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6 Day Bike Rider

All I Want To Do Is... Bicycle!
Plot in a nutshell: Joe E. Brown plays Wilfred Simpson, a small town clerk with big dreams, a big mouth and a big ego. A surprisingly childish and immature man - for the sake of comedy of course - Wilfred gets mad when he thinks his girlfriend Phyllis Jenkins (or fiancé as he insists on calling her - played by Maxine Doyle) is being stolen from him by hotshot trick cyclist Harry St. Clair (Gordon Westscott). When Wilfred's bad behavior (including but not limited to hissing at Harry, who already has a wife, when he's performing on stage) gets to be too much an alienated Phyllis takes off, seemingly to Harry and to the big city. Wilfred, whose only real skill is being a capable biker himself, decides the only way to win her back is to enter an epic 6 day bike race with a partner he picks up along the way. Old school hilarity ensues.

An okay old school black & white/sepia tone comedy that'll never be seen as a classic, I recorded this off TCM out of curiosity. It was an okay early morning viewing with a few genuinely amusing if not exactly laugh out loud funny gags, most of them during the race.

How much one enjoys the film probably depends on how much tolerance one has for Wilfred, the classic unsympathetic comedy protagonist played by Brown. At times Wilfred is somewhat redeemed by Brown's go for broke energy, but at other times you just want someone to slap him and tell him to grow up a little as he sometimes feel more aggressive and bullying than the actual antagonist. Such is the life and lot of the unsympathetic comedy protagonist.

Still, the film offers clean, inoffensive humor and in this day and age where almost every gag or every other gag has some innuendo going on that is a nice change of pace.

Galtar and the Golden Lance

To quote Hanna-Barbera... Funtastic!
On what may or may not be a faraway world or perhaps our world in the distant past, an evil tyrant, Tormack, will stop at nothing to acquire the supernatural weapon known as the Golden Lance, which when combined with the indestructible Sacred Shield that he stole from the royal family of Bandisar, the king and queen of whom he assassinated when he usurped the city of Bandisar, will make him invincible. The surviving Bandisar royalty, Princess Goleeta, rightful heir to the Shield, and her younger brother Prince Zorn, join forces with the warrior Galtar, who is entrusted with the Golden Lance by the wizard Ither, to overthrow Tormack and fight off other threats along the way, including but not limited to Tormack's scheming niece Rava and a father/son con artist team.

Part of that wave of what you might call "Kid Friendly Conan" type shows that followed the success of the 1982 Conan film that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, thus inspiring a renaissance of sorts for low fantasy, Hanna-Barbera decided to toss its hat into the ring by including this in its "Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera" block in 1985, though it is believed Galtar was created in an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the better known/remembered "He-Man & The Masters of the Universe".

And one can definitely see the influence of He-Man on this series as well as "Thundarr the Barbarian", "Dungeons & Dragons" and even Hanna- Barbera's own "Herculoids" among others. The hero Galtar looks like a cross between Thundarr the Barbarian, Hank the Ranger from D&D and even Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker. Princess Goleeta looks and feels like a cross between MOTU's Teela, "Thundarr"'s Princess Ariel and HB's own Daphne Blake from "Scooby-Doo", etc. Meanwhile Galtar's faithful steed Thork looks as though he escaped from HB's earlier sci-fi series/fantasy series "The Herculoids".

One interesting thing about the series, sadly cut short at 21 episodes (it apparently lacked a toy-line, yet somehow generated Valentine Day cards), is that it initially presented itself as having a somewhat darker tone than other action-fantasy shows of the time period. The pilot is pretty straightforward about the fact that its villain Tormack is a mass murderer (compare & contrast that with Skeletor from MOTU or Mumm-Ra & the Mutants from "Thundercats") and Galtar & Goleeta are both motivated by a desire to get revenge on him for killing their families and people, adding shades of gray to the otherwise morally upright stalwart hero and his tough but still feminine partner/love interest. This aspect of our hero and heroine is downplayed in later episodes.

Still, while it may not have been quite as dynamic as say "Thundercats", "Galtar" is a fun little series in its own right, moving along briskly and showcasing likable characters with kid friendly action and jokes. Part of the fun in watching the show now is spotting all the familiar 1980s era voice actors, among them the usual suspects from G.I. JOE and TRANSFORMERS such as Michael Bell, Corey Burton, Peter Cullen, industry veterans such as the late Don Messick and Frank Welker, the series even acquired voice actors from the very shows it obviously sought to mimic - THUNDARR's own lead Robert Ridgely and Henry Corden, MOTU's Linda Gary, etc.

Speaking of GI JOE the series heroine Goleeta was voiced by Mary McDonald-Lewis, best remembered by 80s fans for her voice work as Lady Jaye on GI JOE, and she manages to recycle the best aspects of that performance here, imbuing our heroine with warmth and strength while still making Goleeta just different enough from Lady Jaye to not feel like a clone of her. Meanwhile Lou Richards manages to imbue Galtar with just enough boyish charm to make an engaging protagonist out of him (the character's build may be closer to Thundarr's but his personality is closer to that of He-Man or perhaps Prince Adam if he didn't have to be He-Man), and David Mendenhall (who voiced Daniel son of Spike in the last stretch of the 1980s wave of "Transformers") acquits himself nicely in the role of Zorn, one of the better tag along kid characters of shows like this, helped by the fact that for the most part the writers managed to avoid having Zorn fall into the traps and tropes that usually derail characters of his archetype.

And who can forget the late great Brock Peters voice work as the series Christopher Lee inspired villain Tormack? Peters was no stranger to villains and authority figures (he substituted for James Earl Jones as Darth Vader in the Star Wars radio dramas as he was quite possibly the only actor available at the time with a deep enough voice to match Jones's) and his signature deep, commanding voice, practically a force of nature unto itself, fits the sinister Tormack like a glove, elevating him into a genuinely intimidating figure even when he suffers the embarrassments that 1980s cartoon villains were obligated to endure - though Tormack doesn't suffer nearly as many as more iconic fiends such as Cobra Commander or Skeletor. One of the reasons it's a shame the series didn't last longer is that Tormack could have been one of the iconic cartoon villains of the 80s, if only for Brock's excellent voice work.

