"Of all the arts, movies are the most powerful aid to empathy, and good ones make us better people."
-- Roger Ebert, The Great Movies

Friday, November 14, 2014

Justice League The Flashpoint Paradox


  • Title:  Justice League The Flashpoint Paradox
  • Director:  Jay Oliva
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Animation, Action, Fantasy
  • Cast:  Justin Chambers, C. Thomas Howell, Michael B. Jordan, Kevin McKidd, Kevin Conroy, Sam Daly, Dana Delany, Cary Elwes, Nathan Fillion, Ron Perlman
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"They're motivated by greed.  They lack the commitment, the absolute focus..." - Professor Zoom (Reverse Flash)
"...to kill me." - Flash
"To erase you." - Professor Zoom (Reverse Flash)

"Brake the sound barrier and there's a sonic boom.  You broke the time barrier, Flash, time boom.  Ripples of distortion out from the point of impact, shifting everything just a tiny bit - but enough.  Enough for events to happen slightly differently." -  Professor Zoom (Reverse Flash)

Justice League The Flashpoint Paradox starts with what we quickly realise is a flashback or memory. Young Barry Allen and his mother are stranded at the side of the road with a broken car.  Another car passes but fails to stop to help them.  Barry is incensed that the person in the car didn't care enough to do what's right and stop to help them.  Nora, Barry's mother, urges him to not worry about it - then spots a gas station close by, they decide to walk there to find a phone.

The next flashback finds Barry coming home from school - only to find that his mother has been killed.

In the present, Barry and his wife, Iris are putting flowers on his mother's grave.  Barry expresses his regret that he wasn't there to save his own mother.  He and Iris are interrupted when Barry gets an emergency call, there's been a break-in at the Central City Flash Museum.  As Flash, Barry arrives and confronts The Top, Mirror Master, and eventually Captain Cold, Captain Boomarang, and Heat Wave.  It soon becomes obvious that the person in charge of the break in is Eoband Thawne, aka Professor Zoom, aka the Reverse Flash.  He uses the distraction of the Rogues Gallery attack to place small but powerful bombs on each Rogue as well as on Flash.  He also traps Flash in a gooey substance he can't escape.  Flash manages to trap Professor Zoom, but he can't get free.  The Justice League arrives, and each takes a Rogue to get rid of the bombs, without hurting anyone.  The various plans that each Justice Leaguer uses, work and all the bombs are destroyed harmlessly and the Rogues sent back to prison.  Meanwhile, Flash is still trapped.  Professor Zoom taunts Flash, but Flash manages to disarm the explosives on himself and Thawne.

Next, Barry wakes at his desk.  He's a little confused by the news headline on his computer screen - and even more confused when he exits the building and meets his mother.  Things go from bad to worse, as Flash realises he's in an alternative world that never had a Flash.  A world that's in the midst of War.  Barry goes to the Wayne Mansion just outside Gotham City - but the place is a wreck.  He gets inside the Batcave and meets Batman - a very violent Batman, who uses guns, and has no problem with killing.  Barry quickly realises that this Batman is Thomas Wayne, and it was Bruce who died That Fateful Night.  To make matters worse, the death of her son, and seeing her husband become a violent vigilante has turned Mrs. Wayne into the Joker.  Though it takes some doing, Barry not only convinces Thomas that his world is "all wrong" - he convinces him they have to re-create the experiment that turned Barry into the Flash.  The resulting scene brings to mind various filmed versions of Frankenstein.  The first try fails, But, the second try works.  The Flash, however, is unable to get enough speed and theorizes there's another speedster out there also tapping into the "speed force".

Since using his own power won't work, Barry's next idea is to ask for Superman's help.  Batman tells him, though, this world has no Superman.  Barry, however, from his own nightmares of the divergent timelines, gets an idea.  Batman calls in Cyborg, who works directly for the US Government, and convinces him to hack every computer system he can, looking for information.  Eventually Thomas Wayne/Batman convinces Cyborg to hack government and military records.  This leads them to find a warehouse that holds the little baby rocket from Krypton.  Superman is locked-up, and very weak because he's been kept in a room with red light and hasn't experienced the Earth's yellow sun. Batman, Flash, and Cyborg break Superman out of the military cell.

In Europe, which has been flooded by Aquaman, then taken over by Queen Diana and the Amazons, Lois Lane is about to be killed by Amazons.  She's rescued by the Resistance, another group of Heroes, like Cyborg's group.  Lois swears she saw a yellow-clothed speedster, but the Resistance Group tells her that no speedster works with them.  When Batman sees the footage, he tells Flash, who realises it's Dr. Zoom.

Lex Luther, Deathstroke and Clayface work together on a US Military Carrier to attack Aquaman and attempt to find his doomsday weapon.  They fail.

The Military also find Hal Jordan and offer him the chance to fly a captured alien spaceship.  Hal jumps at the chance.  (The ship's pilot is dead and enclosed in a glass tube.)  The air force general tells Hal that when he died, a glowing green ring flew off his hand and into space.  Hal has trouble believing that part of the story.  However, Hal has no trouble flying the ship.  He too goes after Aquaman, specifically attacking a giant octopus-like creature.  Unfortunately, Hal and his ship are swallowed by the creature and Hal is presumed dead.

At that point, the President fires Cyborg, stating there's nothing left to be done.  Cyborg goes to Batman and the Shazam kids and tells them it's over.  Flash talks everyone into not giving up.  They all go to Europe.  In Europe, they meet Lois and the Resistance group.  However, Aquaman and Wonder Woman are in the midst of their final battle.  There's a huge fight, and one by one, most everyone is injured or killed.  Finally, Reverse Flash arrives and confronts Flash - explaining that everything that's happened is his fault, he changed things - and created the mess.

There's more destruction and heroes, Amazons, and Aquaman's troops dying.  Superman arrives, and cuts off Aquaman's arm to save Cyborg.  However, severely injured, Cyborg dies.  Diana goes to kill Aquaman, but he launches his doomsday weapon, Captain Atom.  Barry's absorbed the info from Professor Zoom.  Batman kills Zoom, and gives Barry a letter for Bruce.  Barry runs and runs, barely escaping the Doomsday weapon, and catches himself.  He prevents himself from changing the past.

Barry again wakes up at his office - and everything is back to normal.  He visits Bruce and gives him the letter.  Bruce recognizes his father's handwriting and is moved to tears by Thomas Wayne's letter.

The first time I watched this film, I really didn't like it.  It seemed so unfair to Barry that he'd have to sacrifice his mother and his happiness with Iris to save the world (in the alternate reality - she's married to someone else and has a child.)

Watching it a second time, I liked it slightly better, but the film still has some issues.  First, Barry, The Flash, is thrust into the altered reality suddenly, and with no explanation.  We don't see him time travel, or Professor Zoom trying something, or even a strange portal.  There's no visual or other indication that somehow time has changed.  So the audience is as much in the dark as Barry Allen. And, although in some films, that technique of utter confusion can work, because the audience has faith that All Will Be Explained, in a short, animated film, it becomes wearying to have no idea what is going on.  The film is full of action sequences, that sometimes make sense and other times don't - because so little is explained in the film.  And the only explanation is at the end, and from the villain - who places the blame squarely on Barry's head.  Really?  How did Zoom know?  If he was from the altered reality - he shouldn't know anything about Barry Allen, because Barry never became the Flash in that reality.  Not to mention, if Zoom tapped into the Speed Force by copying the accident that made Barry the Flash - how could he exist without an accident to copy?  (A non-invention paradox.) Meanwhile, Barry actually brings up the other problem - how could his interfering with his mother's death have affected events before that event?  Professor Zoom's explanation is inventive, but not quite convincing.  My guess is he actually lied to Barry - and it was Zoom who messed with things to create the Really Messed Up world then dumped Barry into it.  Or, caused a version of Barry to exist that never became Flash.  It certainly sounds more like a plot put together by a supervillain.

The other issue was the animation - which I thought was crude, and frankly, pretty bad.  The Justice League in the opening barely looked human - or, Kryption or whatever they may be.  And in some scenes, the animation was OK, in others, especially the opening flashbacks - it looked very much like Japanese anime, and it others the humans/heroes just didn't look right - at all.  (Diana / Wonder Woman looks awful in nearly every shot she's in.)  It really was quite messy - and there seemed no reason for it.

I will say, it was nice to see a story about Barry Allen, The Flash, but this particular story was dark, and the execution wasn't very successful.

Recommendation:  For die hard DC fans only, otherwise skip it.
Rating:  3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  No idea - I have, The Prestige, Inception, Superman Unbound, Justice League War (New 52 Origins)", and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on deck.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ironman 3


  • Title:  Iron Man 3
  • Director:  Shane Black
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Paramount, Marvel
  • Genre:  Action, Fantasy
  • Cast:  Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau, Rebecca Hall, Ben Kingsley, Paul Bettany
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  NTSC, R1
When I saw Iron Man 3 in the theater last summer I was somewhat disappointed.  I bought the DVD anyway, and having watched it a couple of times, I still think it wasn't as good as it could have been.  But I bought the film because I like Robert Downey Jr. and he does seem to be born to play the part of Tony Stark aka Iron Man.

The interesting part of the story is that Tony, after the events in New York, in The Avengers, is suffering from PTSD and panic attacks - not that he seems willing to deal with his trauma.  He and Pepper are living together, but arguing as ever.

The film uses a voice-over by Tony to try to connect and explain events.  In a tag during the credits, we'll learn he's talking to Dr. Bruce Banner.  However, even with the voice-over, this film is confusing and hard to follow.  And even after multiple viewings - that doesn't improve matters, at all.  And that remains one of the prime problems with the film - without a good story, a story that grabs you with it's characters - or an unique and meaningful plot, the best action sequences in the world can still seem boring.  So, the film doesn't really work because it's confusing, and the action sequences don't really work because they have little meaning.

