Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

I tend to review most of the movies that I watch.  It may not be a great movie or a great review, but it’s rare that I pass up an opportunity.  When I do pass on a movie, it’s usually because the movie is a little intimidating.  Star Wars is a cultural icon, as is the Godfather.  I’m not sure I would even know how to review these movies with any amount of justice.  (Then again, I have no problem reviewing Star Trek episodes.)

The Shawshank Redemption is one of those movies.  Each time I watch it, I get something new out of it.  There’s something that I see that I didn’t see before.  The next time I watch it, I’ll probably notice something new.

The story is about Andy Dufresne.  He’s sent to jail for the murder of his wife, which he denies.  (The judge mistakes this for a lack of remorse.)  Inside, he meets Ellis Boyd 'Red' Redding.  Andy is probably the only innocent person in Shawshank, whereas Red is the only person willing to admit that he’s guilty.  In fact, Andy is exposed to all manner of guilty people, including the warden and the head guard.

Once Andy proves his worth, he’s afforded some respect, both by the administration and his fellow prisoners.  However, that respect comes at a cost.  He’s too valuable to let go, even if he really is innocent.

This is where I’ve come to respect the film and see its many layers.  Prison does take something from you.  It’s meant to put you down and put you in your place.  Prison may not be able to break Andy, but he does have to sell a part of himself to get by.  As he puts it, he was innocent when he came it.  It took prison to make him a guilty man.  Red, on the other hand, claims to have given up hope, or at least be very close to hopeless.  He still denies it, though.  It’s not until he admits to himself what he’s done that he’s really free.

The movie doesn’t really focus on the guilt of each character.  Instead, it deals with what prison takes away from them.  We have a prison system that doesn’t really rehabilitate.  It doesn’t prepare people for life on the outside.  Instead, it produces people that can’t survive on their own.  The movie becomes more of a tale of what could happen.  The outcome is more tragic for some characters.  Yet, Andy and Red manage to make it.

There were a lot of things that I didn’t understand about the movie when I first saw it.  There are still a few things I’m not sure I understand.  It’s exactly the kind of movie you could watch and talk about with a friend and each come away with a different understanding.  It’s one of the few movies I would recommend watching several times. 


 IMDb page


Monday, October 12, 2020

Don't Let Go (2019)

It can be shocking to lose a loved one, especially when they’re a generation younger than you are.  Jack is close to his niece, Ashley, enough that she calls him when her own father, Garrett, forgets to pick her up at the movie theater.  In fact, he bought her the phone for that reason.

Garrett was never really in a good place, but he does seem to be trying.  He’s a loving father and husband, but he has psychological issues and was involved with drugs.  That doesn’t make for a great combination.  One day, Garrett, Ashley and Ashley’s mother are found dead in what is ostensibly a murder-suicide.

Two weeks after the funeral, the strange stuff happens.  Jack gets a call from Ashley.  At first, it would seem like a cruel joke.  Not only does it sound like her, but the caller ID shows Ashley and the conversation is similar to one that they actually had.  When he tries to call her back, the number is disconnected.  Jack soon realizes that he has a second chance to help Ashley and her family.

There is an obvious parallel to Frequency, which I had a chance to rewatch recently.  Both involve electronic communications equipment being used to bring back a dead loved one.  That’s where the similarity ends.  Here, Jack happens to be a detective, which gives him a greater ability to directly affect change.  He’s able to work the case directly.

The big problem is keeping it a secret from Ashley.  Why it’s necessary to keep Ashley in the dark, even for a little while, isn’t clear.  It seems like it would be easier on Jack and Ashley to let her in on it immediately.

There’s also the good guy who might be in on it.  I’ve always hated when the protagonist gives vital information to a trusted friend only to find out that they’re the bad guy, or are in the pocket of the bad guy.  Movies like this tend to keep you guessing who really did what, and with good reason.

The movie does have a few weak spots, but hits a lot more than it misses.  There are a few cliché moments, like the one seemingly innocent line proving crucial.  Yes, I know that there’s a name for it.  Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it makes for a great callback.  You have to use it wisely.

Overall, it does have a great feel to it.  The race against time isn’t overused, but you can feel it.  The story does seem a little more realistic than Frequency.  It seems contrived to use a ham radio to communicate.  Here, the cell phones are at least portable.

