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Galtar and the Golden Lance (1985)
To quote Hanna-Barbera... Funtastic!
On what may or may not be a faraway world or perhaps our world in the distant past, an evil tyrant, Tormack, will stop at nothing to acquire the supernatural weapon known as the Golden Lance, which when combined with the indestructible Sacred Shield that he stole from the royal family of Bandisar, the king and queen of whom he assassinated when he usurped the city of Bandisar, will make him invincible. The surviving Bandisar royalty, Princess Goleeta, rightful heir to the Shield, and her younger brother Prince Zorn, join forces with the warrior Galtar, who is entrusted with the Golden Lance by the wizard Ither, to overthrow Tormack and fight off other threats along the way, including but not limited to Tormack's scheming niece Rava and a father/son con artist team.
Part of that wave of what you might call "Kid Friendly Conan" type shows that followed the success of the 1982 Conan film that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, thus inspiring a renaissance of sorts for low fantasy, Hanna-Barbera decided to toss its hat into the ring by including this in its "Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera" block in 1985, though it is believed Galtar was created in an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the better known/remembered "He-Man & The Masters of the Universe".
And one can definitely see the influence of He-Man on this series as well as "Thundarr the Barbarian", "Dungeons & Dragons" and even Hanna- Barbera's own "Herculoids" among others. The hero Galtar looks like a cross between Thundarr the Barbarian, Hank the Ranger from D&D and even Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker. Princess Goleeta looks and feels like a cross between MOTU's Teela, "Thundarr"'s Princess Ariel and HB's own Daphne Blake from "Scooby-Doo", etc. Meanwhile Galtar's faithful steed Thork looks as though he escaped from HB's earlier sci-fi series/fantasy series "The Herculoids".
One interesting thing about the series, sadly cut short at 21 episodes (it apparently lacked a toy-line, yet somehow generated Valentine Day cards), is that it initially presented itself as having a somewhat darker tone than other action-fantasy shows of the time period. The pilot is pretty straightforward about the fact that its villain Tormack is a mass murderer (compare & contrast that with Skeletor from MOTU or Mumm-Ra & the Mutants from "Thundercats") and Galtar & Goleeta are both motivated by a desire to get revenge on him for killing their families and people, adding shades of gray to the otherwise morally upright stalwart hero and his tough but still feminine partner/love interest. This aspect of our hero and heroine is downplayed in later episodes.
Still, while it may not have been quite as dynamic as say "Thundercats", "Galtar" is a fun little series in its own right, moving along briskly and showcasing likable characters with kid friendly action and jokes. Part of the fun in watching the show now is spotting all the familiar 1980s era voice actors, among them the usual suspects from G.I. JOE and TRANSFORMERS such as Michael Bell, Corey Burton, Peter Cullen, industry veterans such as the late Don Messick and Frank Welker, the series even acquired voice actors from the very shows it obviously sought to mimic - THUNDARR's own lead Robert Ridgely and Henry Corden, MOTU's Linda Gary, etc.
Speaking of GI JOE the series heroine Goleeta was voiced by Mary McDonald-Lewis, best remembered by 80s fans for her voice work as Lady Jaye on GI JOE, and she manages to recycle the best aspects of that performance here, imbuing our heroine with warmth and strength while still making Goleeta just different enough from Lady Jaye to not feel like a clone of her. Meanwhile Lou Richards manages to imbue Galtar with just enough boyish charm to make an engaging protagonist out of him (the character's build may be closer to Thundarr's but his personality is closer to that of He-Man or perhaps Prince Adam if he didn't have to be He-Man), and David Mendenhall (who voiced Daniel son of Spike in the last stretch of the 1980s wave of "Transformers") acquits himself nicely in the role of Zorn, one of the better tag along kid characters of shows like this, helped by the fact that for the most part the writers managed to avoid having Zorn fall into the traps and tropes that usually derail characters of his archetype.