The plot involves a series of "terrorist" bombings - bombings which eventually turn out not to be the result of terrorist bombs at all, but a new, experimental military technology called Extremis.  Extremis was invented by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) a man Tony had met at a party before he became Iron Man.  Tony blew the guy off, causing him to obtain military contracts to develop Extremis - rather than using it as a genetic treatment for physical disabilities and medical illnesses.  Though, given the little we see of Killian's character, it's doubtful he would have used Extremis for purely "peaceful" means even if Stark Industries had backed his research.

The terrorist bombings, by a man called, The Mandarin, turn out to be a charade - The Mandarin is Trevor Slattery, a British actor, hired by Killian to put a false face on the bombings - which are actually a side effect of Extremis going wrong.  S.H.I.E.L.D., meanwhile, had tried to get Tony to work with them to stop The Mandarin - but he refuses as he thinks it's none of his business.  When Happy is injured in an random Mandarin attack, however, Tony takes it personally - and not only threatens the Mandarin but gives out his home address in a public press conference.

Tony's actions prove to be as dumb as that sounds - as the Mandarin attacks and destroys his Malibu home.  Tony, in escaping, ends-up in Tennessee, where he is given help by a young, geeky, know-it-all kid.  And yes, that part of the plot was extremely annoying. Pepper disappears for the vast majority of the plot - and Tony's running around with a kid.

Tony is in Tennessee for a reason, though - before the public threats of the Mandarin started, there was another explosion with the same heat signature.  Tony figures there's a connection, and in Tennessee - he finds it, thus leading him to Trevor, and then to Killian. But Killian meanwhile has taken Pepper and exposed her to Extremis.  Thus, Tony 's final battle is more about saving the woman he loves than about stopping Killian and Extremis. This should have made the film work better - however, not only is Tony helped by Rhody, not the "Iron Patriot" but about 30 remotely activated Iron Man suits join in the final battle. Therefore, in the final battle - it's very difficult to figure out who's who and what's going on (both Tony and Rhody get in and out of various suits throughout the battle).

Still, at the end, Pepper almost dies, but Extremis saves her.  Tony realises how much he loves Pepper, and even has the shrapnel and electromagnet removed from his chest, and one is left with the idea that he might, finally, become a better person without relying on his suit of iron.  Well, until the next Avengers film.

The problem with Iron Man 3 is twofold - it doesn't expand the universe at all, it simply introduces yet another villain, and this villain isn't even real - the Mandarin is a sham.  An Killian, though nasty, is somewhat finite as a villain - Extremis doesn't work.  It, temporarily, does as promised - even regrowing limbs, but eventually the patient blows-up.  Not exactly a medical miracle.  And secondly, it becomes just another chapter in an on-going story that never ends.  There's no beginning, middle, end structure to the Iron Man films - so there's no growth.  In the second film, I felt Tony had slid backwards to his original party self; in this one - Party Tony is in a flashback, but there's still no real growth or change.  And the end scenes, which do hint at change -- Tony realising his feelings for Pepper, Tony having the shrapnel and magnet removed, etc., all seem fake and short-lived.  We know Iron Man will be back, so what's the point?

I did like the scenes between Pepper and Tony at the beginning and end of the film, but overall, Gwyneth Paltrow is almost criminally under-used in this film.  She needed either her own storyline, or to be with Tony in Tennessee doing research - not simply arguing with Tony at the beginning, and being a victim at the end, until Tony tries to rescue her and she ends up rescuing herself instead.

Recommendation:  For die-hard Marvel fans Only
Rating:  3 Stars
Next Film:  Justice League:  Flashpoint Paradox

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug


  • Title:  The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug
  • Director:  Peter Jackson
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  New Line, MGM
  • Genre:  Action, Fantasy
  • Cast:  Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Dean O'Gorman, Ken Stott, Aidan Turner, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sylvester McCoy, Luke Evans and Stephen Fry.
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"You've changed, Bilbo Baggins, you're not the same Hobbit that left the Shire." - Gandalf

"I started this!  I cannot forsake them.  They are in grave danger."  -- Gandalf
"If what you say is true, the World is in grave danger." - Radagast

"What have we done?" - Bilbo

There is an innate problem with any trilogy, especially a trilogy of films - and that is, the film often has no beginning and no ending.  The beginning, background, and set-up is all in the first film.  The resolution will be in the final film.  And sometimes, the middle film is very hard to judge without seeing the final film.  This seems to be especially true with Peter Jackson's trilogies based on JRR Tolkien's works, because Jackson takes the approach they are three long chapters of a single work.  An approach that, in the end, especially when the extended editions are included, worked for Lord of the Rings.

However, for The Desolation of Smaug, I find it very difficult to review the film on it's own.  I suspect that the extended edition (to be released on Blu-ray next Tuesday 11/4/2014), may affect how I view the film, and the third film, The Hobbit:  The Battle of Five Armies, which is due in theaters in December 2014, will change my opinion further.  But I will say this - I didn't hate it.  Overall, I felt the theater-version of The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug was "ok" to "good", but not terrible.

Whereas, The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey emphasized that the Dwarves Quest was to return to their home, which made the film more universal and made it easier to emphasize with the characters and the whole point of the exercise; The Desolation of Smaug, rather like the book, emphasizes both adventure and a Quest for gold.  Often, the Tolkien's works, Dwarves are seen as overly concerned with money:  gold, jewels, and treasures of the Earth.  This is certainly the case in The Desolation of Smaug, where Thorin seems to be not only motivated by returning to his ancestoral kingdom but by claiming the dragon's horde of treasure to be found there.

The Desolation of Smaug is very episodic as a film; and each section often involves a lot of action, fighting, and special effects.  However, there seems to be little characterization among all the action, which is a pity.  In terms of characters, new ones are introduced:  Tauriel, a female Elf, who is a good fighter and who has a passion for hunting down Orcs (and possibly a crush on Legolas); Bard, a bargeman who's raising three children on his own, and lives in Laketown (Esgaroth); The Master (played with relish by Stephen Fry) - the tyrannical dictator of Laketown.

The character of Tauriel, though completely non-canonical I actually liked, especially the second time I watched the film, and on DVD.  She brings a freshness to the film, and I hope we see more of her in the third film.

Bard seems much more distrustful of the Dwarves and even seems to dislike them, once he figures out who they are.  However, he's also interested in genuinely helping the people of Laketown, and seems to be the one in charge of attempting to rid the town of their rich and tyrannical Master.

Additions of new characters such as Tauriel, and the expansion of short sequences in the book into full-blown action scenes in the film, almost, at times, makes Peter Jackson's The Hobbit seem like Fan Fiction.  I don't mean that in a negative way.  But Tolkien created a very rich, and detailed world, and even, it's said, felt it was OK for others to "play in his sandbox" as it were.  But regardless as to whether or not the author would have approved of the films - they really do feel like an expansion of Tolkien's story and world.  This is especially true in the introduction of completely original characters, such as Tauriel, or the expansion of the roles of other characters, such as Legolas (who as the son of King Thranduil might be mentioned in The Hobbit novel, but he doesn't have a major role.)  I love Tolkien's books, especially The Lord of the Rings, so I don't really have a problem with Peter Jackson's additions.  I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Jackson had made The Hobbit first, and as a single film, prior to making Lord of the Rings, but how that might have gone, we will never know.

The other aspect of The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug, that I found especially interesting - and I picked up on this more watching the DVD, than I had seeing the film in the theater a year ago, was the amount of foreshadowing of events in Lord of the Rings. Gandalf's mission with Radagast to discover what is going on, and who the Necromancer is, leads directly into The Lord of the Rings, as does the marching of the Orcs.  When Bilbo briefly drops The Ring in Mirkwood and fights off a spider to get it back, then says "Mine," as he grabs it - it is frightening because we know where that leads.  And even Bilbo, as he realizes what he's does, seems startled by his own actions.  The spiders, also reference the confrontation between Sam and Frodo and Shelob (which is in The Two Towers novel, but in the film of The Return of the King).

Overall, the film was good - I did buy the DVD, after all - and I intend on buying the Extended Edition Blu-Ray (or possibly DVD if there is one).  And I certainly want to see the final film.  But I felt the first film of Jackson's The Hobbit  trilogy was better.


Recommendation:  See It (for the spectacle at least).
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: The Prestige

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Oz The Great and Powerful


  • Title:  Oz The Great and Powerful
  • Director:  Sam Raimi
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Disney
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Children
  • Cast:  James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Joey King, Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • Blu-Ray Format:  NTSC

"You want me to lead an army that can't kill?" - Oz
"If this was easy, we wouldn't need a Wizard, would we?" - Glinda

"So you're not the wizard I was expecting. [pause] So you don't have the powers I thought you'd have. But you're here. There must be a reason. Maybe you're capable of more than you know." - Glinda

"Look, I know I'm not the Wizard you were expecting. But I might just be the wizard that you need." - Oz

Oz the Great and Powerful starts in black and white in 4 x 4 ratio (it should be 3X4 but the Blu-Ray has it boxed as an exact square). Oz is a magician and con-man in a small, and shabby travelling circus, and he's not even that good a magician. He's actually running away from his latest conquests boyfriend, when he leaps into a hot air balloon and is whooshed away in a tornado.

He crash-lands in the land of Oz, and when he does, not only does the film change from black and white to color - but the film literally opens up to wide-screen too. The image rolls to the side and up to fill the screen. It's both reminiscent of the famous 1939 film starring Judy Garland (which starts in black and white and becomes Technicolor in Oz), and an almost physical transportation into a new world. And what a colorful world it is. The colors are bright, and beautiful, and it really does look like technicolor. Especially in the opening, and early scenes, the scenes in Oz almost feel like animation - classic Disney animation at that and it's truly beautiful.

Oz crash-lands in a river, and meets Theadora, a woman dressed in red and black. When Oz introduces himself, she tells him of her father's the king's prophecy - that one day, a great Wizard, bearing the name of "our land", will come to save all the people, and become the new king. Oz gives Theadora one of his music boxes, as he has to many other women that he's been interested in, telling her the made-up story that it belonged to his late grandmother. He then dances with Theadora. She's smitten.