I’m not saying that it’s necessarily better or worse than other supernatural movies, or even police movies.  However, it is a little different.  I think those that saw Frequency and didn’t care for it might like Don’t Let Go.  It doesn’t bog us down with all of the unintended consequences of changing history.  The plot is fairly straightforward and easy to follow.  If you’re into this kind of movie, I’d recommend watching it.

IMDb page

Thursday, October 08, 2020

The Endless (2017)

Aaron and Justin have a pretty crappy life.  They lost their parents at an early age and were effectively raised by a cult.  Justin got them out of there, but they now make a living cleaning other people’s houses.  It’s not glamorous, but Justin feels that it’s a better life.  Aaron would disagree.  The group fed and housed the brothers and they didn’t have a care in the world.  (It’s not clear if they had other family.  To be honest, I’m not sure why an aunt or uncle didn’t take them in.)

One day, they receive a videocassette in the mail from Camp Arcadia.  Justin wants nothing to do with them.  It’s better to work at a horrible, demeaning job than to go back there.  Aaron convinces Justin to go back, if just for one day.  Justin relents and they’re off.

I would have thought the reunion would have been awkward, but those at the camp are welcoming.  There are a few new faces, but most of the old group is still there.  The freaky thing is that they all look like they haven’t aged.  Impossible.  Right? 

We find out that Justin was a little hard on the group.  They’re not really as cultish as he made them out to be.  They’re a lot closer to what Justin remembered.  They even make beer to sell, but have had a hard time of it since Justin basically slandered them.

The brothers end up staying longer than 24 hours.  The longer they stay, the more it appears that Justin may have had good intentions, after all.  There are no UFOs or mass suicides, but something strange is definitely up.

The movie doesn’t go full-on paranormal, which is good.  But there is a paranormal tilt to it.  There’s a presence that no one can see, but does have a definite influence over the camp.  Once you’ve accepted that presence, it would seem you’re stuck there for eternity.  This puts pressure on the brothers to get back out.

There are a few themes that run through the movie, like nostalgia and how we remember the past.  There’s also a matter of choice.  Justin and Aaron could have an easy life, but at what cost?  The longer they stay, the harder it becomes to leave that life.  You eventually reach a point of no return.

Aaron might very well have been happy there, but it would have meant staying there forever.  It was also a lifestyle that Justin couldn’t accept.  A life of struggle would have been better if it afforded him a freedom he couldn’t fully take advantage of.  $20 for a camcorder was a huge expense for them.  Travelling the world probably wasn’t an option, but at least they can afford a few days off.

As with most viewpoints, neither brother is really totally correct.  Each brother has some good points, but there’s also a lot that they’re missing.  Life is usually a series of doing the best we can, even if it’s for the wrong reasons.  This is where the story becomes relatable.  Justin and Aaron come to understand the other’s viewpoint a little better.  They also realize that there probably wasn’t any other way it could have played out.  They are exactly where they need to be. 

IMDb page

Monday, October 05, 2020

The History of Time Travel (2014)

Many works of fiction have dealt with time travel. Back to the Future comes to mind, as does The Time Machine. There are even shows like Quantum Leap and Doctor Who. There are even some really bad entries, like Future War. Have you wondered what it might actually look like? The History of Time Travel is a mock documentary about a scientist who may have made that breakthrough.

It starts off innocently enough. Dr. Edward Page heads up a government research group called The Indiana Project. It’s the tail end of World War II and the U.S. Government thinks that time travel may be a necessary tool to help win the war. When the Allied forces actually win, the project is sidelined. After Page’s death, his son is able to complete the work and build a functioning prototype.

This is where things go a little sideways. If you pay attention to the details, you’ll notice that history changes every time someone goes back. It might be minor, like an alteration to a picture, or major, like someone being replaced. (It took me a moment to realize that some things were deliberate changes.)

The movie works in its simplicity. It’s presented as that cheesy low-grade documentary you might catch one afternoon. All of the interviewees have that slightly stilted mannerism, but it’s exactly the right way to play it. The actors can’t be in on it for a second.

It’s not high cinema, but it is worth watching. My only complaint is that it was a little long at 70 minutes. It could have been pared down to maybe 45-50 minutes. There were a few repetitive segments where details were repeated. These scenes could have probably been left out with a little more ingenuity with the script.

