Monday, April 06, 2020

The Twilight Zone (2019) -- Season 1 Episode 2 (Nightmare at 30,000 Feet)

Several episodes from the various Star Trek spinoffs reused ideas from the original series.  Some were better than others.  I suppose it’s natural.  If you have a good story, why not?  The same could be said of The Twilight Zone.  It’s only the second episode and they’re already reusing an idea from the 1959 series, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.  Except this time, it’s Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.

The premise uses the same framework as the original story.  A man boards a plane and gives in to his own fear.  This time, the man’s name is Justin Sanderson.  He’s an investigative reporter going to Tel Aviv from New York.  He was supposed to fly first class, but gives his seat so a family can stay together.

He’s a man that notices coincidence.  He’s on Flight 1015, which was supposed to leave at 9:30, but was pushed back to 10:15.  The date?  October 15.  Most people wouldn’t think much of it.  Given that flight numbers are, at most, four digits, there will eventually be a flight number that matches the date or time eventually.

Then, there’s the MP3 player that Justin finds.  It has a podcast of unexplained mysteries.  This particular episode is about the mystery of flight 1015 out of New York.  This really has Justin’s attention, as the details given on the podcast match the flight exactly.  (The podcaster mentions the name of the pilot, for instance.)

Rather than dismiss it as someone’s sick attempt at a joke, Justin gives in and starts snooping around.  The flight attendants don’t like it.  Justin attracts the attention of the pilot, who tells Justin to sit down.  Justin eventually attracts the attention of the air marshal, who restrains Justin.

He eventually enlists the help of Joe Beaumont, a former pilot who may or may not be a figment of Justin’s imagination.  Once Joe gets into the cockpit, it becomes evident that Justin brought about the events of the podcast by trying to avoid them.  Of course, by then, it’s too late.

I think this episode could have been better.  I see where the episode is going.  It seems a bit trite.  There’s not enough depth to it.  Plus, the final scene could have been removed.  If the last image we saw was the plane going down into the Atlantic, that would have been good.  But to have an epilogue where Justin is attacked by the other passengers was too much.  It didn’t seem necessary.  It also doesn’t feel like the twist ending that I’ve come to expect from The Twilight Zone.

It’s also a little odd that Justin somehow found this MP3 player.  Had he not switched seats, someone else would have found it.  What would have happened if someone else had occupied that seat on that flight?  What if the plane had made it to Tel Aviv and someone on the plane’s next flight found it?  It seems more likely that Justin might have imagined the whole thing.  On a very basic level, it seems like schizophrenia.

It’s not a great episode, but it is watchable.  I’m hoping that this will be the weakest episode of the first season.  If that’s the case, I don’t think I’ll be disappointed.


Sunday, April 05, 2020

The Twilight Zone (2019) -- Season 1 Episode 1 (The Comedian)

I remember seeing the coming attractions for the new Twilight Zone series.  I was excited until I realized that it was going to be on CBS All Access.  Granted, I also wanted to watch Star Trek: Picard, but it still wasn’t enough to get me to pay.  I don’t have a lot of money to spare.  Since the outbreak of Coronavirus, it looks like I have a free month to watch the first season.

Samir Wassan is the titular comedian.  He has an act about The Second Amendment that comes off more like a lecture than a comedy routine.  He gets no laughs.  That’s when he’s approached by a famous comedian, J.C. Wheeler.  J.C. hasn’t been seen for a while, but is apparently good enough that Samir asks for any pointers.

J.C. tells him that he has to put himself out there and he’ll get the laughs he wants.  But it comes with a catch.  He can never get that part of him back.  That might seem like an innocuous warning, but this is The Twilight Zone.  Nothing comes for free.

It starts simply.  Samir makes fun of Rena’s dog, aptly named Cat.  When he returns home to his girlfriend, Rena, she doesn’t recall ever having a dog.  All pictures of Cat are gone from Samir’s phone.  No one recalls Cat.

Therein lies the rub.  If he mentions a person’s name, that person disappears, but Samir delivers a popular routine.  Samir runs up against two further conditions.  First, he has to use the person’s actual name.  Sort of getting it right only to realize it might be an alias doesn’t work.  Second, he can’t use the same person twice.  He has to make a new person disappear each time he’s on stage.

At first, this seems great.  He can get rid of people he doesn’t like.  Fellow comedian Joe Donner hit a mother and child sitting at a bus bench.  When Samir makes Joe go away, the bus bench is restored and the mother and child are presumably still alive.

He goes through a list of people who wronged him, from bullies to a pervy school coach.  Eventually, he starts towards the petty.  He gets rid of Rena’s mentor.  She goes from being a lawyer to being a waitress.  He also makes her nephew disappear.  Not only does Rena not remember the nephew, but her sister is unable to have children.

Samir has an ethical debate.  He’s using people for his own advantage.  They did exist.  He remembers them.  But he’s the only one.  As J.C. points out, there’s no grieving mother.  No one really cares except for Samir.  When Rena finally calls him on it, there’s only one thing for Samir to do.

It might seem that this is exclusively about the Law of Unintended Consequences.  However, not each action has a downside that’s readily apparent.  Samir did save two people, which has to count for something.  Of course, just because we’re not aware of it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  We don’t know if Joe had kids or was helping people on the side.

It’s more about responsibility.  Samir points out that The Second Amendment states “well-regulated”, implying that not all restrictions are off limits.  The key here, though, is regulating yourself.  Samir doesn’t ever really try to hold back.  He’s aware of what he’s doing, but he does it anyway.  Sure, some good did come of it.  It’s not until the end that Samir realizes how much harm he’s caused, even if no one else knows it.  This is a solid entry for the new series.


