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

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Inception


  • Title:  Inception
  • Director:  Christopher Nolan
  • Date:  2010
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  SF, Action, Thriller
  • Cast:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"What is the most resilient parasite?  A bacteria, a virus, an intestinal worm? ... An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold in the brain - it's almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood, that sticks."  -- Cobb

"Do you want to take a leap of faith? Or become an old man - filled with regret, waiting to die alone?" - Saito

"It's the chance to build cathedrals, entire cities, things that never existed, things that couldn't exist in the real world." - Cobb

Inception is a film about dreams, but it is not the typical film about dreams - such as the person who dreams of being a famous musician then becomes one, or the young man who dreams of becoming a professional sports player - then makes his dream come true.  This film is literally about dreams, and as such, the entire film is a commentary on films themselves.  But for all the meta implications, it's not a nod-nod-wink-wink type of film that pokes fun at anything.  Rather it suggests a type of caper film, though the caper doesn't take place in the physical world at all.

Cobb (DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are professional extractors - men who, for a price, will enter a person's dreams to steal information, often as a form of corporate espionage. However, in this case, when their plans don't quite work out, the man they are trying to steal from instead hires the two for Inception - the concept of planting an idea in someone's head, so that they themselves believe that they came up with the idea - themselves.  Like many other caper films, after some debate among themselves, Cobb and Arthur agree to perform the crime - Arthur, because he knows the corporation that hired them in the first place will kill them for being unsuccessful, and Cobb because he's a wanted man - and Saito has promised to make his charges go away so he can return home and to his own children, if he's successful.

Cobb and Arthur to find their crew for this special job:  a chemist - to create a special sedative to put the victim under during the crime, Eames - a spy and con-man - to gather information on the victim, an architect - to build the triple-layered dream world, Arthur, and Cobb.  Their architect is Ariadne, a young student of Miles - Cobb's old teacher, and the grandfather of his children - Phillipa and James.  Arthur and Cobb train Ariadne in shared dreaming.  Cobb finds the chemist and an old friend who becomes their spy and investigator.

The "heist" involves getting Fischer - the victim - on a ten hour flight, slipping him a mickey, then entering his dreams.  The dream will be three layers or levels deep, and at each stage, the crew - specifically Cobb and Arthur (with some assistance from Eames) work different angles into their con to convince Fischer Jr that he should break-up and sell his father's near monopoly energy company so he can become his own man by building something new.  In the end, Cobb and Ariadne end-up going to a fourth level - Limbo, or the subconscious - for two reasons, for Saito - who was shot in the first level of the dream, then died in the third level (normally dying in a dream would wake up the dreamer - but not when under sedation) and so Cobb can confront his dead wife, Mal - who's been haunting him throughout the film.  In fact, as the film goes on - it becomes less about the plot to convince Fischer Jr to break-up his father's company, and more about the question of Mal and Cobb and just what happened between them.

Inception is also circular in nature. The film opens with Cobb washed up on a beach, captured by Asian gunmen, and taken to a wealthy, older Asian man. We will learn this is Saito, who has lived for years in his subconscious world, because time moves differently in the dream world as to the real world. The film, at the end circles back to Cobb on the beach, and Cobb confronting the Asian man. But then the film adds a couple of scenes at the end that leave the film mysterious and open-ended.

The second major point about the film, Inception, and the reason I can watch it over and over again, is it is visually stunning.  Where else would you see roads folding in on themselves? An endless staircase? A freight train moving through a crowded downtown city street? Or the vanishing point of a set being revealed as a mirror, then being moved by a character to form an infinity box?  Yet these impossible scenes, rather than breaking the fourth wall in the traditional sense, are used to clearly show that a particular moment which seemed "real" is actually part of a dream - so they fit into the larger world of the film.  It is truly a visual masterpiece of film.

Recommendation:  Must see!
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Memento

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Prestige


  • Title:  The Prestige
  • Director:  Christopher Nolan
  • Date 2006
  • Studio:  Touchstone, Warner Brothers
  • Genres:  Drama, SF, Historical
  • Cast:  Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, David Bowie, Andy Serkis, Mark Ryan, William Morgan Sheppard
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray, R1
"But you wouldn't clap yet, because making something disappear isn't enough, you have to bring it back.  That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call... The Prestige." - Mr. Cutter, narrating

"I love you." - Alfred Borden
"Not today.  Well, some days it's not true, and today you don't mean it.  Maybe today you're more in love with magic than me.  I like being able to tell the difference, it makes the days it is true mean something." - Sarah Borden