Theadora takes Oz to the Emerald City and introduces him to her sister, Evadora, the royal adviser. She also becomes instantly interested in Oz. She gives him a tour of the palace, shows him the royal treasury, then tells him he must save the Land of Oz by killing the Evil Witch. Oz isn't so sure about the whole "killing" thing, but when he learns that destroying the witch's wand will kill her, he agrees.

Oz, along with a highly amusing talking monkey in a bell-hop's uniform head out on their quest.  Along the way, they see smoke, and wander into the destroyed China Town.  There they meet and rescue the China Girl, and Oz repairs her legs with glue.  China Girl joins their quest.

They soon enter the Dark Forest. Oz has a plan to distract the Evil Witch and steal her wand. But when he meets Glinda - he learns she is a Good Witch, and it's Evadora who's wicked - and who killed her father.

Meanwhile, Evadora is laying plans, and manipulating her sister, Theadora.

Glinda convinces Oz to help her. Evanora's men and flying baboons attack. Glinda creates a ground fog for cover. Oz, China Girl, Finley, and Glinda end up on the edge of cliff, with a wind-swept tree in silhouette and a sunset behind them.  Yes, it looks like the famous scene in Gone with the Wind.  Glinda dives off the cliff, and they all travel by bubble to her castle in Quadling Country.  There, Oz meets the good people of Kansas, I mean, Oz - farmers, tinkers, seamstresses and tailors, and the Munchkins.  Oz doesn't really know what to do, especially to turn the people into an army to defeat two wicked witches.

Theadora, turned green and evil by her sister, arrives and threatens Oz - then leaves.

Oz is unsure of himself, and doesn't really know what to do.  But after Glinda tells him he might have more potential than he thinks he does, and after telling China Girl a bedtime story about the great wizard Thomas Edison, Oz gets an idea.

Oz puts the Quadling people to work, each to their own special ability. They work to his plan.

The next day, Oz orchestrates his plan. He even has some surprises for his own followers. The plan, which I don't want to spoil, is perfect, makes great sense for an idea that comes from con-man/magician from Kansas, and most importantly - it works. Which isn't really a spoiler, as this film is a pre-quel to The Wizard of Oz.

Overall, Oz the Great and Powerful, was just a beautiful film. It looks gorgeous. You really don't see a lot of movies that look so beautiful anymore. For once, CGI, that screams, "look at me - I'm pretty CGI," works, because it adds to the storybook feel of the film. And the colors are simply gorgeous, beautiful, incredible. At times, especially in the first few scenes in Oz, this film really looks like an animated feature. I'm assuming that was intentional. The animated look brings the Land of Oz to life - and sets it as a new world.

I also, really, really, really loved that this film opens in black and white.  The move from black and white to color, and from cropped 4x4 ratio to widescreen is handled very well.

James Franco does a great job playing Oz as a lovable rogue - who, at the start, in Kansas, has no moral scruples, really. But, in Oz, he comes into his own, and learns his own lessons. Oz is a fallible hero, and he learns how to be a leader, with Glinda's help (not to mention Finley and even China Girl), which makes for a good film.

Overall, this is a wonderful, feel-good movie, that is also great for children.

Recommendation:  See it, especially good for children.
Rating:  4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Either The Hobbit the Desolation of Smaug or The Prestige.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Shall We Dance? (Japan, 1996)

  • Title:  Shall We Dance? (Japan, 1996)
  • Director:  Masayuki Suo
  • Date:  1996
  • Studio:  Miramax
  • Genre:  Drama, Musical
  • Cast:  Kôji Yakusho, Tamiyo Kusakari, Naoto Takenaka, Eri Watanaka, Hiromasa Taguchi
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen (In Japanese, with English Subtitles)
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"...There is a secret wonder...about the joys that dance can bring." - Spoken introduction
"Dance is more than just the steps.  Feel the music and just dance for sheer joy." - Sensei Tanaka
Shall We Dance (1996) and Shall We Dance (2004) have the exact same plot, but it is the Richard Gere film that is a re-make and Americanization of this Japanese film.  I actually saw both in the movie theater, and enjoyed them both.
The Japanese film starts with a spoken introduction about the reserved nature of the Japanese people, a nature than sees ballroom dancing with suspicion.  In a land where married couples don't hold hands, much less kiss in public, and would seldom if ever express love with words even in private, the act of dancing with a stranger is seen, well, as something perverse. However, this film is about ballroom dancing in Japan and the world-wide competitive dance sport.
Sugiyama, is a successful accountant, who has just bought a house for his family.  He works long hours and commutes daily to his job.  He is satisfied, if not exactly happy with his life. But it would never occur to him to change anything.  On the commute, from his train window, he sees a beautiful young woman in a dance studio - who seems filled with melancholy.  It takes a few tries for Sugiyama to work up the courage, but he finally goes to the dance studio to sign up for lessons.
Upon learning that private lessons are very expensive, he signs up for group lessons instead. His tutor is Sensei (teacher) Tanaka, an older, experienced, and patient teacher. The other students in the class include a slightly overweight man who's taking dance lessons to lose weight and hopefully meet girls, and a know-it-all type who's taken one dance class before with his wife, and now thinks improving his dance skills will impress her.
Also at the studio is Mr. Aoki, who works with Sugiyama at his office, and is a competitive dance hopeful; and a second teacher (Toyoko) who also hopes to be more successful at competitive dance.  Mia, the young woman Sugiyama saw in the window, also works there, but only gives private lessons.  Unraveling her story is as much of the plot, as are Sugiyama's growing skills at dance.
Sensei Tanaka works with Sugiyama and his fellow students, teaching them basic steps, and the ten competitive dances as well as a few fun, social dances.
At home, Sugiyama's wife and daughter notice he now seems happier, but eventually, his wife grows suspicious and hires a private detective.  Upon learning his secret is that he's taking weekly dance lessons, and he's not having an affair, his wife accepts it, but is confused. Remember that, culturally, ballroom dance isn't accepted.
As the students improve, there are montages not only of the dance lessons, but of Sugiyama dancing on the train platform, in a park (including in the rain), and even moving his feet in time under his desk.  Meanwhile, Mr. Aoki, slides through corridors and rows of desks with precise movements - but cannot find a good partner for competitive dance.
The second half of the film involves an amateur ballroom dance competition.  Due to various events, Toyoko will dance two traditional dances (Waltz, and Quick Step) with Sugiyama and the Latin dances (Rumba, and Paso Double) with Mr. Aoki.  The Latin dances are first and Aoki starts off doing what he always does - overacting, using "jazz hands", and wearing a ridiculous wig and costume.  A competitor turns the wig, so for the second dance he removes it and dances far better than he ever has, because he's not trying to be someone he's not. During their dances, Sugiyama and Toyoko are doing brilliantly, until Sugiyama's distracted by his daughter rooting him on from the stands.  He manages to step on and tear off Toyoko's skirt.  Needless to say, Toyoko is forced to default.
Sugiyama is appalled by this.  He gives up dancing and goes back to his wife and daughter. He's invited to a fair-well party for Mia, who's decided to return to Blackpool (England) and competitive dancing. Finally, though, he shows up at the very end of her party and she dances her last dance with him.  As they dance, other couples join in on the dance floor.
The Japanese, original, film version of Shall We Dance? moves at a slower pace than the re-make with Richard Gere.  But at times, this makes for a better film.  It's filled with fascinating characters, all of whom have their own stories, and all of whom are looking for something.  That it isn't until the very end that we find out all of Mia's story, makes her story that much richer.  The music also, is mostly traditional ballroom dance music.  "Save the Last Dance for Me" is used for montages.  Mia's theme dance song is "Shall We Dance?" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I  (yes, the Yul Brenner musical).  "Shall We Dance?" fits, but it will stick in your head for days after seeing the film.
Recommended:  See it.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Oz the Great and Powerful

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country


  • Title:  Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country
  • Director:  Nicholas Meyer
  • Date:  1991
  • Genre:  SF, Mystery
  • Cast:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Keonig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Kim Cattrall, Mark Lenard, Christopher Plummer, David Warner, Grace Lee Whitney, Michael Dorn, William Morgan Sheppard, Christian Slater
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"We believe it [the explosion on Praxis] was caused by over-mining and insufficient safety precautions.  The moon's decimation means deadly pollution of their ozone.  They [Klingons] will have depleted their supply of oxygen in approximately fifty Earth years.  Due to their enormous military budget the Klingon economy does not have the resources to combat this catastrophe."  - Spock

"Logic is the beginning of wisdom, Volaris, not the end." - Spock

"You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read it in the original Klingon." - Chancellor Gorkin

"You don't trust me, do you?  I don't blame you.  If there is going to be a Brave New World, our generation is going to have the hardest time living in it." - Chancellor Gorkin

Star Trek VI starts with a bang, but what at first appears to be a supernova, is in fact a man-made (well, Klingon-made) explosion of the Klingon moon Praxis.  This explosion causes a huge shockwave, which hits the Excelsior on patrol in the area under the command of Captain Sulu.  Once recovered from the shockwave hit, Sulu offers help, but the Klingons order him to stay outside the neutral zone.

There's a top-secret meeting at Star Fleet, where Spock reveals that over-mining and lack of safety precautions on Praxis caused the moon to explode.  This has poisoned the Ozone on the Klingon homeworld of Kronos, and the planet will be uninhabitable in 50 years.  Spock has worked with the Klingon chancellor, Gorkin, coming to an arrangement to de-militarize Star Fleet.  Gorkin and the Federation will work towards an uneasy peace.  Kirk, who has already indicated his agreement with the most militant of the Star Fleet Admirals, is charged with escorting Gorkin to Earth for a peace conference.

