Thursday, April 30, 2020

Unknown World (1951)

Sometimes, allegories are subtle.  The story makes a point without much effort.  Other times, the story is so strange that the point may be lost in the details or to time.  It’s been a few days and I have yet to figure out what Unknown World was trying to say.

The story is about a group of scientists trying to find a suitable place to live below the surface of the Earth.  They do this by going to the top of a volcano and burrowing down with their ride, the Cyclotram.  Two people die during the expedition.

After not finding anything at all for a while, they finally find a cave that’s perfect.  It has everything a group of people would need to survive indefinitely.  The bad news is that one of the scientists, Dr. Joan Lindsey, brought some rabbits along and they’re all sterile.  This means that the area wouldn’t be suitable.  The survivors are able to ride an underground ocean current back to the surface, where the movie ends.

I’m assuming that a lot of the context has been lost to time.  The main motivation for doing this is the threat of nuclear war.  If we destroy the surface, we’ll need someplace underground to live.  It’s not clear why they have to enter through a volcano.  They have this big drill.  Why not a mountain?  Even the name Cyclotram seems odd.  It’s like something Disney would name one of its rides.

The production also seemed to put very little effort into shots of the vehicle.  It looked like forced perspective of a toy.  Given that the drill was smaller than the width of the rest of the vehicle, I’m not sure how it was supposed to drill.  And when it did drill, how did it drill so quickly?  Modern drills can’t go that quickly and need to be replaced or recalibrated often.  I didn’t see any spare drill bits anywhere.

Also, it’s really lucky that they find a cave that’s almost perfect.  There’s plenty of light, water, food and space.  The only downside is that the rabbits can’t have kids.  It’s kind of a leap to assume that it will mean the end of humanity.  I’m not even sure how they knew the cave was the culprit.  For that matter, there was no concern about testing any of the humans.

The acting and writing are about what you might expect from an independent movie of 1951.  A lot of it is stiff and underacted.  There are a few scenes that make little sense, like one character going down a ladder to find water.  The ladder happens to be the exact length he needs to reach the bottom of a cliff.  He then looks around from where he’s standing before going back up.

Also, how are you going to convince that many people to live underground?  Granted, they found a well-lit area, but you’re going to have to do a lot of rebuilding.  I can just imagine trying to put a Starbucks in there somewhere.  It’s not the most appealing prospect, just like watching this movie.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Nothing Sacred (1937)

Wally Cook is a man in search of a big story.  He finds a foreign man who seems important.  It’s revealed that he actually shines shoes for a living when his wife and kids show up.  Thus, Wally is condemned to write obituaries at a desk where he’s in everyone’s way.  Not one to accept obscurity, Wally finds a new big story.

Enter Hazel Flagg.  Hazel is not well.  Or, at least she thinks she’s not well.  Her doctor informed her that she is suffering from radium poisoning.  This gives her some comfort in that she can at least use what money she has to visit New York.  That comfort is taken away when Dr. Enoch Downer informs her that he’s made a terrible mistake:  He handed out one too many diagnoses of radium poisoning.

Hazel is about to accept being stuck in Warsaw, Vermont, when Wally pays her a visit.  Seeing that she’s upset, Wally offers to fly Hazel (and Dr. Downer) to New York.  She’s thrilled.  Hazel gets what she wanted all along and Wally gets his story.

The comedy comes partly from the false pretenses of Hazel’s visit to New York.  She knows from the time she meets Wally that she’s not actually sick, but can’t pass up the opportunity.  She even conspires with Enoch to fake her suicide and run off.

Then, there’s a certain physical humor.  The movie seems like an early forbearer to the movies of Mel Brooks.  During a boxing match, one of the contenders gets so caught up in the match, he hits the referee and no one bats an eye.

I don’t think I would have seen this had my brother not left me the DVD.  Even then, it took me a while to get around to it.  (Some of the early scenes seemed familiar.  I think I may have started watching this before or caught it on TV part of the way through.)  If I had been forced to watch this in school, I might have at least been thankful not to be doing schoolwork for 73 minutes.  But it’s certainly not something I would have paid to rent.

