Sunday, September 29, 2019

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

The first two Terminator movies were a bit of a headache because of the bootstrap paradoxes.  If The Terminator hadn’t been sent back to kill Sarah Connor, Kyle Reese never would have been sent back to protect her only to become John Connor’s father.  Thus, the correct way to get rid of John Connor before he was born was to not try to kill him before he was born.

When this movie opens, Sarah is in a mental ward and John is in foster care.  He’s grown up thinking that she’s a nut job, which is a justifiable point of view.  She’s telling everyone that a machine from the future came back to kill her before her son was born.  This hasn’t stopped the apocalypse, which she needs to help John prepare for.  This would look like maybe the absolute worst Cassandra complex ever.  Except that it’s true.

Skynet has sent back an even better Terminator, the T-1000, to terminate John as a child.  Also returning from the future is a reprogrammed T-800.  This time, the original Terminator is going to protect John rather than kill him.  The same dynamic exists with a superior hunter and an inferior protector, but the same imperative exists: John Connor must live to defeat the machines.

The movie is done well enough that you can enjoy it without asking too many questions.  I originally wondered why the T-1000 didn’t, say, overload a power plant and destroy the whole city.  That would have been too easy.  Plus, the T-1000 has to be sure.  This means actually finding John Connor.  Still, you’d think that a computer system designed for defense could make a machine that could do better, or maybe even send back several terminators to work in concert.

In this case, I understand why some ideas weren’t used.  Sure, Skynet could have killed Sarah Connor while she was pregnant or killed John Connor as a baby, but this is something audiences wouldn’t react well to.  Sending something back in time is probably difficult, so sending an army back probably isn’t a viable option.  There isn’t a really great, obvious idea that I can think of.

We do get two more bootstrap paradoxes.  First, it seems likely that the arrival of the T-1000 either allowed Sarah Connor to get out of the hospital, or at least got her out early.  This allowed her to further train John Connor, who doesn’t appear to be battle ready just yet.  (Had she stayed in the hospital, John may not have done as well against the machines.)  We also find out that the arrival of the T-800 in the original movie gave Cyberdyne the idea for the terminators’ hardware, thus allowing for the creation of Skynet.  So, where did Skynet come from?

The movie could have been a simple action movie about two machines fighting over the future of the planet.  Instead, we get a commentary on the destructive nature of humanity.  Throughout all of the Terminator movies, the downfall of human civilization is inevitable.  We tend to fight one another.  This is what leads to the creation of Skynet in the first place.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Helvetica (2007)

There were a handful of fonts that everyone knew about, only because teachers told us that our papers had to be in one of those fonts.  They had to read a lot of papers, so they didn’t want anything fancy or hard to read.  So, you’re choices were something like Times New Roman or Arial.

Then, there was Helvetica.  I wouldn’t blame you if you’ve never heard the name.  Yet, someone made an entire documentary about the typeface, which started out as Neue Haas Grotesk way back in 1957.  Someone suggested changing the name to Helvetia, which was the Latin name for what would become Switzerland.  Rather than use the name directly, someone added the C.

You may be asking what’s so special about Helvetica.  It’s a very widely used font.  In fact, it’s common because it’s relatively generic.  Before the font was introduced, advertisements could have all sorts of crazy fonts.  Helvetica gave a very clean, easy-to-read look.  It was meant to convey information without the word itself becoming a spectacle.  When you look at signage, you look at the word or the letter and get what information you need from it without thinking about it.

Those interviewed for the documentary seem to fall into two camps.  Some believe that Helvetica was genius.  It did exactly what it was designed to do, which was convey information.  There’s an elegance in its simplicity.  Others thought that it was too bland.  It’s like glorifying white bread for being flavorless.  Why would you want someone to not notice the font?  That’s part of the design of an ad or a logo.

The film was 80 minutes, which was a little long for me.  I felt like 20 minutes or so could have been cut off.  I didn’t really feel like I learned much about the font, other than where it came from and what the intended use was.  Honestly, though, I don’t think most people would watch it at 60 minutes.  This isn’t to say the documentary is without merit or use.  I’m sure there are people that would be interested in it, but I don’t think most people would rent the DVD.  Maybe streaming, but I doubt there will be many rentals.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

Sequels tend to be a mixed bag.  Jumanji is more so.  It had this other movie named Zathura: A Space Adventure, which wasn’t really a sequel and not quite a knockoff.  (Both Zathura and Jumanji were based on books with Zathura’s book being more of a true sequel, apparently.)  Apparently, someone decided to make a sequel to Jumanji which is only marginally more of a sequel in that it uses a few names from the original film.

