Sunday, February 23, 2020

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Movies based on video games tend to be a mixed bag.  Pokémon had more than a few movies come out.  Pokémon Detective Pikachu was a pretty good movie.  I’m assuming that the others performed well enough.  I remember the Super Mario Brothers movie not doing as well.  I’ve never seen it but I seem to recall hearing that it bombed hard and with just cause.

Enter Sonic the Hedgehog.  It looks like someone got the idea to dust off some old Sega cartridges and see what they could do.  Nostalgia factor?  Check.  Characters that seem to stay true to the video game?  Check.  Original plot that has nothing to do with the video game?  Check.

On the one hand, the story is pretty generic.  It fits the very definition of paint by numbers.  [Insert hero name] goes from [place] to [place].  [Hero] gets help from [soon-to-be best friend].  They have to accomplish [goal].  Along the way, they are chased by [villain].

It’s exactly the kind of movie that sets itself up for some friendly joking.  The “I have no idea” scene has all the markings of a short-lived meme.  In fact, I would suggest maybe redubbing some of Sonic’s scenes with other celebrities, much like the scenes of Darth Vader with the voice of Samuel L. Jackson.  I could very much see Jimmy Fallon having Wallace Shawn on his show for just that purpose.  (I’d say Christopher Walken, but I don’t think that would work as well as Shawn would.  Danny DeVito, maybe.)

Don’t get me wrong.  The movie is entertaining.  There aren’t a lot of great jokes.  There aren’t any unforeseen plot twists.  In fact, there were fewer plot twists than I expected.  It’s one of those movies where if you’ve seen the coming attractions, you can guess how the movie plays out.  It’s the kind of movie you can enjoy if someone else is paying for it.


Saturday, February 22, 2020

October Faction (Season 1)

I’m sure everyone’s seen one of those fruit-on-the-bottom yogurts where you have that slightly nasty yogurt on top with a small layer of fruit down below.  The idea is to mix it up and give some flavor throughout.  I remember eating the yogurt first, hoping to get that intense fruit flavor.  It’s not something I did often.  In fact, I don’t think I ever made it all the way to the bottom more than once.  However, it’s the best analogy I can make to October Faction.

I made it all the way through the first season.  The show centers on the Allen family.  Parents Fred and Delores are the parents.  They hunt “monsters” for Presidio.  All the while, they’re trying to raise twins Viv and Geoff as normal children who have no idea what’s going on.  (As far as the twins know, Mom and Dad are insurance agents.)

There’s nothing to distinguish this show’s mythology from any other.  The monsters are mostly Vampires and Warlocks.  Vampires have lots of fangs and warlocks use magic.  There’s some mention that they want to live normal lives.  In fact, there’s very little shown of them doing anything bad.  Sure, some of the vampires attack people, but most just want to be left alone.

I spent each of the ten episodes hoping that there would be some meat.  Maybe there would be some flavor that would distinguish this show from any other monster show.  I’m sorry to say that there was no fruit at the bottom of this yogurt.

Come to think of it, there’s no mention of what October Faction even means.  It sounds like it might be the name of some sort of resistance group.  Maybe vampires and zombies try to improve their image or something.  All of the action would appear to take place during October of some year.  The only explanation is that there’s an uptick because October ends with Halloween.

It would be nice to know if there were other factions.  I’m not even sure if the faction refers to the hunters or the hunted.  Maybe there’s a December Faction that deals with Santa worshippers or something.  How about a February Faction that goes after Cupid?  I don’t know if there’s going to be a second season, but there are a few ideas.

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 2 Episode 11 (The Night of the Meek)

There are different kinds of Christmas stories.  It’s a Wonderful Life would seem to be the gold standard, in which a man gets a special wish and comes to realize how important he is.  There are angels and the spirit of good will and everything.

There are those like A Christmas Story, which was the one teachers showed on that free day before Christmas Break.  It kind of got overplayed for me.  There is a slightly more commercial aspect, as Ralphie is on a mission to get his gun.  But you still have family and a mall Santa.  (“You'll shoot your eye out, kid.”)