Also of interest is that this was an early pre-"Mad About You"/"As Good As It Gets" fame job for Helen Hunt as the voice of Tormack's wild card femme fatale niece Rava, who played the evil Veronica to Goleeta's heroic Betty when it came to Galtar while still working her own agendas here and there.

For fans of the 80s and sword and sorcery this series is highly recommended despite ending with the usual "and the adventure continues" manner that many 80s cartoons ended on.

Marvel Super Hero Adventures: Frost Fight!

It was... okay. Seriously, I watched it just for Carol Danvers/Cap Marvel
The Avengers find their holidays being compromised by that darned Loki, who has joined forces with the frost giant Ymir to kidnap none other than Santa Claus himself, who has it turns out is a super powerful mythological bad ass. Only the Avengers can save Jolly Old Saint Nick now! Oh and Rocket Raccoon and Groot show up too.

Once again Marvel Animation seems content to churn out a product that probably would have been more at home in the 1980s where it might have actually seen as off beat but feels out of place today. "Avengers Assemble" has (or had - I gave up after a few episodes) the same problem - where its predecessor "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" moved like a well oiled machine, "Assemble" just feels old, stiff, clunky and about 20 to 30 years out of date (and its attempts to mimic the MCU style banter never quite works). It would have been right at home alongside the GI Joe and Transformers cartoons of the 80s, but it hasn't been the 80s for quite some time.

For whatever its worth this feature is somewhat more watchable than AA or "Ultimate Spider-Man", despite being about 10 minutes too long and featuring a lot of overwritten dialogue in an attempt to mimic the MCU. There are some genuinely funny bits in the film, such as Rocket Raccoon and Groot's encounter with Mrs. Claus. There's also a surprisingly poignant moment where the heroes gather around a fire and share Christmas memories (for Reptil getting dinosaur toys, for Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers getting tickets to an air show where she got to sit in a jet, for Captain America/Steve Rogers getting a baseball & bat despite not having any skill for the sport).

The feature's greatest asset however is Carol Danvers showing up as Captain Marvel. Grey DeLisle-Griffin reprises the role of Carol from "Superhero Squad" and she easily steals the show by managing to be tough but also funny and personable, snagging most of the better one liners along the way. The other voice actors do decent enough work, with Steve Blum and Jane Singer both turning in amusing performances as Santa Claus, Santa's doppelganger and Mrs. Claus.

Overall not a work of art, but an okay holiday viewing if you've got 70+ minutes to kill.

Ercole sfida Sansone

A Brawling Good Time
When a monster hunting trip at sea goes awry our favorite Greek/Roman demigod Hercules finds himself stranded in Judea with his pals and must find a way home. Before long Hercules is mistaken for the biblical strong man Samson, who is of course an enemy of the Philistines, and the only way out of this case of mistaken identity is for Hercules to hunt down Samson and bring him to the Philistines. Chaos and Mayhem ensue.

Director Pietro Francisci returns to the sword and sandal genre he helped kick off a few years earlier with the Steve Reeves hits "Hercules" and "Hercules Unchained" and like those features before it this is an above average entry in the genre, with better production values than many of its imitators. It also feels as though it is meant to be the a sequel to the two Steve Reeves Hercules films, minus Reeves himself unfortunately, and the lovely Sylva Koscina, who played his love interest/wife Iole, even though a few of the secondary players of those films return (not the actor who played Ulysses though). Kirk Morris (real name: Adriano Bellini), with hair bleached, is a solid substitute for Reeves opposite Diletta D'Andrea in place of Koscina, and Morris is well matched by Richard Lloyd (real name: Iloosh Koshabe) as Samson. True they're both dubbed, but Morris and Lloyd never the less look very convincing in their roles and dominate every scene they're in, and they execute the action sequences, particularly they're cheerfully over the top knock down drag fist fight which we all paid to see, very well. Liana Orfei asserts herself nicely in the role of the manipulative seductress Delilah - whom Hercules of all people warns Samson against.

For lighter and softer adventure fun be sure to check this one out.

Dick Tracy

The Untouchables Meets Adam West Batman
Another Time, Another Place... Big Boy Caprice wants complete control of the city and will stop at nothing to get it. The only standing between Big Boy and his goal is Dick Tracy, the cop with the yellow hat and trench coat, who will stop at nothing to bring down Big Boy. The only one standing between the lantern jawed cop and wily gangster? The mysterious and elusive "Blank".

Bright, colorful, briskly paced, cheerfully tongue in cheek adaptation of the old Dick Tracy property is an engaging mash up of the Untouchables and Adam West Batman, with Tracy as Elliot Ness and Big Boy as Al Capone.

The entire cast has fun with their roles. Director Star Warren Beatty embraces Tracy's no nonsense attitude with the same straight laced yet winking gusto of the aforementioned Adam West as Batman while Al Pacino gleefully sends up his own Godfather Michael Corleone gangster image as Big Boy (his Godfather brother James Caan has a cameo as a rival gangster in an amusing nod to those earlier films). Madonna is appropriately glamorous as the seductive Breathless Mahoney while Glenn Headley shines in the understated role of Tracy's gal Tess Trueheart.

The 9th highest grossing film of its year and said to be the highest grossing film of Warren Beatty's career, a sequel was sidelined by disputes over who owned the rights to the character (and supposedly whether or not coming in 9th was good enough or not), which was unfortunate, to say the least.

Still the film itself remains a fun ride for lovers of colorful pulp fiction.

Ercole l'invincibile

Save The Bear!
Hercules (Dan Vadis, who also played the role in "The Triumph of Hercules") saves a beautiful princess and, as a reward, he is offered her hand in marriage (which is great for both of them given that they're both nice people) but is also asked to help the royal family against their enemies. Next thing you know Herc is up to his neck in trouble rescuing his fiancé's entire people from an evil subterranean empire.

An okay entry in the sword & sandal genre with some decent atmosphere (and some stock footage from the first Steve Reeves Hercules film), Dan Vadis is perhaps the film's greatest asset in addition to the beautiful women. Some may not like him for not being Steve Reeves or Reg Park, but the very nimble and agile lightning bruiser Vadis brings a Burt Lancaster level of energy to what would have otherwise been some fairly generic fight scenes, and he looks quite larger than life battling his way through an army of henchmen. And while he may have had to kill a lion (which looks pretty good since it really is Vadis wrestling the lion) he is nice enough to save a bear that got in his way.

