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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.
A flawed yet interesting series from the 80s
Plot in a nutshell: Think of this as being like an animated version of Joss Whedon's "Firefly" if told from the POV of the Alliance, in this case, the Galaxy Rangers, led by Zachary Fox (Foxx?), fight for truth, justice and freedom in the rough and tumble wild west frontier, which includes, in addition to the usual corrupt corporate types and petty criminals, the evil Queen of the Crown, who seeks to enslave all via her psycho-crystals.
What is there to say about this series that the other reviews haven't said about this space opera inspired by both classic and spaghetti westerns with a little samurai thrown in for good measure? It's certainly not your average 80s cartoon - there aren't as many designated "moral of the story" moments, the characters (telepathic Niko, med-tech Walter "Doc" Hartford and super soldier Shane Gooseman/Goose) aren't quite as interchangeable as they were in say GI Joe or Transformers, the animation is far more consistent in quality than many other cartoons of the time period (even the episodes with weaker animation look better than average), and while the show is not without its goofier moments or elements, there's also a great deal of nightmare fuel for an 80s series, such as Zachary Fox's beloved wife Eliza being imprisoned in a psycho- crystal in the series very pilot (leaving him to raise the kids alone), along with a later episode where his own cyborg arm is corrupted and tries to kill him. Such darker elements help to distinguish the series from the usual "kinder, gentler" fare of the day.
This is not to say the show is flawless. One of its biggest weaknesses, maybe its biggest weakness, is the voice acting. While not as hammy and over the top as other shows of the time period it's also not as nuanced or as natural as many shows made after 1992. Truth be told, it often sounds like the actors are merely reading the dialogue without actually acting it (this is usually most apparent and most jarring in scenes where the characters have to yell or even just raise their voices ever so slightly), like some of the older English dubs of Japanese anime. Apparently this was due to the show's animation being done before the dialogue had actually been recorded, thus forcing the actors to "loop" their dialogue against pre-established lip movements instead of recording for animation that would be timed to match them. The late Jerry Orbach, who voiced Zachary Fox, fares best of the assembled talents (which also included Thundercats/Silverhawk alums Doug Preis as Shane and Earl Hammond as Captain Kidd among others) due to his prior film experience, but even he had moments where his delivery fell flat.
The writing is not without its speed bumps either. Zachary's wife having her life force trapped in a psycho crystal and his quest to free her from it, something that should be a defining aspect of his character, is almost never touched on (though "Psycho-Crypt" goes to some creepy places with it) as Zachary spends much of the series in "just another day at the office mode", and sadly this story-line is never resolved. The C-3P0 style robot, Buzz-Wang, often feels out of place with the tone of the show, some of the sillier episodes (such as one where the Galaxy Rangers infiltrate a battle of the bands contest) are more awkward than funny, and in the last few episodes we're actually expected to believe that the mysterious Shane Gooseman, who looks to be in his mid- 30s (he was based on Clint Eastwood) is only 19. I know that's nitpicking but it's still surprisingly ridiculous given the rest of the show.
I know that devoting two paragraphs to the show's lesser points sounds like I'm trying to tear it down, but I'm not. It's still an interesting relic from a bygone era and still worth a look - if you don't mind each disc being three hours long of course. Did I forget to mention it has some rather awesome music?
The Rainmaker (1956)
Of interest only for seeing Lancaster and Hepburn together
There are films that age well, and there are films that age very well, so well in fact that they almost feel timeless somehow, because everything works so perfectly or near perfectly that the film feels flawless.
This is not one of those films.
Based on the stage play of the same name, which was loosely based on a real man, "The Rainmaker", directed by its own original stage handler Joseph Anthony, is the story of a, ahem, "plain" woman in danger of becoming an old maid, Lizzie Curry (Katharine Hepburn), her unrequited love for the town sheriff (Wendell Corey), her dysfunctional family (father H.C. played by Cameron Prud'Homme and "big brothers" the overbearing Noah played by Lloyd Bridges and Jim played by Earl Holliman, who somehow won an award for his obnoxious performance) and their encounter with a dashing, charismatic con man known as Bill Starbuck (Burt Lancaster, in what feels like a prototype for his Oscar winning role in "Elmer Gantry") who, ahem, helps Lizzie become "a real woman" unleashing her, um, true beauty or some such.
