Friday, August 30, 2019

The Farewell (2019)

Sometimes, it’s difficult to see the bigger picture.  There’s what we want and what’s best for others.  It can be difficult to reconcile the two, especially when thinking in terms of what you would want.  You might select a certain path in life, but that doesn’t mean the same path is best for everyone

When Billi learns that her Nai Nai (father’s mother) is dying, she takes it pretty hard.  Nai Nai has a few months to live, so Billi’s parents are going to China (without Billi, no less) to visit her.  The extended family has decided, as is custom, not to actually tell Nai Nai that she’s dying.  Instead, they use a wedding as a cover to get together.  (I’m still not entirely clear as to whether the wedding was real or just staged.)

Billi follows her parents to China and agrees not to tell her grandmother about the diagnosis.  It’s difficult for her to do this, considering that Nai Nai might have things she‘d want to do before passing away.  She was born in China, but raised in America.  She asks why Nai Nai isn’t given the chance to know and maybe make peace with her life.  Her parents counter that it’s already too late.  She’s going to die and it’s the family’s responsibility to carry that burden.  This way, Nai Nai can enjoy her final months.

There are some levels on which I can connect with the movie.  I was born and raised in the United States and am of European descent.  However, Billi was raised in the United States and leans American culturally.  It’s difficult for her to wrap her head around her parents wishes.   She makes the perfect surrogate for the audience.  She understands the language well enough to get by, but she’s asking all the questions that we might ask in that situation.

The movie did remind me of going to my brother’s wedding in China.  I de recall cigarettes being everywhere, as well as the occasional offer of baijiu.  (I even have a photograph of several high chairs with packs of cigarettes for the guests.)   The activities surrounding the wedding looked very familiar.

The movie doesn’t necessarily go into all the differences between East and West.  Instead, it focuses on the concept of death and how we treat those that are dying.  In the West, we’d tell someone, even if there is no hope.  We’d see it as the patient’s right to know.  Billi has a point in that Nai Nai may want to make peace with people.  There may be things she wants to do.

The rest of her family also has a point.  If there is nothing that can be done, would it not be better to let her live unencumbered by the knowledge?  There is a certain burden in knowing that you have three months to live.  In this case, what would really be gained by sharing the information?  There is also a group dynamic.  The family takes on the burden for the grandmother.  They’re there to help her.

The movie does focus on the choice, but there is more to it.  It does give Billi a chance to go back to the place where she grew up.  Some of it has changed, but so has she.  There’s a lot for her to come to terms with.  In a way, it was a good choice for her to go to China.  She could just as easily have told her grandmother over the phone.  Going gave her the chance to reconnect with her family.  I have to wonder what would have happened had she stayed in America.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Kitchen (2019)

It’s not easy being a single-income family.  If anything should happen to that source of income, things can be difficult for the entire family.  This is no different for criminals.  Jimmy Brennan, Rob Walsh and Kevin O’Carroll are members of the Irish Mob.  They get arrested by the FBI while robbing a convenience store, leaving their respective wives in the lurch.   The Mob helps with finances, but it’s not enough.  Kathy Brennan, Claire Walsh and Ruby O’Carroll decide to take things into their own hands.

This might sound like the basis of an exciting movie.  And it is, to an extent.  Or, at least, it could be.  Some of the plot twists, you can see coming.  They work with various other members of the organization until the organization puts pressure on them to stop.  Others seem contrived or forced.  Ruby, a black woman, has a racist mother-in-law to contend with.  The entire dynamic seems a bit much.

It would also seem that the movie would end one of two ways.  Either the women end up dead or everyone else does.  At times, it seemed like it was difficult to tell which way it was going.  They would do very well.  Then, they’d face a big setback, which they would deal with.

Most of the movie is the three women working their way up.  They collect protection money from places where the Mob hasn’t been protecting so well.  They earn respect, expand their territory and take on another mob.  It eventually comes to a head when the husbands are released early, but the women are good at what they do.

Comparisons to Widows aren’t undeserved.  Both movies involve a group of women who have to step up in the absence of their criminal husbands.  With The Kitchen, they’re not as reluctant, but the basic storyline would seem to be the same.

The movie seemed haphazard, though.  It was as if someone took episodes of a TV show and put them in a blender.  It was coherent, but it was all over the place.  The women start off struggling, but not a lot was shown to establish this.  (We see Kathy go on one job interview.)  Then, they extort money.  (So, Claire needs a little encouragement, but goes all in after that.)  They do what they have to until the husbands get out.  Again, they do what’s necessary to survive.

