Friday, July 03, 2020

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 14 (Wolf in the Fold)

There were times that Star Trek could be progressive.  It dealt with issues such as race and war.  It even had a woman of color as a bridge officer.  Unfortunately, she never got to command a ship during the show’s three-year run.  There were times that the show didn’t go as far as it could have.

Then, there were times that they dropped the ball entirely.  I understand that the times were different, but some things make me tilt my head and ask what I just watched.

Kirk, McCoy and Scotty seem to be having a good time on shore leave.  They’re watching women do some sort of belly dance.  Scotty leaves with Kara, one of the dancers.  While Kirk and McCoy are walking around the town, they hear a scream.  Scotty is found standing over hear dead body, weapon in hand.

We’ve all seen enough Matlock and Murder She Wrote to know Scotty didn’t do it.  The authorities detain him anyway.  So, it’s up to Kirk and McCoy to prove him innocent, which is no easy task.  They even have someone beam down to run a test on Scotty.  Of course, Scotty is sent to a room with her where she can mysteriously wind up dead.

So, another young lady is brought in to interrogate Scotty.  You might think that she would wind up sequestered in a room with Scotty and wind up dead.  You’d be wrong.  This time, the lights go out, but there are other people in the room when she dies.

This is where it goes off the rails.  It wasn’t Scotty, after all.  It was some sort of malevolent force that was once known on Earth as Jack the Ripper.  This force has been inhabiting men for the purpose of killing women.  And all this time Kirk and McCoy thought Scotty had a problem with women.

I wish I was kidding on that one.  I’m not.  Apparently, a female engineer gave Scotty a bump on the head.  Now, he’s a full-blown misogynist.  It kind of makes you wonder what passed for progress back then.

While we’re on the subject, why leave Scotty alone with women?  If they’ve noticed the pattern, wouldn’t it make sense to assign a security guard to Scotty?  Even if he didn’t do it, it’s an awful coincidence.  (I know that it would ruin the surprise to have a security guard report back, but given the show’s track record with security officers, they have an easy out.)

On top of all this, the episode ends with the murder of an individual.  To get rid of the entity, they beam the person, with the entity inside, out into space.  No mention is made of the fact that they had to kill an innocent person.  There’s no debate or remorse or anything.  They just do it.

It’s really hard to think of this as a good episode.  It’s not particularly scary or tense by today’s standards.  I think that it would have been a totally different episode had it been written for one of the modern series.  Come to think of it, I don’t think any of the spin-offs ever reused the plot.  This is saying something, given that there were quite a number of recycled plots.  If you’re looking to watch all of the Star Trek episodes, this is one you’re just going to have to sit through.


 

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Star Trek -- Season 2 Episode 13 (Obsession)

I’ve come to realize that Star Trek had a lot of contrivances that the subsequent series didn’t have.  For instance, The Enterprise encountered a lot of one-of-a-kind creatures.  There were also a lot of emergencies that could have easily been handled by some other means.  Add to this reused plot devices and you have an episode of Star Trek.

In Obsession, The Enterprise is due to pick up some perishable medical supplies from the USS Yorktown.  For some reason, they’re doing a planetary survey first.  On that planet is a gaseous life form that can drain a person of hemoglobin.  Kirk recognizes this as the same creature that killed half the crew of the USS Farragut, Kirk’s first assignment out of Starfleet Academy.  Kirk is determined to kill the thing before it manages to spawn thousands more like itself.

Ok, so how do they know that there’s one of this thing?  If it goes back to its home planet to reproduce, it’s conceivable that there are thousands or even millions of these cloud creatures draining the hemoglobin out of unsuspecting people.  For that matter, how does it survive like that?  There are plenty of life forms that don’t have iron-based blood.  The Enterprise’s first officer is one such life form.

So, Kirk puts off meeting with The Yorktown.  Why can’t the Yorktown deliver the supplies if it’s so important?  Why schedule two ships to meet up in the first place?  It’s to give Kirk a deadline.  That’s why.

The entire episode seems built around Kirk getting revenge.  You’d think at least one other Starfleet officer would have the same concerns.  Half of the crew of The Farragut survived.  Isn’t there someone Kirk could talk to who would understand?  I’d think Kirk would call one of the surviving crewmates or the relatives of the fallen crewmates to let them know what happened.  Even a passing comment in a later episode would have been nice.


