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307 reviews in total 
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Heck of a lot better than I thought it might be!, 27 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I will admit to being a naysayer when this was announced. This was based on two things: the previous aborted attempts by people either previously involved (Richard Hatch) or with good pedigrees (Bryan Singer); and, the fact that it was being done on the Sci-Fi Channel. I wasn't overly impressed with a lot of their stuff, so this looked like yet another attempt to beat a dead horse. Boy, was I surprised; but, only after the show was over and I had been bombarded with a lot of critical praise.

I liked the fact that they did pay tribute to the original, but actually had a plan in mind of where everything would lead. The original lost its way pretty early on and devolved into "homage" episodes. This version had some homages here and there, but mostly tread their own path. What they had in spades was thoughtful examination of many post 9/11 events, as well as the philosophical underpinnings of society and democracy. They didn't shy away from having their heroes get a bit dirty, morally, yet never made them complete cynics, either. It didn't skew too heavily to the Right or the Left, making fair points on both sides along the way

The cast do an excellent job and I was fine with changing some of the character genders for diversity sake. They created unique characters that could stand on their own, despite sharing a name with someone from the original. Call it an alternate universe and let it go at that. Edward James Olmos especially stands out as someone who seems like a real leader, not just the authority figure. In fact, this is one of the few dramatic series that really explores the concept of leadership.

Another aspect that I enjoyed was the attention to details, especially military ones. Military life requires certain things that set it apart from civilian life and they captured that. You give up a lot of freedom and comfort in the name of working together as a team and because of the reality of your job. I was a naval officer and the depiction here invoked a lot of memories. They definitely had good advisers. They also didn't shy away from showing that every society has its good and bad points, the military included. They showed that a uniform didn't make you a hero, your actions do, and that sometimes the right decision is the hardest to live with.

All in all, this was a very exciting and thoughtful series, that certainly earned its place in the list of quality television and sci-fi.

Great little movie that gives a realistic view of soldiers in combat., 16 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The Odd Angry Shot is a small Australian film that highlights the lives of Australian soldiers during the Vietnam War. To a large segment of America, it is surprising to discover that we weren't the only ones in the war. Australian soldiers were also there (as were soldiers from the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Taiwan). The film looks at a group of friends from the Australian Special Air Service Regiment. Like the UK, the Australian SAS are the Australian Army's top special forces unit, and they were a tough, professional group.

The film showcases the camaraderie of the men, as they swap jokes, while killing time in camp. That is, until a mortar attack hammers home that they are in a war. Things start to get more serious as they move out into the jungle for patrols, which seem to accomplish little, except increase casualties.

The film makes a strong anti-war statement by showcasing how soldiers get through things, by fighting for each other, since the geopolitics don't make sense. Lead actor Graham Kennedy gets to express a lot of soldier's sentiments about how politicians dump them into the mess, while they just try to stay alive and get back home. Many veterans throughout the world can sympathize with those words.

The film was rather low budget and looks sparse, compared to bigger American productions, like Apocalypse Now and Platoon. However, they got big bang for their buck, thanks to cooperation from the Australian army and by picking strong moments. The battles are small, but the focus is on the tight group within the troop. We see them laugh, fight, party, and cry together, as real soldiers do.

This is definitely one to seek out, rather than some of the more propaganda oriented films of recent years, or some of the bigger budget American films. It's more intimate and less clichéd, with a fine cast of both actors and characters.

Great series, with tons of action and winning characters., 2 June 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Metal Fighter Miku was a TV series, set in the near future, which revolved around women's pro wrestling. Pro Wrestling is one of the top sports in Japan and the female version of it was super hot, from the late 70s through the mid-90s. One of the biggest entertainments draws in Japan was the tag--team of the Crush Gals (Chigusa Nagayo and Lioness Asuka), who were not only wrestling stars but also pop stars, with several hit songs. This series tries to capture some of that, with some sci-fi updating.