Weirdly enough, when the film came out in America it was re-dubbed as "Son of Hercules in the Land of Darkness" with Herc being changed to Argolese, son of the Herc. An unusual choice to say the least.

Robotech: Love Live Alive

Not sure what Harmony-Gold was trying to accomplish here...
...beyond simply trying to put out a "new" Robotech film.

Except this isn't so much a film as a clip show recounting the third season, the New Generation (Genesis Climber Mospeda), told from Lancer's perspective, splicing together footage from a Mospeda music video OVA and some new footage, some of it good (an admittedly well animated opening invasion sequence) and some of it not (the last scenes between Lancer and his Invid lover Princess Sera). As a giant clip show it's an okay recount of the last season/series but anyone who was expecting a truly new expansion of the Robotech mythology or the original Love Live Alive OVA in all its glory will be disappointed.

Fans of Lancer and his voice actor Cam Clarke will probably appreciate the emphasis placed on him and enjoy hearing Clarke reprise the role along with the other New Generation actors who came back for the few lines they're given (and as another review noted his voice it seems has not aged that much - and fortunately Barbara Goodson, the voice of Sera, also still sounds more or less the same) but outside of that this is strictly rental material.

The closing song "Only A Fool" is a nice touch.


When Proto-Culture Ruled The Earth...
Once upon a time Harmony-Gold purchased three separate Japanese anime sci-fi series, Macross, Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeda, and all three were too short to be aired individually to fill out the 65+ episode list that was required to fill out a syndication contract back in the 1980s. Since the three shows had very similar looking tech the late Carl Macek and his colleagues decided to re-dub and re-write the three unrelated shows into one on-going story where each show would represent three different generations of humanity's struggle to defend itself from alien invaders in pursuit of the elusive energy source known as Proto-Culture in a three season span.

The first chapter, "The Macross Saga", mixes the visuals of Star Wars with the political intrigues of Star Trek as it chronicles the exploits of the crew of the SDF-1, and their war with the Zentradie, the first in a wave of aliens who have come to Earth for Proto-Culture. Among the human dramas that play out against this space operatic war is Rick Hunter, a hot blooded young pilot, being caught in a love triangle between the flighty pop star Lynn Minmei and his (not that much) older superior officer Lisa Hayes.

The second chapter, "The Masters", focuses on Earth about 20 years after the events of "Macross Saga", with Dana Sterling, the bubbly half-human/half-Zentradie daughter of Max Sterling & Miriya Parina, leading the 15th Squadron as they try to defend Earth from the Robotech Masters, the forerunners to the Zentradie, who seek to secure the Proto-Culture for themselves before the arrival of their ancient enemies the Invid. Various characters look for love in all the wrong places, with Bowie Grant falling hard for the alien Musica.

The third & final chapter, "The New Generation", focuses on the heroic Scott Bernard as he leads a ragtag group of misfits against the aforementioned Invid to reclaim Earth once and for all. Scott struggles to overcome the grief of losing his fiancé Marlene Rush while also contending with his feelings for the amnesiac Ariel; smart ass survivalist Rand butts heads with the rough and tumble Rook while little Annie dreams of finding Mr. Right. The big guy Lunk is doing all he can not to fall apart under pressure while the wholesome cross-dressing singer Lancer finds himself falling for the Invid Princess Sera.

Each series/season has its strengths and weaknesses, and while this "cut & paste" approach may look a little crude to a modern audience (especially on repeat viewings) it works surprisingly well even after all these years. "Macross Saga" and "New Generation" feature better paced, more epic plots and more engaging characters than "The Masters", while "Masters" arguably has the best animation of the three series. It's not even that the cast of "Masters" are unlikable so much as they just don't get as much character development as the casts of the first and third halves and they are also hindered by having a slower less interesting plot, which sadly led to Masters being treated as "the middle child" of the series - not helped by the awkward time skip from Macross either. They're choice of character to be Dana Sterling was also... questionable given another more likely candidate.

Beyond that, Rick Hunter may be the main character of Macross Saga but he is arguably the least likable character there & possibly the least likable of the three leads from each series. Despite getting all the hero's journey tropes (the call, the mentor, etc.) Rick's immaturity makes him painfully unsympathetic at certain junctures, especially in regards to his poor behavior towards his intended love interest Lisa as Macross Saga nears the end; you'll probably spend most of MS being more interested in characters like Roy Fokker and Max Sterling (who's own romance with Miriya is sadly underused) than Rick, and you'll probably be left scratching your head wondering why Lisa would settle for Rick other than he's the main character.

The voice acting can be hammy at times & the dialogue often overwritten, but that lends a certain charm to it. Despite the detriments listed above there is still a lot to love in the series, from the late Ulpio Minucci's music to the grim & ugly depictions of war, suffering & the struggle to hold on to one's humanity in the face of tragedy, all of which elevates it above my personal criticisms as well as other series of that time period.

Justice League: War

Terrible - much like the story it was based on
The first in what is apparently meant to be an over-reaching continuity of DC animated films based on the New 52 gets off to a bad start with what is honestly one of the worst stories from the New 52 right out the gate, JUSTICE LEAGUE: ORIGIN by Geoff Johns, re-subtitled WAR here presumably because it sounds cooler.

Plot or lack thereof: Darkseid invades Earth. A handful of DC's big hitters plus Cyborg ban together to fight him. Chaos and mayhem ensues.

Geoff Johns, who wrote the original story, is a good writer, not a perfect writer but a good one. I've enjoyed his work on Green Lantern, and he did a very good job on the opening arcs of New 52 Aquaman - who sadly was taken out of this feature and replaced with Shazam, the hero formerly known as the original Captain Marvel - but his New 52 Justice League: Origin was a terrible story, full of bad dialogue and unlikable over the top characterizations for half the characters assembled, wasting the beautiful artwork of Jim Lee on an invasion plot thinner than paper. In short, it was NOT one of his better efforts. Anyone who reads that opening New 52 arc can clearly see that Johns heart wasn't invested in the story he was trying to tell.

