Quickie Review of SEIS MANOS (2019)

I knew what it was going for but it suffered for trying too hard and from lack of focus.

I mean, I get it, this combo looks awesome on paper: A little Robert Rodriguez grindhouse (complete with Danny Trejo), a little Shaw Brothers kung-fu action (complete with logo “homage” and displays of snake, drunken fist, and other styles… from 3 students with the same sifu, but whatever), a little Shaft (Why yes, I can dig it!), some Catholic Church+Indigenous religion-infused horror, with a dash of wokeness — well, I think you get the point.

I honestly thought this was going to be right up my alley. But it ended up being more of a 6-way intersection.


I might give a second season a chance, though.

Quickie Review of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) S01 E07: “Not All Men”

As if men needed another reason to be horrible… in The Twilight Zone.

If there’s a message in this one, it’s a little lost on me. But I think it’s hard to see the forest for the trees because the trees are pretty damn compelling. This TZ iteration gets the societal dark side of the human condition almost note perfect (In this episode: women who feel weird saying “no,” white knighting as a pretext, men who don’t take no for an answer, etc.), in the way that the original series never could — that is, under network and advertiser scrutiny. It makes me wonder how much further “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” or “The Shelter” would go if they were made today.

The difference is, a lot of those original episodes were about a turn. There was at least an illusion that your neighbors maybe weren’t paranoid or racist or would turn on you, which a strange occurrence would then dispel. But even though tiny meteorites are as good a catalyst as aliens manipulating the power grid or a nuclear false alarm, there’s no surprise in “Not all Men.” There’s no shock as “Not All Men” reveal themselves.

I almost rated the episode lower than I did until I realized: Maybe that’s the point. Maybe this is THE TWILIGHT ZONE of the 21st century, where the real shock is that there wasn’t that much illusion to dispel after all — which makes it poignant on its own terms! On the other hand, I didn’t rate it higher because even if I’m right about the point, I still feel like I had to reach a bit to get to that conclusion.

Other takeaways:

  • “The Martians might be coming.” — not the Venusians?’
  • Calling someone “a jobsworth” is definitely something worthy of a Serling script.
  • All the acts of violence men do, great and small, are all compressed and on display in one episode.
    • Patronizing men. And the women who enable it.
    • No surprise that Zeke the Geek is an asshole, “He used to be so bullied.”
    • “It’s just assholes being assholes.” Boys being boys.
    • “I guess I gave him a confusing vibe.”
    • “I just didn’t say anything.”
    • “At least the men are just as aggressive to each other, too.”
    • Yes, even the gay men.

The Jack Elam Score for “Not All Men” (out of 5):

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”
5: “CHECK ‘EM FOR WINGS!!!”

Quickie Review of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) S01 E06: “Six Degrees of Freedom”

Five astronauts in search of an exit… out of The Twilight Zone.

Definitely another original series mash-up of every episode with: astronauts, a catastrophe, obvious throwback references, and more importantly, a meta examination on the nature of reality. It was simple and straightforward, but still compelling. But just because I don’t have a lot to say about it, “Six Degrees” is one of those really solid episodes that I’d expect to see if this new series lasts long enough to get its own holiday marathons. Other impressions I had…

  • Featuring The Bradbury won’t necessarily get this episode a “4” rating, now…
  • Oh, TINA is talky — is it going to go H.A.L.?
  • I’m gonna be pissed if this whole thing is just someone’s delusion.
  • Otherwise, this would be a great pilot for a sci-fi TV series.
  • I swear, the astronaut who loses his shit is THE TWILIGHT ZONE’S answer to STAR TREK:TOS’s redshirts.

Okay, so while this episode does feature The Bradbury

The Jack Elam Score for “Six Degrees of Freedom” (out of 5):

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”
5: “CHECK ‘EM FOR WINGS!!!”

Quickie Review of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) S01 E05: “The Wunderkind”

Art imitates life imitating a reality TV show imitating life… uh… “Twilight Zone.”