And who can forget the late great Brock Peters voice work as the series Christopher Lee inspired villain Tormack? Peters was no stranger to villains and authority figures (he substituted for James Earl Jones as Darth Vader in the Star Wars radio dramas as he was quite possibly the only actor available at the time with a deep enough voice to match Jones's) and his signature deep, commanding voice, practically a force of nature unto itself, fits the sinister Tormack like a glove, elevating him into a genuinely intimidating figure even when he suffers the embarrassments that 1980s cartoon villains were obligated to endure - though Tormack doesn't suffer nearly as many as more iconic fiends such as Cobra Commander or Skeletor. One of the reasons it's a shame the series didn't last longer is that Tormack could have been one of the iconic cartoon villains of the 80s, if only for Brock's excellent voice work.
Also of interest is that this was an early pre-"Mad About You"/"As Good As It Gets" fame job for Helen Hunt as the voice of Tormack's wild card femme fatale niece Rava, who played the evil Veronica to Goleeta's heroic Betty when it came to Galtar while still working her own agendas here and there.
For fans of the 80s and sword and sorcery this series is highly recommended despite ending with the usual "and the adventure continues" manner that many 80s cartoons ended on.
It was... okay. Seriously, I watched it just for Carol Danvers/Cap Marvel
The Avengers find their holidays being compromised by that darned Loki, who has joined forces with the frost giant Ymir to kidnap none other than Santa Claus himself, who has it turns out is a super powerful mythological bad ass. Only the Avengers can save Jolly Old Saint Nick now! Oh and Rocket Raccoon and Groot show up too.
Once again Marvel Animation seems content to churn out a product that probably would have been more at home in the 1980s where it might have actually seen as off beat but feels out of place today. "Avengers Assemble" has (or had - I gave up after a few episodes) the same problem - where its predecessor "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" moved like a well oiled machine, "Assemble" just feels old, stiff, clunky and about 20 to 30 years out of date (and its attempts to mimic the MCU style banter never quite works). It would have been right at home alongside the GI Joe and Transformers cartoons of the 80s, but it hasn't been the 80s for quite some time.
For whatever its worth this feature is somewhat more watchable than AA or "Ultimate Spider-Man", despite being about 10 minutes too long and featuring a lot of overwritten dialogue in an attempt to mimic the MCU. There are some genuinely funny bits in the film, such as Rocket Raccoon and Groot's encounter with Mrs. Claus. There's also a surprisingly poignant moment where the heroes gather around a fire and share Christmas memories (for Reptil getting dinosaur toys, for Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers getting tickets to an air show where she got to sit in a jet, for Captain America/Steve Rogers getting a baseball & bat despite not having any skill for the sport).
The feature's greatest asset however is Carol Danvers showing up as Captain Marvel. Grey DeLisle-Griffin reprises the role of Carol from "Superhero Squad" and she easily steals the show by managing to be tough but also funny and personable, snagging most of the better one liners along the way. The other voice actors do decent enough work, with Steve Blum and Jane Singer both turning in amusing performances as Santa Claus, Santa's doppelganger and Mrs. Claus.
Overall not a work of art, but an okay holiday viewing if you've got 70+ minutes to kill.
Ercole sfida Sansone (1963)
A Brawling Good Time
When a monster hunting trip at sea goes awry our favorite Greek/Roman demigod Hercules finds himself stranded in Judea with his pals and must find a way home. Before long Hercules is mistaken for the biblical strong man Samson, who is of course an enemy of the Philistines, and the only way out of this case of mistaken identity is for Hercules to hunt down Samson and bring him to the Philistines. Chaos and Mayhem ensue.