IMDb page

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Dark Waters (2019)

There seem to be some hyperspecific genres out there.  Within science fiction, you have movies about people on space stations where the rest of humanity perishes.  This isn’t to say that it’s formulaic.  We’re not talking about The Hallmark Channel, which has no end to movies about some woman who goes to a different town, finds her soul mate and leads a new life she never knew she wanted.  There is some variation beyond which holiday it is.

Take movies based on real life.  Even legal thrillers.  There are a few movies where the little guy takes on big corporations.  There’s usually a little guy.  It might whistleblower or someone who was screwed over by a big corporation.  They find a lawyer who is hesitant to take on the case, usually because it’s almost impossible to win.  In the end, there is victory, although it may or may not mean anything.

This isn’t to say the movie isn’t enjoyable.  Dark Waters is definitely watchable.  But, it does follow that same basic premise.

Wilbur Tennant has lost all but two of his cows.  He knows that it has something to do with DuPont.  The installation of a new dump site is too coincidental.  So, he comes to Rob Bilott, a lawyer who usually defends corporations like DuPont.  No lawyer in West Virginia will take the case.  That’s how embedded DuPont is in his area.

Bilott is hesitant at first.  His firm would like to have DuPont as a client.  Taking on the case would not make a good impression.  When Tennant drops off a box of VHS tapes, Bilott begins to see the light.  What follows is a decade-long legal battle to get DuPont to admit guilt.

And so he does, to an extent.  Tennant’s health deteriorates, but he does get to see some progress.  DuPont is forced to make payments to people.  When push comes to shove, though, they try backing out of an agreement.

You come to realize that life isn’t fair.  Lawyers are there to make things fair.  It’s supposed to be a way of leveling the playing field.  As they say, some people are more equal than others.  In this case, some people can afford more lawyers than others.

The movie does hit all the marks.  We even have a scene where Bilott is afraid to turn the ignition in his car.  (Maybe he’s been watching too many movies, himself.)  Granted, you’ll never look at Teflon the same way.  It’s a story that affects everyone.  I just don’t know that it stands out.

IMDb page

Monday, April 27, 2020

Sol Levante (2020)

I’ve come across a lot of movies.  There are maybe a dozen or so in theaters at any given time.  I also have some sets of movies I’ve been reviewing.   In addition to that, I have access to stuff from my cable provider, as well as Hulu and Netflix.  Most of them are good.  Some are bad.  There is occasionally one that I really don’t know what to make of.

Sol Levante is a short anime, clocking in at only four minutes.  It seems nonsensical, as there’s no dialogue, nor are there any title cards.  It’s just a woman moving through various scenes.  I’m not sure if she’s moving through dimensions or teleporting or what.  It almost looks like a coming attraction, which is a shame.  I’d probably watch the movie that it would have advertised.  As it is, it looks like someone animated an LSD trip.

From what I’ve read, it was meant to be seen in 4K.  I don’t know how many people are going to have access to that.  I’m certain some will.  I watched it on my laptop, as I’m not going to hunt down an HD screen just to watch this.  There will always be a better screen to watch it on.

Sol Levante will likely serve as a test run for future projects.  I would think it took more money and effort, per minute, than your average anime.  I have to wonder if Netflix will be willing to invest in these projects, considering that they charge by the month.  There are going to be purists, who prefer traditional anime and those who probably wouldn’t notice, either because they don’t have the eye or the equipment for it.

Visually, it’s spectacular.  But there’s no real plot to speak of.  There’s no beginning or end.  There’s no satisfaction of finding out what happens at the end.  It’s almost like the movie was canceled after making a few minutes of footage and this is all they had to offer.  It’s the very definition of eye candy.  It looks pretty and doesn’t require much thought.  I am genuinely hoping that a larger project comes of this.  I want to see what happens.

IMDb page

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Waiting for the Giants (2000)

I remember in grade school being graded in three categories.  There were academics, effort and conduct.  As a student, I realize that only academics mattered, as effort and conduct were generally for the school’s internal use.  Colleges tended to look mostly at the academic grade.

I wonder if movies tend to suffer from the same problem.  It doesn’t matter so much how much you tried to make a good movie.  What matters is the finished product.  This is why you can have lots of money and a great idea and still make a movie that makes no sense.

