Archive by Author | MWH1980

Movie Review: Alita – Battle Angel

Rated PG-13, for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language

Over the last two decades, the topic of adapting the Japanese manga Battle Angel Alita, would pop up in conversations with writer/director James Cameron. However, once he set full-sail into his own world of Avatar, it seemed like Alita would just be another of his “lost projects” (like his plans to make a Spider-man film in the 1990’s!).

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Writer/Producer James Cameron, and Director Robert Rodriguez on the set of Alita: Battle Angel.

Enter Robert Rodriguez. Having seen what Cameron wanted to do many years before, Robert was able to obtain Jim’s blessing, and has now brought Alita’s story to the big-screen.

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While looking for parts in Iron City’a scrap yard, Dr Dyson Ido (Christopher Waltz) comes across the severed torso of a feminine-looking cyborg. After reviving the cyborg and giving it a new body, Ido names it Alita, and sets out to help her start a new life.

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Dr Ido (Christopher Waltz), and Alita (Rosa Salazar)

However, the more Alita experiences of Iron City, the more she begins to learn about humanity, along with the darker sides of our world…and possibly, who she once was.

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Much like Avatar, the key to Alita is believing in the main character, created exclusively through motion-capture and visual effects.

With actress Rosa Salazar and the team at Weta Digital behind him, Rodriguez has managed to craft a believable performance that delivers for the majority of her screen time. Early trailers had some unsure of Alita’s anime-style eyes, but as the film goes on, you’re soon drawn moreso into her journey.

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Hugo (Keean Johnson), and Alita.

It is also in the characterization of those around Alita, that keeps us invested in her. Waltz’s performance as Ido, gives the two a father/daughter relationship, but one that can get testy at times as the cyborg yearns to know more than what Ido wants her to. Alita also develops a friendship with one of Ido’s friends named Hugo (Keean Johnson), whose adventurous spirit she quickly latches onto.

While the focus on Alita’s story is a positive of the film, it falters a bit at times in how jam-packed it is with subplots. Cyborg hunters, a ghostly presence that can possess anything cybernetically-enhanced, and even a deadly sport called Motorball, are just a few of the things that may have you a little confused as the story progresses. It feels like a film series could tackle these topics one-by-one, but this film seeks to take on the herculean task of trying to juggle all of them, and hope the audience is keeping track of what is going on.

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Cyborg hunter Zapan (Ed Skrein), has an altercation with Alita.

Most of the action scenes do benefit from the skills of cinematographer Bill Pope, who has cut his teeth on the Matrix films and Scott Pilgrim vs the World’s hyper-kinetic, anime-inspired action sequences. Given the shadowy, noir-like environments, Pope’s focus works greatly to keep us close to Alita, throughout her journey.

Like anything associated with Cameron these days, Alita also tries to draw us into viewing the film in 3D. However, given the number of dark environs for much of the film, it doesn’t feel like the extra money is necessary to viewing the story.

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Battle Angel Alita manages to succeed where many other American-adapted manga films have failed. Alita herself and the characters that surround her, help make us care for her plight, and feel grounded in the world of Iron City.

It’s easy for me to see why Cameron was drawn to adapting the manga. Much like Sarah Connor, Ellen Ripley, and even Rose Dawson, Alita is a character who soon realizes she has the potential to be something more than what others feel she should be. And just like those characters, Alita also proves she can hold her own in a world largely controlled by men.

Unfortunately, the film overloads itself with a few-too-many subplots, and it’s juggling act at times can be a bit cumbersome to follow.

Even so, Robert Rodriguez has done a commendable job in showing us a digital world that builds upon his experience directing the Spy Kids and Sin City films. One can only wonder if he’ll get another chance to play in Cameron’s toy box, in the future.

Final Grade: B

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Retro Recaps: The Twilight Zone (Season 1, Episode 31) – The Chaser

Over the years, you’ve probably seen a number of television tropes in the different series you’ve watched. From an annoying relative that comes to visit, or a character developing amnesia, there are some tropes that show-runners just love to dip into over and over again.

One trope that would appear in some older television shows, was “the love potion trope.” This would usually result in someone getting their hands on the fabled concoction…only for their plan to backfire, as the “be careful what you wish for” storyline played out.

31 episodes into The Twilight Zone’s first season, The Chaser would bring this trope to Rod Serling’s anthology series. However, despite it’s themes of love, the episode would premiere on May 12th, 1960, and not on Valentine’s Day of that year.

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As the show starts, we see a young man in a phone booth, dialing a phone number, trying over-and-over again to get through to someone. Outside of the booth, a small line of people are impatiently waiting their turn to use the phone. As the young man continues to dial, we hear Rod Serling’s opening monologue:

Mr Roger Shackleforth. Age: youthful 20’s. Occupation: being in love. Not just in love, but madly, passionately, illogically, miserably, all-consumingly in love, with a young woman named Leila who has a vague recollection of his face and even less than a passing interest. In a moment you’ll see a switch, because Mr Roger Shackleforth, a young gentleman, so much in love, will take a short but very meaningful journey…into the Twilight Zone.

After some time, Roger manages to connect with Leila. She calmly listens to Roger’s declarations of love, before telling him to “take a flying jump at the moon,” and hanging up.

Before Roger can call her back, the man behind him muscles the lovesick young man out of the booth. He gives Roger a business card, claiming the man on the card can help Roger with his problems.

TZ131-4Roger follows the card’s address to the door of Professor A Daemon. Daemon reveals himself to be an apothecary, and at first figures Roger is there seeking his help to gain wealth or power…but grows morose when he finds out Roger just wants help getting a girl to love him.