The story centers around four high-school students:  Spencer, Fridge, Bethany and Martha.  One day, they all find themselves in detention where they discover a video-game console.  This is no ordinary console.  It’s a special no-name console that has a cartridge which was actually the Jumanji board game that remade itself.  It was actually found by another kid, Alex Vreeke.  He’s trapped in the game much like Alan Parrish was in the original movie.

When the four kids find the console, they each chose a character.  Fridge takes “Moose” Finbar.  Bethany takes Professor Shelly Oberon.  Spencer gets Smolder Bravestone.  Martha becomes Ruby Roundstone.  This mainly serves as a way for each kid to see what life’s like the other way around.  The muscular Fridge is now played by Kevin Hart whereas the nerdy Spencer is now played by Dwayne Johnson.  The shy, less-than-attractive Martha is now played by Karen Gillan whereas the attractive, self-absorbed Bethany is now played by Jack Black.

Each character also has certain attributes.  Smolder is known for his smoldering good looks and strength.  Ruby is good at dance fighting.  Each player has three lives, which is usually used to comic effect.  The game itself has all sorts of dangerous obstacles to overcome. Along the way, the characters eventually meet up with Alex, who has been stuck on one area for a while.  And when I say a while, I mean 20 years.  (He’s living in a tree house that Alan Parish built.)

The movie, like the video game, seems like an update for a more modern audience.  There are in-jokes, like the character selection and attributes.  It’s almost as if it’s a remake rather than a sequel.  (There’s only a tenuous connection to the original.)

I will say that this installment seems to be more levelheaded.  The first Jumanji was a wild ride and seemed to exist just for the thrills.  This movie has a little more character development, although most of that is cliché.  Everyone comes to understand the others a little better.  As with the original movie, everything is set straight again.  The major difference is that this time, everyone in the game remembers what happened.

It’s rare that I admit that a sequel is an actual improvement over the original, but in this case, it’s not saying much.  The first movie didn’t really set the bar too high in many regards.  To say that cliché is an improvement should tell you something.

I’m kind of wondering if the next installment will explain how the game came to be.  I’m not sure if I really want that, though.  I don’t think it would really be necessary.  It doesn’t matter who or what created the game.  Knowing that such a sadistic thing exists is enough.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Back to the Future Part III (1990)

It took me a while to get going on the reviews for the Back to the Future trilogy.  Yes, I know that they came out over 30 years ago.  The first one was such an iconic movie that I wasn’t sure how to handle it.  The trilogy was also a bit of an anomaly to me in that it formed a continuous narrative, despite the fact that the second and third movies weren’t planned.  (It’s been noted that the second picks up where the first left off and this one picks up where the second left off.)

Part III goes in a new direction, taking us to the Old West.  It turns out that Doc was stranded in 1885, 70 years prior to the end of Part II.  (I’m not sure what it is with multiples of five.)   He writes Marty a note, to be delivered by Western Union, a few minutes after his disappearance.  Doc instructs Marty to find the Doc of 1955 so that they might repair the DeLorean and return Marty to 1985 once again.

Things aren’t that simple, though.  While retrieving the car, Marty and Doc discover a tombstone with Doc’s name on it.  He’s to die about a week after writing the letter.  So, a new plan is hatched:  Send Marty to 1885 to save Doc without altering the timeline.  Only, the fuel line is punctured, rendering the car inoperative.  The Flux Capacitor still works, but Mr. Fusion can’t power the car and there won’t be a gas station in town for quite some time.  So, it’s just a matter of figuring out a way to push the car to 88 MPH while keeping Doc alive for a week.  What could go wrong?

As much as I might hope for a Part IV, this is a fitting end for the franchise.  Everyone ends up happy and realizing that fate is what you make of it.  You just have to do so responsibly.  Yes, I know that there’s a TV show.  If I can find it on DVD, I might get around to watching it.  (I’ll have to see if the library has it.)

It was nice that there was a shift in the story to include Doc.  He even gets a love interest, which could complicate things.  I always felt sad when I saw the end of the movie.  Marty was stuck in 1985 while Doc got to go exploring time.  I suppose it’s possible that at some point in the future, Doc will meet Marty again.  (I’m assuming that this is what the TV series is about.)