The series revolves around a team of rookies, the Pretty Four, who are part of an upstart league. The big league has set up a tournament to crown the champion of champions, with the winner getting a shot at the singles title, held by the legendary Aquamarine. The star of the Pretty Four is Miku, who idolizes Aquamarine. The quartet trains hard for their matches; but they face tough competition. They are soon given a new coach, a gruff drunkard, who happens to be the brother of their current coach. He was also the trainer of Aquamarine.

Each episode focuses on a new lesson learned by Miku and her teammates and a new match. The matches are rather over-the-top, as the ladies where metal suits that enhance their abilities. Each team has a special theme and finishing moves, much like in real pro wrestling. The Pretty Four's chief rivals are the Moonlight Jewels, led by Sapphire, who is the daughter of the organizer of the tournament. The series ultimately builds to a battle between the Pretty Four and the Jewels, after some dirty tricks. Miku and Sapphire face off, with the winner to meet Aquamarine, for the title, in an even more epic struggle.

The characters are likable and there is a bit of a Rocky vibe, filtered through a traditional Japanese lens; that of the sports drama. teamwork, tough training, and fighting spirit are emphasized throughout. There are healthy doses of humor along the way, and a tiny bit of romance (which is the weakest part of the series). The designs are inventive, making the matches have different flavors. All in all, it's a good, solid, entertaining production. It won't win awards, but it's worth the price of purchase. It's certainly better booked than the current American pro wrestling product.

Decent micro-view of the original, 2 June 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman (Science Ninja Team Gatchaman), aka Gatchaman, aka Battle of the Planets, aka G-Force, Guardians of Space, was a legendary and groundbreaking animated adventure series. It set the tone for every heroic adventure series that followed; not just in animation, but also in the live action realm, spawning the Sentai/Super Sentai shows, which came to the US as the Power Rangers. Gatchaman created the template: a team of young heroes (at least one female), with color- coordinated costumes and heightened abilities, unique weapons and vehicles, a super weapon that required the entire team's cooperation, and an alien villain. For 105 episodes, it thrilled audiences with action, mature storytelling, and an epic saga. That was 1972. 20 Years later, the series was revisited.

This Gatchaman was a 3-part OVA (Original Video Anime) series, with redesigned models for the characters and vehicles. The story was updated, though the basic plot remained the same. The story was broken down into 3 key portions, from the original series. Episode one adapts the premiere of Gatchaman, with Galactor attacking a secure site, with the Turtle King mecha (a giant robotic weapon and mobile base). The Gatchaman team is assembled and it infiltrates the mecha, only to be caught. They proceed to open a can of whoop-a## on the Galactor soldiers, and Ken, the leader of the team, bests the Galactor captain in combat. However, the team is blocked while trying to escape the Turtle King and have to use the experimental Firebird form. Episode two revolves around Gatchaman facing off against a special Galactor strike team, where they find themselves aided by the mysterious Red Impulse and his team. In the final episode, we learn of Joe's past history with Galactor, and his infiltration of their base; as well as the identity of the Red Impulse. This leads to the climactic battle to stop Galactor's scheme.

The new designs are sleek and the action is exciting and recalls the original series. However, the pacing is a bit haphazard and there is a lot of exposition dumped on the viewer, since it doesn't play out over 105 episodes. The producers try to cram a lot into the 3 episodes and it buckles under the weight, here and there. Also, they don't get much of a chance to flesh out the characters, apart from Joe (who was always the fan favorite and one of the key emotional centers of the team). Berg Katse especially suffers, as the villain never really gets to play a strong role. Also, the true nature of the character is just kind of thrown out there, without much buildup. One of the strengths of the TV series was the ongoing mystery of Katse's identity.

The OVA also uses some CGI to update things, especially Sosai X, the alien entity that guides Katse. It appears as a CGI pyramid, which ends up being pretty jarring. I suppose the glaring difference was meant to make it even more other-worldly; but, it mostly just has you shaking your head. The line animation is handled in a much better manner and the CGI looks cheap in comparison.