Kirk continues to tell pretty much anyone who will listen that he distrusts Klingons, and even notes in his private captain's log that he blames the Klingons for his son's death.

Kirk and his crew, including Spock, but minus Sulu (who is on the Excelsior still) precede to the point where they are to meet Gorkin's ship.  Once there, they invite Gorkin and his staff to a state dinner on the Enterprise.  The dinner is a difficult experience for all involved, but not a complete disaster.  Shortly after the dinner, as Kirk is settling in from a bit too much Romulan Ale, he's called to the bridge because of a radiation surge.  As Kirk watches helplessly, first one, then a second torpedo hit Gorkin's ship, seemingly from the Enterprise herself.

Two Federation officers, wearing gravity boots, and darken helmets, beam to the Klingon vessel, Kronos One, and kill anyone in their way, before attacking Gorkin.  They then escape.  The gravity boots were necessary because the torpedo shots had disabled the Klingon ship's artificial gravity.

When the Klingons threaten to fire on Enterprise in retaliation, Kirk surrenders his ship.  He then takes McCoy with him to Kronos One. Gorkin is injured but not quite dead.  McCoy tries to save him, despite his lack of knowledge of Klingon anatomy, but Gorkin dies anyway.

Kirk and McCoy are arrested by the Klingons for killing the Chancellor.  Though Defense Attorney Worf attempts to fight the good fight, they are found guilty almost immediately. Evidence against Kirk includes his private log entry about blaming Klingons for the death of his son. Kirk and McCoy are sent to a Klingon prison planet to mine dilithium.

Meanwhile, Spock attempts to find out who really orchestrated the attack on the Klingons, and killed Gorkin.  Piece by piece, he works it out with the help of others on the Enterprise.

I don't want to go into details of how Spock solves the mystery, because that would really spoil the movie.  However, he does uncover a conspiracy between a few Star Fleet officers and Klingon hard-liners to get rid of Gorkin who had really wanted peace between the Klingons and the Federation (that is, his plans were not a feint or something designed to lure the Federation into "a false sense of security" before a Klingon attack.).

Spock then rescues Kirk and McCoy from the prison planet, and they go off to try to prevent an assassination attempt at the new peace conference at "Camp something".  With some help from Sulu and officers on the Excelsior, the Enterprise crew succeeds in saving the Chancellor's daughter, now the new head of the Klingon Empire and thus saves the peace conference.

In his closing monologue, Kirk notes that his crew will make a final cruise (his last line is, "Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning," a quote from Peter Pan) then return to Earth to stand down for retirement and a new crew will continue to explore where no man or no one has gone before.  The closing credits include the signatures of the original Enterprise crew (Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley, Doohan, Nichols, Keonig, and Takei).

Star Trek VI is essentially a murder mystery with cold war trappings.  Klingons quoting Shakespeare and a reference to The Manchurian Candidate are thrown in as well.  But though that may seem to sound like it's not that good a movie, I actually enjoyed it.  I found Star Trek VI to be fun - really fun.  First, no one dies in this film.  OK, the Klingon chancellor dies, but really - he's playing the part of a murder victim, in a story where our heroes must solve a crime.  But it's not like Wrath of Khan where Spock dies, or where the Enterprise herself is destroyed.  As is frequently the case with Star Trek, the trappings of the film are definitely Cold War.  The Federation is clear the US/the West and the Klingons are clearly the Russians. Even the guard on the prison planet introduces it as a "gulag" (Russian for "prison") and speaks with a Russian accent.  The Klingon chancellor who genuinely seeks peace is Gorkin, very similar to Gorbachev.  And the incident that starts the film, the explosion on Praxis, was clearly inspired by the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor disaster in 1986.

What is surprising about the film is the amount of prejudice and hatred we see from characters we know and care about.  It isn't just Kirk who "hates Klingons".  Throughout the first half of the film, all sorts of nasty remarks are made about the Klingons, from "They don't place the same value on life as us," to "Did you see the way they eat?"  It was really quite disturbing.

But what makes the film work is the murder mystery aspect.  Again, we know Kirk isn't guilty - but the evidence seems indisputable.  So not only must Spock discover who did it - he must discover "how did it", which is always more interesting. And Spock makes for a fine detective, he even quotes Sherlock Holmes, "An ancestor of mine maintained that if you eliminate the impossible, whatever remians, however, improbable must be the truth."  Yes, that's right, Spock refers to Holmes as an "ancestor".  Which suggests that in the Star Trek universe Sherlock Holmes was real, and that quite probably he was the result of a time traveling Vulcan experiment (and yes, I want to see that story!) Anyway, I enjoyed the mystery aspect, and Spock, step by step, figuring out what happened, how it happened, and ultimately - who was really responsible.

I hadn't seen this film probably since I saw it in the theater when it originally was released, and I remembered enjoying it then.  The DVD copy I watched, I actually picked up second-hand a year or so ago.  I think at the time, especially with Chernobyl, Glasnost, and Perestroika, and Gorbachev fresh in people's minds - the Cold War plot would have had more meaning.  Now it seems like set dressing.  However, what really caught my attention was that Praxis was destroyed by over-mining and lack of safety precautions, resulting in an environmental disaster that would, eventually, destroy the Klingon homeworld.  That the Klingon Empire spent so much on the military and arms it couldn't even do anything about it, also caught my attention.  Because both those things seem much more appropriate now - and not in Russia.

Recommendation:  See it
Rating:  4 out of 5
Next Film:  Shall We Dance (Japan, 1996)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Star Trek: Into Darkness


  • Title:  Star Trek:  Into Darkness
  • Director:  JJ Abrams
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Genre:  SF, Action
  • Cast:  John Cho, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alice Eve, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoë Saldana, Karl Urban, Peter Weller, Anton Yelchin
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"...You misunderstand, it is true I choose not to feel anything as my own life was ending.  As Admiral Pine was dying I joined with his conscienousness and experienced what he felt at the moment of his passing:  anger, confusion, lonliness, fear - I had experience those feelings before, multiplied expontentially on the day my planet was destroyed.  Such a feeling is something I choose never to experience again." -- Spock

"Don't agree with me Spock, it makes me very uncomfortable."  -- McCoy

The opening vignette of Star Trek Into Darkness has Kirk and McCoy disguised on a red Class M planet.  Kirk holds a scroll and is running away.  The Natives follow, throw spears at him, and at McCoy as well.  However, Kirk's actions had been a distraction, so the Enterprise's shuttle can drop Spock, in a fire suit into the volcano to drop a cold fusion device in the active and ready to erupt volcano to prevent the eruption and save the indigenous life on the planet.  Kirk and McCoy dive into the water to escape the natives, and board the Enterprise.  However, Spock is in trouble and could be killed.  Kirk and the Enterprise, but incur Star Fleet's wrath at the flagrant disregard for the Prime Directive.

A mysterious man (Benedict Cumberbatch) offers to cure the ill daughter of a Star Fleet officer.  He soon discovers the price as he has to blow-up a Star Fleet Archive building.

Pike finds Kirk in a bar, and brings him back to Starfleet.  He asks Kirk to be his first officer, Kirk accepts, and Pike takes him to a gathering of all Starfleet's captains and first officers to discuss the destruction of the Archive and Starfleet's response to the terror attack.  Kirk, wonders, however, why anyone would destroy an archive, especially when the information held there is public record.  Just as Admiral Marcus, Pike, and Kirk are realising that protocol for an attack calls for just this occurrance - all the captains and first officers in one room, the room is attacked by a helicopter-like gunship.  (Because apparently Starfleet never heard the old adage about not putting all your eggs in one basket.)  Pike's killed.

Admiral Marcus calls Kirk and Spock into his office, he offers Kirk the Enterprise again, and Kirk asks for, and is granted, Spock as his first officer.  But Marcus's plan is chilling - not only does he want Kirk to track down "John Harrison" the ex-Starfleet officer responsible for the attack - he wants Kirk to kill him.  Specifically, even though Harrison is hiding on the Klingon home world and an attack on the home world would lead to all-out war, he wants Kirk to hide in the Neutral Zone and fire a new long-range photon torpedo at the uninhabited province where Harrison is hiding and obliterate him.

Scotty quits when the torpedoes are loaded on the Enterprise, and the security detail with them refuses to tell him what the payload is.  Scotty fears an interaction with the warp core. Kirk accepts Scotty's resignation.

During the trip to the Neutral Zone, however, Kirk has second thoughts (helped by his conversation with Scotty, and additional conversations with McCoy and Spock) about blindly following the orders of Admiral Marcus to kill Harrison rather than capture him.

Kirk decides rather than killing Harrison outright, Kirk decides to capture Harrison.  He will take a landing party, and using the transport vessel from "the Mudd incident" will land on the Klingon home world, capture Harrison, and return him to Earth.  Kirk, Spock, Uhura and a guard take the shuttle down.  Uhura attempts to reach an agreement with the Klingons who attack their ship and force it down.  She's doing OK, when they are attacked.  The fire fight is chaotic, but a mysterious man rescues them.

Kirk brings this man, Harrison, to the Enterprise and locks him in the brig.  However, he soon learns from the man, that, as Admiral Marcus had pointed out, the Archive that was destroyed wasn't an archive or library - it was Section 31 HQ, home to Starfleet's secret military and spy organization.  Moreover, Harrison wasn't simply an agent there as Marcus said.  Harrison is Khan, a genetically engineered superhuman, who, with 72 other similar super humans was sent from Earth.  Marcus found his ship, kept the crew in cryo-suspension, but revived Khan.  Seeing Khan as the brilliant warrior he needed, he gave him a new identity (John Harrison) and set him to work developing weapons for Starfleet.  Khan tells Kirk, he had no choice, Marcus held his crew hostage.  However, he rebelled against being forced to make weapons and to create a "militarized Starfleet" - which was Marcus's dream.

Kirk isn't sure how much of this he buys, but he's keeping an open mind, deciding to bring Harrison/Khan to Earth to tell his tale.