"I don't want to kill doves." - Robert Angier
"Then stay off stage.  You're a magician not a wizard.  You gotta' get your hands dirty if you're going to achieve the impossible." - Mr. Cutter

"I can recognize an obsession, no good will come of it." - Nikola Tesla

"The truly extra-ordinary is not permitted in science and industry.  Perhaps, you'll find more luck in your field - where people are happy to be mystified." - Tesla

The Prestige is a film about envy, jealousy, and obsession. But rather than jealousy over someone else's relationship with a third person; or obsession with a person, The Prestige is about professional jealousy and obsession with an idea. Add to that it's unusual structure, and it's a fascinating film, that's intriguing to watch.

This is the story of two stage magicians in the 1890s. They start off as friends, working with an ingenue (or magic trick designer) and a female magician (Julia, played by Piper Perabo) who is married to one of them (Angiers, played by Hugh Jackman). Bordan (Bale) seems to be jealous of Angiers relationship with his wife, though this is not obviously stated. And when Julia dies performing a water-tank trick, after Bordan tied her hands - Angiers becomes angry and blames Bordan for the accident. However, this definitely doesn't become your cut-and-dried "you killed my wife - I'm going to get revenge" film. Even by the end of the film, we don't really know if Bordan deliberately tied the wrong knot or if it really was an accident. However, the death of Julia is the spark that turns a friendship into a rivalry - and then into professional jealousy, and finally into obsession. As the film unfolds Angiers and Bordan both one-up each other, and both simply do horrible things to each other - physically harming each other, undercutting each other's stage acts, and simply just not letting the rivalry rest but escalating it with each act of the film.

The structure of the film is also different.  It starts with the end, then tells the story through a series of interweaving flashbacks that tell the story in short scenes that not only move forward and back in time, but change point of view as well.  The film begins with Angiers dying in a stage magician's trick and Bordan being arrested and charged with his murder.  The flashbacks explain their history, their rivalry, and Angiers growing obsession with Bordan's trick:  The Transported Man. Angiers follows his obsession to Colorado where he meets Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) and his assistant Alley (Andy Serkis), whom he convinces to build a special machine for him. Angiers both gets what he wants and gets much more than he bargained for. But, as the story unfolds - and different parts of the story are told first from Angiers point of view and then from Bordan's, the audience learns more and more about these characters - the doomed characters.

Because the flashbacks are interweaving, as an audience member, not only is one forced to pay very close attention in order to follow the film - but one is also, constantly rearranging the scenes in one's head.  Especially the first time I watched this film, as I watched it, I found myself thinking, "OK, so this goes before that, and this goes before that, etc."  But unlike other films with a lot of editing and scenes that aren't presented in chronological order - with The Prestige, that the film's story is essentially presented in reverse order before returning to the present and then again turning on a dime, everything in the story is crystal clear.  You will not be confused by the story - at all, once you get used to the style and concentrate on the plot.

I'm determined to not spoil this excellent film, but it is also very dark and even somewhat disturbing. To explain just what is going on, and how, would destroy the experience of seeing this film.  It's excellent, with an excellent cast, incredible direction, and it's very thought-provoking. However, it is very, very dark.  I mean, I've seen film noir before, but the final implications of this film really push the envelope into disturbing territory. Oh, and by disturbing - I do not in any way mean "gross" or bloody, or any of the typical tropes of horror. I wouldn't even call this a horror film. Do not avoid this film simply because of a prejudice against horror - that is not what it is at all.

Recommendation:   See it
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Inception

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Justice League War

  • Title:  Justice League War 
  • Director:  Jay Oliva
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2014
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre(s):  Action, Fantasy, Animation
  • Cast:  Sean Astin, Christopher Gorham, Justin Kirk, Michelle Managhan, Shemar Moore, Jason O'Mara, Alan Tudyk, Ioan Gruffudd
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray
"They don't like us much!" - Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
"The world's afraid of us." - Batman
"You say that like its a good thing." - Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
"It's necessary." - Batman

"Superman's close, I've been tracking his flight path." -Batman
"Pfft, on what?  Your own satellite?" - Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
[pause, as Batman checks an electronic gadget]
"I was kidding.  You have a satellite?!" -  Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)

With Justice League War Warner Brothers Animation moves from creating animated DC Comics films based on classic Silver Age (and early modern age) DC Comics, to making films based on the New 52.  Justice League War is a perfect case in point, as it is based on the graphic novel Justice League Volume 1 Origin (which is, in turn, really just a compilation of issues 1-6), written by Geoff Johns, penciled by Jim Lee, and inked by Scott Williams.

