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.

Quickie Review of KNIVES OUT (2019) (Slightly spoilery)

Believe every good thing everyone’s said about this film! And yes, I might be biased because I actually liked everything Rian Johnson did with THE LAST JEDI.

Like any good whodunnit, no plot or character point is wasted. Not on me, who grew up watching MYSTERY on the local PBS station in Cleveland waiting for classic DOCTOR WHO to come on. Every characterization, even the ones updated for the 21st century, had echoes of every character I’ve ever seen or read. And I can’t think of any detail that didn’t come back around whether or not it was directly related to the crime at the center of the film.

By the way, anyone who complains about Daniel Craig’s Southern accent has never heard Benedict Cumberbatch’s accent in AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY. (Ugh.)

Okay, I’m going to get spoilery. I can’t help it, because it was my favorite part of the film and something that’ll stick with me for a long time…

I loved how Marta transcends the schemes of the well-meaning old White man who manipulated systems of race and privilege on her behalf the best way he know how and by doing so, ultimately wins by being true to herself. There aren’t too many pieces of pop culture that I can point to as an example of a nuanced view of how White people of privilege hurt, help, and even hurt by helping people of color.

Quickie Review: SWORD OF TRUST (2019)

B for effort, B- for execution. It met my barest expectations, namely watching Marc Maron play a version of himself as he did on his IFC show and on GLOW. And while the Maron snark shown in the trailer might’ve been my primary draw, SWORD OF TRUST teases me with the unspoken parts of his character Mel’s story. Of course, his story wasn’t the film’s story.

Writers Lynn Shelton (also the director) and Mike O’Brien compensate for what was lacking in Mel’s story by fleshing out almost every other character. Not completely, but enough for the story’s purposes. And I think the improvisational aspect of the film elevated the them above what could’ve been an utter trainwreck of southern stereotypes. SWORD OF TRUST’s biggest positive, I think, is how it (thankfully) baited and switched on anyone looking for a lazy, self-congratulatory endorsement of those stereotypes. Don’t bother seeing it if you’re expecting to just laugh at “dumb Southerners.”

Quickie Review // DEAR AMERICA: NOTES OF AN UNDOCUMENTED CITIZEN by Jose Antonio Vargas

It’s interesting–and perhaps a little narcissistic?–to think I see parts of my story, and the stories of other Filipino immigrants and children of immigrants I know, even the ones who didn’t go through what Vargas is experiencing now. The themes Vargas uses to categorize his experiences living, in his words, as an undocumented citizen in the U.S. are: Lying, Passing, and Hiding. I look at some of my family’s and others’ stories of adapting to life in these United States (not only the ones who were tago ng tago, but them too), and see those there elements in them, as well.

Surely this was unintentional, but Vargas’s book caused me to wonder if there are rites of passages that Filipino immigrants and/or their children must go through. Or rather, are fated to go through. Odd looks for bringing a lunch to school that wasn’t PB&J? Fucking up the rules of an American sport on the first go-round? Confusion about how everything is “Black and White,” when you saw how some Filipinos and other Brown folks talked stuff about both?

Other parts of Vargas’s story that I can’t relate to directly still had some resonance with my life, but the ones that didn’t had value as well. Vargas offers some education to anyone not familiar with immigration issues. The book certainly filled some gaps in my own knowledge. Vargas spells out why undocumented immigrants can’t “just get legal,” and has numbers on how much undocumented immigrants give, rather than take, economically. He illustrates how the Black struggle, and Black literature especially, informed his own thinking on the dynamics of White power and privilege that affected his life. And he draws a pretty straight line about how Asians benefited from a foundation in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, through the 1965 Voting Rights Act and up to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. That knowledge, that history alone is worth the cover price.

Quickie Review: THE ENDLESS (2017)

I knew nothing about this film when it was recommended to me with the explicit instruction not to Google anything about it beforehand. Not even information about the directors/stars Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Okay, fine.

Within the first five minutes of it, I knew this was something right up my alley, even when I saw some shots that seemed to have that stereotypical “first year film student” vibe. It was a mistake to think that. It had all the earmarks of exactly the kind of stories I’ve been striving to write.

I’m reluctant to write much more for fear of spoiling it. There’s very little extraneous information about THE ENDLESS that couldn’t give something away to the literate speculative fiction film-goer once they were actually watching it. Okay, at the risk of doing that, I’ll say this is hands down the best film of a certain particular pulp sci-fi/horror genre I’ve ever seen, with some fresh ideas thrown in. And if you want to know why (god dammit, I’m really biting my tongue here), you’ll just have to see it.