 

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

La Jetée (1962)


It’s strange how many movies are based on something else.  The Shawshank Redemption, Scarface and Total Recall are all based on books.  There are all manner of remakes.  TV shows like Charlie’s Angels and Mission: Impossible are made into movie franchises.  That’s not even getting into comic books and graphic novels.  I suppose it’s true that there’s very little originality anymore.

One of the movies that surprised me was 12 Monkeys.  The film that spawned a TV series was based on a shorter film called La Jetée.  Both movies follow the same basic plot.  A man is sent back in time to help save humanity.

For those that have seen 12 Monkeys, La Jetée has a few notable differences.  The most obvious is that La Jetée is a story told through a series of still images.  The narration tells of a man who is repeatedly sent back in time to help save humanity.  He’s eventually sent to the future to make sure we turn out ok.  In the end, he finds out that everything was predetermined.  The event that made him the right candidate happened because he was the right candidate.

Normally, I don’t go for the whole predestination paradox.  It seems kind of simplistic to me.  I would make an exception in this case because the entire project goes for simplicity.  At 28 minutes, the movie doesn’t really bother with a lot of details.  The characters are simply given descriptive names.  (A woman from the future or The Experimenter, for instance.)  It’s not even entirely clear what exactly the experimenter hoped to do.  What was it about going to the past or the future that would have been gained?

I don’t think I would have even known about this movie had it not been for 12 Monkeys.  It’s like one of those overly artistic movies I remember from school.  Every so often, when we had a free day, we’d get one of those short videos with the boring narration and whatnot that was generic enough to get a G rating.  I think if you’ve never seen 12 Monkeys or are not a fan of science fiction, this will be on your must-miss list.


 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)


I’ve often wondered if it’s wrong to go through IMDb’s Bottom 100 list.  With access to several streaming platforms, I could probably find a few of them.  I have already watched Birdemic: Shock and Terror through the magic of Amazon Prime.  Several other titles are available for me there.  I can watch plenty more through Netflix, either streaming or on DVD.  If I tried hard enough, I could probably find all of them.  The question is whether or not I should.  Do I really want to subject myself to that many horrible films?

Eh.  Why not?

Some, like Birdemic, are tried and true stinkers.  There are no redeeming qualities.  If some effort was put into the project, it wasn’t to make a movie.  Others, like Manos: The Hands of Fate, do seem to have been an honest attempt to make a film.  This isn’t to say it wasn’t a stinker.

The movie starts with Michael and Margret on vacation.  They’re driving through the countryside with their daughter, Debbie, looking for the Valley Lodge.  We see all sorts of nice scenery.  They get pulled over for a broken taillight, but aren’t given a ticket.

Instead of finding their hotel, they come across a mysterious house.  The only occupant is Torgo, a man with a funny walk.  It’s only stated that he serves as the groundskeeper.  We never find out why he walks that way.  Michael pleads with him to stay the night.  Torgo eventually relents, stating only that Master won’t like it.  There’s also a strange painting of Master and his evil-looking dog. 

What follows is an hour of bizarre events.  Mostly, it’s Michael and Margret arguing over whether or not they should stay, but there doesn’t seem to be any way out.  They can’t find their way back nor can they make their way onward.  Also, Torgo keeps looking in on Margret, mostly without her knowledge.  He’d like to keep her as his wife, saying that Master has enough wives.  He also makes some creepy advances towards her. 
Debbie escapes only to find the evil dog.  They stumble upon Master and his wives.

Master and the wives eventually wake up.  They chew out Torgo for letting the family stay and slap him around as punishment.  The Maser decides that Margret and Debbie will become his new wives while Michael must be killed.  While The Master goes out to deal with Michael, the wives debate as to whether or not Debbie should be a wife.  They can’t kill her, but she’s just a small child.  She has no business being anyone’s wife.  This eventually leads to the wives pushing each other around and whatnot.

Michael, Margret and Debbie run, but realize they can’t escape.  They go back to the house, thinking no one would look there, only to find The Master waiting for them.  We then cut to two women driving in the same area.  They happen upon the same house only to find that Michael is the new groundskeeper.  Margret and Debbie have become The Master’s new wives.