He even manages to get it to rain during their drought.
Overlong, slow pacing, and obvious inexperienced direction of a motion picture film (vs the live stage) result in an awkward, unpleasant soap opera that could've been better had it focused on either just the dysfunctional family or the social ramifications of the con man's effect on the town during the drought, also not helped by the very old fashioned, outdated ideology of its core characters, despite how hard it tries to be a sensitive examination of the hopes and dreams of regular people.
One of the film's biggest sins is the miscasting of Katharine Hepburn as the "PLAIN PLAIN PLAIN!" Lizzie. The first obvious flaw is that Hepburn, who was pushing 50 at the time, is clearly too old for the character (everyone reacts to her as if she still has time to start a family of her own, which she very much wants), making it all the more awkward if not outrightly bizarre to watch a middle aged woman grapple with adolescent issues, as well as off setting a number of her scenes with other characters - she's supposed to be the daughter of Prud'Homme but looks and feels like she should be his wife (he was only 14 years older than Hepburn in real life - a case where an actor couldn't pull it off) and instead of a young woman full of sexual frustration in her scenes with Lancaster she feels like she should be the widow he takes advantage of.
Then there's the idea that Hepburn was so ungodly unattractive that she could only ever be "PLAIN!" (which everyone, especially Bridges, keeps saying as if what they really mean is ugly), when even a middle aged Hepburn still had some beauty about her. I couldn't help being reminded of Kate's role in "Bringing Up Baby" where she also played a woman hung up on a man, and she felt just as miscast there as she does here. Perhaps some of it was her real life personality shining through, but the boy/man crazy types were never her strong suit.
The other actors do what they can (Holliman is downright unbearable and will have the audience cheering every time he gets hit), but in the end the best thing about this film is Burt Lancaster. Some accuse him of being a large ham here, but at least his natural go for broke energy and charisma brings some much needed life to the dull proceedings, and he also manages to show his subtle side in his scenes with Hepburn. It's a shame these two iconic stars - both well known for their fiery, sometimes frightening personalities off camera - didn't have a better film, but in the end the film is worth a rental for their scenes together.
But only for a rental.
A Fine Madness (1966)
One of those films I'm not sure how to feel towards
Plot in a nutshell: An anti-social poet (Sean Connery) short on cash and suffering from writer's block is sent to a shrink by his wife (Joanne Woodward). Naturally, things only get worse.
Polarizing mid-60s screwball comedy has some very funny bits here and there, but suffers from over-length and some very dated "to the moon, Alice!" style humor that will undoubtedly rub modern audiences the wrong way. Connery gives his all in a go for broke performance that he probably hoped would help off-set his James Bond image (never mind that his self-destructive poet still fools around with women despite claiming he doesn't like them) but the character is so unlikable that some of the humor falls flat. Other reviewers on here have said that comedy was not old Sean's strong point as a performer; I don't really agree with that (he was after all hilarious as the bumbling father of Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade) but feel it was really more that the character was a hard sell to begin with - and would have been for any actor.
The rest of the cast do the best they can with what's there. It's a little sad watching the late Jean Seberg in this film, seeing her so young, so beautiful, so obviously a fine actress wasting what little time she was going to have in such an unsatisfying comedy as the desperate, sexually frustrated housewife of the primary doctor who finds an afternoon's delight with Connery - and is later hilariously horrified (admittedly one of the film's better moments) to find that he seriously expects her to just roommate with him and his unhappy wife when she expresses an interest in trying to be something more.
Of interest mostly for fans of the stars and fans of the 60s.