The mechanics of time travel are dealt with briefly, which the movie does do correctly. There’s a segment in the beginning that explains how it’s possible, if at all. We may live in a universe that doesn’t allow for it or that requires some sort of self-consistency. (If you’re allowed to go back, it’s to make changes that were meant to happen.)

The joke works mostly by not acknowledging it. We’re not saddled with heavy science or long narratives. Some of the repetitiveness might be necessary, I’ll admit. But the movie doesn’t make a mess of it. Part of the problem is that the joke runs its course early on. The movie can’t really make a narrative out of it for over an hour. I think this would have been a good rough draft. It doesn’t work perfectly as a finished product, though.

Saturday, October 03, 2020

Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988)

I suppose nostalgia has its place.  We look back at something and think it was better than it was.  I vaguely remember seeing Tucker: The Man and His Dream when it first came out or shortly thereafter.  Basically, my memory consisted of it staring Jeff Bridges as Preston Tucker and that it was about a failed car company.  I’m thinking now that it should have been left at that.

The movie follows Preston Tucker roughly during the time that he produced his namesake cars.  He had previously made vehicles for the military and thought that he could carry over that experience into making automobiles.  He wanted to introduce a lot of safety features, like seatbelts.

The problem was that it was more difficult to actually build a prototype than he figured.  He also had the established companies to contend with, who thought that seatbelts implied that existing cars were unsafe.  When problems within the company start to mount, Tucker realizes that attaining his dream, in its original form, is going to be next to impossible.  He does manage to make an original run of 50 cars, but it ends there.  Only 51 cars, including that prototype, were ever made.

There’s an aspect of the movie that comes across as hero worship.  Tucker does lash out in anger at times, but seems to be more idealistic than business-oriented.  It’s not unheard of for movies to take liberties with details, which would make one wonder what Tucker was really like.

The main theme would seem to be David versus Goliath, but the movie focuses entirely on the little guy.  The Detroit automakers are an ambiguous, unseen antagonist that only exists to keep Tucker down.  Every time Tucker makes progress, an ally or friend bows to pressure.  Tucker keeps going until he’s run out of options.  (Even then, he’s not defeated.  He decides, instead, to try his hand with refrigerators.)

I will say that the movie did keep up a decent pace.  There wasn’t anything about the movie that was slow or unnecessary.  However, there is a glossed-over feel to the movie.  It was lacking any personal depth.  It seemed more like a two-hour commercial than a dramatic movie.

I do think there is a story to be told in the little guy taking on a tightly controlled industry like that.  It’s a shame that Tucker was put out of business, but it seems like there should have been more to the story.  It seems like the kind of movie where people who were there would probably offer up additional details about the story.  I’m not saying this to disparage the person or the company.  It’s more of a feeling that something was probably left out.

 IMDb page

Friday, October 02, 2020

The Mandela Effect (2019)

Memory isn’t particularly reliable.  Witness testimony is considered the least-reliable form of evidence.  How many people get facts wrong?  You can have ten people tell the same story ten different ways.  This makes it surprising that people will sometimes misremember something the same way.  Take, for instance, the Monopoly man.  Lots of people swear that he has a monocle when he doesn’t or that Curious George has a tail which doesn’t exist.  This is the basis for The Mandela Effect, a phenomenon that takes its name from the fact that people seem to think that Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s.

The movie starts with parents Brendan and Claire at the beach with their daughter, Sam.  She goes down by the ocean and follows her stuffed Curious George doll (with a tail) into the water.  Cut to the grieving parents.  Claire is able to move past Sam’s death relatively well, but Brendan becomes obsessed.  He starts noticing details that don’t match up, like a photo that he thinks was taken somewhere else.

This leads him to Dr. Roland Fuchs, who has theories similar to Brendan.  Roland thinks that the universe is a computer simulation, much like the Matrix.  He proposes an idea.  Roland has access to a quantum computer.  If they can use it to run the right program, maybe they can crash the simulation, or at least get some cracks to show.

Two things happen.  One, Sam works her way back into reality.  Brendan is overjoyed, but Claire starts to lose it.  On a subconscious level, she knows it’s wrong.  The second is that Roland is removed from reality.  When Brendan goes back to visit, Roland has suddenly be dead two weeks.  This means that Brendan is on his own.