Director Pietro Francisci returns to the sword and sandal genre he helped kick off a few years earlier with the Steve Reeves hits "Hercules" and "Hercules Unchained" and like those features before it this is an above average entry in the genre, with better production values than many of its imitators. It also feels as though it is meant to be the a sequel to the two Steve Reeves Hercules films, minus Reeves himself unfortunately, and the lovely Sylva Koscina, who played his love interest/wife Iole, even though a few of the secondary players of those films return (not the actor who played Ulysses though). Kirk Morris (real name: Adriano Bellini), with hair bleached, is a solid substitute for Reeves opposite Diletta D'Andrea in place of Koscina, and Morris is well matched by Richard Lloyd (real name: Iloosh Koshabe) as Samson. True they're both dubbed, but Morris and Lloyd never the less look very convincing in their roles and dominate every scene they're in, and they execute the action sequences, particularly they're cheerfully over the top knock down drag fist fight which we all paid to see, very well. Liana Orfei asserts herself nicely in the role of the manipulative seductress Delilah - whom Hercules of all people warns Samson against.
For lighter and softer adventure fun be sure to check this one out.
Dick Tracy (1990)
The Untouchables Meets Adam West Batman
Another Time, Another Place... Big Boy Caprice wants complete control of the city and will stop at nothing to get it. The only standing between Big Boy and his goal is Dick Tracy, the cop with the yellow hat and trench coat, who will stop at nothing to bring down Big Boy. The only one standing between the lantern jawed cop and wily gangster? The mysterious and elusive "Blank".
Bright, colorful, briskly paced, cheerfully tongue in cheek adaptation of the old Dick Tracy property is an engaging mash up of the Untouchables and Adam West Batman, with Tracy as Elliot Ness and Big Boy as Al Capone.
The entire cast has fun with their roles. Director Star Warren Beatty embraces Tracy's no nonsense attitude with the same straight laced yet winking gusto of the aforementioned Adam West as Batman while Al Pacino gleefully sends up his own Godfather Michael Corleone gangster image as Big Boy (his Godfather brother James Caan has a cameo as a rival gangster in an amusing nod to those earlier films). Madonna is appropriately glamorous as the seductive Breathless Mahoney while Glenn Headley shines in the understated role of Tracy's gal Tess Trueheart.
The 9th highest grossing film of its year and said to be the highest grossing film of Warren Beatty's career, a sequel was sidelined by disputes over who owned the rights to the character (and supposedly whether or not coming in 9th was good enough or not), which was unfortunate, to say the least.
Still the film itself remains a fun ride for lovers of colorful pulp fiction.
Ercole l'invincibile (1964)
Save The Bear!
Hercules (Dan Vadis, who also played the role in "The Triumph of Hercules") saves a beautiful princess and, as a reward, he is offered her hand in marriage (which is great for both of them given that they're both nice people) but is also asked to help the royal family against their enemies. Next thing you know Herc is up to his neck in trouble rescuing his fiancé's entire people from an evil subterranean empire.
An okay entry in the sword & sandal genre with some decent atmosphere (and some stock footage from the first Steve Reeves Hercules film), Dan Vadis is perhaps the film's greatest asset in addition to the beautiful women. Some may not like him for not being Steve Reeves or Reg Park, but the very nimble and agile lightning bruiser Vadis brings a Burt Lancaster level of energy to what would have otherwise been some fairly generic fight scenes, and he looks quite larger than life battling his way through an army of henchmen. And while he may have had to kill a lion (which looks pretty good since it really is Vadis wrestling the lion) he is nice enough to save a bear that got in his way.
Weirdly enough, when the film came out in America it was re-dubbed as "Son of Hercules in the Land of Darkness" with Herc being changed to Argolese, son of the Herc. An unusual choice to say the least.
Robotech: Love Live Alive (2013)
Not sure what Harmony-Gold was trying to accomplish here...
...beyond simply trying to put out a "new" Robotech film.
Except this isn't so much a film as a clip show recounting the third season, the New Generation (Genesis Climber Mospeda), told from Lancer's perspective, splicing together footage from a Mospeda music video OVA and some new footage, some of it good (an admittedly well animated opening invasion sequence) and some of it not (the last scenes between Lancer and his Invid lover Princess Sera). As a giant clip show it's an okay recount of the last season/series but anyone who was expecting a truly new expansion of the Robotech mythology or the original Love Live Alive OVA in all its glory will be disappointed.