The first time I watched War I was impressed, the animation is good, and I felt the story did what it needed to do - introduce a big enough threat to bring together all seven superheroes who, until that time, had only been working in their own respective cities. These heroes, including new hero, (Victor Stone) must over-come their distrust and fear of each other and learn to work together to overcome Darkseid, his Parademons, and his lieutenant, Desaad.

However, the second time I watched this, last night, I was considerably less impressed. Yes, the animation is gorgeous.  And it's nice to see older DC elements, like mother box and boom tubes, brought back.  And if one needs a really big threat, it doesn't get much bigger than Darkseid. Yes, this is essentially a re-boot.  And, DC Comics, has rebooted it's universe before.  They're somewhat famous for it, actually.  Personally, I actually started reading DC Comics when they re-booted the universe after Crisis on Infinite Earths.  That was a great time to start reading comics - everything was new, you didn't need to know the long complicated history, even the books started at number 1.  I imagine, now, there are people who did the same thing for New 52 - they started there, and don't know (or care) about the Silver Age and post-Crisis on Infinite Earths books I read and loved in college (just like when I started reading DC I didn't care if a story was set on Earth 16 or Earth 2 or whatever).  And that is perfectly OK.  I see no need to rain on their parade.

But, as a fan of the Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths era, I really don't like New 52.  There, I said it, I don't.  Justice League War, especially on repeat viewing, is a perfect example of why I don't like New 52.  War, is, as the title suggests - full of battles and wisecracks.  I've watched other DC animated films (Justice League:  Doom is a perfect example) where I also felt there was too much of an emphasis on fights and not enough on character - but at least in Doom, there is character.  And, it's the flaws in the characters that are exploited and must be overcome that are central to the plot.  That keeps me riveted to the screen.  But in Justice League War, not only is the majority of the film fight scene after fight scene, but the characters are pretty much stereotypes - not the DC characters we know and love.  Hal Jordan, rather than being a man who knows no fear (and intergalactic police officer for the Green Lantern Corps) is reduced to "the one with the funny quips and lines".  Barry Allen, the Flash, is "the one who's the nice guy next door".  Wonder Woman is the overly naïve "little girl" type.  Superman is "the angry one"; I mean, seriously - Was that even supposed to be Clark Kent?  Because he sounds like Young Justice's Conner Kent.  Billy Batson (Shazam), well, actually, he's got the same "little kid in a big body" quality he's always had - but then, that is what he's supposed to be.  Cyborg is"'the new guy".  And even Batman is "the only one who knows what's going on / the parent".  These aren't our much-loved characters - they are stereotypes. Even in the last line of the film, Wonder Woman describes her fellow heroes as iconotypes by comparing them to the Greek gods.  (Jung would call these archetypes and it is a fair and valid comparison.) But I found the lack of real character a major disappointment. Creating great characters, not only the major characters, but the minor characters, has always been a strength of DC Comics.  I feel New 52 falls short of the mark.  Though this is an origin film, and it's always possible that there will be improvement as the series develops.

Justice League War also cuts frequently from scene to scene as the various heroes fight Parademons in whatever city they happen to be in, before joining together to fight Darkseid, Desaad, and more Parademons.  And in fighting together, the seven Justice League (a term never used in the film) founders, do learn to work together.  They do learn that cooperation is very important, as is teamwork.  Perhaps the series will improve.

Recommendation:  See it, if you want to stay up to date with New 52
Rating:  3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Prestige


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Superman Unbound


  • Title:  Superman Unbound
  • Director:  James Tucker
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Action, Animation
  • Cast:  Matt Bomer, John Noble, Stana Katic, Molly Quinn
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"Must be awful being you.  Most powerful man in the world, and you still can't control the women in your life."  - Lois to Clark

"I am the knowledge and strength of 10,000 worlds, and flesh and machine.  I am becoming everything." - Brainiac

"I think it's a bug in his programming, that cyborg core inside him, it wants to know everything there is to know in the Galaxy."  - Jor-El
"So he said." - Superman
"But that's impossible, worlds are living things, their knowledge is always growing and changing.  So, he has to stop them, turn them into these fake versions instead.  You can't control a living thing without destroying what's alive about it." - Jor-El

The animation in Superman Unbound is of very high quality, especially in the space scenes, and it's much better than the poor animation in Justice League:  The Flashpoint Paradox. But I was very happy to see quality animation again, after the disappointing Flash film.  This film features Supergirl (Kara) Superman's cousin, as well as Superman, and the villian Brainiac, and is based on the graphic novel, Superman:  Brainiac, by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank.