I hoped for a follow-through on the OMEN-esque vibe I got seeing the trailer. Some kind of new update of “It’s a Good Life.” Of course, the last episode that brought this to my mind didn’t seem so good to me. “The Wunderkind” had a promising premise, a compelling character, and the clever throwback touches I’ve come to expect from the new series. Trouble is, it couldn’t get off the note of “Look, look, it’s about how we’ve normalized the weird shit going on in Washington DC, get it?” The other impressions I came away with…

  • Five episodes and I have to be imagining the continual references to “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” That jukebox could be referencing a bunch of episodes. Right…?
  • You’re blatantly mixing your o.g. TZ references with John Cho strapped to hospital bed, there — part “To Serve Man,” part “Eye of the Beholder.”
  • But only in the modern TZ could you have the Asian character say, “I want Justin Timberlake to play me in the HBO movie!”
  • The polls being “high tech baloney.” A child who “tells it like it is.” Hm, seems familiar…
  • Only in the modern TZ can Asian guys be selfish a-holes proposing ridiculous candidates/ideas, blinded by the privilege that lets him think, “Everybody wins, nobody gets hurt.” Yeah, right.
  • Nope, the episode took my suspension of disbelief a step too far. Why would parents let Raff near them again. I could believe they could go for it once, but twice? Obviously, because the plot needs it.
  • Look, little Bobby Flay jumping up on the cutting board.
  • Ah, here it is — “That was a good thing you did, Oliver. A good thing.”

I’m reminded of the interview James Gunn (the sci-fi writer, not the director) did with Rod Serling where Serling mused about the consistency of the original TZ: “It wasn’t a good show every week. It wasn’t a good show, sometimes, three weeks running.” “A” for effort here, but…

The Jack Elam Score for “Wunderkind” (out of 5):

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”
5: “CHECK ‘EM FOR WINGS!!!”

Quickie Review of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) S01 E04: “A Traveler”

An assimilated people still have a line in the sand against a colonial oppressor. It’s just pushed far back. For some though, that line is set all the way… into The Twilight Zone.

I’m sure I didn’t get them all, but just in this single episode there were actual or thematic references to every original TZ episode where…

  • …someone is in a jail cell
  • …it’s all police can do to just keep a grip on WTF is going on
  • …people get paranoid and shit gets crazy
  • ::that Giorgio Tsoukalos meme::

And this reminds me of another strength of the original series. I think part (a small part, to be sure) of the reason people say stupid things like, “Why can’t modern SF/F be apolitical like THE TWILIGHT ZONE?” is because a lot of the stories were crafted to sink its speculative hooks in you so deeply that it practically enabled a shallow viewer to miss the deeply political stuff. Now, I don’t recommend that kind of viewing for “A Traveler,” because you’d miss out on its commentary on colonialism. But hey, you do you!

Other thoughts I had as I watched…

  • This is the Christmas episode, but I get the feeling it’s not going to be “Night of the Meek.” Will we ever get an episode like that in this 2019 iteration?
  • Sure keep showing the Gremlin, Talky Tina, the Mystic Seer — I like merch! But I don’t know… I don’t think the alien with the bling and a Sherpa hat is going to be a thing.
  • Jesus, Steven Yuen dressed like Ross — fucking awesome
  • “Quallinat Christmas sucks”… but as long as you get turkey and pie…? Hey, I’m Fil-Am, I’m not judging!
  • Again, a good depiction of the low key everyday racism that I experienced. (Heh, “experienced.” Past tense… it’s a joke, get it?)
  • Dummy Christmas wrapping
  • A. Traveler.” HAHA I like it.
  • Aggro travelers are a thing…??
  • Love the rotary phone with buttons
  • Oh, now we have some “Monsters are Due” shit going on here?
  • Mayor “Matheson” — okay, I think by episode 4, new viewers know how Richard Matheson is by now!
  • I was fully expecting Greg Kinnear to the be a racist dumb-ass. No, just a bigger egotist than racist.
  • “What the actual what?” is a nice callback to “Wet… what’s, ‘wet’?”
  • “My people are going to intercept them.” What… from Venus?