Fans of Lancer and his voice actor Cam Clarke will probably appreciate the emphasis placed on him and enjoy hearing Clarke reprise the role along with the other New Generation actors who came back for the few lines they're given (and as another review noted his voice it seems has not aged that much - and fortunately Barbara Goodson, the voice of Sera, also still sounds more or less the same) but outside of that this is strictly rental material.
The closing song "Only A Fool" is a nice touch.
When Proto-Culture Ruled The Earth...
Once upon a time Harmony-Gold purchased three separate Japanese anime sci-fi series, Macross, Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeda, and all three were too short to be aired individually to fill out the 65+ episode list that was required to fill out a syndication contract back in the 1980s. Since the three shows had very similar looking tech the late Carl Macek and his colleagues decided to re-dub and re-write the three unrelated shows into one on-going story where each show would represent three different generations of humanity's struggle to defend itself from alien invaders in pursuit of the elusive energy source known as Proto-Culture in a three season span.
The first chapter, "The Macross Saga", mixes the visuals of Star Wars with the political intrigues of Star Trek as it chronicles the exploits of the crew of the SDF-1, and their war with the Zentradie, the first in a wave of aliens who have come to Earth for Proto-Culture. Among the human dramas that play out against this space operatic war is Rick Hunter, a hot blooded young pilot, being caught in a love triangle between the flighty pop star Lynn Minmei and his (not that much) older superior officer Lisa Hayes.
The second chapter, "The Masters", focuses on Earth about 20 years after the events of "Macross Saga", with Dana Sterling, the bubbly half-human/half-Zentradie daughter of Max Sterling & Miriya Parina, leading the 15th Squadron as they try to defend Earth from the Robotech Masters, the forerunners to the Zentradie, who seek to secure the Proto-Culture for themselves before the arrival of their ancient enemies the Invid. Various characters look for love in all the wrong places, with Bowie Grant falling hard for the alien Musica.
The third & final chapter, "The New Generation", focuses on the heroic Scott Bernard as he leads a ragtag group of misfits against the aforementioned Invid to reclaim Earth once and for all. Scott struggles to overcome the grief of losing his fiancé Marlene Rush while also contending with his feelings for the amnesiac Ariel; smart ass survivalist Rand butts heads with the rough and tumble Rook while little Annie dreams of finding Mr. Right. The big guy Lunk is doing all he can not to fall apart under pressure while the wholesome cross-dressing singer Lancer finds himself falling for the Invid Princess Sera.
Each series/season has its strengths and weaknesses, and while this "cut & paste" approach may look a little crude to a modern audience (especially on repeat viewings) it works surprisingly well even after all these years. "Macross Saga" and "New Generation" feature better paced, more epic plots and more engaging characters than "The Masters", while "Masters" arguably has the best animation of the three series. It's not even that the cast of "Masters" are unlikable so much as they just don't get as much character development as the casts of the first and third halves and they are also hindered by having a slower less interesting plot, which sadly led to Masters being treated as "the middle child" of the series - not helped by the awkward time skip from Macross either. They're choice of character to be Dana Sterling was also... questionable given another more likely candidate.
Beyond that, Rick Hunter may be the main character of Macross Saga but he is arguably the least likable character there & possibly the least likable of the three leads from each series. Despite getting all the hero's journey tropes (the call, the mentor, etc.) Rick's immaturity makes him painfully unsympathetic at certain junctures, especially in regards to his poor behavior towards his intended love interest Lisa as Macross Saga nears the end; you'll probably spend most of MS being more interested in characters like Roy Fokker and Max Sterling (who's own romance with Miriya is sadly underused) than Rick, and you'll probably be left scratching your head wondering why Lisa would settle for Rick other than he's the main character.