In the end, it's a decent encapsulation of the original, without really adding much to the mix. It doesn't really break any new ground, other than to update the look. Meanwhile, some of the music is really out of place, such as the end-credits song. There is a techno version of the original Gatchaman theme that is vastly superior, at the very end of the production.

This series was part of a trend of revisiting anime from the 60s and 70s. Other Tatsunoko properties, such as Mach Go Go Go (Speed Racer), Casshan, and Polymer all had updated OVAs or TV series. None of them really captured the flavor of the originals. Like Hollywood, Japanese media haven't quite grasped that you can't recapture lightning in a bottle.

If you want a sleeker, more modern version of Gatchaman, this will suffice. If you want epic storytelling, get the original.

Gatchaman (2013)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Different take on the classics series, 2 June 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I'm a huge fan of Gatchaman, going way back, so I was interested to see this film, based on the trailer. It's definitely not the original story. It's been tweaked quite a bit, although the basic elements are still there. The Earth has been attacked by an outside force, although here it is a virus that has altered part of the population, who are then destroying and subjugating the rest. Conventional weapons seem useless; but five young heroes lead the charge. The enemy, Galactor, is led by a mysterious being, known as Berg Katse. That's all still there; but the rest is decidedly different.

The Gatchaman team aren't so much the product of technology as they are the conduit for some kind of energy gem, which gives them their heightened abilities. However, only a select few can harness the power of the gems and only these gems an defeat Galctor's soldiers. It's gets more convoluted and the movies run time doesn't really sort things out well. It suffers from the same problem that the 1994 OVA series had, in that it is trying to cover the same ground as the 1972 TV series, which spanned 105 episodes. It gets rather confusing.

The look of the film is very much influenced by the redesigns from the OVA. The costumes and the Phoenix share pretty much that same look. Galactor and Berg Katse have been significantly altered. It's also rather darkly shot, during much of the action. This, coupled with quick edits, makes it hard to really follow the action.

The story is a mixed bag. The film starts out with some cryptic exposition, which raises more questions than it answers, then moves right into the action, with a Galctor assault on Tokyo and the International Science Organization, the parent body of the Gatchaman team. After that, we get more exposition and backstory, and a heavy focus on the emotional element of the story, the conflict between Ken and George, as well as the looming presence of Katse and Galactor. It seemingly takes forever to get to the climax. The structure isn't much different from the average TV episode, as they hit you with action, character drama, then an epic climax. Same thing here, though the drama seems protracted and never really seems to resolve itself. In many ways, the movie reminded me more of the Super Sentai shows that drew inspiration from Gatchaman, rather than the original series. The biggest change is the nature of Berg Katse. Without giving things away, it has elements of the original, but they are pieced together in a much different manner.

In the end, I thought it was a decent attempt, but felt disappointed. The story needed to be simplified so that it flowed better. The opening section is great; but the middle needed rewriting, paring the story down more. The climax has some good stuff, but it gets confused in sections. Things are left open for a sequel, so we will have to see if one arrives and if it can deliver a tighter story.

Fans of the series will be able to fill in some blanks on their own, though non-fans are likely to be left scratching their heads through most of the film. There are homages to the original; but it tries to be its own thing. It could be a lot worse; but it could also be a lot better. At best, it's an interesting experiment.

Movie version of the TV series., 28 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This Gatchaman was actually a movie, created from existing TV footage and some new, added scenes. It basically consists of three parts: the introduction of the team, Ken aiding the Red Impulse in a clandestine mission, and Joe locating Galactor's base and notifying the team. The initial sequence largely consists of footage from the first episode, where the team battle the Turtle King mecha; first infiltrating the mobile base, then using the Phoenix to destroy it. The middle sequence is made of the two-parter, where Ken is recruited by Red Impulse, to help infiltrate a foreign nation, and uncover Galactor's involvement there. Red Impulse's link to Ken is revealed here. The last part consists of the finale of the series, which was not included in either US adaptation, Battle of the Planets and G-Force, Guardians of Space. Joe, who has a past with Galactor, uncovers the location of the main Galactor base and notifies his team; but, he is captured.