It's easier said than done, when two problems occur:  first, the Enterprise Engine Core leak, that had stranded the ship short of it's warp point goal, is getting much worse, threatening the entire ship.  And second, Admiral Marcus has arrived and is he pissed off that Kirk hasn't killed Harrison/Khan, talked to Khan, and might believe Khan.

From what Marcus says, it's clear that at least some of what Khan has said is true.

However, Marcus beams his daughter Carol from the Enterprise to his own dreadnought-class ship  then attacks the Enterprise.  Kirk, who's also heard from Scotty, who checked on some co-ordinates Khan gave him.  Khan convinces Kirk the only way to defeat the dreadnought is from within.  Scotty has hidden aboard the ship.  Kirk and Khan space jump to the other ship, using jets to maneuver.  During the jump, Khan saves Kirk's life.  Scotty lets them in.

But on the bridge, Khan shows his true colors.  He wants revenge on Marcus.  Kirk tries to arrest Marcus.  Khan kills him.  Kirk, Carol, and Scotty are transported to the Enterprise brig.  Spock had transported the torpedoes to the dreadnought.  However, the torpedoes were primed and blow the ship.  Khan escapes.  Khan's crew, the 72 cryo tubes are in sickbay on the Enterprise.

However, the Enterprise is dying - the damage to the warp core is so bad the ship is dying and about to crash into Earth.  Kirk and Scotty try to fix the ship, but the engine core is mis-aligned, and can't be fixed because of the radiation in the compartment.  Kirk goes into the compartment to fix it.  He succeeds and saves the ship but is dying from radiation poisoning.  Spock pulls the ship out of it's dive.  Scotty calls him and asks him to come down.  He goes, and in a reverse of Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan, it's Kirk who dies and Spock who must watch.  There fingers even touch on the glass separating them.  Spock screams, "Khan!".

Khan, meanwhile tries to crash his ship into Starfleet HQ and misses (He does destroy the Great Fire Memorial in San Francisco though.)  Spock chases down Khan, ready to kill him for killing Kirk.  Uhura stops him - McCoy's realised that Khan's blood can save Kirk, because of it's regenerative abilities.

This works, and Kirk Lives.  One year later, Kirk re-dedicates the new Enterprise, reciting "the Captain's Oath", which we know as the opening to classic Star Trek.

JJ Abrams directs Star Trek:  Into Darkness at a breakneck speed.  The film moves, extremely fast - so fast, it's hard to keep up with it at times.  However, the film also has it's moments.  Harrison, as played brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch, is brilliant, from lone terrorist, to scientist who's work is poached for weapons, to revenge-seeking madman, each of Khan's roles is well played.  I avoided all spoilers when this movie came out last year, even the name of Cumberbatch's character - so I was surprised to find out that "Harrison" was Khan. I enjoyed the film in the theater and enjoyed watching it again yesterday.  The film is fun, and the cast is excellent.  I really do like Pine, Quinto, and Urban.  And Cumberbatch played a multi-faceted villain with relish and even, at times, compassion.
Though not too much - because even if Marcus had cold-bloodily killed Khan's crew, Khan's attacks would have been over-kill.  The film, like the best Star Trek episodes and films raises questions.  Questions about the power of the military, questions about the ability for news events to be shaped, and public opinion to be manipulated.  And it's Kirk's noted ability to stand against the rules and go with his gut that save him and his crew.  Kirk is willing to follow rules and regulations as needed, but he won't stand by and watch a planet die because of them - nor will he kill a criminal who should rather be put on trial.  It's a enjoyable rollar-coaster of a film, with a bit more to it, and I liked it.

Recommendation:  See It!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Star Trek VI - The Undiscovered Country

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Librarian Curse of the Judas Chalice


  • Title:  The Librarian Curse of the Judas Chalice
  • Director:  Jonathan Frakes
  • Date:  2008
  • Studio:  TNT (TV movie)
  • Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
  • Cast:  Noah Wyle, Bob Newhart, Jane Curtin, Stana Katic
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen (HD)
  • DVD Format:  NTSC, R1
"Maybe some women are OK with the wild and unpredictable lifestyle of dating a librarian, but I'm not."  -- Katie, when she dumps Flynn

"Charlene, How big is the library?"  - Flynn
"As big as we need it to be." - Charlene

"You cannot escape your destiny, Flynn." - Simone
"I was trying to take a little vacation from it but it didn't seem to work out." - Flynn
"No, if you fight your destiny you will be miserable.  You must embrace it and revel in every moment." - Simone

The third film starts with Flynn, wearing a black tuxedo, and attending a high priced auction.  But rather than having the sophistication of James Bond, this is still our Flynn - the free champagne causes him to sneeze, though he also points out it's not technically champagne but an Italian sparkling wine.  During the auction, not only does Charlene call to remind him of The Library's budget, but his girlfriend, Katie calls to break up with him. Between the two conversations on his cell phone, and the auction itself, Flynn is distracted and accidentally raises the bid much too high several times.  Finally, it total frustration, he bids L1 million Pounds Sterling.  He wins the vase, and back at The Library, Charlene nearly faints.   After the auction, Flynn picks up his vase, intentionally drops it, and shatters it into a million pieces, he finds and takes a small cloth bag, and hides it in his jacket pocket.  The other bidder arrives, and when he sees what's happened, tries to take the item from Flynn. It turns out it's the Philosopher's Stone which can turn anything it touches into gold. Flynn and his rival fight, with anything at hand, including a throw pillow that Flynn's quickly turned to gold.  The fight merges into a stolen sword, sword-fight.  Flynn, after some difficulty, escapes with the Stone.

Flynn goes to the hotel bar to meet his girlfriend, but she's left.  He returns to the Library, where Charlene and Judson show him the Large Collection Annex, which, among other things, includes Noah's Ark.  However, Flynn, though impressed, is fed-up.  He mentions his relationships that haven't worked out:  Nicole, Emily, now Katie.  And how he can't even tell his mother the importance of his work.  In short, he has a meltdown and threatens to quit.  Judson and Charlene ask him to take a vacation instead.

So Flynn does, but he merely stays in his apartment, eating take-out.  Charlene drops by one night at drops off a bunch of travel brochures.  Flynn is polite to her, but doesn't take her suggestion seriously.  That night he has a dream of a Siren calling him, then sees a statue of a rearing horse.  When he wakes, he looks at the brochures again and finds one with the same rearing horse.  He decides to head to New Orleans on vacation.

In New Orleans, Flynn seems determined to have a very boring vacation, at first.  But one night he wanders into a bar, and sees the woman from his dream singing on stage.  During her break, he sits at her table and tries to buy her a drink.  This seems to be going terribly, when some heavies show up and come after the girl.  She and Flynn escape.

Flynn and the girl, Simone, spend the night together.  The next day, she's gone.  Flynn runs into Judson in a barbershop, and learns a bit about the plot.  It seems that the Judas Chalice, an artifact made by melting the 30 pieces of silver paid to Judas Iscariot to betray Christ, is in play.  The Chalice has the power to re-animate dead vampires.  Meanwhile, the coffin of Dracule - aka, Vlad the Impaler, has disappeared.

Flynn and Simone, attempt to follow the clues to solve this new riddle.  Simone, guards a key that leads to the hiding place of the chalice.  Through a series of adventures they solve the puzzles.  However, Simone is a vampire - this isn't too bad, she keeps blood in her fridge and has no desire to snack on Flynn.  Flynn also runs into a famous professor, whom he thinks is killed by the vampires chasing him.

The conclusion, is much more bittersweet than the previous Librarian films.  However, Flynn has once again, learned how important it is that he remain The Librarian.  He's also learned that The Library is part of a larger struggle of Good vs. Evil.  And he's picked up a little background on Judson.  Flynn, once at the verge of quitting, returns to The Library.

The third and final Librarian film, The Librarian Curse of the Judas Chalice, is a little weak in spots.  The entire film, for the most part, is set in New Orleans, though it makes use of the location.  I liked Flynn's pal, the cabbie - who continuously shows-up to help Flynn and get him whatever he needs - a cemetery tour, a rental boat, etc.  Simone, a 300-year old vampire with a desire to take revenge on the one who made her, is a new twist on Flynn's female companion du jour.  Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin round out the cast to make the film that much more fun.  Still, I missed the more global-trotting aspects of the previous films.  Though having the humor back was a bonus.  Overall, the film was enjoyable and fun.  Later this year, in December 2014, TNT will bring The Librarians to the small screen, starring Wyle, Newhart, Curtin, John Larroquette, and Christian Kane (of TNT's Leverage). I'm actually looking forward to seeing it.

Recommendation:  See It - this film is especially appropriate for children
Rating:  3.8
Next Film:  Star Trek:  Into Darkness

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Librarian Return to King Solomon's Mines


  • The Librarian Return to King Solomon's Mines
  • Director:  Jonathan Frakes
  • Date:  2006
  • Studio:  TNT (TV Movie)
  • Genre:  Action, Adventure
  • Cast:  Noah Wyle, Gabrielle Anwar, Bob Newhart, Jane Curtin, Olympia Dukakis
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen (HD)
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"Flynn, I trust you, we send you on missions alone.  It's just you have a lot to learn."  - Judson

"Sometimes, you have to give up what you want for the greater good.  You see that's the difference between a good librarian and a great one." - Judson

"Be safe.  Don't get killed.  Save your receipts." - Charlene

"You'd be surprised what you can learn at the Library."  - Flynn

This film starts with Flynn Carson on a quest to retrieve the Crystal Skull of Atlantis.  He manages to grab it from some pot hunters, but before he can sneak away, he's distracted by finding a Sault arrow head, which would be unusual to find in Utah.  In attempting to retrieve it also, he catches the attention of the pot hunters.  They give chase to Flynn and his Native American companion.  The two run away, and eventually reach a high gorge.  Flynn and his partner jump there horses into the gorge and land in a rushing river.  Flynn's companion is shocked he knew there would be a deep river at the base of the gorge.  Flynn gives him an explanation about average rainfall - only to have his companion tell him he had the month wrong.  Flynn's blasé response is, "huh, we should have been flattened like pancakes."