Daemon claims he has something that will do the trick, but tries to entice Roger with a pricey concoction he calls, “the glove cleaner.” Roger claims he just wants the love potion, and Daemon sells it to the young man…for a dollar.

“Love potions are my cheapest item,” mutters Daemon. “And they’re overpriced at that.”

TZ131-5Roger next heads to Leila’s with some champagne and flowers. Begging her to let him have a drink with her, she begrudges his request. While she is away in another room, Roger pours Daemon’s potion into her glass. A few moments later, she eagerly rushes into the young man’s open arms!

The next scene shows six months have passed since the two were married. Now it seems the tables have turned, with Leila being overly-passionate towards Roger, and him having become annoyed by her constant attentions. As Leila fawns over him, Roger suddenly declares he forgot he has an appointment, and rushes out of their apartment.

TZ131-6Roger returns to Daemon’s residence, and asks him if there is a way to possibly dilute the love potion, but is informed that “the glove cleaner,” is the only solution.

Handing over a check (already written out for the exact amount!), Roger receives the old man’s specialty. Daemon also warns him that Leila must drink all of it, and Roger must not hesitate to administer it…otherwise, he’ll lose his nerve to ever use it again.

“Always the same way,” smiles Daemon, as Roger leaves. “First the stimulant…then the chaser.”

Returning to Leila, Roger prepares them champagne, secretly pouring “the glove cleaner” into her glass. However, as he prepares to hand her her glass, Leila claims she has a surprise for Roger, and mischievously shows him some baby booties she’s been knitting…causing him to spill the drinks!TZ131-7

As he mutters to himself that he couldn’t have gone through with the whole thing anyways, Leila smiles lovingly, telling him that they’ll be together for the rest of their lives.

The final shot shows Professor Daemon, relaxing in a lounge chair. As he blows a heart-shaped smoke-ring, Serling delivers the closing monologue:

Mr Roger Shackleforth, who has discovered at this late date that love can be as sticky as a vat of molasses, as unpalatable as a hunk of spoiled yeast, and as all-consuming as a 6-alarm fire in a bamboo-and-canvas tent. Case history of a lover boy, who should never have entered…The Twilight Zone.

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Throughout it’s history, The Twilight Zone has never shied away from storylines with a “be careful what you wish for” premise, and The Chaser certainly has a little fun with it.

George Grizzard plays Roger with un-thinking aplomb at the start…and an unhealthy obsession that would probably land him a restraining order in this day and age. As the episode goes on, we soon see that he definitely gets more than he bargained for.

Patricia Berry’s role as Leila, is little more than the object of Roger’s desire. For the first half of the show, she “politely tolerates” his requests, and then in the second half, she becomes so lovesick due to the potion, that she is unable to do most things on her own.

It is in John McIntire’s role as Professor A Daemon, where there’s truly some fun to be had. With his questionable name and intriguing abode, the character shows a man who enjoys playing devil’s advocate, but seems to also enjoy some mischief.

One can make out that the professor has had experience with being blinded by young-love in his own life, but Roger is too foolish to take any of his hints. There’s also some dark humor with Daemon’s constant talk about “the glove cleaner.” Traceless and odorless, the old man even gleefully claims it to be called, “the eradicator.”

The Chaser is actually based on a short story of the same name, by John Colliers. Much shorter than the Twilight Zone episode, it deals with a young man going to the Daemon character (though he is not given a name). The young man has come on the promise of a love potion, though the old man does tell him of the more expensive “glove cleaner,” hinting that later on in life, some of his customers come back to purchase it.

The episode’s title also contains a dual meaning. On one hand, it could refer to Roger as “the chaser” of Leila’s affections. On the other hand, the term “chaser” can sometimes refer to a secondary drink, often used to quell the strong taste of hard liquor. Daemon himself mentions this, after Roger purchases “the glove cleaner.”

The Chaser is definitely one of the simpler episodes of The Twilight Zone’s first season. It doesn’t get as introspective as The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, but I believe there’s a charm in it’s simplicity. Plus, I still enjoy watching McIntire’s performance as Daemon, a man who’s seen what reckless young love can do, but whose warnings often fall on deaf ears.

 

Retro Recaps: The Twilight Zone (Season 3, Episode 21) – Kick The Can

When it comes to Rod Serling’s television series The Twilight Zone, the episodes that most often come to people’s minds, are those that deal with some of the darker elements of humanity.

However, buried within it’s 156-episodes, there are some stories that tend to stick in our minds, that often don’t rely on aliens, or humans turning on each other.. One that I’ve seen show up in some people’s favorite episodes list (and that I recall watching with my Dad over the years), premiered on February 9th, 1962.

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The episode opens at Sunnyvale Rest, a home for the aged. As the camera shows us it’s tired residents, we see Charles Whitley (Ernest Truex), happily proclaim that his son is taking him home today.

TZ321-1When Charles’ son arrives, he explains to his father that he only meant to talk with him about the possibility of going home, and the two quietly part ways.

As his son drives away, Charles sees several kids playing a game of kick-the-can across the street from Sunnyvale. One of them kicks a dented tin can towards him, and Charles picks it up. As he holds it close, Rod Serling emerges from behind a bush, and delivers his opening monologue:

Sunnyvale Rest, a home for the aged. A dying place, and a common children’s game called kick-the-can, that will shortly become a refuge for a man who knows he will die in this world, if he doesn’t escape…into The Twilight Zone.

TZ321-2We next see Charles talking with a friend of his at Sunnyvale, named Ben Conroy (Russell Collins). While Charles holds the tin can from earlier (maybe he traded the kids for another in the home?), Ben complains how noisy the kids are outside their window.