In essence, the film is an encapsulation of the key elements of the series. There are few additional scenes; mainly, Sosai X's arrival on Earth and his creation/modification of Berg Katse. If you enjoyed the series, you will probably enjoy the film. There are a few slow moments, but nothing overwhelming. You won't get as much character development; but it isn't that relevant. The film was used as a teaser for the new Gatchaman series, Gatchaman II, and premiered just before the series launch. Definitely worth seeking out, if you are a fan; but, not essential to enjoy the series.

Compelling, if not completely accurate., 5 February 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This was one of the early wartime films to come out of Hollywood. The battle for Wake Island was still relatively fresh in the minds of the public, and the film uses that to its advantage. Make no mistake, this is propaganda, not history. However, it does a very good job of illustrating the stakes involved for the defenders and a pretty fair assessment of what was in store for the duration.

Brian Donlevy stars as the major who has been placed in command of the Marine detachment on Wake Island. When he arrives, he finds a rather blasé bunch, stuck on an island that seems to have no value, except as a waypoint for the Pan-Am Clippers. William Bendix is a Marine whose enlistment is nearly up and who dreams of going home. Robert Preston is his friend and frequent sparring partner. Albert Dekker is McCloskey, a civilian contractor who has a low opinion of the Marines. It is this group of disparate people who will face the Japanese assault.

The film sets out from the beginning to set you up for heartbreak. We see Donlevy say goodbye to his family, as his daughter gives him a gift of a cigarette case. We also see a young pilot who also says goodbye to his wife. This being Hollywood, we know what will happen. Donlevy takes command and shapes up the base. These scenes are played for both comedy (those involving Bendix and Preston) and to foreshadow the need to work together (Donlevy and Dekker's sparring over authority over the civilians).

The film spends about a third to half of its length establishing the characters, while giving you the overwhelming sense of impending doom, as we see the command welcome the Japanese envoy to Washington. Donlevy has a look of distrust through the entire scene, setting up the coming treachery. Then, the attack comes.

The battle sequences are played for drama and action, but are filled with glaring errors, such as the appearance of biplanes corkscrewing downwards, after we see monoplane "Japanese" aircraft shot out of the sky. The ships are obvious model work, though they are never too glaring. The most ridiculous part is the advance of Japanese soldiers, who walk slowly, without firing their weapons, only to be mowed down by Marine machine gunners. Remember, this is propaganda and we have to show the heroic defenders getting their licks in. Slowly, but surely, the stakes become even more dire.

All in all, this is a fine piece of drama, as long as you keep in mind that this is wartime propaganda, and remember that Hollywood didn't have access to film footage and equipment that later productions would. The actors do a fine job, even when the characters are somewhat clichéd. The story is fairly predictable, but exciting. Meanwhile, if you look closely, you will see many familiar faces in the film, including TV favorites Hugh Beaumont, Alan Hale Jr., and Chuck Connors. The movie is a decent look at the high stakes of the early stages of WW2.

Decent account of a soldier who did his job, above and beyond the call of duty., 4 February 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Audie Murphy was just a kid from Texas, who had been turned away by the Marines, the Navy and the Army Airborne. However, he finally finagled his way into the Army and proceeded to make history. What often gets glossed over in the recounting of Murphy's brave deeds was his leadership. This was a 19 year-old leading a platoon in combat. The film captures this quite well.

Since the film was produced in the 50s, it has the look and feel of a recruiting commercial. The film had to co-operation of the Army and that usually means we are going to stress heroics over realism. However, the film never fully descends into propaganda, thanks in large part to Murphy's honest portrayal of the fear of combat, the loss of friends, and other aspects of life at war.

Murphy plays himself, though he was in his 30s. He had a babyface, which eases you into accepting this. Besides, he knew how he felt at those moments and he portrays it on screen.

Audie Murphy was a sharecroppers son, one of 12 children. His father ran out on the family, leaving them struggle. We see young Audie take responsibility for the family, sacrificing his education to earn a living. This theme will be carried forward, as Murphy finds himself given greater and greater responsibility, often against his wishes.