Back at The Library, Flynn's expecting congratulations for finding the Crystal Skull.  And although Judson is happy about it, he still reins Flynn in for taking too many risks.

That night Flynn heads to his mother's, only to walk in on his own surprise party.  His mother tries to set him up on a blind date with his third cousin.  Flynn is not amused.  The evening turns out to not be a total loss though when he runs into his "Uncle" Jerry, his father's best friend, who works in "Import/Export". Jerry gives Flynn his father's amulet.  Flynn's birthday is somewhat bittersweet, Flynn's father died when he was 32 and Flynn was eight (8).  Now Flynn is 32.  When Flynn gets home to his apartment he finds it's been trashed.  He calls Judson, but is knocked out before he can tell him much of anything.

Judson sends him on a quest for the two-part Key of Solomon a map Legend to decode the Map of Solomon to King Solomon's Mines, but warns Flynn that sometimes a Librarian must give up what he most wants - for the greater good.

In Casablanca, Flynn meets Emily Davenport (Anwar) an archeologist with 25 degrees who's possibly smarter than he is.  Together they set out on the quest.

Flynn is attacked, but when he sees the Mason Symbol amulet Flynn wears that was his father's, the man backs off, shows his own amulet, and explains he's part of a Secret Society of Masons protecting King Solomon's Secret.  Flynn gets the first part of the Legend, and the guy tells Flynn the second part is in Kenya.

In Africa, Flynn and Emily find a man buried in the sand up to his neck.  They rescue him and Jomo becomes their guide.  Flynn tells Emily that his father was mugged coming home from work, and the "coward" shot him.  According to Flynn, they never caught the guy.  So, Flynn's father was shot dead when Flynn was 8-years old, by a mugger.  Does this sound familiar?

The scenery in Africa is beautiful.  Because the second film really emphases Flynn's background, especially his loss of his father, the story has more heart, and less comedy than the previous film.  Flynn is experienced and professional, an no longer bumbling in his role as the Librarian.

Flynn and Emily find the second piece of the Map Legend, and run into Flynn's Uncle Jerry who helps them. Jerry explains to Flynn that the reason he has his father's amulet, is that his father got it from his father, who got it from his father before that.  Flynn responds, "The secret shall be passed."

Flynn and Emily examine the map and the two pieces of the legend.  Flynn realizes the map is sheet music. He plays the music on one piece of the map legend, and the map becomes a 3-D map showing them how to get to the mines.  Flynn and Emily leave the train, and Uncle Jerry, who goes his own way.  Once again, Flynn and Emily are off on an adventure, in search of  the Mines.

As they follow the map, Flynn realizes that the pictures he drew as a child, based on his father's bedtime stories, are actually places they will find while searching for King Solomon's Mines.  Flynn realizes with some astonishment, that his father was preparing him for this quest his entire life.

Eventually, they reach the ante-chamber to the Mines, Flynn and Emily have to cross a stone bridge over a river of  lava.  They do, and Flynn discovers his father's amulet is literally a key to the treasure chamber. Inside, Flynn opens the web-covered book, which sits on a plinth in a shaft of light.  Emily distracts Flynn before the weird stuff the book is doing to Flynn completes.

The concluding scenes are quite good, and I don't want to spoil them.

This chapter in The Librarian series isn't as funny as the first - it's definitely more adventure than comedy. However, the story, by emphasizing Flynn's relationship with his father, and that history, has more heart.  The conclusion is wrapped around the relationship between Flynn, his father, Jerry, and Flynn's mother, so it works well.  Flynn is no longer the bumbling professional student.  He is now an experienced Librarian and adventurer.  Emily is impressive, an archaeologist with 25 degrees, she's smarter than Flynn but knows nothing about The Library.  And, The Library is only seen at the beginning and very end of the film.  Once the quest is over, Flynn does go back to the Library, having learned about his own personal history, as well as having first-hand experience as to exactly what Judson meant by, "Sometimes, you have to give up what you want for the greater good," and has progressed in his career as the Librarian.  Emily goes off on another dig, continuing her own personal quest to discover more about the Queen of Sheba.

The Librarian Return to King Solomon's Mines is still a good, light adventure film.  Although it doesn't have the strong comedy elements of  The Librarian Quest for the Spear, it makes up for it by having more heart, and delving deeper into the character of  Flynn Carson, Librarian.  There are references to the Indiana Jones films, especially Last Crusade, but also references to Batman. It's quite the enjoyable film.

  • Recommendation:  See it!  This film is especially appropriate for children and pre-teens.
  • Rating:  3.5 of 5
  • Next Film:  The Librarian  Curse of the Judas Chalice

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Librarian Quest for the Spear


  • Title:  The Librarian Quest for the Spear
  • Director:  Peter Winther
  • Date:  2004 (5 December 2004)
  • Studio:  TNT (Television)
  • Genre:  Action, Adventure, Comedy
  • Cast:  Noah Wyle, Sonya Walger, Bob Newhart, Jane Curtin, Kyle MacLachlan, Kelly Hu, Olympia Dukakis
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen (HD)
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"You are about to begin a wondrous adventure  from which you will never be the same.  Welcome to The Library."  -- Judson (Bob Newhart)

"You are now part of a very special community.  The secret of  the library has been kept  for thousands of years."  -- Judson

"I believe in you, Flynn, I think there's a possibility you could be a great librarian." -- Judson

Flynn Carson is a bookish professional student, with twenty-two degrees, six alone in Egyptology (one wonders how he paid for them all?  But thinking of the Real World is not something you should do while watching this film).  His current professor gets fed up with him, and throws him out into the "Real World" to get a job midway through the semester, signing off on his degree.  Flynn is devestated - he has no idea how to get a job and doesn't really want one.  He goes home, where his mother has set him up on a blind date with a girl about his own age - who's a social worker.  Flynn gets even more depressed.

Flynn's in his room, when he suddenly finds an envelope.  He opens it and words appear, inviting him to apply for the position of The Librarian.  Flynn goes to the interview.  At The Library, there's a huge line of applicants.  Flynn hears the protests and even cries of the previous applicants.  He's about to duck out of line when a voice orders him in.  Flynn passes the pre-test question easily, and more importantly passes the Real Question.  He meets Judson, who takes him into The Library, underneath the library.  The Library is a wondrous place, indeed, home to all of  human knowledge, and a number of  magical, mystical, and real human artifacts, such as Pandora's Box, the Mona Lisa, the Ark of the Covenant and Excalibur.

Flynn is beginning to settle in to his new job, when there's a break in.  Judson is knocked out, but not seriously harmed.  It seems one part of the Spear of Destiny has been stolen.  The Spear was broken in to three pieces for safe keeping.  Flynn is sent on a quest to find the other two pieces of the Spear and stop the evil organization known as the Serpent Brotherhood from assembling the Spear and causing havoc.  Flynn is soon joined on his quest by Nicole, a bodyguard for the Library.

The film resembles classic adventure films like the Indiana Jones films and Romancing the Stone.  But it is not a parody.  It takes that style of film and introduces it's own characters and it's own plotline, but most of all it has fun. There is a lot of humor in this movie - it's it's not simply the obligatory quip and the occasional really good one-liner.  The film is simply fun to watch and the cast is terrific.  Noah Wyle is great as the wide-eyed, bumbling, professional student who has, among other things, memorized the Earth, but can't quite master flirting with a girl, or have much in the way of practical knowledge of the Real World.  Nicole is very like Michael Douglas's character in Romancing the Stone - we even see her hacking away at jungle growth with a machete, while the branches hit Flynn.  But the story opens up too - not only do the characters go to a jungle in South America, but also to mysterious Shargri-La in the Himalayas.  Nicole has a reason for her somewhat icy personality, but she's dedicated to her job of protecting The Librarian.  And Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin, have small roles in terms of screen time - but they are vital to the plot.  And both make the film that much more fun.

This is simply an enjoyable film to watch.  It's bright, and funny, and fun.  And it's a good start to the series' universe. Yes, this is a TNT Original film, which spawned two sequels, and a  television series which starts in December 2014.

Recommendation:  See it
Rating:  4 Stars
Next Film:  The Librarian Return to King Soloman's Mines

Monday, February 10, 2014

Man of Steel

·           Title:  Man of Steel
·           Director:  Zack Snyder
·           Date:  2013
·           Studio:  Warner Brothers
·           Genre:  Fantasy, Action, SF
·        Cast:  Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Kevin Cosner, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishborne, Christopher Meloni, Michael Shannon
·        Format:  Color, Widescreen
·        NTSC, Region 1

"Can't I just keep pretending I'm your son?" – Young Clark Kent
"You are my son.  [long pause] But somewhere out there you have another father too, who gave you another name.  And he sent you here for a reason, Clark.  And even if it takes you the rest of your life you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is."  -- Jonathan Kent

"For 100, 000 years our civilization flourished, accomplishing wonders." – Jor-El
"What happened?" – Clark
"Artificial population control was established, the outposts and space exploration were abandoned.  We exhausted our natural resources, as a result our planet's core became unstable.  Eventually our military leader, General Zod, attempted a coup, but by then it was too late." – Jor-El

"The people of Earth are different from us, it's true.  But, ultimately, I believe that is a good thing.  They won't necessarily make the same mistakes we did, not if you guide them, Kal.  Not if you give them hope.  That's what this symbol means.  The symbol of the House of El means hope.  Embodied in that hope is the potential of every person to be a force for good.  That's what you can bring them." – Jor-El

Man of Steel starts on Krypton with Jor-El and Lara insuring the survival of their son, when their planet is about to be destroyed.  The background on Krypton, and the exact means of its destruction will also be expanded upon, during encounters between an AI hologram of Jor-El and others – including Clark, Lois Lane, and even General Zod.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  After introducing us to Jor-El, Lara, the Kryptonian government Council, and Zod and his coup – which fails, as well as the launch's escape from Krypton and Krypton's destruction – Man of Steel actually skips forward a bit.