Sadly, this animated adaptation opts to embrace the sloppiness of the original story rather than fix it or improve upon it. While some of the bad dialogue of the book was dropped (such as Green Lantern's rather stupid "Talk in a deep voice" response to Batman criticizing him for creating a green plane for transportation) they've gone out of their way to add more to the list of casual profanity, which now includes "whore" and "douche bag", and that's just in addition to the regular profanity which seems to be on higher display than usual, which just feels incredibly forced as they're trying way too hard to make this feature as "mature" as possible, except this isn't mature - this is a 13 year old's idea of mature.

The painfully unlikable characterizations of half the cast remain too. Fans who thought Superman wasn't "nice enough" in 2013's "Man of Steel" probably won't like him here either; you see the New 52 portrayed Superman in his early career as a cocky rebel, much like he was in the Golden Age (though he seems to mellow across a few time skips), but here as in the original story this is taken to the point that he's portrayed as a straight up thug who appears to be fighting not in the defense of Earth and innocent people but rather he is merely fighting because he happens to enjoy causing property damage and smacking opponents around. There's no sense of altruism in him, no sense of compassion, something even a younger, more rebellious Superman should have, and something he did have in MOS regardless of what the haters say.

Wonder Woman and Green Lantern don't fair much better. Wonder Woman is portrayed as a dumb, spazzy child trapped in a woman's body who would much rather hack and slash her way through monsters than actually learn from and establish ties with the modern world, and the scene where she freaks out over tasting ice cream for the first time is painfully unfunny. Meanwhile, Green Lantern's arrogance is dialed up so high that he comes off being stupid and mean rather than just cocky. It seems the WB/DC folk are still trying to pass Green Lantern off as their Iron Man - which some believe was one of the reasons why the 2011 film failed at the box office - and they're still failing at it, since they don't seem to understand that there needs to be genuine likability behind the sarcasm, and here GL has none.

Shazam/Billy Batson is an interesting case - Shazam is surprisingly likable if only because Sean Astin manages to make a somewhat engaging character out of the material, but Billy is an obnoxious brat ala the New 52 who insults and degrades those around him (he gleefully calls his friends/foster family morons). Meanwhile the villain, DC favorite Darkseid, is little more than a monster on the rampage rather than the highly intelligent ruler that fans know and love him for being. He could've easily been replaced with Doomsday and it wouldn't have seriously altered the plot.

Voice acting's hit or miss. Batman, Flash and Cyborg are reasonably close to their normal characterizations and their voice actors reflect that, but Jason O'Mara is a shaky Batman at best. Alan Tudyk's voice is too small and too soft for the Superman design, Michelle Monaghan sounds too contemporary and "American" to be convincing as a Wonder Woman who has just arrived to our world and sounds like she would have been better suited to voicing Lois Lane, while Justin Kirk's nasally frat boy voice is a painfully poor fit for Green Lantern.

It's rather telling that the more lighthearted, kid friendly "Justice League Adventures: Trapped In Time" released around the same at select Target only featured far more likable characterizations of the heroes than this overblown "popcorn film" which lacks the heart, soul, and genuinely likable characterizations of the truly great popcorn films.

If this is truly the future of DC direct to DVD animation then the future is a bleak one.

King Kung Fu

Harmlessly Goofy
Plot: When a gorilla trained in Kung Fu is sent to America, a bumbling wannabe reporter and his sidekick hatch a scheme to cash in on the one of a kind specimen. Naturally, things go wrong and all sorts of crazy shenanigans ensue once King Kung Fu himself escapes.

Not exactly a masterpiece and could have used better pacing, but on the whole a surprisingly funny one night romp poking fun at the bloated 1976 "King Kong" remake - with naturally a Fay Ray shout out joke thrown in for good measure - along with the big martial arts craze of the 70s.

My favorite scene - probably King Kung Fu fighting the baseball team.

JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time

Entertaining despite the usual time travel plot holes
I'm not entirely sure what the folks at DC & WB hoped to achieve with this "stealth release" other than proving they can churn out DVD animation faster than team Marvel/Disney can, but there is one possible explanation: as stated in another review this has the look and feel of a TV pilot for a more kid friendly New 52 Justice League series mashed up with Super-Friends that didn't get picked up for whatever reason, but by the time they heard the bulk of the project was already in the can, so it was turned into a DVD in an attempt to recoup some of the money, even though they didn't put a whole lot of money into marketing it.

Anyhow, the plot finds future Legion of Hero kids Karate Kid and Dawnstar getting mixed up in Back to the Future time travel shenanigans when they accidentally release a literally frozen in time Lex Luthor, who gets a hold of the Time Trapper and uses him in an attempt to make sure the Justice League never comes into existence... by getting rid of Superman! Chaos and Mayhem ensues.

I have no great love of Super-Friends, which this feels like a more modernized version of (it is reportedly based on an old episode of Super-Friends with the same basic premise), but I decided to give it a look to see how it compared with the oh so mature and action heavy "Justice League: War", which the powers that be bragged was a big epic "popcorn movie" and it turned out to be the worst kind (though not surprising given that its source material, the New 52 Justice League: Origin, was pretty bad and well below the abilities of the normally reliable Geoff Johns). To my surprise, this was actually pretty enjoyable, despite my usual anti-Super-Friends bias. While WAR dragged on and on forever with no end in sight for a rather trite and boring story and failed to improve upon the faulty source material (and for the most part was just annoying to sit through), "Trapped In Time" is surprisingly brisk and its characters for the most are not annoyingly over the top (though Karate Kid comes dangerously close to it at times - then again he probably gets more character growth in this than just about of the WAR characters), which was unfortunately the case with WAR, which tries to be mature but in all the wrong ways (substituting good, clever writing with crude in your face profanity and crassness).

The voice cast is a who's who of today's best voice actors, with Fred Tatasciore, better known as Marvel's go to guy for voicing the Incredible Hulk, stealing the feature with his powerful rendition of Lex Luthor. And he's not the only Marvel veteran here, as quite a few cast members have histories voicing Marvel heroes and villains.

At the end of the day this will probably appeal more to kids than older fans (unless they have soft spots for Super-Friends or just like mild camp) but it's a decent way to pass the time.

The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers

A flawed yet interesting series from the 80s
Plot in a nutshell: Think of this as being like an animated version of Joss Whedon's "Firefly" if told from the POV of the Alliance, in this case, the Galaxy Rangers, led by Zachary Fox (Foxx?), fight for truth, justice and freedom in the rough and tumble wild west frontier, which includes, in addition to the usual corrupt corporate types and petty criminals, the evil Queen of the Crown, who seeks to enslave all via her psycho-crystals.