Saturday, April 04, 2020

Altered Carbon (Season 2)

It’s great when you can change actors without losing the character.  If you have a shape shifter, they just look different next week.  Altered Carbon sort of has that in that characters can swap bodies.  The rich can afford clones of themselves, so the character can die without being recast.  But for the poorer people, it might mean using someone else’s body.

Takeshi Kovacs is back for the second season of Altered Carbon.  This time, he’s played by Anthony Mackie, whereas the character was played by Joel Kinnaman last season.  To make matters a little more confusing, he was also played by Will Yun Lee in both seasons.  (Will Yun Lee plays the body that Kovacs was born into.)

This time, he’s looking for Quellcrist Falconer.  It would seem that she’s killing those rich, immortal people.  Falconer is known for not liking the technology that allows for immortality, but murder is out of character for her.  The hope is to find her and get an explanation before the authorities do.

The second season does have a more subdued tone to it.  There wasn’t as much of a sense of wanting to see the next episode, as I did with the first season.  This isn’t to say that I didn’t want to watch it.  It’s more that I didn’t mind watching an episode before dinner.  There wasn’t that need to watch the next hour right away.

I think part of it is that most of the actors are new.  Even most of the characters are new.  In fact, I think Kovacs, Falconer and Poe are the only three characters to return.  Poe’s presence was a little strange.

For those that didn’t see the first season, he was the AI that ran the hotel Kovacs was operating out of.  At the end of the season, he was attacked.  Now, he’s glitchy and hesitant to reboot.  He might lose his memories, which would be bad.  It would have been easy enough to write this a little differently.  Instead, it’s used to hinder Kovacs here and there.

My main complaint with serialized stories is that each episode is rather slow and usually ends with a hyped-up cliffhanger.  At least we didn’t get the latter here.  It was also a little more evenly paced, but I felt it was slow at times.

Some of the series was spent looking for Konrad Harlan.  I wasn’t exactly sure where that was even going.  Poe was sent in to the VR world to look for him.  Once it was discovered that he wasn’t there, Poe and Kovacs all but gave up on it.  It seemed like a lot of screen time just to show what kind of person his daughter was.

Much of the season was like that.  It was so slow that I usually felt like I was missing something.  It’s like someone is telling you a story and constantly leaving out important details.  I felt like there should have been more going on.

I’m curious to see how the third season will turn out, if it is actually announced.  The series has a way of letting characters come back to life and were left with a pretty nice setup at the end of the final episode.  We’re teased with a big question of what exactly Poe and another AI character found.  The question is whether or not we’ll get our answer


Friday, April 03, 2020

El hoyo/The Platform (2019)

If you watch enough movies, you tend to see patterns.  You’ll see elements of one movie in another.  It’s easy to compare The Platform to Cube, but it’s really not the same thing.  This isn’t some loose remake of another movie.  I’m not saying it’s entirely original, but it does stand on its own.

The Platform follows Goreng as he finds himself in a tall tower.  Each floor is a cell shared by two people.  Goreng entered voluntarily, hoping to earn a degree by the end of his six-month stay.  He’s initially paired with Trimagasi, who we find out accidentally killed someone.

Each cell has little more than two beds, a sink and a toilet.  Each person is allowed one personal item to help pass the time.  (Goreng brings a book, but it can be anything.)  Food is delivered once a day on a platform that goes from the top floor down.  By the time it reaches Goreng and Trimagasi on level 48, there’s not much left.  Trimagasi is happy for a bottle of wine.

Herein lies the problem.  There’s supposed to be enough food for everyone, assuming each person takes their share.  The catch is that there’s nothing stopping the first level from taking everything.  In fact, the only condition seems to be that you can’t save anything for later.  You have to eat while the platform is there.  If you hold onto anything, the temperature either rises or falls to a dangerous level unless you throw it down to the next level.

People are reassigned to a new level every 30 days.  People are kept together unless someone has completed their term or they die.  The level assignment seems to be random.  You could kill someone and end up on a higher level.  You could be a saint and wind up on a lower level.  Trimagasi has been on lower levels and does not like the prospect of going back.

Even though everyone has been on a lower level, they’d just as soon shit on you as help you.  (This literally happens in one scene.)  There’s little empathy.  There’s also no way to really affect anyone on the levels above.  One could make threats, but not carry them out.  People only have the hope of attaining a higher level next month.

There is a disturbing element to the movie.  Several people are killed and in rather gruesome ways.  Having to go a month with no food will make people do crazy things.  If you’re at all squeamish, there will be things that will bother you in this movie.  (No, it’s not a good idea to bring a dog as your personal item.)

Mostly, it’s commentary.  When people have to share resources, there really is no good answer.  If we are told to share, that doesn’t happen.  People without access will have to go without, and that’s not going to look pretty.

Any alternative starts to look like socialism and is frowned upon.  The intent is to help people, but why should one person go without for the benefit of another?  It’s the perfect example of the tragedy of the commons.  Everyone takes what they can get.

It’s also easy to say you would help people, but most wouldn’t.  Even when Goreng wakes up on a single-digit level, he finds he has no control over those above him and little control over those below him.  There’s not much he can do except threaten those on the level below him to fall in line.  Even then, there’s no promise that the instructions will be followed all the way down.

I suppose that’s life.  Some will suffer.  I think the big question is how do we treat others?  Even knowing what it’s like to be on the bottom, some people will grab all the money that they can.  I feel that while the movie isn’t perfect, it does illustrate the dilemma pretty well.