We see a lobster harvesting ship, and a young man everyone calls "Greenhorn".  Only from the trailers do we realize this is Clark Kent.  The ship receives an SOS from an burning oil rig.  When they arrive, the Coast Guard has declared the rig a lost cause and the lobster ship's captain says the guys inside are dead already.  Clark leaps into the water, gets the men to the rig's deck that's still somewhat free of flames, and they are rescued by the Coast Guard.  Clark ends up falling into the water below the flames.
The film flashes back to Clark being overwhelmed by his senses as school.  His mom helps him to focus.

The film flashes forward to Clark – he's awakened below water by whale song, then gets to shore and borrows some dry clothes.

The film flashes back to a slightly older Clark on a school bus, where he's being bullied and taunted by school-mates.  The bus has a tire blow-out, loses control, goes through a guide-rail and lands in a river.  Clark pushes open the back door, then lifts the bus to safety on the shore.  Some of the kids have seen what happened.

One of the parents confronts the Kents.  Jonathan Kent tells Clark he can't use his powers.  He shows Clark the space ship and gives the S-shield key to Clark.  He explains that Clark has another father out there, somewhere, who sent Clark to Earth for a reason, and Clark should strive to find out who his father was and what the reason may be.

The film flashes back to the present.  In a rough and tumble bar, one of the oil workers harasses a waitress.  Clark tells him to stop it.  The customer throws a beer in Clark's face and taunts him.  The waitress tells Clark it's not worth it.  Clark walks off.  The guy throws a can at him and hits him in the head.

Clark walks down a highway, carrying a bag, and hitch-hiking.

Lois shows up to investigate an "anomaly".

Clark finds a Kryptonian ship buried in ice that's over 18 thousand years old.  He uses the S-shield key to deactivate the automatic security system.  The key is an command key.  Lois also follows Clark and gets attacked by the security system – Clark uses his heat vision to cauterize her wounds.

The ship departs.  Lois narrates her story but Perry won't print it.  She gives the story to a conspiracy theorist website.

Meanwhile, Clark meets an Artificial Intelligence-hologram of his father, Jor-El.  Jor-El gives his son, Kal-El a lesson is Kyptonian history.  They had expanded across the galaxy, built outposts, even terraformed planets.  Then the empire withdrew back to Krypton, abandoned its outposts and space exploration, began using genetic engineering to predetermine everyone's role in society, and eventually exhausted Krypton's resources.  This lead to mining of Krypton's core, which caused the core to collapse and the planet to explode.

Jor-El and his wife Lara sought a different path.  They risked much to have a natural birth, the first in generations, and when Krypton's doom was nigh, they put Kal-El in a spaceship with the Codex of Krypton's citizens and sent the ship off, towards Earth.

The film flashes back to a teen-aged Clark, who wants to be something greater, something more than a Kansas farmer, like Jonathan Kent.  He's arguing with his father, when a tornado hits on the freeway.  Thanks to Jonathan's actions, most everyone gets to shelter, but he, himself, ends up trapped in a car (after freeing their dog).  Clark goes to rescue Jonathan, but Jonathan yells at him to stay with his mother.

Clark goes home to visit his mother.

General Zod shows up and gives Earth an Ultimatum – turn over Jor-El or face the consequences.

Another flashback, as Clark remembers being bullied and conversations with his Dad about not reacting to the bully.

Back in the "present", Clark turns up at an army or air force base, and offers to surrender if he can speak to Lois and if the military guarantees her freedom.

There's another flashback/dream sequence of Zod's history.  Zod explains how the destruction of Krypton released him and his fellow insurgents from the Phantom Zone.  They retrofit a ship with hyperdrive and search for Kal-El.  Not finding anything on Krypton's old outposts for thirty-three years, they pick up a signal from the scout ship that was sent automatically when Clark entered it. Zod's plan is to take the Codex and then use a World Engine to terraform Earth into New Krypton.  This will, of course, destroy every living thing on Earth.

Lois and Clark are taken by Zod, and put in cells on Zod's ship.  They are tortured and experimented upon.  Lois, however, has the command key – and when she uses it, Jor-El appears to her and guides her through what she has to do.

Clark manages to escape from Zod's ship, and rescues Lois – who's escape pod has been hit by weapons fire and is spiraling out of control towards the ground.  But Clark rescues her.  Zod, his female lieutenant, and his other cronies attack Martha Kent and do considerable damage to her house.  Clark and Zod have a show down on main street.  But before they can re-play High Noon, the military arrives and in trying to shut down Zod and company make things worse.

There's a massive battle between Zod, Superman, Zod's lieutenant, the military, and Zod's forces.  Needless to say, Smallville, Kansas doesn't fair well.  Eventually, Zod and company leave.

But, Zod orders the release of the World Engine.  Having discovered that Jor-El bonded the Codex to Clark's cells – and that it's recoverable whether Clark is alive or dead, Zod will use his machine to terraform Earth into New Krypton, kill everything on the planet, and take the Codex from Clark's corpse.

Lois and Clark bring his capsule ship to the army, and he, Lois and Col. Hardy explain how the capsule can be used to destroy Zod's ship.  Superman will go to the second site and destroy the other half of the World Engine terraforming machine in the Indian Ocean.

The plan basically works, though Zod survives and Clark has to fight him.  Eventually, Superman kills Zod.

I thought Man of Steel  was better on second viewing, than when I first saw it in the theater last Spring or Summer.  The film works best in it's quite moments – Lara and Jor-El on Krypton trying to save their child, Clark talking to his father – Jonathan Kent, and Clark learning from his other father – Jor-El.  But, at times, some of the action sequences seem overblown and thus almost boring.  They can just be too much and too long.  I also found the constant flash backs and flash forwards to be somewhat distracting.  Not that I never knew "when" I was – that was perfectly clear, but I think the film would have worked better if it was presented in chronological order, or largely chronological with only the tiniest of shots back to scenes we had already seen.  I think it would have made Clark a stronger and more interesting character, and the audience would have been able to follow his journey – and route for him more.  I also think some of the action sequences could have been trimmed a bit, there's only so much CGI of collapsing buildings and flying cars that one can take.  The cast was good.  Henry Cavill made for a more vulnerable take on Clark Kent, and the surrounding cast of experienced actors made the film work.  Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, and Kevin Cosner were all brilliant as Clark's parents.

Recommendation:  See It
Rating:  3.5 to 4 Stars

Next Film:  Not sure, probably Star Trek:  Into Darkness.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Les Misérables

Title:  Les Misérables
Director:  Tom Hooper
Date:  2012
Studio:  Universal
Genre:  Musical, Drama
Cast:  Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks, Colm Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen
Format:  Color, Widescreen
DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

"But remember this my brother, see in this some higher plan, you must use this precious silver, to become an honest man." -- The Bishop

"But the tigers come at night, with their voices soft as thunder, as they tear your hope apart, as they turn your dream to shame. ...  There are dreams that cannot be, there are storms we cannot weather.  I had a dream my life would be, so different from this hell I'm living.  So different from what it seemed, now life has killed the dream I dreamed."  -- Fantine

"You know nothing of Javier, I was born inside a jail.  I was born with scum like you, I am from the gutter, too!"  -- Javier

"...how your world might be changed in one burst of light, and what was right seems wrong and what was wrong seems right."  -- Marius

"But now there's a higher cause.  Who cares about your lonely soul?  We strive towards a larger goal, our little lives don't count at all." -- Enjolras

Les Misérables is a sung musical, meaning that nearly every line in the film is sung, rather than the majority of the film being spoken and acted, only to break for the musical numbers.  However, because everyone is always singing everything in the film, the singing quickly becomes part of the reality of the film, and the audience becomes used to it and accepts it.  Also, the characters are often singing their hearts out, and many of the best songs in the film are actually soliloquies.

The film is based on the long-running stage musical (which ran in both New York on Broadway, and in London on the West End), which is turn is based on a novel by Victor Hugo.  The story though is about redemption, about mercy, about love for one's child, and about how tiny kindnesses or tiny slights can have vast effects on a person's life.

The film opens with Jean Valjean and a group of convicts in the rain pulling ropes to right a capsized ship.  Inspector Javert looks on, then orders Jean Valjean to bring him the French flag.  Valjean does this by lifting the entire broken ship's mast -- a very heavy, long, wooden mast.  Javert then gives "Prisoner 24601" his yellow ticket of leave.  Jean Valjean is at first excited that he has finally gained his freedom after nineteen years a slave to the law - his crime breaking into a house to steal bread to feed his sister's starving child.  However, he is only placed on parole - ordered from place to place by the French police and military.  Jean Valjean soon discovers no one will offer work to a convict, and he can't even find food or a place to sleep.

Still desperately trying to live, Jean Valjean, drops into a local church, where the bishop (Colm Wilinson, originator of the role of Jean Valjean on Broadway), offers him food and a place to sleep for the night.  Yet, in the middle of the night, he awakes and steals the bishop's silver.  He's immediately caught and brought in front of the bishop.  The bishop shocks Jean Valjean by lying for him, confirming his story to the police that he "gave" his silver to him.  The bishop then also gives him his silver candlesticks, and dismisses the police.  But for his mercy, the bishop demands that Valjean must become a better man.

Valjean goes into the church to contemplate his fate and his future.  He ends by tearing up his yellow papers which brand him a convict.

Eight years later, in Montreul, Valjean, now using the name M. LeMer, owns a factory employing hundreds, and is mayor of the town.  In his factory, Fantine is one of the female workers.  She continues to refuse the advances of the foreman.  When she receives a letter, a rival female worker steals it and reads it aloud.  Upon learning Fantine has a child, she attacks her.  The two fight and Fantine shouts back that the woman has a husband and "something on the side".  Enraged, the woman attacks again.  Valjean arrives and is about to deal with the problem - then he sees Javert and goes to his office instead, leaving his foreman to settle matters, though he admonishes him to show mercy.  The foreman sacks Fantine, and kicks her out in the cold.