What is there to say about this series that the other reviews haven't said about this space opera inspired by both classic and spaghetti westerns with a little samurai thrown in for good measure? It's certainly not your average 80s cartoon - there aren't as many designated "moral of the story" moments, the characters (telepathic Niko, med-tech Walter "Doc" Hartford and super soldier Shane Gooseman/Goose) aren't quite as interchangeable as they were in say GI Joe or Transformers, the animation is far more consistent in quality than many other cartoons of the time period (even the episodes with weaker animation look better than average), and while the show is not without its goofier moments or elements, there's also a great deal of nightmare fuel for an 80s series, such as Zachary Fox's beloved wife Eliza being imprisoned in a psycho- crystal in the series very pilot (leaving him to raise the kids alone), along with a later episode where his own cyborg arm is corrupted and tries to kill him. Such darker elements help to distinguish the series from the usual "kinder, gentler" fare of the day.

This is not to say the show is flawless. One of its biggest weaknesses, maybe its biggest weakness, is the voice acting. While not as hammy and over the top as other shows of the time period it's also not as nuanced or as natural as many shows made after 1992. Truth be told, it often sounds like the actors are merely reading the dialogue without actually acting it (this is usually most apparent and most jarring in scenes where the characters have to yell or even just raise their voices ever so slightly), like some of the older English dubs of Japanese anime. Apparently this was due to the show's animation being done before the dialogue had actually been recorded, thus forcing the actors to "loop" their dialogue against pre-established lip movements instead of recording for animation that would be timed to match them. The late Jerry Orbach, who voiced Zachary Fox, fares best of the assembled talents (which also included Thundercats/Silverhawk alums Doug Preis as Shane and Earl Hammond as Captain Kidd among others) due to his prior film experience, but even he had moments where his delivery fell flat.

The writing is not without its speed bumps either. Zachary's wife having her life force trapped in a psycho crystal and his quest to free her from it, something that should be a defining aspect of his character, is almost never touched on (though "Psycho-Crypt" goes to some creepy places with it) as Zachary spends much of the series in "just another day at the office mode", and sadly this story-line is never resolved. The C-3P0 style robot, Buzz-Wang, often feels out of place with the tone of the show, some of the sillier episodes (such as one where the Galaxy Rangers infiltrate a battle of the bands contest) are more awkward than funny, and in the last few episodes we're actually expected to believe that the mysterious Shane Gooseman, who looks to be in his mid- 30s (he was based on Clint Eastwood) is only 19. I know that's nitpicking but it's still surprisingly ridiculous given the rest of the show.

I know that devoting two paragraphs to the show's lesser points sounds like I'm trying to tear it down, but I'm not. It's still an interesting relic from a bygone era and still worth a look - if you don't mind each disc being three hours long of course. Did I forget to mention it has some rather awesome music?

The Rainmaker

Of interest only for seeing Lancaster and Hepburn together
There are films that age well, and there are films that age very well, so well in fact that they almost feel timeless somehow, because everything works so perfectly or near perfectly that the film feels flawless.

This is not one of those films.

Based on the stage play of the same name, which was loosely based on a real man, "The Rainmaker", directed by its own original stage handler Joseph Anthony, is the story of a, ahem, "plain" woman in danger of becoming an old maid, Lizzie Curry (Katharine Hepburn), her unrequited love for the town sheriff (Wendell Corey), her dysfunctional family (father H.C. played by Cameron Prud'Homme and "big brothers" the overbearing Noah played by Lloyd Bridges and Jim played by Earl Holliman, who somehow won an award for his obnoxious performance) and their encounter with a dashing, charismatic con man known as Bill Starbuck (Burt Lancaster, in what feels like a prototype for his Oscar winning role in "Elmer Gantry") who, ahem, helps Lizzie become "a real woman" unleashing her, um, true beauty or some such.

He even manages to get it to rain during their drought.

Overlong, slow pacing, and obvious inexperienced direction of a motion picture film (vs the live stage) result in an awkward, unpleasant soap opera that could've been better had it focused on either just the dysfunctional family or the social ramifications of the con man's effect on the town during the drought, also not helped by the very old fashioned, outdated ideology of its core characters, despite how hard it tries to be a sensitive examination of the hopes and dreams of regular people.

One of the film's biggest sins is the miscasting of Katharine Hepburn as the "PLAIN PLAIN PLAIN!" Lizzie. The first obvious flaw is that Hepburn, who was pushing 50 at the time, is clearly too old for the character (everyone reacts to her as if she still has time to start a family of her own, which she very much wants), making it all the more awkward if not outrightly bizarre to watch a middle aged woman grapple with adolescent issues, as well as off setting a number of her scenes with other characters - she's supposed to be the daughter of Prud'Homme but looks and feels like she should be his wife (he was only 14 years older than Hepburn in real life - a case where an actor couldn't pull it off) and instead of a young woman full of sexual frustration in her scenes with Lancaster she feels like she should be the widow he takes advantage of.

Then there's the idea that Hepburn was so ungodly unattractive that she could only ever be "PLAIN!" (which everyone, especially Bridges, keeps saying as if what they really mean is ugly), when even a middle aged Hepburn still had some beauty about her. I couldn't help being reminded of Kate's role in "Bringing Up Baby" where she also played a woman hung up on a man, and she felt just as miscast there as she does here. Perhaps some of it was her real life personality shining through, but the boy/man crazy types were never her strong suit.

The other actors do what they can (Holliman is downright unbearable and will have the audience cheering every time he gets hit), but in the end the best thing about this film is Burt Lancaster. Some accuse him of being a large ham here, but at least his natural go for broke energy and charisma brings some much needed life to the dull proceedings, and he also manages to show his subtle side in his scenes with Hepburn. It's a shame these two iconic stars - both well known for their fiery, sometimes frightening personalities off camera - didn't have a better film, but in the end the film is worth a rental for their scenes together.

But only for a rental.

A Fine Madness

One of those films I'm not sure how to feel towards
Plot in a nutshell: An anti-social poet (Sean Connery) short on cash and suffering from writer's block is sent to a shrink by his wife (Joanne Woodward). Naturally, things only get worse.

