I am more hopeful, given that the writing is getting better.  I am getting the sense that there is a bigger plan here.  I also have to see how this plays out.


Friday, June 07, 2019

All Is True (2018)

The title of the movie, All is True, is a bit ironic.  I always wonder how much of any biopic is actually true.  You imagine that some liberties are taken.  For instance, the English sounds modern.  Granted, this is done to make it more relatable.  No one wants to wade through a thick Elizabethan accent.  I’m just saying that most people watching this title probably aren’t expecting total accuracy.  (It would seem that the title of the movie comes from an alternate title for Shakespeare’s play, Henry VIII.)

I’m not exactly sure what prompted me to see this movie.  There are a lot of options at the theater right now.  Why this one?  Why not rent a movie or read a book?  There is a part of me that’s trying to branch out from the movies I know I’ll like.  One of the advantages of a subscription service is that the ticket is basically paid for.  Rather than waste a spot, I figured I might like the movie.

About ten minutes in, I started to regret that decision.  The movie deals with Shakespeare’s life from the end of his career to the end of his life.  The fact that the Globe Theater burned down stopped The Bard from writing any more.  So, he returns home to Stratford-upon-Avon, where his wife treats him as a guest.  That’s how long he’s been in London.  Yes, he sent money home to support his family, but he missed a lot, like his son’s funeral.

The movie is about this absence, as well as the loss of his son and not having a male heir.  Shakespeare is portrayed as being progressive, but this is still a time when money was passed down to men.  There are several lines about which daughter might control the estate.  (Susannah is married, but only has one child, a daughter.  Judith is unmarried, but might get married someday and have a son.)

Summer is known for being the season of blockbusters.  I found this one a little lackluster.  I have Men in Black: International and Terminator: Dark Fate to look forward to.  Both promise to be exciting.  I could see many high school students dragged to see this by their parents and subsequently falling asleep.  (The parents and the students, to be clear.)

I don’t know that anything would have been accomplished by having Michael Bay direct it, though.  This is something that probably will be viewed by those with an interest in Shakespeare.  The movie is disjointed at first, but does come together later on.  This isn’t to say that it’s going to be for everyone.  I think most people will be correct in assessing whether or not they want to see it.  If you think you wouldn’t like All is True, I think you’d probably be correct.


Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Bill Randa is a man on a mission, and that mission is to visit Skull Island.  What will he find there?  He’s not quite sure.  It’s the last undiscovered piece of land, so no one’s really sure.  It could be the next cure for something.  It could be nothing.  Either way, he has to go.  He even hires James Conrad, tracker extraordinaire, to guide the mission and arranges for a military escort led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard.  Joining the group is photographer Mason Weaver.

The group makes it to the island safely.  That safety lasts about five minutes.  Once they start dropping seismic charges, something attacks, and it’s big.  It starts throwing the helicopters back at the rest of the formation.  Yes, it’s Kong.   He’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it any more.  All of the helicopters are destroyed, leaving a few survivors.  Those survivors have three days to make it to the other side of the island to be rescued.  If they don’t, they’re going to have a lot of time to get to know the big ape.

Along the way, they meet the island’s natives, who have been hosting downed pilot Hank Marlow.  Marlow seems to know the area pretty well.  He explains that Kong is like a god to the locals.  Killing him would be a bad idea.  Packard develops an Ahab-like hatred of Kong, which is understandable.  A lot of his men have died at the giant’s hands.

The carnage isn’t even limited to the initial encounter.  There are a lot of other creatures on the island, many of them huge.  Several people are attacked by a giant spider.  Others are killed by these weird looking things I can’t even describe.  Several dozen people land on the island.  Don’t expect to see most of them in the sequel.  (There is a post-credits scene linking this movie with the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong.)

It’s odd that for a shared universe, the first three movies seem to have such little continuity, especially since Godzilla and Godzilla: King of the Monsters are both about the same creature.  Kong, I can understand being different.  It’s about a different creature that will be brought in later.  However, Godzilla was one of maybe four characters shared between the other two movies.  (There are a few common references, like the Monarch organization and the theory of a hollow Earth.)