I think the movie could have been done better.  It almost looks like there’s enough material for two or three movies here.  It seemed to me like half the movie was missing.  I might have had the first movie be the women hitting rock bottom before making their way alone and the second movie dealing with the husbands getting out and the women going all in.  I would say that this is a good movie to maybe check out of the library one night.

IMDb page

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)

Comedies tend to take certain liberties with the plot.  I can accept that to an extent.  The point of a comedy is to get laughs.  Similarly, the point of an action movie is to have, well, action.  You go to see explosions and car chases.  I can understand if the plot stretches reality, a little.  To an extent, anyway.

I’ve never seen any of the previous Fast & Furious movies.  I may get around to watching them one day, but I was drawn to Hobbs & Shaw for some reason.  I went in knowing that the plot would probably be a little bit ridiculous.  After all, the coming attractions featured Idris Elba’s character being referred to as the Black Superman.  I never expected this.

The movie takes two characters from the Fast & Furious franchise and gives them their own movie.  It starts with a covert MI6 team trying to retrieve a deadly virus.  The team is attacked by Brixton, a.k.a. Black Superman, and his henchmen.  Rather than allow the virus to be taken, Hattie injects herself and runs off, becoming the lone survivor.  Brixton calls it in and sets Hattie up as the one responsible for the attack.

Cut to Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw each starting their respective days.  Each eventually gets a call to come in to track down the virus.  It isn’t until the briefing that each realizes that the other was called.  So, they’re off to find Hattie.  There’s just one catch:  Hattie is Shaw’s sister.  Oh, and the reason that Brixton is so strong is that he’s been given mechanical enhancements.  And, although the virus is in small capsules, Hattie has 72 hours to get the virus out of her system.

So, here we go off on an adventure of implausible proportions.  Consider some of the action scenes.  Hobbs is able to jump from bad guy to bad guy while falling down the side of a building.  Apparently he has good aim and flexible physics.  The trio also has to do a little traveling.  Their first flight is from London to Moscow, which takes about 3-4 hours, give or take.  That’s not so bad.  The second flight is from Moscow to Samoa.  I looked up these flights and found that most would take more than a day.  You’re also looking at two layovers.  So, that would mean that Hattie has wasted half of her time on a plane or waiting for one.

Also, is it just me, or is odd that an air marshal would be on a London-to-Moscow flight?  I get that he might be on vacation or transferring, but the United States only claims jurisdiction if at least one of the stops is in the United States.  Neither London nor Moscow is within the United States.  What’s he doing there?

These were the two big ones for me.  The movie has all sorts of insane stunts and explosions.  The only other thing I took issue with was that a device could clean Hattie’s blood of the virus in 30 minutes.  It’s a dangerous virus and they trust a machine to extract it that quickly?  Um…ok.

So, if you’re considering seeing this, I’d recommend going in expecting explosions and fights.  If you’re expecting something comparable to Shakespeare, you’re going to be disappointed.  Of course, if you’ve seen the coming attractions, I don’t think this is going to be news to you.

Monday, August 05, 2019

The Dark Crystal (1982)

There were a lot of movies from my childhood that I liked.  Watching them again as an adult isn’t always the best decision.  I recall liking the live-action He-Man movie to an extent.  Recent viewings of the movie don’t do as much for me.  Similarly, I recall liking The Dark Crystal when I was growing up.

My parents probably let me watch it because it was made by Jim Henson.  The production values are certainly there.  You have big, strange-looking creatures.  The Mystics, also called the urRu are peaceful and look kind of plain.  The Skeksis are kind of weird looking and are out to rule this strange world.  Caught in the middle is Jen, a Gelfling raised by the Mystics.  He believes that he’s the last of his kind until he’s sent on a mission.

A thousand years ago, a crystal was shattered, creating the two main races.  If the crystal is fixed, Thraa will know peace.  If not, the Skeksis will reign for the rest of eternity.  A prophecy holds that a Gelfling will be the one to fix the crystal, so the Skeksis wipe out the Gelfling village, not knowing that Jen survived.  He’s sent on his way by a dying Mystic, who doesn’t give him a lot of information.

He is able to find Aughra, who provides Jen with some answers.  It’s not enough to make the mission’s objective much clearer.  He does meet another Gelfling named Kira along the way.  The two make it to the Skeksis’ lair and are able to reunite the crystal and saving the world.