Murphy was never destined for an Oscar, but he knows this role inside and out. He lived it. He has a quiet honesty that is refreshing, especially in an era of "heroic" war films. Murphy was a real hero, but it wasn't about glory; it was a job that needed doing. He never overplays things and the script wisely sticks to moments of comradery and action.

The rest of the cast is filled out with fine character actors who, like their characters, do their bit. We get some memorable figures for Audie to bond with and see his reaction to their loss. They are given real meaning so we get a small understanding of the loss that Murphy felt and the reason he performed such daring acts of bravery: they were trying to kill his friends.

The film never reaches the level of greatness, but it does its job of telling the story of Audie Murphy, without pomp or flash, much like the real man. If it has a real weakness, it's that it doesn't follow Murphy into civilian life, after his fame. Murphy was not only noted for his bravery on the battlefield, but also for his courage in discussing the emotional and psychological scars he carried with him for the rest of his life. In an era when soldiers didn't discuss the effect that combat had upon them, Murphy did so, letting others know that they weren't alone. Again, he was a leader.

The Family (2013)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A fun little film, but not a classic., 25 January 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Upon reading some reviews, I think people went into this things expecting Scorcese (who executive produced). I hadn't heard anything about it but saw the DVD in my store, but decided to rent to check it out. I thought Deniro and Michelle Pfeiffer would be good, no matter what, and I have enjoyed Besson's movies, as a director, even when they are mixed bags. So, I put it in my Netflix cue.

Suffice to say, it's no Goodfellas, but it's not supposed to be. It's a bit of a black comedy, with many of the trappings of Deniro's past (and Pfeiffers, with married to the Mob). It's got a nice family angle and it sets out to have some fun with gangster movie clichés. The comedy isn't as "in-your-face," as, say Analyze This, but it scores more than it misses. It's just seems to aspire to be a fun little film and I think it succeeds beautifully. The cast are great and they carry their scenes well. There's plenty of Besson's trademark frenetic pacing, but, for once, he didn't pull out the slow-mo rocket shots. This is Besson and the cast having a bit of fun with the conventions of the gangster movie. Keep that in mind, and you will probably have a bit more fun.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A great B-Movie; too bad it cost more than most A-films!, 5 January 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I was a big fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter of Mars stories, when I first read them as a teenager. They are filled with adventure and wonder, moving breathlessly from one cliffhanger to the next. You didn't get a ton of character development, but there was enough to make you connect to the hero and his friends. So, I have waited years to see something like that on screen. When I heard this was finally happening, I couldn't wait to see how they would render the Tharks and the aerial navies, not to mention Carter's heightened abilities. I also wondered how they would handle the episodic nature of the source material.

I missed the film in theaters but heard the lackluster reviews and dismal box office. Still, I was a big enough fan to want to see it and waited for rental. Well, I was pleasantly surprised.

The film isn't likely to win awards, but neither was the source material. Instead, it delights in presenting us a world of high adventure and strange creatures. It gives us an old-school hero who fights against massive odds because that is what heroes do. It delights in giving us thrills and a bit of intrigue, without coming across as pompous or self-satisfied. In short, it has fun and tells a bang-up story. Would that more films could do this.

This could have easily have been just mindless action; but, Andrew Stanton and Michael Chabon had enough respect for the source material to actually give us some plot and character motivation. These characters come alive because they are given real personalities, despite weird names, like Tars Tarkas and Dejah Thoris. They are helped by some good performances from seasoned actors (Cirian Hinds and Mark Strong) and a decent one in lead Taylor Kitsch. Kitsch is a bit wobbly at first (much like Carter, when he arrives on Mars) but he finds his footing as the story progresses and gets you to cheer for the hero.

What ends up sinking this film is a studio who wanted a blockbuster franchise, rather than an entertaining film. They got the entertaining film but the chances of more are slim to none. The audience was conditioned to expect something epic and weren't satisfied to get something fun. Their loss, I say. I think time will be much kinder to this film, as people discover that good old fashioned adventure still lives.

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