Waiting for the Giants starts in Miami, circa 2007.  A wife answers the door and is questioned by police, who are looking for her husband, Ray.  What did he do that’s so bad?  He’s a mutant.  During the verbal exchange, one of the officers shoots her.

Cut to some indeterminate time later and some undisclosed location, Ray is at a diner with a guy named Nate.  They’re travelling around the country.  Why?  It turns out that Ray is a giant.  People don’t like giants.  They have special abilities.

Nate, who happens to be blind, is convinced that Ray has some sort of psychic mental abilities that he’s using on him.  Ray denies this.  I suppose the best argument that Nate could have used to prove it is that he doesn’t make Nate shut up.  Nate’s special ability seems to be yapping.

While driving at night, they come across Annabelle lying in the road.  There are no clues what happened to her or where she came from.  They take her in Ray’s Jeep because that would be better than leaving her.  Oh, and there’s some old guy in the bushes watching them.

We learn a lot about Nate and Annabelle through flashbacks.  Ray was experimented on.  I guess Nate’s blindness has something to do with this, but Ray thinks it might be psychosomatic.  Ray rescued him at some point.  Annabelle was orphaned at an early age.  She was taken in by her grandfather, who happens to be the old guy that was watching them.

The entire movie comes across as a half-baked concept.  It has the makings of a great pilot for a TV show, but would need some sort of development.  Like, what exactly is a giant?  Why these three people?  All we get is three people wandering around the country.

One might assume that Ray is running from the police, but he has almost no contact with any law enforcement.  Aside from the opening scene, the only exception is when Annabelle helps an injured road.  Ray is eager to leave once he hears sirens, which might very well be from an ambulance.

It’s also not explained how Nate was being experimented on at all.  Does he have powers?  Maybe.  The only one that has any sort of story is Annabelle.  We find out that the grandfather was abusive and that she ran away.  The grandfather is also very determined to get her back.

This isn’t even a student project.  That would be insulting to students, who at least have some motivation to do well.  This is like a couple of kids finding a camcorder and recording some scenes together.  It’s not particularly coherent, nor is it entertaining.  There isn’t even anything about why giants are disliked.  Did somebody destroy a city or something?  The closest we get is Ray saying how groups of people will always hate one another.

It seems like a rather long-winded way of saying that humanity will always have different factions and it will be the fate of those factions to go against one another rather than work together.  It could have been handled by a much shorter movie.

Film Trailer - WAITING FOR THE GIANTS from Phillip M. Lacy on Vimeo.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Neophytes and Neon Lights (2001)

It’s not often that I don’t finish a film.  Many I’ve watched were bad, but I could finish them.  In fact, the only movie I’ve ever not finished and reviewed anyway was Time Changer.  This leaves me with a bit of a dilemma.  I want to review Neophytes and Neon Lights, but I only made it halfway through the film.  Is that enough to honestly review it?  In this case, I’m inclined think so.

The movie takes place in a teleport hub in Australia.  Apparently, teleportation has replaced air travel.  Yet, we never see one of the devices.  The basic premise is shown in an animation at the beginning of the film, but that’s it.  We see people going to baggage claim and whatnot, but no actual teleportation.  (At least not in the first 45 minutes.)

The movie is about a group of people that hang around the teleport station hoping to steal wallets.  They have a new guy, Turner, who isn’t doing so well.  When a passenger gets belligerent over a lost suitcase, Turner sees his opportunity.  He’s going to steal that suitcase, since it must be something valuable like drugs.

Turner winds up in the slammer not once, but twice.  He still keeps at it, even though it’s admittedly next to impossible.  He gets beaten and disrespected.  I skipped around a bit to find out that he does eventually get the suitcase only to find that it contains marbles.

To call the movie amateur hour would be insulting to those that don’t have professional experience.  The acting is flat.  The film quality is just above VHS.  There’s little to no plot.  It looks like someone had access to a warehouse for a few days and didn’t have the time to write a decent script.

It’s strange because several of the actors have been in good productions.  One actor was even in The Matrix.  Also, the whole ‘nothing’ aspect has been done with Seinfeld and Mallrats.  The advantage that those have is that someone actually took the time to make a movie.  This looks like the producers took what they could get and told everyone to improvise.