Meanwhile, Valjean meets with Javert who introduces himself, remarks that he's been noticed as an excellent mayor, and gives him papers introducing himself and his transfer as officer of the law for the town.  Valjean is a bit nervous, but accepts him.  There's a shout from the street and Valjean runs outside.  A man is trapped under a collapsed cart.  Though the cart is quite heavy, Valjean lifts it to free the man and save his life.  Javert looks on, suspiciously.

Meanwhile, Fantine struggles to support herself.  She sells her jewelry, her hair, her teeth, and finally gives in and sells herself.  Fantine's soliloquy, "I Dreamed a Dream", tells her story and contrasts the golden summer of her youth with the hell she's now living.  Hathaway's performance is strong and makes the audience feel sympathetic to her, rather than feel sorry for her.  And won her several "Best Supporting Actress" awards.  Later, wearing the sleeveless red dress of a prostitute, a man attacks Fantine.  When Javier arrives the man claims she attacked him.  But Valjean also arrives, and upon learning the woman once worked in his factory, he takes pity on her and takes her to a hospital.  He also learns she has a daughter, living with an innkeeper and his wife.

Later, Javert presents himself to Valjean, admonishing himself for making a false report, and telling Valjean that "Prisoner 24601" has been caught, so he apologises for thinking "M. LeMer" was Valjean.

This leaves Valjean in a moral dilemma.  He cannot allow another man to go to prison in his place, yet his workers depend on him.  In the end, Valjean decides he cannot allow an innocent man to be jailed in his place.  He goes to the court, and admits he is "Prisoner 24601".  But then he leaves the court and goes to the hospital to see Fantine.  There, he finds Fantine dying.  He promises to find and care for her child.  She promises her to his care.  At the hospital, Javert arrives.  They confront each other.  Jean Valjean pleads for three days to find, take care of, and make arrangements for Cosette.  Javert pretty much says, "Are you kidding?" and draws his sword.  Valjean defends himself with a wooden beam and escapes by jumping into the water.

Jean Valjean travels to the inn, and pays the Thénerdiers' fifteen hundred for their "sacrifice" of keeping Cosette.  Madame Thénerdier had been abusive of Cosette, treating her like a slave while spoiling her own daughter, Éponine.  M. Thénerdier had cared so little for her - he couldn't get her name right.  Valjean and Cosette leave, taking a horse-drawn couch to Paris.  The flight to Paris features the one new song from the film that isn't in the original musical, "Suddenly, You're Here".

Javier, having lost Valjean again, sings "Stars", his own soliloquy.  He's on a roof, and the song begins with a large, stone eagle behind him.  As he sings, he walks on the top of the stone balustrade, seemingly careless of the result if he fell.  He swears he will catch Valjean.  "Stars" is a beautiful song, and one of my favorites from both the film and the musical.

In 1832 Paris, Valjean and now teenaged Cosette, have made a life for themselves.  Times are hard, as the people are suffering.  Marius, Enjolras, and a group of students are disgusted with the state of affairs, and try to raise the people in rebellion.

One day, Marius sees Cosette on the street.  She and Valjean are handing out alms to the poor.  They also run into the Thénerdiers.  Meanwhile, Éponine lives in the same rooming house as Marius, and knows that his father is rich.  She's also trapped in the gang of thieves led by her parents, the Thénerdiers.  Javier is also in Paris, and still obsessed with catching Jean Valjean.

When Marius arrives in the wine shop, his fellow students tease him about falling in love at first sight with a girl whom he doesn't even know.  But his best friend, Enjolras, is actually angry.  As staged in the film, "Red and Black" actually becomes an argument between Marius (who's just fallen in love and is beginning to re-think things) and Enjolras and the other students, who want to start a revolution.  When young Gavroche arrives to tell them the people's hero, General LeMarque is dead, the students all agree - they will raise the barricades at his funeral.

Cosette gets her turn at a soliloquy, "In My Life", as she realises she's also fallen in love at first sight.  The song, "In My Life", transitions from Cosette to Marius, to Éponine, to a duet of Cosette and Marius.  That night she and Marius meet in her garden.

The Thénerdiers' gang plans on robbing Valjean's house, Éponine stops them by screaming to attract attention, but Valjean thinks Javert has discovered him, and tells Cosette they must leave and move on.  Cosette is angry and hurt, as she's just fallen for Marius.

Éponine, realising that Marius will never fall for her, sings her soliloquy, "On My Own", in the rain.

Everyone then sings, "One Day More", anticipating the coming battle in the morning.

At General LeMarque's funeral, the people sing, "Do You Hear the People Sing?" and the barricades are raised.  The students rush to the barricades.  Javier sneaks around to discover what is going on, and wears a French tricolor boutonniere.  Javier lies to the students about the army's plans.  Gavroche however, recognizes him, and tells everyone he's "Inspector Javier".  The students attack Javier who attacks back, and finally he's at the students mercy as the soldiers advance.  Battle breaks out.

Éponine sacrifices herself to save Marius from being shot.  She gives Marius Cosette's letter.  Marius gives Gavroche a letter, who gives it to Jean Valjean.  Valjean has to figure out what to do, and he decides to go to the barricade.  Enjolras gives Javert to Valjean.  Javert taunts Valjean to kill him.  Valjean sets Javert free with no conditions, he evens offers his address.

As night falls, the students drink wine and sing the melancholy, "Drink with Me".  Valjean also sings, "Bring Him Home", praying for Marius' safety, for Cosette's sake, and sees him as his son.  In his prayer, Jean Valjean offers his own life to save Marius and bring him home to Cosette.

The next day, Marius and the students are the only barricade left.  The people never rose up, not liking the odds.  The rain has ruined their gunpowder.  Enjolras, knowing their situation to be hopeless, urges those who wish to, to leave.  Gavroche sings one line of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" and the students stay for a desperate last stand.  Gavroche then goes out to get ammunition from the dead bodies before the barricade.  He's shot dead by an French army soldier.  One of the older students, presumably his father, is devastated.  The soldiers give them the opportunity to give up.  Enjolras encourages a last stand.

There's a last minute battle.  One by one the students die.  The soldiers bring in cannons to blow-up the barricade.  The rest of the students are killed, Enjolras raises his banner, and is shot dead.

Javier sees the death, walking among the row of impossibly young people lying dead in a row on the street.  He pins his own medal on Gavroche, and is completely disgusted by the death and waste.

Jean Valjean carries a wounded Marius away through the sewers.

In the sewers, Thénerdier steals from the dead.

Javier and Valjean confront each other.  Valjean pleads for mercy for Marius, so he can get him to a doctor.  Javier lets Valjean go, then commits suicide by jumping off a dam.  Javier's final soliloquy makes it clear that he can't stand Valjean's mercy, that Valjean had saved his life, or that his entire life dedicated to law and order has become such as sham, as so many young children were killed in the rebellion.

Marius is brought to a doctor.  Marius sings "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables", a lament for his friends he's lost, though the film does not use the "ghosts" behind him, used to great effect in the stage musical.  Cosette comes to Marius.  Marius offers Valjean a home with he and Cosette.  Valjean refuses, and explains who he really is.  Jean Valjean leaves and goes to a convent, seeking sanctuary.

Cosette and Marius marry.  The Thénerdiers  arrive to cause trouble, and to bribe Marius, but Marius realises instead that Valjean had saved his life at the barricade.  At the convent, Valjean is dying.  He hears Fantine's voice, then she appears.  Cosette and Marius arrive and say their final farewells.  Fantine leads Jean Valjean to the light.  "Do You Hear the People Sing?" is reprised as Jean Valjean joins Fantine, Gavroche, Enjolras, and all the other dead characters on the barricade, singing in the sun.

I saw Les Misérables on opening night in 2012, in a packed theater, with people of all ages.  I think I started crying during "Red and Black" and I don't think I really stopped until the end of the film.  Every time I started to not cry, the woman next to me started, and before long we were both sobbing again.  But I don't think there was a dry eye in the house.  I cried when I saw it the second time in the theater.  When I bought the DVD, I watched the commentary track first -- and still managed to cry while concentrating on Tom Hooper's description of making the film.  Even while taking notes in preparation for this review - I cried during, "Do You Hear the People Sing?"  The film is that moving and beautiful and stirring.  But it's also a very moral film.  By giving his silver to Jean Valjean, the Bishop shows him mercy that he had never seen and completely changes his life.  Later, Valjean must sacrifice everything to spare an innocent man mistaken for him, to rescue Fantine (who's downfall was his own fault - he'd been too wrapped up in his own problems to notice hers) and most importantly to save Cosette.  Raising Fantine's child, not only does he come to love her, but he rescues Marius and gives him to her because he loves her, and knows he must let her go.

Meanwhile, Javert, as played by Russell Crowe, is considerably more sympathetic than in the two stage productions of  Les Misérables, I've seen.  Javert isn't evil, but he's overly concerned with fulfilling the letter of the law, without any care to extenuating circumstances.  Javert at the beginning of the film, doesn't care that Valjean stole to feed his sister's starving children.  He honestly believes it's better to starve and die then  to resort to crime to live.  When Valjean shows him mercy, letting him go at the barricade, and covering it up with a gunshot directed away from the inspector, Javert cannot understand it, and begins to become unhinged.  When he catches Valjean and Marius, and Valjean pleads for mercy - Javert grants it, but decides he cannot live in Valjean's world.  Javert is incapable of seeing the grey of the real world, and only sees black and white.  However, whereas such a character is often portrayed as "evil" or "hated" - Crowe gives him depth and makes him understandable and sympathetic.

This is a beautiful film.  It's not to be missed.  I highly, highly recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Iron Man 3