Polarizing mid-60s screwball comedy has some very funny bits here and there, but suffers from over-length and some very dated "to the moon, Alice!" style humor that will undoubtedly rub modern audiences the wrong way. Connery gives his all in a go for broke performance that he probably hoped would help off-set his James Bond image (never mind that his self-destructive poet still fools around with women despite claiming he doesn't like them) but the character is so unlikable that some of the humor falls flat. Other reviewers on here have said that comedy was not old Sean's strong point as a performer; I don't really agree with that (he was after all hilarious as the bumbling father of Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade) but feel it was really more that the character was a hard sell to begin with - and would have been for any actor.

The rest of the cast do the best they can with what's there. It's a little sad watching the late Jean Seberg in this film, seeing her so young, so beautiful, so obviously a fine actress wasting what little time she was going to have in such an unsatisfying comedy as the desperate, sexually frustrated housewife of the primary doctor who finds an afternoon's delight with Connery - and is later hilariously horrified (admittedly one of the film's better moments) to find that he seriously expects her to just roommate with him and his unhappy wife when she expresses an interest in trying to be something more.

Of interest mostly for fans of the stars and fans of the 60s.

Jack the Giant Slayer

Bryan Singer Vs. Sword & Sorcery
A pumped up retelling of the story of Jack and the Bean Stalk, with Jack (Nicholas Hoult) climbing the bean stalk to rescue a fair princess from a horde of angry giants, with a little help from the young Obi-Wan Kenobi himself (Ewan McGregor).

Bryan Singer's first foray into both fantasy as well as a more family friendly style of storytelling is a light hearted affair that probably won't make quite the impression that his Usual Suspects and X-Men films made (and the giants may be just a little too cartoony looking for some), but it's an engaging adventure saga with a good cast. Hoult (fans may recognize him as the young Beast in X-Men: First Class) is likable enough to keep you invested in him and his plight - even as he is upstaged by Ewan McGregor as the right hand of the king (it's easy to imagine that had this film been made 20 years ago McGregor himself probably would have played Jack).

Perhaps if Singer (who I admit I've probably been unfairly harsh to in other reviews) had tried this approach with Superman he'd have had his own Superman trilogy to go alongside Nolan's Batman trilogy.

La furia di Ercole

Brad Harris and Kirk Douglas - Separated At Birth?
Big rugged manly Hercules (Brad Harris, looking like an even more pumped up version of a young Kirk Douglas) arrives in town to visit a king who was a friend of his - only to find out that the king has died and his daughter is now in charge, but the daughter queen is being manipulated by an evil counselor who is running the kingdom into the ground just for his own amusement, prompting Hercules to join forces with some heroic rebels and pitting the Herc Harris's brawn against fellow beefcake and Hercules actors Alan Steel (star of Hercules Against The Moon Men, real name Sergio Ciani) as one of the villains.

Not spectacular but decently made, above average entry in the sword & sandal/myth meets fantasy sub-genre. Dubbing be damned Brad Harris is a fine Hercules who, like so many others of his niche, dominates pretty much every scene he's in - which makes it a shame that full screen versions of the film cut out some the action.

The Mosquito Coast

Watch Harrison Ford Get Down With His Crazy Self
PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: Allie Fox (Harrison Ford), an eccentric intellectual, engineer and inventor, is very unhappy with how life in America is going. In fact, he hates it so much that he uproots his family from their nice little home in the middle of anywhere is America to a jungle where he proceeds to build his own idealized utopia, complete with a giant ice maker he calls "Fat Boy". For a brief time the restless Fox is happy and content, but his utopia is doomed to fail, leading to death, destruction, despair, and ruin.

At the time it was released in 1986 director Peter Weir's "The Mosquito Coast" (based on the novel of the same name) got an at best mixed critical response and was a box office failure. Some believed it was because the film just wasn't "box office" material for the average American audience. Most however believed that the film failed due to the presence of Harrison Ford as Allie Fox - a role that, not surprisingly, had been offered to Jack Nicholson before Ford signed on. In the big scheme of the Hollywood game Ford built his career on playing sarcastic yet affable action heroes in big adventure films and thrillers, and by that point he had cemented his place as a pop culture icon with not one but two such roles - lovable rogue Han Solo from Star Wars and rugged archaeologist Indiana Jones. Ford had had some trouble gaining recognition for dramatic roles and had only just recently won praise for his role as a cop on the run in 1985's "Witness" also directed by Peter Weir (as of this writing "Witness" is still the only film where Ford was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar), and was looking for something different when "The Mosquito Coast" came his way. Its' easy to see what drew Ford to the part - Allie Fox was about as far removed from his two most iconic roles - and regular parts - as any part could be, and he was such an unusual, offbeat character, the kind that come along once in a lifetime, that it was simply too good to pass up (Ford has even confessed that he agreed with at least some of the character's criticisms about Americans not working hard enough and selling out their values). And therein lay the danger - after years of watching Ford save the day, either from Nazis or an evil intergalactic Empire, audiences just weren't ready to see him playing such an unsympathetic character.

Which is too bad since this is quite possibly Ford's most dynamic performance, and certainly deserving of an Oscar nomination (Lord knows that lesser actors have won Oscars for lesser performances in lesser films). Ford embraces the unapologetic, self-destructive nature of the always critical Allie Fox with an unabashed go for broke energy that keeps the film charged from start to finish, and he is surrounded by an excellent cast, including the late River Phoenix as his oldest son (Phoenix later played the young version of Ford in 1989's "Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade"). Despite the terrible things Fox does in the name of his dream, even after that dream has obviously failed, Ford finds a way to make you feel sorry for him.

"The Mosquito Coast" is a fascinating examination of how far a man will go to achieve his goal, as strange as that goal is, and a clash of ideologies (as seen in Fox clashing with the Reverend) and the ever fragile nature of family. It is not an easy film to watch, not the kind of film you'd want to watch after a long hard day at work, but it is a beautifully shot, fascinating film, and a unique experience for Harrison Ford fans.

The Butcher's Wife

Married To The Butcher
PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: An affable if starry eyed Southern Belle (Moore) marries an equally affable yet less starry eyed butcher from the North and, believing it to be a sign that he is "the one" she marries him and goes up north with him to help him at his butcher shop. Naturally, things don't go as planned as her as her borderline mystical nature starts to alter the lives of those around her, much to the chagrin of the local psychiatrist (Daniels). When the dust settles a number of love lives will never the same - including the life of the butcher's wife herself.