There are also a lot of random elements.  The movie even has a Mormon missionary.  Why?  What purpose does this serve?  It’s almost like Linguine making the soup in Ratatouille.  Putting more things in doesn’t always make it better.  One could be forgiven for skipping this one.  I kind of wish I had.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Coffee & Kareem (2020)

WARNING:  I’m going to give away some minor spoilers.  It’s nothing that you shouldn’t see coming, but I feel it only fair to mention this now.

There are probably a lot of movies that look better as a script.  One might imagine that the finished product will be funny or action-packed, but words don’t always translate well to the screen.  I think Coffee & Kareem was looking for a Hot Fuzz kind of feel that it just couldn’t pull off.

The movie is about a police officer, James Coffee, who’s dating one Vanessa Manning.  Her son, Kareem, notices them having sex.  Kareem isn’t too fond of Coffee, mostly because he’s a police officer.  What does Kareem do?  His plan is to get Orlando Johnson, notorious criminal, to kill Coffee.

Kareem actually has Coffee drive him to where Johnson is hiding.  He then offers to pay Johnson in change, which he keeps in a sock.  Oh, and Kareem’s recording the whole thing for his YouTube channel.  Having once been 12 myself, I realize this probably makes total sense to Kareem.

Things go horribly sideways when Kareem witnesses the shooting of a corrupt police officer.  His only protection is the inept police officer who let Johnson escape in the first place.  The two end up on the run and trip over every cliché a buddy-cop movie has to offer.

You can actually see a lot of them coming.  In escaping from Johnson initially, Kareem drops his phone.  Of course he does.  Why not?  Doesn’t the main character drop the one key piece of evidence?  It’s not his house keys.  Maybe it’s his wallet, so the criminals know where he lives.  But if something gets dropped, it’s going to be the key piece of evidence.

Coffee calls his captain to report corruption and has him meet at a strip club with Kareem.  If a phone call is made requesting a meeting, one of the two people involved usually ends up dead.  If a by-the-books police officer calls a trusted officer to report corruption, you’d better bet the trusted officer is also corrupt.  So, yeah.  Captain Hill meets with Coffee and it turns out that he’s corrupt.  Then, Hill gets shot.  And Coffee is framed for Hill’s murder and for the murder of the other corrupt officer.  It’s too bad that Kareem dropped the key piece of evidence.

Most of the characters are varying degrees of inept.  In Kareem’s case, we can attribute this to the fact that he’s 12.  You’re not expected to make rational decisions at that age.  Some people can at that age, but that tends to be the exception.  Coffee is just a bumbling idiot.  If the movie took place in a small town, he’d be the police chief’s nephew or something.  This is Detroit.  How did he make it through the academy?

I would say that that the only character that has it all together is Vanessa.  Unfortunately, we don’t see enough of her.  I think it would have been better to pair Coffee with Vanessa instead of Kareem.  But, then we couldn’t have that bad pun of a movie title.  What we end up with is the Dumb and Dumber of buddy cop movies.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

La terre et le sang/Earth and Blood (2020)

I have way too much time on my hands.  I should probably acknowledge that now.  When you ask why I would watch a movie I knew I wouldn’t like, you at least have some insight.  Netflix has a lot of movies and TV shows to offer, but I picked the one that I knew was going to be some sort of exposition followed by a shoot out.

The movie starts with four guys stealing drugs from a police station.  Some are killed, but one manages to make it out with the drugs.  He exchanges cars with his half-brother, Yanis.  Yanis is to hide the drugs from the cartel that wanted the drugs stolen in the first place.

So, Yanis drives his half-brother’s car, drugs and all, to the lumber mill where he works.  It doesn’t take long for Saïd, the owner of the lumber mill, to notice.  Saïd has a lot going on.  He’s dying and looking to sell the lumber mill.  He has a deaf-mute daughter to worry about and there’s no one in his family to take over the business.

Enter Adama, the local drug lord who runs the cartel.  He wants his stuff back and tracks it down to the lumber mill.  What follows is your typical shootout where Adama and Saïd are the last ones standing.

Fortunately, Saïd got his employees out before Adama arrived, but he does manage to take out most of the henchmen.  He also trusts Yanis to take his daughter somewhere safe.  This gives us a few scenes of the two of them dodging bullets.