This entry was at least decent.  It was a solid, single-track story.  The movie doesn’t jump around from one story to another.  It’s about a group of people trying to make it off an island they had no business being on in the first place.  We get to see a fair amount of action, but there‘s also some dialogue.  (Most of it is about war, as the movie starts on the last day of the Viet Nam War.)

I had seen this in hopes of watching next year’s Godzilla vs. Kong, although I don’t know that it will matter.  As I may have indicated, there doesn’t seem to be much overlap between this movie and the others.  In fact, Godzilla vs. Kong will seem to have a few characters in common with Godzilla: King of the Monsters.  Other than that, there doesn’t seem to be much in common except the title monsters.  I guess I’ll have to watch the movie to see what happens.


Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Back to the Future Part II (1989)

Really good sequels are hard to come by.  I don’t know if it’s just me, but there was a time when follow-ups were little more than an attempt to get a little more money out of audiences.  Home Alone was cute.  The second one was unnecessary.  I have a vague recollection that others may have been made.

There are cases, like the Lord of the Rings movies that were planned all at once.  It’s not a series of movies, but rather one story told in installments.  For whatever reason, each entry into the franchise is solid and worthy of paying for another admission.

The Back to the Future trilogy is an odd occurrence.  The first movie was going to be one movie.  There was the final scene where Doc takes Marty and Jennifer into the future, but it was meant to be just that:  The final scene.  When the movie did well, two more movies were made, back to back.

Back to the Future Part II picks up where Part I left off.  Doc takes Marty and Jennifer into the future.  Doc tells Marty and Jennifer that their children are in trouble.  The DeLorean has been modified so that it can accept waste as fuel, making things easier.  Oh, and where they’re going, they don’t need roads.  The DeLorean can now fly.

There are a few signs that the sequel wasn’t planned.  Jennifer has to be sedated, as Doc can’t have her asking too many questions.  (From what I recall, her presence wasn’t though that far through.  Sedating her was easier than changing the end of Part I.)  It does lead to a little trouble, as she’s taken to her future house and meets herself.

Once Marty and Doc return to 1955, they soon realize that they have bigger problems.  Marty hatched the idea to take a sports almanac back with him.  Doc discovered the plan and admonished Marty.  Unfortunately, Biff overheard them arguing and stole the idea.

Biff took the DeLorean back to 1955 and gave the almanac to his younger self so that he might bet on stuff and win big, which he does.  This leads to Hill Valley (and the surrounding areas) becoming an urban wasteland.  Marty enters his house to discover another family living there.  Principal Strickland is reduced to chasing away newspaper thieves with a shotgun.  And the clock tower is now the BiffCo casino.

This leads to a somewhat complicated third act where Marty and Doc have to return to the past to set the present right again.  They also have to avoid their former selves so that the events of the first movie aren’t changed.  It takes Marty a lot longer than it should to retrieve the almanac, but he does and eventually burns it, setting things right.  The movie ends with the DeLorean being hit by lightening (with Doc inside) and being sent back to 1885.  Thus, we get to see some pre-credit coming attractions for Part III, which takes place in the Old West.

The most noticeable thing about the movie for some is the conspicuous product placement.  (Personally, I’m still waiting on that Black & Decker device to rehydrate my Pizza Hut carryout order.)  Fortunately, it’s not that bad.  It is fun to see the Café 80s, where Ayatollah Khomeini and Ronald Reagan have been given the Max Headroom treatment and compete to take your order.

Marty and Jennifer get to see where they live, which is nice.  One thing that’s always bothered me, though, was having kids that look like one of the parents.  Both Marty, Jr., and Marlene are played by Michael J. Fox.  With the son, I can understand.  An important plot point rests on this being the case.  Still, do we need to have both kids played by the same actor?  Not to mention that Thomas F. Wilson plays both Biff and his grandson Griff.

As with the first movie, people have raised questions, a few of which I have myself.  First, why didn’t time change around Marty and Doc when Biff came back from the past?  If this would be the case with Jennifer and Einstein, why not anyone else?  (It’s probably a conscious decision to allow for the story to hold together.  It is a bit odd, though.)  Also, how did Doc know to drop the rope at the end of the tunnel?  That was pretty good timing.  Maybe Doc got lucky.  Maybe not.  We may never know.