May not be a romantic comedy classic but it's pleasant, affable romantic comedy bolstered by a fine cast bringing much needed warmth and sincerity to the proceedings.

You Only Live Twice

So lame that even the combined awesomeness of Connery & Pleasance can't save it
PLOT (or lack thereof): When SPECTER gets up to some naughty space shenanigans it's up to good old James Bond to thwart them - and to do it he has to make a stop in Japan, be put through some "Yellow Face", etc.

Painfully weak, underwhelming and overlong entry in the James Bond series was the next to last hurrah for series starting lead Sean Connery, who had grown tired of the role and franchise by this point, and his unpleasant clash with the Japanese press didn't help his mood either. While his performance is not outright terrible - it's one of the few things that makes the film mildly bearable - you can tell in some scenes that he obviously doesn't want to be there, and with a plot this ridiculous who could blame him? I'm not sure which is more absurd - the NASA shenanigans or trying to pass off a 6-foot-2, 200 plus lbs Scotsman as a Japanese fisherman.

Besides Connery, the only other things in the film's entry are some passable action scenes, Karin Dor, the first German Bond girl (sadly underused), some lovely Japanese scenery and the late Donald Pleasance as the first on screen incarnation of Blofeld (and the basis for Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers films), imbuing the series early signature villain with a silky, soft spoken slithery quality that gives you the feeling that he is an intellectual, if not physical, match for the hulking yet light-footed Connery. Sadly, not even the combined awesomeness of Sean Connery and Donald Pleasance can make this worth repeat viewings.

When all was said and done Connery made his first go at leaving the series, which sadly meant he missed out on the superior entry "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" with the controversial one time Bond George Lazenby. When Lazenby failed to follow up Connery was lured back for one last official entry, 1971's "Diamonds Are Forever", which somehow managed to be even worse than "You Only Live Twice", for no better reason than they offered him a ton of money (some of which he donated to a Scottish charity), and then he made one final go with the unofficial "Thunderball" remake "Never Say Never Again". It's really a shame that Connery never had a proper send off as Bond, but alas, those are the breaks.

The title theme is okay but nowhere near the iconic class of the Goldfinger, Thunderball or even the Moonraker theme.


What if Spider-Man had gone evil?
Lonely, emotionally crippled social outcast Andrew, his cousin Matt and new friend Steve discover an underground energy source of mysterious origins that imbues them with the power of telekinesis. At first the three high school boys secretly revel in their new found power, but it's only a matter of time before the long suffering Andrew becomes corrupted by the power at his disposal and uses it to exact revenge on those who have wronged him - his abusive alcoholic ex-fire fighter father, the bullies at school, and inevitably the whole city.

An interesting variation on the now familiar 'Spider-Man' formula and other empowerment fantasies - what starts off deceptively appearing to be another story about a nerdy underdog triumphing over adversity by way of his mysterious new powers slowly turns into a horror film, much like Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" or perhaps even more so David Cronenberg's "The Fly", as the protagonist, Andrew, slowly turns into the antagonist, being both villain and victim by the end of the film. The hints aren't hard to spot - early on it is evident that his empathy for others is questionable at best, so you may not be completely surprised when he goes over to the dark side, but it's still a chilling sight to behold.


Kind of like 300 but with more clothes.
PLOT IN A NUTSHELL: When the evil barbarian king Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) starts scouring the land for a special bow that will allow him to release the Titans, the predecessors and arch enemies of the Pantheon of Greek Gods led by Zeus (Luke Evans), and killing anyone unlucky enough to get in his way, it falls on the young hero Theseus (former Tudors star Henry Cavill, the Brit who would be Superman) and his ragtag group of mismatched heroes to stop him.

Very much a style over substance type film, "Immortals" is very much in the vein of "300", albeit with more clothes, so much so that some of the fight choreography looks like it was taken from that earlier sword and sandal epic. Stephen McHattie even appears in both films. Like the 2007 film based on Frank Miller's graphic novel "re-imagining" of the infamous battle between 300 Spartans and the Persians, "Immortals" is at its best when serving up a smörgåsbord of off the wall visuals and epic action.

As Theseus, the man who would defeat the Minotaur, Henry Cavill brings a heroic nobility to the part that the film probably doesn't deserve - which makes it a shame that he doesn't have a stronger villain to play off of. With his bloated beer belly and gravelly monotone mumbling, Mickey Rourke comes across as a painfully bland villain, failing to bring the kind of fire to the part that an old school actor such as the late Stephen Boyd no doubt would have brought. Even when he lights a helpless priest on fire or orders that the weak, effeminate coward Lysander (Joseph Morgan) be castrated by having his manhood smashed beyond repair with a really big sledgehammer as punishment for betraying his own people, Rourke never sets off the kind of sparks you would expect a larger than life villain to have.

Among the films visual assets, Frieda Pinto and Isabel Lucas make the most of their roles as Theseus's seer lover and the daughter of Zeus.

Battle: Los Angeles

Two-Face Saves The World!
A staff sergeant on his last legs (Aaron Eckhart of "The Dark Knight" and "Thank You For Smoking" fame) is forced back into action when alien invaders attack Los Angeles. Teamed with a rookie second lieutenant and forced to work with the brother of a soldier who died on his last mission, the sergeant must overcome his shaken confidence if he is to help keep the unit together - and save the world.

A good, rollicking high octane us Vs. them film in the grand tradition of "Independence Day" with a little bit of "Predator" thrown in for good measure, "Battle: Los Angeles" grabs you by the pulse and doesn't let up for a minute. As the staff sergeant still struggling to come to terms with a previous mission that went bad, Eckhart brings genuine vulnerability to a character who could have easily been a cardboard cut out, and he is surrounded by a good cast that includes Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Cory Hardrict, Ramon Rodriguez (no relation to Michelle), and Lucas Till, among others.