Netflix has had a few good movies.  Tigertail comes to mind, as does The Platform.  It’s also had a few misses, like Coffee and Kareem.  This one falls into the miss category.  For a movie that could be billed as an action thriller, there’s not a lot of action, nor is there a lot of suspense.  I would say that the 80-minute run time is merciful, but it still feels like a two-hour movie.

The problem is that the antagonist is one-dimensional.  He’s a tough guy with guns out to get his drugs back.  Saïd is also somewhat of a weak character.  He’s got nothing to lose.  I had to wonder how the destruction to the property would affect the sale value.  I’m sure he has insurance and all, but we’re left to assume everything works out.

You look at the movie and wonder why?  Why didn’t Saïd sell the place sooner?  How is it that the bad guys come for him just after he makes the decision to sell?  Why would Yanis be dumb enough to bring the drugs to his place of employment?  (For that matter, why agree to switch cars rather than simply move the drugs?  Did he not think his boss would notice the new vehicle?)

There are so many reasons to skip this movie.  It’s not worth the 80 minutes.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Star Trek: Short Treks -- Season 1 Episode 4 (The Escape Artist)

I was kind of wondering if Harry Mudd would be back.  We don’t get a full episode, but we do get a brief look at what he’s been up to.  He’s captured by a Tellarite bounty hunter named Krit.  Mudd tries to plead his way out of captivity to no avail.  When Mudd is turned over to the nearest Starship, the bounty hunter is denied his reward for a rather surprising reason.

You don’t really need a lot to time to tell the story.  In fact, if I said that a Short Trek was too long, it would be saying something.  There’s just enough time for a few flashbacks and a twist ending.  We also see that the Federation does use some sort of credit system.  Latinum is also a thing this early in Star Trek’s histry, but the important thing is that Krit is doing this for money.

Mudd is one of those characters that won’t change.  He’ll always be up to his old tricks.  This episode is no different.  In fact, he’s even slicker than ever.  One would assume, though, that the bounty was resolved by Kirk’s time.  I don’t recall it being mentioned during either of Roger C. Carmel’s episodes, although Mudd was taken into custody at the end of his first appearance.

This episode concludes the end of Star Trek: Short Trek’s first season.  It’s odd that they would only have four episodes, but I don’t think this was meant to be expansive.  It was meant to fill the gap between the two seasons for the viewers.  (Episodes were released a month apart.)  The second season is six episodes.  Hopefully, if there is a third season, it will be a little longer.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Star Trek: Short Treks -- Season 1 Episode 3 (The Brightest Star)

I remember seeing the coming attractions for Star Trek: Discovery.  I hadn’t seen Saru’s race and was intrigued by his claim that he could sense death and danger.  It turns out that he was the only member of his species in Starfleet.  We do learn quite a bit about his species during the second season.  To set us up for this, we were given a Short Trek between the first and second seasons.

This episode gives us a brief glimpse of what it was like for Discovery’s firs officer to have to leave his planet.  He always knew he didn’t belong.  When he finds a communications device, he’s supposed to bury it.  Instead, he learns how to use it and ends up contacting and meeting a then-Lieutenant Philippa Georgiou.

This short episode doesn’t get into the details of the Prime Directive.  It shows what life was like for Saru before Starfleet.  He didn’t really fit in and wasn’t content to live a simple life.  His father and sister were.  But Saru knows that there’s more out there.

It makes it a little easier to identify with the character.  I’m sure there are a lot of people now that would go out into space, given the chance.  We’re at a point that we’re just talking about going to Mars.  Could you imagine going to different solar systems?

It’s a little strange seeing this after the second season of Discovery aired.  I know that Saru does make it back to his home planet.  It must have been a tough decision not knowing that, though.  Given that his people aren’t warp-capable, Saru could never bring that knowledge back.

From what I understand, the Short Trek episodes are coming out on DVD in June.  I took the opportunity to watch these while I had access to CBS All Access, but it would be nice to have another option.  There are two “seasons” with the possibility of others.  I don’t know if future seasons will be released individually or if CBS wants to release ten episodes at a time.  Maybe they’ll include them with Discovery episodes.  Either way, they’re fun to watch.