Charles reminds him that the two of them were just as noisy as youngsters, but begins to wonder if those games they played, and some of what they believed in those younger days…may be the key to staying young.

Ben just dismisses these ideas, telling Charles that they’re old men now, but Charles dwells on his thoughts.

TZ321-3Concerned for his friend’s sanity, Ben tells the rest home superintendent Mr Cox (John Marley) about his fears. Things don’t get much better when the two observe Charles trying to act young, first shoving an empty wheelchair across the living room, and then running through the sprinkler outside! Mr Cox has Charles placed in bed, and warns Ben that his friend may need to be isolated for observation, unless he behaves himself.

Ben tries to explain the predicament to his friend, but Charles claims he doesn’t want to become “a vegetable” like a number of those in the home. When Ben snaps at his friend and tells him to “use his brain,” Charles quiets down…before looking at the tin can on his night table.

TZ321-5Later that evening, Charles wakes up a few of the residents, and they convene in a small room. When he stirs up memories of the games they played in their youth, their faces light up. Charles eagerly makes them buy into his request to play a game of kick-the-can in the summer evening, and soon the group is quietly waking up the other residents to join them.

Charles personally attempts to get Ben to join them, but Ben once again claims they’re too old to be doing such things. Even his request that his friend help him try to rekindle the lost magic of their youth does nothing to sway the old man, and Charles quietly leaves his friend’s bedside.

tz321-8One of the seniors has a stash of hidden firecrackers, and sets some off outside to distract the night nurse. Once she leaves, Charles and the others rush outside.

Ben goes to Mr Cox’s office door, and tells what Charles has done. The two rush outside to bring in the seniors, but only find a number of children playing kick-the-can under the streetlight!

Mr Cox rushes off behind the house to search for his missing residents, when Ben sees a little boy who looks just like Charles did in his youth!

TZ321-6Ben realizes that his friend was right, and pleads with Charles to let him play too. But the boy merely looks upon Ben as a stranger, and he and the other kids rush off into the night, their voices echoing on the wind.

Sadly, Ben finds the discarded tin can, and realizes that his mindset has doomed him to be what he claimed to be: an old man…one who has now lost one of the last friends he had.

As Ben walks back to the now-empty house, Rod Serling delivers the closing monologue:

“Sunnyvale Rest, a dying place for people who have forgotten the fragile magic of youth. A dying place for those who have forgotten that childhood, maturity and old age, are curiously intertwined and not separate. A dying place for those who have grown too stiff in their thinking, to visit…The Twilight Zone.”

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Over the course of it’s 5 seasons, The Twilight Zone would sometimes deal with the topics of youth, and age. Out of all of them, Kick the Can could probably be considered one of the most treacly of them all.

For much of the episode, the Camera never strays very far from Charles Whitley. Ernest Truex’s role definitely has some small memorable moments, but for much of the episode, one can’t help but wonder if Charles really has mentally started to lose his grip on reality. It could be easy to imagine that his talk about children’s games and magic keeping one young, is him trying to come to terms with the thought that he is never going to leave Sunnyvale Rest. Even so, Charles’ attempts to wish for something innocent is rewarded, and does not backfire on him like in some of the episodes, where wishing for vengeance or selfish desires, backfires on a number of “adult” figures.

Speaking of adult figures, Charles’ friend Ben is front-and-center as the “cantankerous old man” in the episode. However, he is not totally without heart. There is still the friendship he and Charles share, and he almost acts like a big brother figure at times. This comes to mind when he tries to get Charles to “act normally,” lest Mr Cox and the home’s nurse isolate Charles because of his actions.

The episode was written by George Clayton Johnson, a science fiction writer who seemed to write about age and time quite a bit. Along with writing an additional eight episodes of The Twilight Zone, he co-wrote the screenplay to Logan’s Run, in which a man tries to escape his societal fate, once he turns 30 years old.

In 1983, Kick the Can got a second chance at life, when Steven Spielberg directed a more up-to-date version of the story, for his portion of 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie.

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A scene from the Kick the Can segment, from Twilight Zone: The Movie.

In this version of the story (also written by the original episode’s writer), the magic of playing kick-the-can is brought to the Sunnyvale Rest Home in Florida, by a man known as Mr Bloom (played by Scatman Crothers). Bloom gets a number of the old folks to play the game, but unlike the television show’s episode, the regressed elderly people still retain their memories. Though they soon wish to return to their actual ages, the chance to experience their youth again has energized them to make the most of their remaining years.

The film even attempts to do it’s own version of the Charles and Ben friendship. This comes in the form of a person named Agee, who decides not to return to his old age, and wishes to have a second chance at youthful adventure. A friend of his named Leo Conroy (Bill Crowley), who didn’t partake in the game of kick-the-can, has second thoughts and wants to to go off with Agee. However, the now-young-man tells Crowley that he cannot go with him, and he vanishes out an open window, as freely as if he were Peter Pan.

Much like it’s 1962 counterpart, the 1983 version feels much more innocent when put next to the film’s adaptations of more popular episodes like It’s a Good Life, and Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.

Seeing Kick the Can after all these years, makes me feel that it has slipped a few notches in my list of favorite Twilight Zone episodes, but some of what it preaches to the audience, can still be something to consider.

Even if many of us in the lasts few generations have never played a game of kick-the-can, the story’s request that we allow ourselves to not forget who we once were, can end up keeping us young, in ways that may not be seen by the naked eye.