The movie is somewhere between The Matrix and The Thirteenth Floor, only without the metaphysical depth.  Both of those movies took a harder look at what it meant to be in a simulation.  What was real?  What was fake?  Did it even matter?  This is more about Brendan not really being paranoid.

Even the disappearance of Roland and the reappearance of Sam are glossed over.  If Roland was dead for two months, than who or what did Brendan speak to?  What does it mean to be sentient or alive?  For that matter, why is Brendan the only one to be fully conscious of what’s going on?

The movie takes a psychological phenomenon and runs with it, but not very far.  The actual Mandela effect is relatively easy to explain.  Something like changing the Berenstain Bears to Berenstein is understandable.  Stein is a relatively common ending to surnames.  It would make sense that a lot of people would make that mistake.  Even thinking that the peanut butter brand is Jiffy is easy.  There is a word ‘jiffy’ and a brand called Skippy.  This doesn’t mean that there are parallel universes or computer simulations.

I will admit that it’s an interesting idea.  What if we live in a simulation?  It’s not even clear if the simulation is trying to protect itself or if there’s a higher power at work.  You might think that ambiguity might be nice.  Who needs all the answers?  I didn’t even feel like the movie went that route.  We’re not left with an ending that could go either way.  It felt more like the movie had an ending if for no other reason that we had to have an ending.  Brendan had to do something to resolve the story, so that’s what happened.  There was a lot of wasted potential here.

IMDb page

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Transylvania 6-5000 (1985)

 It seems that most movies are either timeless or fated to oblivion.  Movies like Back to the Future or The Princess Bride can be watched by anyone, even if they weren’t children of the 1980s.  Others seem to fall by the wayside the instant they’re out of theaters, never to be heard of again.

That’s kind of surprising in the case of Transylvania 6-5000.  There are a lot of big names in the movie, including Ed Begley Jr., Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis.  But it’s not a movie that I hear referenced a lot in conversation or in other movies.  (True, it’s not a particularly great movie.  But still…)

The movie starts with two tabloid reporters being sent to Transylvania in search of Frankenstein’s Monster.  Jack Harrison is the more respectable of the two.  He has aspirations of writing for a real publication, like Time Magazine.  Gil Turner is more of the lackey type.  It doesn’t hurt that his father, Mac Turner, runs the tabloid.  Mac got a videotape with some bad footage, which means that there has to be a story there.  So, he sends his two reporters to get said story…or get lost.

Things don’t look to promising once in town.  Any mention of the monster or footage is met with ridicule.  Add to this that the immediate area is basically a fledgling tourist town.  Mayor Lepescu doesn’t want any bad publicity, especially considering that he’s about to open his own hotel.

There are things going on in town and it might seem sinister at first, but everything has an explanation.  Jack and Gil do find the person assumed to be Frankenstein’s Monster, but there is a perfectly normal explanation.  The same goes for a werewolf, a swamp monster and a vampire.  Jack and Gil basically get their story, although it’s not the one Mac wanted.

I have to warn you that if you do see this, and I advise against it at this point, the replay value is going to be as close to zero as you can get.  Much of the humor is slapstick.  Consider that Michael Richards is in the movie as an overbearing butler who’s way too helpful.  He has all sorts of ideas that only serve to impede Gil and Jack.

It’s also not particularly complicated.  I think the movie is supposed to take place in Transylvania, but the movie’s title comes from the hotel’s phone number, which is rendered in the format of the exchange having a name, like Klondike for 55, so the hotel’s phone number would be 876-5000.  I would think that European countries would have had a different format.

I’m not even sure what prompted me to get the movie on DVD.  I guess I needed something a little different.  As I said, it’s not a great movie, but it’s not known for being horrible, either.  It’s the kind of thing that a broadcast network might have shown one Saturday afternoon.

I could see this being the format for an X-Files light show.  Each of the monsters get a back story, but none of it is particularly scary.  In fact, the only thing that might be objectionable for small children is that Geena Davis’s character is fairly forward, sexually.  At the very least, the movie does have a nice message of acceptance.  However, it wasn’t worth the buildup.  It was a hard movie to watch.  Maybe it was funny back then, but I’d recommend skipping it now.

IMDb page