Back to the Future seems to be a franchise that people either love or ignore.  I’ve always loved it, mostly because of its simplicity.  I’m sure that the movie’s representation of the Old West is simplistic, but it’s serving as a backdrop.  It’s more the setting for the story in which both main characters a great conclusion.  Marty McFly finally seems to learn his lesson and stops letting people push him around.  Also, Doc seems to be a happier person.  He has a family and the time machine that he originally wanted.  Both seem to have realized what’s important:  Life is what you make of it.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019)

When I saw the coming attractions for this movie, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see it.  I knew it could go one of two ways.  It would either try too hard (and possibly fail) at trying to make Brittany a sympathetic character or it would actually be a decent movie about someone making her life better.  There is an actual Brittany who did go on to complete a marathon.  This doesn’t preclude the first option, nor does it necessitate the second.  However, I decided it was worth a watch.

The story begins with Brittany slogging through life.  She doesn’t have a great job.  She sleeps too much, parties too much and doesn’t seem to have a lot of energy.  At least, she wants a doctor to write her a prescription for Adderall.  Doctor Falloway gives her an alternative:  Lose 55 pounds.  That would get her to her target weight and might just improve her options.

Brittany has to overcome several obstacle.  Those first few steps prove to be overwhelming, but a second attempt gets her around the block.  There’s also Catherine, who is initially an advice monger.  Brittany initially sees her as obnoxious, which she sort of is.  But Catherine becomes one of Brittany’s biggest supporters.  Then, there’s the superficial roommate Gretchen, who proves to be little more than a drag on Brittany’s ambitions.

Brittany’s biggest obstacle proves to be herself.  She has to learn to let people in.  There are those out there that want to help her.  I think that this is where the story is written well.  Catherine is the best example of Hell being other people.  It doesn’t matter where her advice is coming from.  Brittany sees it as obnoxious.  Even when the two grow closer, Catherine and another fellow runner, Seth, offer Brittany a check so that she can run in the New York City Marathon.  She refuses it, wanting to raise the money on her own.

Getting to the marathon is not an easy path for Brittany.  She starts with shorter runs, which she can manage.  She works her way up to larger runs.  She has setbacks, like an injured leg.  Even running a marathon has problems.  There are people who train years and still have serious medical issues during the race.  A marathon isn’t something to take lightly. 

Almost everyone in the movie has their own demons.  Catherine is going through a divorce.  Seth wants his son to respect him.  It’s hard to get over what you think other people think of you.  Brittany comes to realize that, while there are other people holding her back, it’s ultimately her own choices that matter most.  Some of the people around her can help her.  Others will only serve to distract her.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Silent (2014)

Occasionally, I come across a short film that looks interesting.  Part of the appeal is that they’re only a few minutes long.  I don’t have to commit to several hours on what might be a stinker.  I can also probably get  a review out of it.  Most of the shorts I come across tend to be like Silent.  It looks like it was meant to accompany a feature-length film and not stand on its own.  Yet, here it is, available streaming through Netflix.

It’s about two street performers, presumably father and daughter, showcasing the history of music in film.  It starts with the two of them on a street corner when it starts to rain.  They take refuge in a movie theater, where the man is sucked into the silver screen while the girl plays music to accompany various films.  It runs from horror to action.  The only specific movie I could make out was Safety Last!, with the man hanging from the face of a clock tower.

There’s no voice work.  There’s only the music.  It would seem to honor the soundtracks, if only briefly.  It’s not great, but it’s not terrible.  It’s very firmly in ’meh’ territory.  If you have Netflix, it might be worth a watch.  It’s exactly the kind of thing you could take a look at while waiting for someone else to join you or if you’re looking for something else to watch.

IMDb page

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Black Hole (1979)

2001: A Space Odyssey was a great movie about a ship sent to check on another ship.  The Black Hole isn’t that movie.  It’s not even the knockoff written by some nobody with a $50 budget.  It’s more like the foreign version where someone got a few pages of the script, the actors adlibbed the rest and the whole thing was mistranslated back into English.  Honestly, I have no idea if it was supposed to be this bad or if several key crewmembers walked out before shooting began.  And the amazing thing is that this was distributed by Disney.

The story begins with The Palomino returning to Earth after a long mission when they find the Cygnus near a black hole, hence the title.  The Cygnus appears to not be moving, so the Palomino moves in to investigate.  As they approach, the crew discuses how the Palomino was ordered back to Earth, but the order was disregarded.  For all they know, the Palomino’s crew is dead.

When they board, they find only one survivor:  Dr. Reinhardt.  He has some sort of gravitational shielding that allows him to be so close to a singularity without being crushed.  Reinhardt has spent the intervening two decades perfecting  his equations so that he can take the entire ship through the black hole.  Why?  To see what’s on the other side, of course.

Reinhardt is just about ready, but not quite.  He needs just enough time to allow the crew of the Cygnus to walk around the huge ship and make some horrifying discoveries.  Like, they have to get off the ship as soon as possible.  Reinhardt has gone crazy over the years.