A case could even be made for Die Hard.  It’s about a man who visits his family on Christmas and saves his wife and her coworkers from terrorists.  There are naysayers who would tell you otherwise, but they’re wrong.  Just wrong.  ("Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.")

Then, there are the productions that just exist.  It’s as if someone did it just to make a Christmas movie or have a Christmas episode for their TV series.  For The Twilight Zone, The Night of the Meek would be that episode.  I don’t know if Rod Serling honestly thought it was a good idea or if he was under pressure from the network, but there it is.

Henry Corwin is a department-store Santa.  He’s not a very good one at that.  He comes in so drunk that he’s not even fooling the children.  Henry basically spends his Christmas Eve doing two things:  Getting drunk and getting fired.  All he wants is to make kids happy.  He wants kids to know actual joy.  He feels that he’d make a good Santa, if only…

This may be a weak episode, but it’s still The Twilight Zone.  Henry finds a magical bag that allows him to give people whatever they ask for.  Henry reaches into the bag and there it is.

Naturally, this attracts the attention of the police, who assume he’s stealing from his former employer.  Rather than rebuke the store manager, Henry gives him a bottle of cherry brandy, which Henry notes was a good year.

In the end, Henry doesn’t take a gift for himself.  To him, it was a joy to see the looks on everyone else’s faces.  He ultimately gets his wish, finding a reindeer-led sleigh and an elf.  It looks like the gift-giving gig has become permanent.

I don’t think this episode is going to make it into my permanent Christmas rotation.  It wasn’t a great Twilight Zone episode.  Normally, we get some sort of morality play.  Greed catches up with people.  A person down on his luck comes to realize what’s really important.  There’s a message.  Here, it looks like Serling was pressured into making the episode.

Speaking of which, it doesn’t really work as a Christmas story, either.  It’s just a man who eventually becomes Santa.  There’s no rhyme or reason except that maybe he failed at everything else.  He finally has the job he wanted for himself all along.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 2 Episode 10 (A Most Unusual Camera)

The Twilight Zone was never too heavy on the science.  For that reason, I would consider it more fantasy.  Take A Most Unusual Camera.  A husband-and-wife pair of crooks comes across a camera that seems much like any other instant camera.  You press a button and out comes a photograph.  It’s never explained where the camera came from or how it works, but it does work.

Chester notes that there’s no place to load film.  But what the heck?  It’s the only thing of note in an otherwise worthless haul.  It doesn’t take long for them to realize that the camera takes in image from five minutes into the future.  Chester thinks of all the good it could do humanity.

When Paula’s brother, Woodward, turns on a horse race, Chester hatches a brilliant plan:  Take the camera to the race track.  They can photograph the results and bet on the winners.  So, of course they come back with a bag full of cash.  (I guess we’re left to assume that they paid taxes, although it’s unclear why they let Woodward tag along, since he escaped from prison.)

It’s understandable that we would never get an origin story on the camera.  That’s not the focus of the story.  Instead, Serling chooses to focus on the fact that greed always catches up with us.  Even if the IRS doesn’t notice, someone else will.  The hotel’s waiter, Pierre, follows them into the room with the intent of helping himself to their winnings.

My main issue is that the story seemed a bit rushed.  Chester and Woodward get into a fight and fall out a window, which is understandable.  What gets me as strange is that Paula and Pierre meet a similar fate.  The only reasoning seems to be that a different death would be harder to explain.

Normally, I’d lament that the story didn’t get a longer run time.  This time it did.  There was a movie called Time Lapse, which seems to folly the basic plot pretty closely and was done pretty well, if I recall.  The moral of the story is the same, though.  If you find a camera like this, play it safe.   Don’t get greedy.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Lost In Space (2018) (Season 2)

I had to wonder how many seasons Lost in Space would last.  There was only so long before a ship would get fixed.  To have a series of problems would get old quickly, even if each season is only 10 episodes.  In Star Trek: Voyager, there was a 70-year trip ahead of the crew, so there was that.  With Lost in Space, the trip was supposed to be quick and easy.