Retro Recaps: The Twilight Zone (Season 3, Episode 17) – One More Pallbearer

Over the five seasons of his anthology series The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling never failed to deliver cautionary tales. Oftentimes he would remind the viewers that despite all the luxuries and distinctions that wealth and power could bring…deep down, every one of us is human, and who we choose to be, can be an incredibly important choice.

With the Season 3 episode One Last Pallbearer, Serling once again chose to enter into the mind of a wealthy eccentric, with some particular plans of his own design.

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As the camera fades in, we see Mr Paul Radin (Joseph Wiseman), taking an elevator to a bomb shelter in the basement of his personal office building. Speaking with an electrician, he is assured that the installation of a large projection-screen television and sound system, have just been completed.

pallbearer-1Radin then tests the system. As we see a large metropolitan city disintegrated in a few moments by an atomic blast on the screen, the sound of the explosion reverberates off the walls. He then tells the curious electrician, that the installation is for “three special guests,” who will be visiting him on this very night.

After their exchange, we see the elevator doors open, revealing Rod Serling. He then delivers his opening monologue:

What you have just looked at takes place three hundred feet underground, beneath the basement of a New York City skyscraper. It’s owned and lived in by one Paul Radin. Mr. Radin is rich, eccentric and single-minded. How rich we can already perceive, how eccentric and single-minded we shall see in a moment, because all of you have just entered…The Twilight Zone.

 

When the show continues, we see that Radin’s guests have arrived via elevator, curious as to being summoned urgently to this place. Radin does not meet them personally, but addresses them via an intercom system. As the heavy metal door of the bomb shelter opens “theatrically,” they enter into the special room. The door closes behind them, and Radin is revealed, sitting placidly before them.

pallbearer-2He then identifies his guests by name:

–  Colonel Hawthorne (Trevor Bardette), whose command Radin once served under while in Africa

– Mrs Langsford (Katherine Squire), who was one of Radin’s high school teachers

– Reverend Hughes (Gage Clarke), who one can assume was probably associated with a church Paul attended as a young man

Starting with Hawthorne, Radin jogs the Colonel’s memory, when he reminds him how he (Radin) was court-martialed after serving under his command.

Hawthorne recalls, and explains it was because Radin refused to follow a direct order to lead an assault charge, which could have cost the lives of a number of men under the Colonel’s charge. The court-martial that followed, saw Radin “dishonorably discharged.” However, the Colonel claims that if it was up to him, Radin would have been shot for his insubordination.

pallbearer-3Radin next turns his attention to Mrs Langsford, claiming that when he was her student, she flunked and humiliated him in front of her class. However, the teacher tells the others that there were reasons behind her actions.

She explains how Paul was caught cheating, and rather than take responsibility for his actions, he tried to frame another student in her class. She then called him out before the entire class regarding his actions. Given what she has seen so far, she still considers Paul “a devious, dishonest troublemaker.”

The Reverend Hughes is finally addressed, with Radin claiming the holy man placed a scandal over his head, which destroyed his reputation. Hughes claims it was due to Radin’s actions causing a girl to commit suicide, and his feelings that the young Mr Radin did not hold honor in high regard.

This final blow against his character causes Radin to angrily retort that his guests can “go to the devil,” claiming none of them showed him the compassion or understanding that he feels was owed to him in these past situations.

It is then that Radin tells his guests about the room they are in: a specially-designed fallout shelter that has generators, electricity, and a warehouse full of food and supplies. Being a man of high importance and knowing people in powerful places, he claims that tonight, an overseas power is planning to attack the country, which will set off a nuclear war. Unseen by the group, he presses a button.

pallbearer-4A few moments later, air raid sirens are heard over the speakers, and an announcer’s voice tells people to take shelter. Radin smugly smiles at the worried looks on his guest’s faces and mocks them, asking for words of comfort or wisdom.

He then offers them a deal: they may stay in his elaborate shelter to survive the coming attack…on the condition that they beg his forgiveness, and get down on their hands and knees to do so.

“Pretty please with sugar on it,” says Mrs Langsford, only the request is not to beg for Radin’s forgiveness, but to open the door, claiming she’d rather spend her last moments with total strangers above-ground.

pallbearer-5Hawthorne and Hughes also demand to leave the shelter, and Radin’s smug expression falters, realizing his scheme is not bearing the fruit he had expected to pluck.

“All you have to do is to say a sentence,” he says, a trembling in his voice. “Just a string of silly stupid words like a command, Colonel, or like a lesson, Teacher, or like a prayer, Reverend. All you have to say is you’re sorry!”

But there comes only silence, leading Radin to give in to their demands and open the metal door, but loudly proclaiming that they’ll be back soon enough.

As the three board the elevator, Radin desperately rushes at it’s door, claiming they’re throwing their lives away if they leave.

“Life is very dear, Mr Radin,” says the Reverend Hughes, “infinitely valuable. But there are other things that come even higher. Honor is one of them…perhaps the most expensive of them all.”

“Amen,” says the Colonel, quietly backing up the holy man’s words.

pallbearer-6Mrs Langsford attempts to offer some form of help to the desperate man, telling Paul to counter the loneliness in the shelter by putting up mirrors.

“Then you’ll have the company of a world full of Radins,” she promises. “It’ll be a fantasy of course, but then, your whole life has been a fantasy: a parade of illusions. Illusions about what people have done to you, illusions about what justice is, illusions about what is the dignity of even the lowest of us. A fantasy, Mr Radin…and now you can have it all to yourself.”