The voice acting can be hammy at times & the dialogue often overwritten, but that lends a certain charm to it. Despite the detriments listed above there is still a lot to love in the series, from the late Ulpio Minucci's music to the grim & ugly depictions of war, suffering & the struggle to hold on to one's humanity in the face of tragedy, all of which elevates it above my personal criticisms as well as other series of that time period.
Justice League: War (2014)
Terrible - much like the story it was based on
The first in what is apparently meant to be an over-reaching continuity of DC animated films based on the New 52 gets off to a bad start with what is honestly one of the worst stories from the New 52 right out the gate, JUSTICE LEAGUE: ORIGIN by Geoff Johns, re-subtitled WAR here presumably because it sounds cooler.
Plot or lack thereof: Darkseid invades Earth. A handful of DC's big hitters plus Cyborg ban together to fight him. Chaos and mayhem ensues.
Geoff Johns, who wrote the original story, is a good writer, not a perfect writer but a good one. I've enjoyed his work on Green Lantern, and he did a very good job on the opening arcs of New 52 Aquaman - who sadly was taken out of this feature and replaced with Shazam, the hero formerly known as the original Captain Marvel - but his New 52 Justice League: Origin was a terrible story, full of bad dialogue and unlikable over the top characterizations for half the characters assembled, wasting the beautiful artwork of Jim Lee on an invasion plot thinner than paper. In short, it was NOT one of his better efforts. Anyone who reads that opening New 52 arc can clearly see that Johns heart wasn't invested in the story he was trying to tell.
Sadly, this animated adaptation opts to embrace the sloppiness of the original story rather than fix it or improve upon it. While some of the bad dialogue of the book was dropped (such as Green Lantern's rather stupid "Talk in a deep voice" response to Batman criticizing him for creating a green plane for transportation) they've gone out of their way to add more to the list of casual profanity, which now includes "whore" and "douche bag", and that's just in addition to the regular profanity which seems to be on higher display than usual, which just feels incredibly forced as they're trying way too hard to make this feature as "mature" as possible, except this isn't mature - this is a 13 year old's idea of mature.
The painfully unlikable characterizations of half the cast remain too. Fans who thought Superman wasn't "nice enough" in 2013's "Man of Steel" probably won't like him here either; you see the New 52 portrayed Superman in his early career as a cocky rebel, much like he was in the Golden Age (though he seems to mellow across a few time skips), but here as in the original story this is taken to the point that he's portrayed as a straight up thug who appears to be fighting not in the defense of Earth and innocent people but rather he is merely fighting because he happens to enjoy causing property damage and smacking opponents around. There's no sense of altruism in him, no sense of compassion, something even a younger, more rebellious Superman should have, and something he did have in MOS regardless of what the haters say.
Wonder Woman and Green Lantern don't fair much better. Wonder Woman is portrayed as a dumb, spazzy child trapped in a woman's body who would much rather hack and slash her way through monsters than actually learn from and establish ties with the modern world, and the scene where she freaks out over tasting ice cream for the first time is painfully unfunny. Meanwhile, Green Lantern's arrogance is dialed up so high that he comes off being stupid and mean rather than just cocky. It seems the WB/DC folk are still trying to pass Green Lantern off as their Iron Man - which some believe was one of the reasons why the 2011 film failed at the box office - and they're still failing at it, since they don't seem to understand that there needs to be genuine likability behind the sarcasm, and here GL has none.
Shazam/Billy Batson is an interesting case - Shazam is surprisingly likable if only because Sean Astin manages to make a somewhat engaging character out of the material, but Billy is an obnoxious brat ala the New 52 who insults and degrades those around him (he gleefully calls his friends/foster family morons). Meanwhile the villain, DC favorite Darkseid, is little more than a monster on the rampage rather than the highly intelligent ruler that fans know and love him for being. He could've easily been replaced with Doomsday and it wouldn't have seriously altered the plot.