The Jack Elam Score for “A Traveler” (out of 5):

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”
5: “CHECK ‘EM FOR WINGS!!!”

Quickie Review of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) S01 E03: “Replay”

Even a magical camcorder might not be enough for a Black mother to protect her son from racism in America… even in The Twilight Zone.

There’s some true alchemy in this episode! Like the first two, there were lots of tiny references sprinkled in for the eagle-eyed fans of the old series. But whereas the last attempt to update the old series was a little too on the nose (for me at least), “Replay” took the original TWILIGHT ZONE’s approach to the themes of the ’50s and ’60s and fashioned something completely relevant for 21st century viewers. Especially 21st century viewers of color! So far, “Replay” is the quintessential TWILIGHT ZONE update to me! Here are some other takeaways…

  • I love the sheriff uniform. Reminds me of something…
  • C’mon Jordan, is the Mystic Seer really necessary? I mean, I get it but still.
  • Emmett Avenue, huh? Of course.
  • Kaepernick super-bowl!
  • This is definitely reminiscent of those hitchhiker stories where the ghost keeps reappearing.
  • That’s it — instead of running from the apparition, go straight for it!
  • It’s not often you see subtle racism played out on TV. Sure we all knew the White trooper was racist and going to say “boy” at some point. But up until that point, he’ll sit and chat amicably with people of color. There comes a point in the episode where one might be tempted to think, “Oh, this is when she turns the cop around.” But people of color knew better.
  • Car 1015, eh?
  • You’d think anyone in a TZ with a grasp of the weird shit going on around them would’ve been like “ain’t no thing” when something bad happens.
  • “You’ve never asked for help” — that’s the key right there!
  • I called the ending — but not until it was almost on me. Good one, Jordan!
  • I don’t think I’ve seen a teleplay sum up about 90+% of the struggles of a community in a well-rounded way since, well, BLACK PANTHER.
  • We don’t just get a fleeting visual reference to the spirit of Rod Serling. Thematically, we also get, “It was love, not magic, that kept evil at bay.”

The Jack Elam Score for “Replay” (out of 5):

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”
5: “CHECK ‘EM FOR WINGS!!!”

Quickie Review of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) S01 E02: “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet”

An airline passenger has a dire warning for Flight 1015 in a story that doubles down on “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” — at least, as much as one can for only going an additional 10,000 feet up… in The Twilight Zone.

My first thought heard when I first heard this episode’s title was, “Really?” After all, I’d heard that this iteration of TZ would swear off direct remakes. But now it wouldn’t surprise me to eventually see yet another updated version of “It’s a Good Life.” Not that I’d complain, but still. Here are my other impressions…

  • Easter eggs abound in this episode: References to each of the folks who were a distant second and third for number of original TZ episodes written (Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont), to a familiar company that ended up making mp3 players, to the original “20,000 Feet” episode via a deliberately placed callback like the one in “The Comedian“…
  • …which is what makes me suspect that I was supposed to have my “Really?” reaction. Okay TZ 2019, you got me!
  • Ah, the risks of traveling “Privileged class”… for the traveler and everyone around them.
  • Wow, do I feel called out over my obsession a year or so ago over SERIAL.
  • You know what they say about how the more something changes…?
  • I don’t want to get spoilery at all, so I’ll just say that I don’t get the ending. Rather, I don’t see the logic for this story’s particular ending.

The Jack Elam Score for “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” (out of 5):

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”
5: “CHECK ‘EM FOR WINGS!!!”

Quickie Review of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) S01 E01: “The Comedian”

A stand-up comedian gets advice for advancing his career, which works out about as well as you can expect… in The Twilight Zone.