No it’s not a fantasy!!” Radin bellows as the doors close…when suddenly, the sirens and defense announcer’s voice ring out, but not by his pushing of a button! As he wanders back into the main room, the shelter’s large screen shows the city, rocked by a nuclear explosion!

pallbearer-7“THAT’S QUITE ENOUGH!!” he yells, smashing the speakers and destroying the screen. However, a few moments later, he panics and rushes outside.

Emerging from the building, his eyes go wide with shock as around him, his building and the city have been reduced to rubble!

As he breaks down in heavy sobs, the scene dissolves to what has really happened: Radin’s grip on reality has snapped, and the world has not been obliterated…just in his mind.

pallbearer-8As he sobs at the fountain outside of his building, an officer tries to help him, but Radin’s mind is trapped in it’s own world of desolation, and he doesn’t hear the officer or the people around him.

“I didn’t want it this way,” he babbles. “Anybody, won’t somebody listen to me?”

It is then that we hear Serling’s voice over the closing scene:

Mr Paul Radin, a dealer in fantasy who sits in the rubble of his own making and imagines that he’s the last man on earth. Doomed to a perdition of unutterable loneliness, because a practical joke has turned into a nightmare. Mr. Paul Radin, pallbearer at a funeral that he manufactured himself…in The Twilight Zone.

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Written by Serling, One More Pallbearer is probably not one of his stronger episodes, but there is something intriguing to me about the characters within it.

Broadcast on January 12, 1962, it would be the second episode during the show’s third season, to utilize a fallout shelter. However, unlike that episode where desperate neighbors turned hostile to get into a shelter, the people in Pallbearer are desperate to get out of one, and willing to risk death if it will bring them some form of human compassion above-ground.

pallbearer-9Joseph Wiseman’s portrayal of Paul Radin would come just months before he would be seen as an eccentric villain in the first James Bond film, Dr No. Wiseman’s voice and demeanor definitely give the air of a pompous businessman who feels he can have anything, and make anyone do anything. However, it shows just how twisted Radin is that he tries to “scare” an apology out of these three people. Then again, one wonders if this plan had succeeded…maybe there would be others he would have attempted to scare as well?

Given how Radin shrugs off not following orders, cheating, and even driving a woman to suicide as being nothing more than character assassination, Serling shows us how twisted the man is. This is someone with an inflated sense of self-entitlement, and most importantly, one who has been unable to mature and move beyond thinking of these people that he feels have wronged him (or even felt the need to better or improve himself after these events).

It is rather satisfying to watch Radin’s demeanor crack, and we get to see what a pathetic little man he really is when his plans fall apart. He tries to mock and bully his guests into staying, even claiming that just saying they are sorry would be nothing more than “silly stupid words,” when in truth they’re fool’s gold to pay off his desperate ego.

In the end, the guests prove to be much stronger than their host. The Reverend Hughes tells how important honor is, while Mrs Langsford seems to try and offer a shred of pity to Radin, though it sounds like she doesn’t hold out much hope that he can be saved from what he has become. They may not chew the scenery as much as Wiseman’s character, but their resolve holds in the face of their captor’s demands.

pallbearer-10When Paul snaps and actually believes in the illusion he’s created, this is where I feel the episode gets a little “wobbly.” Given that the final scene takes us back inside Radin’s mind, I can’t help but feel this was a late addition to drive home just what he was seeing in his head, maybe revealing to the viewer why he isn’t acknowledging the people crowding around him in reality.

Once again, One More Pallbearer is definitely food-for-thought when it comes to some episodes of The Twilight Zone that don’t crack the shows’s Top 10 best episodes lists, but still have something important to say.

It’s lessons about sticking to integrity and basic moral principles, are important takeaways to remember in this day and age.

Movie Review: Welcome to Marwen

Growing up in the 1980’s, one director who rose to prominence in my eyes was Robert Zemeckis. After entrancing me with Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit in my youth, I soon considered him to be one of my favorite directors beyond the norms of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.

Over the course of his film career, Zemeckis has never shied away from wanting to push the boundaries of storytelling and technology. This was evident in several of his films like Forrest Gump, Contact, and The Polar Express.

In recent years, Zemeckis has pushed into biographical territory, notably with his 2015 film, The Walk. With Welcome to Marwen, he is attempting to once again tell the story of a real-life figure, with special effects to enhance the tale.

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Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carrell)’s life changed one evening, when he became the victim of a hate-crime. The results of these brutal events left him with memory loss, post-traumatic stress, and the inability to walk.

After regaining most of his faculties, Mark took refuge in the construction of a miniature village that he named Marwen. The village is the residence of a WWII pilot named Hogie (Mark’s alter-ego), and five women (each one based on a woman in Mark’s own life who inspired him). However, the quiet of the village (and Hogie’s life), is often disrupted by a small group of Nazi’s (based on the men who victimized Mark), leading Mark to take photographs detailing the stories of how Hogie and the women of Marwen fight back against their tormentors.

Marwen-1

Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carrell)

Mark finds unexpected fame when interest in his photography, leads to a number of requested exhibitions of his work. However, as his latest exhibition is about to begin, he is faced with two daunting situations.

The first is the upcoming sentencing of the men who assaulted him, leading Mark to grapple with the ghosts of his past.

The other situation concerns a new neighbor named Nicol (Leslie Mann), who has moved in across the street. As she grows interested in Marwen, Mark soon believes a new “recruit” may be moving in to the village.

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With his latest film, Zemeckis was given the opportunity to show a man struggling to emerge from a terrible event, through the powers of creativity. Stories like this I am often willing to get behind if done properly. Unfortunately, Marwen’s story seems unsure of just how to tell itself.