The second season picks up where the first left off.  The Robinsons are stranded on a planet with Don West and Dr. Smith.  West is a mechanic, which helps.  Smith is their prisoner, which doesn’t help.  Oh, and they can’t breathe the atmosphere for very long.  Plus there are some strange weather patterns.

Fortunately, being stuck on the planet doesn’t last all season this time.  They do get off the planet, only to discover that their main transport, the Resolute, is abandoned.  Why?  The alien robots are still an issue.  At least the Resolute’s pilot is.

You see, it was discovered last season that the Resolute uses faster-than-light technology that was stolen from alien robots.  Whether these robots are a race unto themselves or serve another race is still unclear.  However, it takes a robot to pilot the drive, which is another level of problem, especially if the robot revolts.

The show reminds me of 24 in that the plot can’t go in a straight line.  Every solution has a problem.  Every action has an obstacle.  That’s the problem with a serialized format.

This isn’t to say that it’s bad or feels contrived.  It’s just that some of it seems unnecessary.  You’re trying to stretch maybe two hours of material over 10 episodes.  It might have been easier to just make a couple of movies.

The fact that there will be a third season leaves me wondering.  We were supposed to see Alpha Centauri.  Instead, we get another lost ship.  I’m curious as to what the season would bring us.  Maybe there will be enough of a new element that the episodes won’t seem like filler.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Dolittle (2020)

There seem to be a lot of movies lately that are meant to test the waters.  Maybe they’re setting up a TV show.  There might be a sequel planned.  It could be that the movie is an expensive advertisements for toys or dolls.  I don’t think this movie fits into any of those categories.  I think that somewhere along the line, someone had to say to an actor, “Yeah… I know.  I know… But you have one more movie in your contract.”

The story of Dr. Dolittle is fairly well known, even if it’s on a basic level.  It’s about a doctor that can talk to animals.  In this instance, Dr. John Dolittle and his wife are given a plot of land by Queen Victoria.  The two live there and treat all manner of animals until his wife dies.

The story begins years later when Tommy Stubbins accidentally shoots a squirrel.  Polly, a rather intelligent parrot, leads Tommy to Dolittle’s property, where he meets Carmel Laniado.  Carmel has been sent by Queen Victoria to summon Dolittle, as she’s fallen ill.

Carmel and Tommy find the house in disarray.  Dolittle has given up doing much of anything since the death of his wife.  He becomes motivated again when Carmel informs him that the property reverts to the Crown upon the death of The Queen.

So, Dolittle, Tommy and several animals have to find a book that contains the location of a magical fruit that can cure The Queen.  Of course, they’ll have setbacks and save her just in time.  Of course, what else would you expect from a family-friendly story that’s been done already?

“Done already” about sums it up.  There wasn’t anything particularly new or interesting in the movie.  It was sort of like someone took a pilot episode for a TV series and decided to make into a movie without really changing the script.

There’s very little character development and what development there is comes in very small increments.  Dolittle is a recluse who sort of learns to deal with people again after being nudged in that direction.  Chee-Chee is a scared gorilla that eventually manages to find some courage at exactly the right moment.

There’s not a lot of major violence.  In fact, when the squirrel is shot, I don’t remember seeing a lot of blood.  It might have been there, but I honestly don’t recall seeing any.  There are a few tense scenes, but everyone comes out all right.  It’s about as PG as I’ve seen in recent years.

I remember someone talking about the Sears/K-Mart merger, saying that you can’t combine two mediocre companies and get a better company out of it.  You’re just going to get a larger mediocre company out of it.  I find that this is the case with this movie.

I like Robert Downey, Jr.  I like a lot of the actors who voice the animals.  Everything about the movie is adequate.  I just don’t think that there are too many inspired elements to the movie.  It’s like someone was going to great pains to hit the all the marks exactly.  Nothing spectacular.  It’s like the goal was to make the most basic adaptation possible.  This is exactly the kind of movie you might show in middle school or high school if there’s a free day and you need something rather vanilla.