So, there’s very little about the movie that makes sense.  How, exactly, did the family come across the house?  The Master doesn’t seem to like visitors and the family very much wanted to be somewhere else, so there was no reason not to help them leave.  If it was that big of a deal, you would think that Torgo would be sure to know the local roads.  This would at least facilitate unwelcome guests leaving as quickly as possible.

From what I’ve read, the camera used could only shoot 32 seconds of film at a time, which would explain some of the limited shots.  Still, filmmakers have been able to work wonders with little or no resources.  This shouldn’t be a limiting factor.

There was always that one kid in class that could always hit it out of the park.  Maybe they’d write amazing stories or be able to draw really well.  Yes, I know it takes practice, but this film is full of things that make you wonder, like blurry shots that never should have made the final cut.

Some movies are made by incompetent people with lots of money.  Others are made by competent people with limited funds.  This movie comes across as very amateurish.  The dialogue is very basic.  The music is like something you’d find out of the dollar store.  It’s like something you and your friends might put together one weekend if you borrowed a movie camera from a friend’s parents.

It comes across as a half-baked idea.  The basic premise isn’t that bad.  Getting lost like that could make for a good horror movie.  But the move isn’t a good horror movie.  It just goes nowhere.  There’s even a kissing couple that seems to be used as filler.  I’m not even sure why it was included, as the movie would have been just as good without it.  And to think, this movie spawned two sequels.  At least I have a remake to look forward to.


 

Friday, June 12, 2020

Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010)


There was an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called Skin of Evil, in which a race had taken all of their worst qualities and made a separate, sentient being out of them.  Armus was the worst that that species had going for them.  I think Birdemic is cinematic equivalent of Armus.  It’s as if someone took all the worst attributes of every other film and combined them into a single horrible thing.

The movie starts with Rod driving around town.  While stopping for lunch, he meets Nathalie.  (Specifically, he checks her out as she walks out, then catches up with her.)  They used to go to school back in the day.  He’s now a salesman who closes million-dollar deals and has stock options.  She’s a model who just landed a shoot for Victoria’s Secret.

It takes the entire first half of the movie for them to get together.  They go to dinner together.  They go to some sort of pumpkin festival.  He even meets her mother.  They finally find their way to a motel room.

This where the birdemic begins.  Several birds start dive-bombing the cars in the parking lot.  Rod and Nathalie meet Ramsey and Becky, who are also guests at the motel.  Everyone keeps calling the birds eagles, even though they look more like vultures.

The four of them escape in Ramsey’s van.  Along the way, they pick up two orphans.  This part of the movie is just the group running away from the exploding birds.  They occasionally meet people, who are there to either take advantage of them or offer some theory on why this is happening.

The movie ends when some doves come over and magically get the eagles to stop their attacks.  I’d say that the birds fly off into the sunset, but they don’t.  They spend several minutes just hovering there.  Birds can do that in this movie.  They can hover by flapping their wings once every few seconds.  Of course, if they can explode on impact, hovering isn’t that unbelievable.

I really think that very minimal effort was put into this.  IMDb estimates the budget at $10,000.  That’s not a misprint.  It’s not $10,000,000.  They spent $10,000 on everything.  This might explain why they use a van with the paint peeling off.  I’m not sure if this includes the actors’ pay.  It’s also possible that they weren’t paid.  The acting was stiff and choppy.  It was almost as if they had just gotten the script the day before and had just enough time to memorize the lines.

Many of the scenes are overdone or unnecessary.  When Rod finally gets his stock options, we’re treated to a few minutes of the employees clapping and congratulating each other.  There’s another scene in which Rod buys solar panels.  I think the only reason this exists is to promte the idea of spending $2000 on green technology.

I may have already mentioned how bad the CGI is.  I think they used the same vulture for all of the birds.  The same could be said of the doves.  It looked like it was the same animation, offset by a second or two to make it less obvious.

Shock and Terror is the perfect subtitle for this movie.  It’s shocking how terrible it is.  It’s so bad that you’ll be in terror as you watch it.  There are no good parts.  There are no redeeming qualities.  Consider that the movie lists “Supporting Casts” in the opening credits.  This movie deserves to be on IMDb’s bottom 100 list.