At times, it feels like we are meant to see the world in a disjointed way, as if we were inside Hogancamp’s head as he struggles to keep himself functioning. A few times, we get jarring scenes revolving around Mark’s PTSD, and are left to figure out just what happened.

Zemeckis has done films before where he trusts his audience to piece together what’s happening, but it feels like some important pieces to the story are missing.

Marwen-2

The Women of Marwen. L to R: GI Julie (Janelle Monae), Suzette (Leslie Zemeckis), Nicol (Leslie Mann), Carlala (Eliza Gonzalez), Roberta (Merritt Weaver), Anna (Gwendoline Christie)

Most notable is in regards to the women who inspired the dolls living in Marwen. One would assume that we’d get a little more backstory about them and how they helped Mark, but only a few of their real-world counterparts even get the chance to be on-screen.

Speaking of the dolls, this seems to be where the film spends most of it’s time, as a number of imaginary scenarios that play out in Mark’s head, are animated through motion-capture technology. Zemeckis tries to weave seriousness and whimsy together in some of these scenes, but the numerous attempts to animate what Hogancamp envisions, feels a bit like CGI-overkill.

For most of the film, Steve Carell is front-and-center as Hogancamp (and his alter-ego, Hogie). He does his best to try and make us believe in Mark’s plight, but the story zig-zags so much that by the time it all ends, it feels more like we’ve been on a long car trip, rather than actually learned something from the experience.

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L to R: GI Julie (Janelle Monae), Nicol (Leslie Mann), Hogie (Steve Carell), Anna (Gwendoline Christie)

Aside from Hogancamp, his neighbor Nicol feels like the only other “real” character that is given much screen-time. She seems to be our window into understanding Mark and his world, but there are some times she seems a bit too innocent. A good example is when she doesn’t see anything strange when Mark suddenly claims he’s added a new doll to Marwen…a redhead named Nicol.

That also is a fine line that the film seems hard-pressed to balance along. We’re meant to find some of Mark’s actions to be endearing and believe that it is okay to be different, but it feels like we’re never given enough time to be comfortable understanding him. This seems to be a major hump the film is unable to get over, and makes some scenes that are meant to be emotional, come off as a little unsettling or questionable.

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I went into this film hoping to see beyond a lot of the negative talk I was hearing, but it feels like Welcome to Marwen falls into the lower areas of Robert Zemeckis’ filmography. He’s shown himself many times to be a competent and capable storyteller, but many of the decisions he makes regarding Mark Hogancamp’s story, makes the whole experience feel incredibly disjointed.

I think when it comes to learning more about Hogancamp and his work, it might be best to consider the 2010 documentary Marwencol. I know after I saw Zemeckis’ film, I did wonder if that documentary could shed some more light on helping me understand more about who this man (really) is.

Final Grade: C-

Retro Recaps: Alvin and the Chipmunks – (Season 6, Episode 20, Segment 1) The Wall

Over the years, we’ve seen a number of cartoon characters make a comeback.

In the 1980’s, Ross Bagdasarian Jr, ushered in a revival of his father’s creation, The Chipmunks. Starting in 1983, RBJ would bring Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, into the 1980’s,  placing them and their father Dave Seville, into the California lifestyle. Along with singing Chipmunk versions of famous hits, the boys would get into a number of adventures.

Watching Alvin and the Chipmunks was a staple of my Saturday Mornings growing up. After the show went off the air, several cable channels picked up the episodes, and I soon found myself watching them in re-runs. Out of many of the episodes I remembered, there was one from the sixth season, that I always kept an eye out for.

An episode called: The Wall.

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As the show starts, the boys are awoken by Dave, who informs them that they have been invited to play at the Wall of Iron Concert.

Alvin (naturally) is excited at the prospect of rubbing shoulders with plenty of big-name acts there, but Dave puts things in perspective, telling him that the concert is very important.

Soon they are flying over the host city, and view a long span of wall. It is here that Dave tells the boys (and us) that the wall was built after a war divided the country. The concert the Chipmunks will play at, is set up so that those on the concert side, can send the music across the wall to those on the other side, where a number of freedoms are encroached upon…including the ability to listen to our play rock music (which shocks the heck out of Alvin).

After landing in the (nondescript) city, Dave checks on the staging area, while the boys head over to check out the wall.

They soon encounter a little girl named Caterina, who is waiting for her brother Erik to send a message over the wall.

Chipmunks-1The message comes taped to a soccer ball, along with some drawings he did. The boys agree to take some pictures with Caterina to send back over the wall…and only after taking the pictures, does she recognize them(?). Her brother is a big fan of rock and roll (as well as the Chipmunks), but when the family was forced to flee, her brother did not make it to their side of the city.

Wanting to help reunite the siblings, Alvin attempts to use his star-power to try and reason with the guards on the other side of the wall’s entry-point. However, they assume the three boys are there to ‘defect,’ and one guard orders that the trio be taken to ‘the rock pile.’

Dave hears their cries for help, but is unable to get to them in time. He then attempts to scale the wall, but before he can make it over, Erik’s soccer ball hits him, and he falls back down.

Caterina intercepts the ball, which has a note saying that Erik has seen the Chipmunks being carried off, and is going to try to help them escape during the concert that night. Naturally, Dave takes Caterina’s word to wait (instead of going to the US Embassy to try and get the boys released).

Erik ends up infiltrating the boy’s room as a bellboy(?), and brings along some towels to tie together, allowing them to escape out the nearby window. He then takes them to a tailor, who disguises the boys. Before they leave, the old man gives them some items to give to his granddaughter, who is also on the other side of the wall.

However, the group doesn’t get far, when the boys are recognized, leading to them being recaptured, along with Erik.