The film's opening gambit has Supergirl and Superman rescuing Lois Lane from military kidnappers in black.  Lois complains that she has to keep her relationship with Clark Kent a secret.

Then a meteor falls towards Pheonix.  However, it isn't a meteor but a probe, occupied by a killer robot and with an transmitter.  Superman defeats the robot, and destroys the transmitter and probe - but brings the robot to his Fortress of Solitude to study. There he runs into Kara, his cousin, aka Supergirl, who is freaked out.  She recognizes the robot as having attacked her home city of Kandor on Krypton and causing the city to completely disappear.  She tells Superman the villain's name, Brainiac and that he will do the same to Metropolis on Earth.

Superman leaves Earth to deal with Brainiac before he gets to Earth, and Supergirl deals with issues on Earth, except in Metropolis.  Eventually, Lois uses Jimmy's emergency call watch, and Supergirl arrives.  Lois confronts her about avoiding Metropolis, to which Supergirl warns her to get out of the city, visit the Kent's farm in Smallville - go anywhere, just leave.  Lois gets Kara to open up and finds out she's afraid Brainiac will take Metropolis and destroy Earth, like he did Krypton.

Meanwhile, Superman listens to a recording of a Kryptonian science report on Brainiac and travels to another planet where he's attacking.  Superman helps destroy the robots on the alien planet.  However, the planet's sun explodes and Superman is stunned unconscious and taken aboard Brainiac's ship.  He awakens in a lab and destroys the robots analyzing him.  Superman discovers cities in bell jars and "specimens" stored on Brainiac's ship.  He discovers Kandor also in a bottle.  Superman runs into Brainiac, fights him, loses because he doesn't have as much strength away from a yellow sun, and is transported inside Kandor.  However, in his scan of Superman's thoughts, Brainiac learns of Earth and heads his ship (shaped like a giant, black metal skull) there.

Inside Kandor, the micro sized city hasn't changed in over thirty years, plus it has a red sun, so Superman's powers are limited.  But he discovers Kara's parents, who fill him in some on Brainiac.  He's a cyborg with cybernetic and computer parts.  But, Kor-El believes the system has a "bug" - because Brainiac want's to know everything - an impossible task in an ever-changing galaxy.  So, Brainiac has become an obsessive collector instead, stealing a world's knowledge, taking a city and it's inhabitants for his collection, then destroying the world so it cannot change.  The city becomes locked in a bell jar, like a preserved butterfly on a board.  Superman manages to escape Kandor, but promises to return and rescue the Kryptonian city.  Recharged by another yellow sun, Superman picks up the bottle Kandor, and starts destroying Brainiac's ship, before taking Kandor to his Fortress of Solitude.

Brianiac awakes and repairs his damaged ship.

Superman tells Kara her parents are alive inside Kandor, and he plans to take the city to a habitable planet with a red sun.

Brainiac and his robots attack Earth, and take Metropolis the way he had taken Kandor. Superman and Supergirl fight Brainiac and his robots. Superman defeats Brainiac by flooding him with sensations - sounds, smells, the feel of mud, et cetera.  Meanwhile, Supergirl stops the missile that Brainiac had fired from his ship at the sun.  Once Brainiac is defeated, Metropolis is returned to it's normal spot, as is Kandor.  Kara is reunited with her parents.  At the end, Clark proposes to Lois in the Daily Planet newsroom.

The animation in this film was excellent, and the voice cast did an excellent job.  I liked that Brainiac was more of a obsessive collector of cities, intelligent beings, and information, rather than simply knowledge and information.  And the plot made it clear, it wasn't gathering information that was an issue, but how Brainiac went about it.  Essentially, Brainiac was like a Victorian natural history student, cataloging, in this case, the galaxy. Though, that plot also reminded me, strongly, of the Doctor Who episode, "Ghost Light".   One thing that concerned me was that Superman seemed to have very little concern for all the other cities on Brainiac's ship - at one point he tries to destroy the ship, despite all the other cities with presumably living "specimens" inside.  Later, Superman mentions resettling all the other cities on habitable planets - but I wondered if he realized what a big job that would be - there were hundreds of bell jars, from hundreds of planets.  I wondered why Superman didn't call in the Green Lantern Corps to help - it's exactly the sort of thing they are trained for.  But still, overall, it's a good movie with a lot of action and battles.  Superman fans will probably really love it.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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