The movie is a little strange.  It’s kind of simple for adults.  It’s a rather direct story.  It’s also populated by Muppets, which will make a lot of people think it’s for kids.  It is a somewhat dark movie, though.  The Skeksis are able to drain the essence of other beings for the purpose of keeping young.  There isn’t a lot of fighting, but there are a few scary moments.  I’m not really sure who the target audience was, here.

There was a planned sequel, which makes sense.  I could see this setting up a larger storyline.  Unfortunately, that  never came to pass.  It would have been interesting to see where that went.  The Jim Henson Company did begin producing a prequel series, which is set to be released at the end of this month.  I’m not sure what the series will bring.  It may detail how the crystal was fractured.  It may explore the Gelflings or other races.  Either way, I would probably watch it.

This is a world that could use some exploring.  There are some tie-in products like books and novels.  It would be interesting to look some of those up before the series airs.  I’m not sure what kind of availability each has.  Either way, I am definitely interested to see where the Netflix series goes.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Astronaut (2019)

Going into space is not a cheap or easy endeavor.  It costs a lot of money just to get someone out of Earth’s gravity well.  Add to that the fact that it takes three days to get to the moon and another three days back.  (I realized once that the Apollo astronauts easily had the worst commute ever.)  Space travel has, so far, been the domain of governments.  We’re at a point now where a select few are rich enough to consider putting people into space.

In Astronaut, a billionaire by the name of Marcus has designed and nearly built a ship that could take people into space.  He’s even holding a contest to allow one lucky winner to come along.  Angus wants to be that one.  The only thing holding him back is that he’s in his late 70s and not in very good health.  That doesn’t stop him from trying.  His daughter and son-in-law have even put him in an assisted-living facility.  Angus enters the contest anyway, saying that he’s 65.  (Grandson Barney knows someone who can get him a fake ID.) 

If this were real life, Jim and Molly would have nothing to worry about.  Angus would have the nursing home and Barney to cheer him on, but the sheer number of entries would prevent Angus from actually becoming one of the 12 candidates for that seat.  This isn’t real life, though.  Angus is given the opportunity to present his case to become an astronaut.

The opportunity isn’t without setbacks, though.  He does have a medical issue while being interviewed.  He also notices an issue with the runway.  It just so happens that he’s an expert, but no one will listen.  After all, he’s just some crazy old guy who wants to go into space.  (So, here’s someone that wants to get onto a ship that may be too heavy for the ground it’s supposed to take off from.)

It’s not a very complicated movie.  The script is at the TV-movie level, and I wouldn’t even say cable TV.  This would be somewhere just above network television.  Angus isn’t overloaded with problems, but he has enough that you know he’s not going into space.  (He has two or three medical episodes during the course of the movie.)  He’s also saddled with debt from when his recently deceased wife bought a donkey farm, complete with donkeys.

So, there are really only two things going on.  Angus wants to go to space, which has one set of issues, and Angus wants to save the mission, which has a few issues of its own.  There aren’t many distractions, other than Jim being suspended from work for doing something stupid.

I wouldn’t say that the movie is depressing, but I could see where someone could make the argument.  No one likes being told that they’re too old.  Being sent to the Sundown Valley Manor probably doesn’t help matters.  The name is just depressing enough that you feel for anyone living there.  I suppose this is all the more reason for him to go.  He’s at a point where the alternative isn’t too appealing.

I can’t quite bring myself to recommend seeing the movie in theaters.  It’s good, but not good enough that I would spend $35 to take a few people with me.  For those wondering, I have AMC A-List.  I would have probably skipped this movie if not for that fact.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 8 (I, Mudd)

Harcourt Fenton “Harry” Mudd is an odd character.  He’s annoying, outlandish, conniving and opportunistic.  The character could easily have gone off the rails.  Roger C. Carmel did well enough in Mudd’s Women that he was asked to come back for a second episode called I, Mudd.

The Enterprise is commandeered by an android called Norman.  He takes the ship to a planet with over 200,000 androids and one human.  Somehow, Mudd came to live on that planet.  The inhabitants have been good to him so far, in that they’ve given him everything he could ever want.  The only notable exception would be a way off the planet.   That’s where The Enterprise comes in.  The crew is beamed down to the surface.  Mudd is told that he’ll be beamed down.

It isn’t until the androids start making modifications to the ship that their ruse is discovered.  Given Mudd as their only example of humanity, the androids have come to the conclusion that humanity needs to be tamed.  They will do so by serving humanity and making them complacent enough that they’ll need the androids.  The scary part is that it could work.  Of course, the humans are able to outsmart the androids.  Kirk gets his ship back and leaves Mudd to the androids.  Mudd can leave, provided that he becomes a better man.  However, it will likely be a rather long sentence.