As night falls, the boys are led to ‘the rock pile,’ with Alvin emotionally trying to drag out his expected death.

“Give him, ‘the ax,” says the man in charge.

Alvin braces for the worst…but is surprised when he is handed an electric guitar! Simon and Theodore are also surprised, when they are also given instruments.

It is then, that the commanding officer reveals that he and his men (who I guess have chosen to defect against their superiors!), want the boys to play rock and roll!

“Show our people, it should not be forbidden any longer,” he says.

Chipmunks-3On the other side of the wall, Dave has waited long enough, when he suddenly hears Alvin’s voice, singing a song that carries over the wall.

Soon, people on both sides of the wall are listening to the song. As they join in the chorus, the wall begins to form cracks, and soon a portion of it crumbles to the ground! Once the song ends, Caterina is reunited with Erik, the tailor with his granddaughter, and Dave with the Chipmunks.

The image then wavers, and we see Alvin and his brothers, asleep on an airplane. It is at this point that Dave wakes them up, and points out the wall through the plane’s window.

“It was just a dream,” says Alvin, “But it doesn’t have to be.”

As the episode ends, we get one more image of Caterina and Erik, standing next to the open wall.

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While Alvin and the Chipmunks did have some emotional episodes, something about The Wall always stuck with me. It was when I went looking around online for more information on it some time ago, that I was surprised to find others also had fond memories of the storyline as well!

One reason the episode stuck in my head, was probably due to the song that Alvin and the boys sing.

For much of their career, the Chipmunks have mostly sung their renditions of popular songs. In the case of this episode, the song that was sung was an original piece of music (just who wrote it, I have no clue).

While there have been a number of albums of Chipmunk music released over the years, this song still has never had a proper release. Of course, if you look around Youtube, you’ll find audio copies people have gotten off the episode.

At the time, episodes of The Chipmunks usually consisted of two 10-12 minute stories. The Wall was the first part of the episode, that aired on December 17, 1988. However, some believe it’s story may have been inspired by several events.

During the late 1980’s, there was already growing resentment towards the Berlin Wall, that had divided East and West Berlin since 1961. In 1987, former President Ronald Reagan had given a speech, in which he had requested that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, “tear down the wall.”

The Wall of Iron concert in the episode, may have been inspired by several artists who played near the Berlin Wall. In 1987, David Bowie performed there during his Glass Spider Tour, and in 1988, Bruce Springsteen and his band followed suit (which could explain Alvin’s Springsteen-like vocals!).

And then, on November 9th, 1989, the unthinkable happened.

It was on this day, that the gates separating East and West Germany were thrown open. I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but I can still recall NBC News footage with reporter Tom Brokaw in the foreground, reporting on the event. Plus, word is that the weekend after the event, NBC re-aired The Chipmunks episode featuring The Wall in it.

Cartoons have often found ways to insert real-world notions or thoughts. Most of the time, they go over the heads of their younger audiences.. In the case of The Wall however, there was just something about it’s message about unifying families who had been separated under horrible circumstances, that I think stuck with many who saw it…and still see the episode today.

Retro Recaps: E.R. (Season 5, Episode 8), “The Good Fight”

Growing up in the 1990’s, I still remember when NBC ruled Thursday nights, with their Must-See-TV lineup.

Thanks to the involvement of Jurassic Park alumni Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg, I soon had another show to watch along with Seinfeld and Frasier, when E.R. debuted in 1995.

Like millions across the country, I was soon deeply engrossed in the interconnected lives of the staff of County General Hospital, in Chicago, Illinois. The constantly-roving cameras, along with the hyper-kinetic scenes when the doctors would have to contend with emergency situations, soon had me sucked in.

All these years later, there’s been a few episodes that I can still recall parts of from memory. One of them came out twenty years ago this week, and I thought it fitting to do a Retro Recap on it.

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As the episode starts, we find John Carter (Noah Wyle) and several of the E.R. staff, working on a little girl named Corinna Nelson (Nicolette Little). While her father Sawyer (John Thaddeus) only has a gash on his forehead from the vehicular accident they were involved in, Corinna has a ruptured spleen. Med student Lucy Knight (Kellie Martin) takes Sawyer to be stitched up, before returning to Corinna.

ER-TGF-6Doctors Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) and Peter Benton (Eriq LaSalle) soon enter the room to examine the little girl, when her eyes close and her blood pressure spikes! A blood transfusion has been set up, but her body does not seem to be taking it. Lucy is sent to ask Sawyer if his daughter has any special conditions, but upon checking on him, she finds he has disappeared.

Sawyer had given Lucy some information, including the phone number for Corinna’s mother. Upon calling her, Lucy is given some shocking news: Sawyer’s name is actually Keith, and he kidnapped his daughter a few weeks prior!

ER-TGF-7Things don’t get better when they find out that Corinna has a very uncommon blood type, and the blood draw taken from Keith after the accident, confirms a match with his daughter. Carter inquires to the nearest blood banks, but finds nothing. Meanwhile, Lucy’s shift ends, and she attempts to follow the street address Keith gave her, even though Carter feels he just gave her false information.

Carter is soon relieved by Dr Greene, and takes off with a woman he knows named Roxanne Please (Julie Bowen). However, he also is informed by a member of the Chicago Police Department, that they found Keith’s totaled car came from a dealership in the Chicagoland area.

Carter attempts to spend the afternoon with Roxanne, but his mind is still on Corinna, and he heads off for the dealership, hoping to find information on Keith. There he finds out that Keith is a bookie, and the salesman tells Carter to check with a Bellhop at the Delaware Hotel downtown for more information.