The captain, first officer, doctor and robot run back to the ship only to have the one guy onboard launch without them.  No matter.  Reinhardt destroys the ship, so it kind of works out.  There is a probe ship they can use, but they have to run all the way across the huge ship to get to it.  Unfortunately, the ship programmed to go through the black hole.  I say unfortunately not because the ship is crushed.  I say unfortunately because it’s not crushed.  We’re treated to a montage of images not unlike the final scenes of 2001, except that we have some idea of what’s going on, but not really.

I suspect that the science advisor was the first to walk out.  Whoever wrote the script had no idea how a black hole actually works.  All three ships should have had some ill effects, such as stress on the hull and warping of time and space.  Even with the shielding, the probe ship should have been crushed.  There’s no way anyone should have made it through.

I’m actually surprised that a major studio had anything to do with this.  You might think that it’s a horrible or silly idea that was made workable.  This was a workable movie that was made horrible and silly.  Maybe, with the right people behind it, it could have worked.  In fact, I do recall some movies with a similar plot that seemed better.

I have to wonder if this movie was rushed to production.  I noticed a change in image quality depending on whether or not there’s a window in the background.  Granted, this could be because the movie has been remastered.  However, it doesn’t bode well that the effects are cheesy all around.  I’d say that the movie disregards science or quality standards, but the truth is that it disregards anything that might make a movie good.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Jumanji (1995)

Robin Williams always had a childlike energy that made him perfect for that overly outgoing character that just never grew up.  In Jumanji, he plays the adult version of a child trapped in a board game for 25 years.  One might be forgiven for thinking the part was written for him.  However, the movie is based on a book.  I would think that Williams would at least have been the first choice for the part.  But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The movie starts in 1869.  To people are seen burying the titular board game, hoping that no one ever digs it up.  Heaven help whoever does find the game.  That’s how sinister it is.  Cut to 1969 and a young Alan Parrish happens upon the box containing the board game and convinces his friend, Sarah Whittle, to play.  Each move brings about some odd and dangerous event, like bats descending on Sarah.

A few moves in, Alan becomes trapped in the game.  This leads to years of therapy for Sarah.  Alan’s father spends the family fortune trying to find Alan, since no one believes Sarah.  The house is eventually sold to Nora Shepherd, who moves in with her niece and nephew, Judy and Peter.  The two kids find Jumanji in the attic and continue the game, miraculously freeing Alan from the game.

The entire time, Alan was trapped in a jungle.  He’s now an adult (played by Williams, of course) and wants nothing more than to go back to his old life.  Unfortunately, his parents are dead and he has to finish the game, which means finding a now-adult Sarah.  As you might imagine, she’s not eager, but she relents.

Each move made brings another disastrous event, like a stampede or a flood.  The house is all but destroyed, but there’s the promise that it will all return to normal at the completion of the game.  Once the game is completed, Sarah and Alan find themselves back in 1969 as if nothing had ever happened.  They’ll have to wait 26 years for Judy and Peter to be born.  And, of course, they won’t remember anything.

The movie is all mania and no real substance.  My first thought is that it’s odd how sadistic the game is.  How would such a thing come into existence?  If someone created it, how and why?  What purpose does it serve to put people through that?

In the end, it doesn’t seem like anything was learned.  Alan and Sarah grow up to be regular adults with regular lives.  The Parrish shoe factory is still in business.  It’s kind of sad that Alan and Sarah can’t talk about the ordeal with the kids, or anyone else for that matter.  They just have to hide the game and hope no one unleashes the terror again.

It’s also a fairly scary movie.  It’s too childish for most adults, but it’s way too vivid for younger audiences.  Teenagers would be able to handle it, but that age group seems a bit too advanced for a movie like this.  As I said, it seems more like a vehicle for Williams.  (From what I’ve read in IMDb, he had to be told to hold back on the improvisation so as not to throw off the story.)

It’s an entertaining movie, but not a great movie.  Part of the problem is that it tries to do too many things without doing any of them well.  The aunt is away from the children for most of the movie.  The action is silly as many of the animals look fake.  It comes across as an action movie for children as written by someone who had never seen an action movie or an actual child. 

I would love to have been in the meeting to pitch this movie.  So, you have this board game that traps a kid in a jungle and makes another one go crazy.  It throws wild animals at them, although no one really gets hurt.  I mean, everything goes back to normal at the end of the game, so none of it really matters.  But we got Robin Williams to star in it!  That should tell you if it’s a movie you’d want to see.