Batman: Year One

An excellent adaptation and yet...
Ah yes, finally, the long awaited adaptation of fan favorite origin story "Batman: Year One" written by Frank Miller (back when he actually wrote good stories) following his previous work on Batman (The Dark Knight Returns and Dark Knight Strikes) as well as his work on Daredevil (before he started writing Sin City, 300 and then completely degenerated with his sick, sadistic alleged parody 'All-Star Batman & Robin' - the price of a former visionary becoming trapped in one particular voice, in his case the "Look at me I'm a man!" voice). At one point Darren Aronofsky pitched doing this as a live action film to Warner Brothers, with future Harvey Dent/Two-Face actor Aaron Eckhart being his candidate for Jim Gordon, but for whatever reason he lost out to Christopher Nolan's pitch for "Batman Begins" (some bits & pieces of Year One can still be glimpsed in BB).

PLOT: Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham after some years abroad, training and honing himself to become Batman, the Dark Knight who stands against the criminals who ravage his beloved Gotham City. Jim Gordon is the new cop in town trying to hold on to his principles in the midst of a corrupt police force, but even a man as good as Jim Gordon is not without flaws, especially when it comes to fellow detective Sarah Essen. Selina Kyle is the struggling prostitute/thief destined to become Catwoman. And a whole mess of bad guys are lurking in the background...

I have to admit when I heard they were adapting this I wasn't terribly excited, just as I wasn't terribly excited for "Red Hood", another Batman feature, even though it proved to be an excellent feature, just like this one. Batman's been on top for so long that his overexposure in animation and film has taken some of the fun out of reading and/or watching his adventures. Meanwhile, many other DC heroes still have not gotten their due, let alone a fair chance at making it on their own (example: the Flash still hasn't even gotten one solo feature in recent years and continues to be relegated to ensemble pieces, usually as "the funny one").

It's not that this is a bad feature by any means. It's an excellent adaptation of the book, quite probably the most literal translation we'll ever see of any comic book story in any format, even more so than Zack Snyder's ambitious 2009 adaptation of Alan Moore's "Watchmen". The animation captures the look and feel of Miller's original story perfectly and the voice actors are all spot on. Contrary to the what the "Kevin Conroy is the only voice of Batman" supremacists may say, Ben McKenzie gives a strong performance as the younger, less experienced Bruce Wayne finding his way both as Batman and as his public 'disguise' of a free wheeling, loose living billionaire playboy, and he has a great cast backing him, including Bryan Cranston as Jim Gordon, Eliza Dushku as Catwoman (who gets a solo showcase feature on the side), and Katee Sackhoff as Sarah Essen, not to mention regular working class voice actors such as Fred Tatasciore as the corrupt Flass (Fred is better known to fan boys for being Marvel's go to guy for the Hulk from various video games and animated features), Grey DeLisle as Mrs. Gordon, and Steve Blum (better known to anime fans for his work as Spike Spiegel in Cowboy Beebop and Marvel's Wolverine in more recent years).

Still, I'd much rather see more features for Green Lantern and solo features for the Flash and Aquaman than another Batman feature. We've been to Gotham plenty of times, we know the back alleys and denizens very well. There's only so much you can do to put a new spin on the old town. Here's hoping that next time another DC hero will get to shine.

Vivo per la tua morte

The Grand Finale of Steve Reeves
PLOT: Rancher Mike Sturges (Steve Reeves, the late body builder best remembered for starting the sword & sandal craze by starring in "Hercules" and "Hercules Unchained") and his younger brother Roy are framed for a train robbery they didn't commit and sent the brutal Yuma prison without a trial. There, Roy is tortured and eventually beaten to death by a sadistic guard (are there any other kind in movies like this?). Enraged, Mike escapes during a prison break out, kills the guard who killed his brother and sets out to exact a similar revenge on the criminals who tore his life apart.

An accomplished horse rider, Steve Reeves had always liked westerns - as most people of his generation no doubt did - and when he got into the movie business he naturally wanted to make one (legend has it he was offered the role of The Man With No Name in "A Fistful of Dollars", which helped make a cinematic icon out of then TV star Clint Eastwood - but turned it down because he found the script too violent and was skeptical of Italian knowledge of America's "Old West"), and finally did with this, his last film, which he also co-wrote. Though only in his early 40s, meaning he could have hung around and made more spaghetti westerns as his pal and fellow athlete the late Gordon Scott did, Reeves had injured his shoulder during a chariot accident on a previous film and stunt work in between that accident and "A Long Ride From Hell" only aggravated it and would cause him problems later in life regarding his work out regime (Reeves did his own stunts since there were no Italian stunt men big enough to double for him). Since the injury made being an action star, even a B-movie action star, impractical, Reeves opted to bow out from the game and spent the remainder of his life living quietly in California, where he managed a horse ranch.

As for the film itself, it's a fairly grim, gritty and dark story, in contrast to the mythological fantasy adventure films Reeves was best known for. You wouldn't think Reeves was suffering from a bad shoulder watching him in the film though, as he batters his way through villains and proved himself to be surprisingly nimble for a guy who stood 6'1" and weighed over 200 lbs of solid muscle. Though dubbed again, Reeves dominates every scene he's in by sheer virtue of his physical presence and steely blue eyes.

All in all, a must for fans of Reeves and spaghetti westerns in general.

The Social Network

Compelling to a point but runs out of steam after a while
Once upon a time a bright but apparently very socially inept young man named Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) became the youngest billionaire in the world pretty much by accident when he created Facebook, now the most popular & widely used social networking site available - and royally angered and/or back-stabbed a few people along the way. Among them were the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer with a body double), who hired him to help design a social network site for their school, his best friend Eduardo Savarin (Andrew Garfield) and Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the founder of Napster whose personal & professional career was a series of spectacular highs and lows.

Like any film based on a true story you have to wonder just how much of the dramatization on screen is true and how much of it is just that - drama. It's a compelling film to a point, but after a while I grew tired of the film's "brilliant irony" that the founder of Facebook is - or may be - a hopelessly anti-social person, cruel and condescending to those who sees as intellectually inferior but unable to truly connect with anyone emotionally, and that will also depend on how well you can tolerate Jesse Eisenberg, one of many actors who probably won't transition well to leading man roles once it's clear he's too old for the 'more than a boy but not quite a man' niche, as the film's anti-heroic interpretation of Mark Zuckerberg. By the end of the film I found myself rooting for the Winklevoss twins to "gut the little nerd", as they put it, even though they weren't that much better than Mark.

As a trivia note, Zuckerberg actually had a steady girlfriend during the rise of Facebook so that alone may cause to question how accurate the film's depiction of him really is.

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