ER-TGF-8Carter does so, and is surprised to find that Lucy is already there. The address Keith gave her was a former place he lived, and some locals in the area directed her to the hotel. A bellhop tells them that a guy named Toby knows Keith, and recommends they check out a meat-packing plant.

Back at the hospital, Corinna’s mother has arrived, but her daughter’s condition has worsened. With the lack of blood (her mother’s blood type does not match), her kidneys are in danger of shutting down.

It is then that Dr Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes) gives the team some hope. The rare donor program has found some frozen units of Corinna’s blood type in Nashville. The blood is soon on the way, and Corinna is prepped for surgery for her ruptured spleen.

ER-TGF-9Meanwhile, Carter and Lucy have gone from the meat-packing plant, to a dilapidated neighborhood looking for Toby. Lucy manages to find a relation who says he may be at a market nearby. However, as she glances up at the nearby El train platform, she sees Keith on it!

Carter quickly rushes across the street and jumps the turnstile. Unfortunately, he is accosted for not paying the fare, and he watches as the train leaves with Keith on it. Carter and Lucy then find Toby, who claims he doesn’t have Keith’s contact information, but suggests talking to a guy named Uncle Joey at Soldier Field.

Back at County General, the blood has been received, but there’s bad news. Several small holes have been found in the bag, which could mean the contents may have been exposed to bacteria. This leads to Dr Benton and the others to performing a “blood-less surgery,” attempting to repair the girl’s spleen, while trying to keep her from losing what little blood she has left.

ER-TGF-10Taking Uncle Joey’s advice, Carter and Lucy head to another address on the south side of Chicago. As they wander around some dilapidated buildings, they both begin to question each other’s motives in looking for Keith. Carter claims he went looking because he wanted to help. Lucy on the other hand, feels responsible since Keith walked away when her back was turned (which Carter had berated her for earlier).

“I shouldn’t have made you feel that way,” admits Carter. “Truth is, you’re the only med student I had that showed any promise.”

Things don’t get better when Carter ends up taking a fall, and dislocating his shoulder. The two decide to leave, but find that someone has torched Carter’s Jeep!

They then take off on foot, and soon come to a payphone. Lucy decides to call Toby back to see if he can provide more information, but Carter feels that they’ve reached a dead-end.

ER-TGF-11Surprisingly, Toby comes through, and provides them with an address that leads them to a small wooden shack along some train tracks. They find evidence that Keith and Corinna had been living in the shack, along with a phone message.

Playing back the message, they hear Keith’s voice telling someone named Inga that he’s across the street, and to check on Corinna at the hospital.

This sends Lucy and Carter headed back to the hospital to look for Inga, when Lucy thinks of Keith saying the words, “across the street.”

ER-TGF-12The two end up rushing into a restaurant called Doc Magoo’s across from County General, and sure enough…Keith is there!

Keith is quickly rushed over to the hospital, where Lucy draws his blood. He’s then wheeled into the room with his daughter and ex-wife, but it is then that Dr Greene explains Corinna’s condition. The spleen surgery came out successfully, but given how much time has elapsed since she first needed the blood transfusion, Corinna has slipped into a coma. She’s had multiple seizures, and her kidneys have shut down.

“But his blood will make her better, right?” asks Corinna’s Mom.

“A lot of damage has been done,” says Dr Green, quietly.

ER-TGF-13After getting his arm in a sling, Carter goes up on the roof, and finds Lucy there. While they were able to get Corinna the blood she needed, Lucy is upset that they couldn’t have saved her from her current condition.

“Some patients get to you more than others,” says Carter, sitting down next to her. “I know. But when you do everything that you can…sometimes, even more than you though you could, you got to walk away knowing you fought the good fight. You fought the good fight, Lucy. Tomorrow, you’ll fight another one.”

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When it came to E.R., the general format for an episode, usually involved weaving multiple stories together like a hospital-based soap opera. Sometimes however, the show writers would give their multiple plot-threads a break, and focus on a singular event like this one.

In the E.R., the fight to save Corinna ends up being an event that touches almost every regular character on the show (even George Clooney’s Dr Doug Ross shows up for a few minutes). However, it feels almost like the secondary story arc, with the main focus being on John Carter and Lucy Knight’s quest to find Corinna’s father.

For the show’s fifth season, Lucy Knight was a newcomer to the hospital staff: a third-year medical student, but one that had some difficulty asking questions and getting a handle on certain elements. This led to a series of mishaps that soon ended up with her and John Carter at odds with each other.

With this episode, we both got to see each of them being strong-willed and caring people, who just want to help. The storyline isn’t too different from those we’ve seen before, where two characters who don’t get along, are forced to find common ground to achieve a goal.

The episode also had the two sharing some personal information about themselves. At one point when the topic turns to Keith “abandoning” his daughter, John and Lucy begin to divulge a bit about their own fathers. Carter admits that a father should stick around for his kids, only to find out from Lucy that her father wasn’t around when she was young.

The episode worked to bridge the communication gap between them, and going forward, the two ended up becoming a fan-favorite “pairing” that is still talked about to this day.

Looking back on the episode now, the storyline of the two looking for Keith Nelson seems a bit ridiculous. I doubt any medical drama today would use such a storytelling device, but the concept of doing whatever it takes to try and save someone definitely spoke to me. There’s even an added “emergency beat” when Carter comes across a woman in a housing complex, who is suffering from tuberculosis.

The final moment with John and Lucy taking a beat after their adventure, is still one of my favorite moments from the series. Carter’s speech about “fighting the good fight,” is one that I sometimes think about in my quieter moments.