Voice acting's hit or miss. Batman, Flash and Cyborg are reasonably close to their normal characterizations and their voice actors reflect that, but Jason O'Mara is a shaky Batman at best. Alan Tudyk's voice is too small and too soft for the Superman design, Michelle Monaghan sounds too contemporary and "American" to be convincing as a Wonder Woman who has just arrived to our world and sounds like she would have been better suited to voicing Lois Lane, while Justin Kirk's nasally frat boy voice is a painfully poor fit for Green Lantern.
It's rather telling that the more lighthearted, kid friendly "Justice League Adventures: Trapped In Time" released around the same at select Target only featured far more likable characterizations of the heroes than this overblown "popcorn film" which lacks the heart, soul, and genuinely likable characterizations of the truly great popcorn films.
If this is truly the future of DC direct to DVD animation then the future is a bleak one.
King Kung Fu (1976)
Plot: When a gorilla trained in Kung Fu is sent to America, a bumbling wannabe reporter and his sidekick hatch a scheme to cash in on the one of a kind specimen. Naturally, things go wrong and all sorts of crazy shenanigans ensue once King Kung Fu himself escapes.
Not exactly a masterpiece and could have used better pacing, but on the whole a surprisingly funny one night romp poking fun at the bloated 1976 "King Kong" remake - with naturally a Fay Ray shout out joke thrown in for good measure - along with the big martial arts craze of the 70s.
My favorite scene - probably King Kung Fu fighting the baseball team.
Entertaining despite the usual time travel plot holes
I'm not entirely sure what the folks at DC & WB hoped to achieve with this "stealth release" other than proving they can churn out DVD animation faster than team Marvel/Disney can, but there is one possible explanation: as stated in another review this has the look and feel of a TV pilot for a more kid friendly New 52 Justice League series mashed up with Super-Friends that didn't get picked up for whatever reason, but by the time they heard the bulk of the project was already in the can, so it was turned into a DVD in an attempt to recoup some of the money, even though they didn't put a whole lot of money into marketing it.
Anyhow, the plot finds future Legion of Hero kids Karate Kid and Dawnstar getting mixed up in Back to the Future time travel shenanigans when they accidentally release a literally frozen in time Lex Luthor, who gets a hold of the Time Trapper and uses him in an attempt to make sure the Justice League never comes into existence... by getting rid of Superman! Chaos and Mayhem ensues.
I have no great love of Super-Friends, which this feels like a more modernized version of (it is reportedly based on an old episode of Super-Friends with the same basic premise), but I decided to give it a look to see how it compared with the oh so mature and action heavy "Justice League: War", which the powers that be bragged was a big epic "popcorn movie" and it turned out to be the worst kind (though not surprising given that its source material, the New 52 Justice League: Origin, was pretty bad and well below the abilities of the normally reliable Geoff Johns). To my surprise, this was actually pretty enjoyable, despite my usual anti-Super-Friends bias. While WAR dragged on and on forever with no end in sight for a rather trite and boring story and failed to improve upon the faulty source material (and for the most part was just annoying to sit through), "Trapped In Time" is surprisingly brisk and its characters for the most are not annoyingly over the top (though Karate Kid comes dangerously close to it at times - then again he probably gets more character growth in this than just about of the WAR characters), which was unfortunately the case with WAR, which tries to be mature but in all the wrong ways (substituting good, clever writing with crude in your face profanity and crassness).
The voice cast is a who's who of today's best voice actors, with Fred Tatasciore, better known as Marvel's go to guy for voicing the Incredible Hulk, stealing the feature with his powerful rendition of Lex Luthor. And he's not the only Marvel veteran here, as quite a few cast members have histories voicing Marvel heroes and villains.
At the end of the day this will probably appeal more to kids than older fans (unless they have soft spots for Super-Friends or just like mild camp) but it's a decent way to pass the time.