This is one of those episodes that could only have worked in the context of The Original Series. The Next Generation-era shows tended to be more sophisticated.  Here, the androids are undone by simple logical paradoxes.  Spock claims to love one android and hate another android, despite the fact that they’re both the same model.  Norman, who acts as a controller, is undone by the liar paradox.  It’s all neat and orderly.

It’s also a bit odd that given a population of 200,000 androids that can create anything, no one thought to build a ship.  Their creators are long gone, but created a ship that could travel from the Andromeda Galaxy.  Mudd must have also had a ship.  How is it that they had to steal the Enterprise?

For that matter, how did Norman insinuate himself into the crew?  He would have had to have been transferred.  I suppose it’s no big deal for them to fake orders, but it’s still a lot of effort given that they didn’t really need a ship.  Even if you say that they needed a Federation ship, why not build an exact replica?  (For that matter, how did Norman get off the planet if they didn’t have a ship in the first place?)

It’s one of those episodes that becomes confusing if you start to think about it.  Given that the planet’s androids were so easily outmaneuvered, it’s hard to believe that a full-scale invasion would have worked.  It would have been a matter of time before someone would have figured out how to stop the androids.  If not that, then another race, such as the Vulcans, would have come to our aid.

The story is more about humans not being able to survive in captivity.  Even the best cage is still a cage.  There has to be some motivation to do better.  Even when Kirk leaves Mudd on the planet, he gives Mudd an out.  If he doesn’t want to stay there forever, he has to change his ways.

In a way, it’s a shame that more wasn’t done with the concept.  It’s conceivable that other similar outposts were located elsewhere in the galaxy.  I realize that The Next Generation couldn’t rely on The Original Series for too many episodes, but it would have made for a nice reference.  Maybe have an Andorian or Romulan mention finding a group of the same androids.  Maybe they’ll show up on Star Trek:  Discovery.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 7 (Catspaw)

Holiday specials aren’t that uncommon in television.  Doctor Who usually has a Christmas episode.  The Simpsons have their Halloween special.  I even seem to remember that The Dead Zone had something about Thanksgiving in one episode.  Star Trek even has its own vague Halloween-like entry with Catspaw.

The story goes that the Enterprise comes across an uninhabited planet.  When a landing party consisting of Sulu, Scotty and Disposable Crewman go missing, the ship is in a bit of a panic.  Disposable Crewman is beamed back to the ship, but collapses; Dr. McCoy pronounces him dead.  That doesn’t stop some strange voice from using the dead crewman to warn the ship to leave, or else a curse will be placed on the crew.

So, Captain Kirk beams down with McCoy and Spock.  They find a castle with two inhabitants:  Korob and Sylvia.  Sulu and Scotty are also there, both apparently zombies.   Sylvia first appears as a cat, but changes into a beautiful woman for Kirk to seduce.

Both Sylvia and Korob are part of some sort of advanced force to assess life in our galaxy.  They’ve set up the castle as something they found in the crew’s minds.  Why, of all things, the Halloween motif is anyone’s guess.  It appears that they missed the mark, in any event.  Korob to bribe Kirk only to be told that replicators have made gems worthless.  Sylvia tires to use sympathetic magic only to have Kirk and Spock figure out the source or their power.

Yes, this is a weak remake of The Squire of Gothos.  Instead of their parents or superiors coming to bail out the ship, Kirk is able to defeat the two aliens by himself.  Once their amplification device is broken, Kolob and Sylvia revert to some sort of puppet-like creatures, presumably their true forms, and would seem to die.

It’s hard for me to tell where the episode is going.  It would seem to be an exploration of fear, but not a very good one.  Neither Sylvia nor Korob would seem to pose a credible threat.  At least, they’re not a threat on the same level as Trelane.  They also don’t seem to do to much to try to sway the crewmembers.  The most they can do is turn someone into a zombie.  It’s not even clear what their endgame is.  Are they simply studying the inhabitants of our galaxy or is this a prelude to invasion?  If so, to what end?

I also find it odd that the episode would seem to be geared toward what humans find scary.  Even though Vulcans have repressed their emotions, they were once violent.  There must also be members of other races on the Enterprise.  How is it that everything is something a human might find scary?  And European, at that.  Uhura comes from Africa whereas Chekov is Russian.  Surely, each of their respective cultures must have different takes on what’s scary.  Whatever message there might have been is lost in the episode’s cheese factor.