Monday, September 09, 2019

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Season 1)

There has always been a market for nostalgia.  There are t-shirts for 80s bands and old Nintendo games.  There are even emulators for the Commodore 64.  But to do a prequel series for a movie that’s 37 years old?

My first clue was when Netflix started streaming The Dark Crystal.  I hadn’t watched the movie all the way through in decades.  When I did make the attempt, something else would come up about 30 minutes in.  When I found out that Netflix was going to do a series about the Gelflings, I decided to set aside 90 minutes to watch the whole thing.

Both the movie and the series take place on the planet Thra.  The series would appear to be set well before the events of the movie.  There are seven tribes of Gelfling, all under the rule of the evil Skeksis.  Gelfling view the Skeksis as benevolent, which is just a little ironic if you’ve seen the movie.  The Skeksis have abused the planet for their own evil ends.  They want to live forever and will drain the essence of the Gelfling to get their immortality.

The ten episodes start with the Skeksis draining the essence of one Gelfling, Mira, and blaming her death on another, Rian.  Rian and two other Gelfling, Deet and Princess Brea, come to realize what the Skeksis really are.  This is what starts the Gelfling resistance to the Skeksis.

My one question was how true the series would be to the movie.  Stylistically, it would appear to be the same.  CGI was kept to a minimum, making the visuals look almost identical.  While many of the same characters are still present, very few of the actors have returned.  This is understandable, considering how much time has passed.   (IMDb has a tool to compare the cast and crew of any two productions.)

The story doesn’t drag as much as other series do.  You expect a little bit of padding, since it is a ten-episode arc, but there were very few places where this was evident.  A good deal of this is because we’re tuning in for the visuals.  With the movie, only a small portion of the planet was explored.  The series expands that quite a bit and gives each area a distinct look.  One tribe lives underground.  Another lives in a desert area.  It’s a lot to take in, but it still leaves you hoping to see more if we get a second season.

And it is a somewhat complex narrative.  There are three characters making their way to the same point to unite all seven tribes against a common enemy. Add to this the fact that they have to convince people that the Gelfling are an enemy.  It’s not that easy.  This is, after all, an epic undertaking on more than one level.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Ready or Not (2019)

It’s bad enough getting yourself into a fight to the death.  To do so without realizing it seems a bit cliché.  “Fight this guy,” they said.  “It will be fun.”  Then you find out that neither contestant leaves until the other one is lying flat on their back.

Strictly speaking, Grace isn’t fighting against her new family, but the result is the same.  The movie starts on her wedding day.  She’s madly in love with Alex Le Domas.  What she doesn’t know is that the Le Domas family has a bit of a tradition.  When someone becomes a member of the family, they draw a card.  She and at least one family member have to play that game.  If it’s a game like checkers, it’s no big deal.  They just play checkers and that’s it.

There’s one card that’s a death sentence.  If you’ve seen the coming attractions, you can guess which game Grace shouldn’t draw.  Alex and his brother try to talk Grace out of the wedding on the off chance that she might get Hide and Seek as her game, but they can’t tell her outright.  Grace insists, not knowing what she’s getting herself into.

Long ago, great-grandfather Victor Le Domas made a deal with a mysterious businessman.  He and his family got rich off of whatever business Victor chose.  The catch was that the family was bound by the machine.  It would spit out a card every wedding night.  If that game was Hide and Seek, the new person has to be sacrificed.

The movie seems a bit excessive.  I wonder if it was meant to be that way.  Grace has to be taken alive, yet the Le Domas family is armed with lethal weapons.  In fact, most of the staff is killed accidentally.  It makes you wonder why they don’t use tranquilizer darts, instead.  (That would be too simple.)

There’s also a legend that everyone in the family will die a horrible death if they don’t make the sacrifice.  They admit that only one other family to make The Deal is rumored to have met this fate, so they can’t be certain that it’s true.  But it might be.  But it might not be.  Maybe it’s better to just catch Grace and sacrifice her.  No one wants to be the guy who gets the entire family killed.  No pressure.  Right?

It seems that satire movies are tending towards the bizarre.  This isn‘t the extreme that Sorry to Bother You gave us.  I mean, I get where they’re going with this, to some extent.  But it does seem excessive.  In fact, Alex is the only one that has any sort of reservations about hunting down Grace.  Everyone else accepts it like it’s paying for your utilities.  Sacrificing Grace is just the cost of business.

There are worse ways to spend 95 minutes.  One could easily read into the movie about how the rich have every advantage.  Grace grew up a foster kid and is enthralled with the idea of a stable home.  If you want to ignore the subtext, the movie is enjoyable.  You wouldn’t think you could make a movie out of Hide and Seek, but here it is.