Here it is — my first in a series of reviews of Jordan Peele’s TWILIGHT ZONE! I’ve purposely avoided having too much information about this series. The only things I couldn’t avoid gleaning were (a) there are homages galore to Rod Serling and the original series and (b) the show intends to shy away from direct remakes of old episodes. Fair enough. Here are my impressions…

  • The first thing I thought of when I saw this episode’s title was, of course, the PLAYHOUSE 90 special of the same title that Serling did in 1957. Hey, if Mickey Rooney can play the role of a comedian dramatically, why can’t Kumail Nanjiani?
  • Tracy Morgan upholds the tradition from classic TZ episodes like 1961’s “A Game of Pool” where comedians like Jackie Gleason play creepy.
  • I thought the episode went a little overboard with the camera work, but probably no more in 2019 than was considered overwrought in the 50s and 60s.
  • I wish the original series was this sweary.
  • I loved the reference to 1962’s “The Dummy.”
  • I forget how simple the old Twilight Zone-y elements are, but this episode leans on that simplicity: a comedian who wants to open his mouth and change the world…
  • …which of course, in this case, leads to the classic TZ trope of someone abusing the messed situation they’re in.
  • The episode was a little padded, IMO and I totally called the ending. Still, though, an awesome start!!

The Jack Elam Score for “The Comedian” (out of 5):

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”
5: “CHECK ‘EM FOR WINGS!!!”

Quickie Review of WEATHER by Huey Lewis & the News

MTV actually did what everyone was afraid it would do to a 10 year-old child in the 80s, such as myself: lure me into The Devil’s Music. I saw this concert on cable TV late one weekend night, and that was it. Jesus — I mean, Satan — those harmonies! That harmonica! The Tower of Power! The end-of-concert tag line that I got to hear when I finally caught them live — “I’m Huey Lewis… and you just heard the News!!”

Fast forward mumblemubmlemumblesomething years later, and what else could I say about this quote from ESQUIRE except, “It me.”

So of course I had to pick up their newest album WEATHER. I have the rest of the catalog, so why not? Anyone’s opinion of a Huey Lewis & the News album will depend one’s opinion of the band. If you don’t like them, there’s nothing for you here. If you do, WEATHER is solid stuff, because it’s always solid stuff. I’ve never met a fellow fan who was like “X album sucked, compared to the rest of them.” (Not even their 1980 debut.) WEATHER maintains the groove from PLAN B (and the last 4 tracks of their TIME FLIES compilation, except a little more stripped down and not as “produced.” A couple of tunes like “Her Love Is Killin’ Me” have a little bit of hints of the 80s, but not enough to call it a retread by any means.

Now because of Huey’s current struggle with Meniere’s Disease, there could be some truth to the hype that this “could be their last album.” Now I thought of Johnny Cash’s AMERICAN sessions while I listened to this and thought I was being a little overwrought. No one was dying while this was being recorded. But then I heard the last track…

If WEATHER really is the last album we’ll get from Huey Lewis & the News, I’m really going to be sad.

Quickie Review of 1917 (2019) – Not Really for Me

Definitely one of the most beautifully shot films I’ve seen in a long time, even if most the beauty is in the grittier details of the horror and death of World War I. If you thought director Sam Mendes’s Bond films were good, you’ll really be impressed by this, I think. What impressed me the most was the single shot feel which felt completely different from what Alejandro Iñárritu does.

Personally, it wasn’t for me, though. And I tried. I wonder if it’s because I was in “Writer Head” the whole time, at the end of a very long work day.

Writer Head couldn’t find a reason to be invested in the characters. Writer Head checked off each perfunctory stiff upper lipped British soldier whose accent got more RP the higher their rank. Writer Head thought that every artfully placed corpse, every peaceful encounter, every act of violence appeared exactly when it needed to to keep the story moving.

Most of all, Writer Head told me that the film didn’t add to what any of the depictions I’ve experienced in TV, film, and literature (especially British TV and film) had already taught me about WWI. All the horror and trauma and death just to move trenches another six inches forward, yeah — World War I really sucked. We get it.