Sunday, June 02, 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

It occurs to me that Godzilla is like The Incredible Hulk minus Bruce Banner.  You have this giant creature that goes around smashing things without remorse.  If you like to see cities leveled, this is your character.  Motivations and origins may change, but the underlying narrative seems to be the same.

When I first saw coming attractions for Godzilla: King of the Monsters, I was all set to see it.  I mean, who doesn’t love seeing a major city left uninhabitable?  Then, I took a look at the IMDb page and realized that it was a sequel.  I was worried that I might need to see Godzilla to understand this incarnation.  It turns out I was worried for no reason.  Very little of this movie’s continuity relies on the previous movie.

In fact, had I not just told you, you could have watched this movie without knowing that any other movies came before this one.  You might have had some inclination that something was off, but not felt motivated to check.  (I have the DVD for Kong: Skull Island, which also exists in-universe.)  In fact, the two movies have exactly four actors in common.  That should tell you something.

In this outing, Godzilla is going up against several other monsters.  An organization called Monarch is all set to awaken all of these ancient creatures, including Mothra.  Why?  Well, this is the Earth’s way of taking care of itself.  We’ve become an infestation and Godzilla is the cure.  Working for Monarch is Dr. Emma Russell, who has a device that can control the monsters.

Then, there are those, such as Mark Russell, who say kill all the monsters.  He never trusted them, and he never will. He could never forgive them for the death of his boy.  (Wait…Maybe that was Kirk from Star Trek VI talking about Klingons.)  At any rate, they are a threat.  And yes, he was married to Emma.  They even have a daughter, Madison.

So, yeah.  It turns out that maybe Godzilla is a good thing.  Like in the first movie, he can keep the other monsters in line.  The main difference is that we now have 17 different monsters running around.  (It was Monarch’s plan to release one at a time, but things got out of hand.) 

One thing I like about having AMC’s A-List is that the premium movies are included in the plan.  So, whatever else, I got to see this movie in 3D.  I would tell you to do so if you can upgrade at no additional cost, since it would seem to be a vehicle for the effects.  Other than that, it wasn’t a particularly memorable movie.


Saturday, June 01, 2019

Godzilla (2014)

I was all set to watch Godzilla: King of the Monsters until I realized that it was actually a sequel.  Or, at least, IMDb had listed movies that had preceded it.   So, I set out to find a way to stream it.  Netflix had removed it from their streaming service on May 1.  With Hulu and Amazon, I had to pay extra.  (Hulu required a special package and it didn’t appear to be available with Prime.)  I wanted to watch King of the Monsters the next day, so the library wasn‘t looking good.  Finally, I found an option through my cable provider.  I’m wondering if I should have just skipped it.

The movie, as you might expect, is about a giant lizard creature that terrorizes the human population.  We don’t get much of a back story, except to say that America’s nuclear tests were attempts to rid ourselves of the giant creature.  Oh, it comes from a time before humanity.  And since it’s an American production, it’s mostly American cities that are destroyed.  (If you live in Las Vegas or San Francisco, I have bad news for you.)

The action revolves around Godzilla fighting two other large creatures.  (Part of the suspense comes from the fact that one is pregnant.)  There are also several humans trying to stop them.  It’s clear that the mating pair is dangerous, but what of Godzilla?  Is he helpful or will he turn on us once the other two monsters are gone?

The Navy wants to nuke all three of them, but that means getting them far enough away from civilization.  Not an easy task, especially considering that these monsters feed on radiation.  Would the blast be enough to kill them?  If I understand correctly, it‘s like luring someone in with their favorite food hoping they‘ll choke on it.

The entire movie was a little confusing.  There was very little in the way of commentary.  Shin Godzilla at least had a nuclear meltdown as a backdrop.  This incarnation is more about people fighting unstoppable monsters, hoping that another unstoppable monster might save them.  Oh, and there’s a sequel.  It almost seems like it’s a vehicle for the effects.

The movie was successful enough that two sequels were green lit during this film’s opening weekend, which would mean that enough people go for that kind of action.  I also watched both of the first two movies within a 24-hour span, so there’s that.  Still, my decision to see Godzilla vs. Kong will probably be based on whether or not I still have AMC’s A-List.  (Similarly, I’d like to see Kong: Skull Island if I can get it from the library or through Netflix.)

I’d imagine that there are worse ways to spend two hours.  I’ve you’ve seen a lot of Godzilla movies, I’m sure this one will be at least a little repetitive.  I don’t know how many times you can see a city destroyed before it gets old.  For me, I always think about all the people that have to evacuate if the city is entirely destroyed.  Even when a monster steps on someone’s car, I imagine someone coming out and freaking because something important was in there.  (“My dry cleaning!  What am I going to wear to that big interview!”)  The movie’s not great, but at least it’s not radioactive.


Perfect Bid: The Contestant Who Knew Too Much (2017)

I’ve often thought about which game show I’d most like to be on.  It would probably be Jeopardy!, mostly because it pays cash and there’s no limit on how often you can come back.  Looking at shows like The Price Is Right, you can only win non-cash prizes and, if you do, you have to pay taxes out of your own pocket.  Personally, I’d rather have the money.

Theodore Slauson, on the other hand, really liked The Price Is Right.  He and his brother even noticed that the prices were fairly consistent.  In fact, if you account for varying features, they were always the same.  If a particular brand of a pack of gum was 69¢ one week, that same pack of gum would be 69¢ a few weeks later.  It makes sense.

Most people would have left it at that.  Not Ted.  It would be a while before he would turn 18 and be eligible to participate in the show.  That would give him plenty of time to memorize all of the prices.  There were some products which couldn‘t be memorized.  Vacations, for instance, had a lot of variables, such as where you flew from and which airline was used.  There were a lot of products, like cars, that had maybe three or four different models (read: three or four different prices) at most.  This gave Ted a leg up on the other contestants.

Ted made it to the show dozens of times as a member of the studio audience.  Over the years, he helped many people in Contestants’ Row get the right bid.  On his 24th visit, Ted had the opportunity to bid himself.  And yes, he managed to get an exact bid.  A few more correct bids let him go to the Big Wheel, where he actually lost to someone else.  (For those that don’t watch the show, contestants have to spin a big wheel with dollar values and get as close to $1 without going over.  Ted didn’t get the highest amount.)

You’d think that this would be the end of the story, but it’s not.  After all, this is called Perfect Bid.  It’s about someone that made a perfect bid in the actual showcase.  Again, for those not in the know, two contestants are each given a showcase consisting of several prizes.  It might include a car or an RV.  It might even be a vacation.  Whoever bids closer wins their showcase.  If they bid within a certain amount, they win both prizes.  The Price Is Right has debuted in 1972.  In all those years, there has been only one perfect bid on a showcase.  This documentary is about that bid.

Ted might have been content with his showing.  He would have had to have been, as at the time, there was a rule that you could only compete once.  Then, the changed the rule so that you could try again after ten years.  Ted made several more trips to the studio audience.  While he wasn’t selected, Terry Kniess was.  Terry made it to the Showcase.  While the details differ, the important fact is that he bid $23,743..  The value of his showcase?  $23,743.

In the 40+ years that the show has been on the air, this remains the only time that has ever happened.  People have come close.  A site I found even has someone being $2 off.  To put that in perspective, Bob Barker is credited on IMDb as having appeared on 6,719 episodes.  Drew Carey is credited at 1,768 as I’m writing this.  That’s almost 8,500 episodes between them.  Only once has there been an exact bid.

Now, you might wonder what the big deal is.  I wouldn’t blame you if you hadn’t heard about this.  This is something that you’d put in the trivia section on IMDb and forget about it.  There was some scandal, as Roger Dobkowitz, a producer with the show, had recently been fired.  Was this payback?  Those producing the episode weren’t really clear on what to do.  While it was possible for this to happen, I don’t think anyone expected it.  In retrospect, it was kind of the show’s fault, as they should have varied the prices more.

The runtime is a little long at 72 minutes.  A lot of it seemed like filler.  I think this could have been done in a much shorter time.  Maybe have it as a segment on a TV show about game-show history or something.  While it is an interesting footnote in the history of daytime television, that’s really all it’s going to be to a lot of people.  If you were to watch it, I’d save it for your next layover at an airport.