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8/10
This is Tarzan
12 October 2016
Warning: Spoilers
This is the Tarzan movie I waited for, for my entire life. I grew up with Weismuller on TV, plus the various other Tarzans, the comics from Gold Key, then DC and Marvel (and other independents), Phillip Jose Farmer's fictional biography (Tarzan Alive!), the Filmation cartoon and the Ron Ely TV series. I've actually only read a couple of the books; but, this is what I wanted to see in a Tarzan film. Tarzan is both the articulate Englishman John Clayton and the Lord of the Apes. This is pulp. Tarzan has always been pulp and this captures it. Of course his physical feats are beyond compare; that's pulp. Why anyone expects differently from a Tarzan movie is beyond me.

The film does a nice job of peppering the Tarzan origin throughout the film, establishing the literal Legend of Tarzan. We get the stories before we get the man, as the Jungle Lord. It never strays too far from believable emotion and character, yet never loses sight of being a pulp adventure. The reviews I read seem to have more political agendas in mind than actually watching an adventure film. Burroughs, like most adventure writers of his era (and most writers, in general) has problems when viewed through the lens of history. His stories were racist at times, elitist at times; yet, he could write a darn good adventure yarn. That's what this film is; a darn good, old fashioned adventure yarn, featuring one of the greatest adventure heroes, ever.

The film isn't pure Burroughs; but, it gets the breakneck style of plotting down, as the story speeds along, from one set piece to another. These things were written for magazines and the idea was to keep the reader turning the page. The film captures that and keeps you anticipating what comes next. It withholds things enough to have you anticipating and cheering when they come. John Clayton enters Africa in European clothes, and soon encounters old friends. As he spends more time in Africa, he strips away more and more of the European accouterments. He withholds the famous Tarzan yell until late in the film, keeping you waiting for that moment. When we here it, we look at the villain and say, "Now you're really in for it!"

The film isn't perfect; Jane is still in need of rescue, though she puts up a decent fight. She's established as someone who is on par with Tarzan, who also loves Africa and can hold her own. Even Tarzan gets taken down pretty easily, early on. That happened in the books, too. He would get loose, though and woe betide the person who was at the receiving end of his wrath. The climax is a bit much; but, it's pulp and it's Tarzan. Tarzan isn't about subtlety.

Like another Burroughs property, John Carter, I think too many reviews were looking at this as something else, rather than what it was. It's an adventure movie, with a larger than life hero. It isn't history, it isn't a post-modern deconstruction. It's Tarzan!
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Batkid Begins (2015)
10/10
A Wonderful birthday present.
9 October 2016
On November 15, 2013, I got a wonderful birthday present. I followed a link to a story about a child's Make-A-Wish request being fulfilled, and 20, 000 strangers participating to cheer him on. And, then, thousands more around the world touched by it and stopped to thank a young boy who wanted to be a hero, just for one day. How appropriate then, we hear a choral rendition of David Bowie's "Heroes," at the beginning of this documentary. Cancer is a harsh disease for anyone; but especially for children. These are some of the most vulnerable people, with developing immune systems. They have to turn into fighters to beat the disease. This film tells the story of one of these brave little warriors.

Miles Scott was diagnosed with leukemia at age 18 months. 18 months! He finished his treatment in the year he turned 5. That's a long battle, for anyone. Along the way, he was introduced to the Make-A-Wish foundation, which grants wishes to kids fighting cancer, in the hopes of giving them a back a piece of their lost childhood. Miles wanted to be a superhero; he wanted to be Batman. Simple enough. Then, people took inspiration and the idea grew from a simple day dressing up and doing some superheroic stuff into a city stopping for a day to cheer on a brave little kid, whose wish was to portray someone who brings justice into the world.

The story is amazing and the people involved even moreso. We meet Eric Johnston, who would be Batman to Miles' Batkid. Eric had worked with Make-A Wish before, helping a child develop a video game about fighting cancer, for other kids facing the same battle. Eric and the young man were recognized for their selfless act by the Dalai Lama. You see that same commitment from EJ, here, along with his wife and friends, the volunteers at Make-A-Wish and thousands of ordinary people, who were touched by the idea of helping a child play makebelieve. They got to be kids again, and see the world with clarity and bring some kindness back into it. All were heroes that day.

The film captures everything wonderfully and will have you in tears of joy, constantly. It's a heartwarming story that a few cynics have tried to tear apart; but, its message is beyond that. Watch the film and take inspiration. Become a hero for someone else. Take a moment and extend a kind hand to someone in need. remember what childhood was like, when you did everything with enthusiasm and passion. This film makes you want to go out and make the world a better place. We could use a bit of that.

Well done, Caped Crusader, and all of those who helped along the way.
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8/10
Delivers over-the-top fun, the way that Bond used to.
26 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
When I heard that Miark Millar's comic, The Secret Service (with artist Dave Gibbons, of Watchmen fame), was being turned into a movie, I had a pretty good idea of what we wood get: a lot of vulgar language, over-the-top violence, and a decent plot. What surprised me was how much felt like a tribute to the glory years of James Bond, far more than anything from Eon and MGM. It revels in what made Bond great fun, while adding a modern spin. It also pokes fun at the often pompous, upper class world of Bond and espionage fiction (and reality) and doesn't take itself too seriously. It is vulgar and ridiculously violent, though the violence does tend to be more in service to the story than some of Millar's other work.

Mathew Vaughn direct; unsurprising, after Kick-Ass; but, as he showed in the early segments of X-Men: First Class, he gets spy-fi and delivers it well. He's not too overboard with the jump cuts and does let you soak up some of the screen, before throwing everything and the kitchen sink at you. I do wish he would slow things down a bit, here and there; but, it's a modern film world.

Colin Firth is the linchpin that holds the film together and presents us with a cross between James Bond and John Steed, either of whom he would have played wonderfully. In fact, I wish we had a time machine and take Vaughn and Firth back and redo The Avengers (the Ralph Finnes and Uma thurman one, not Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the rest). Michael Caine provides a nice tribute to the golden days, as Harry Palmer's glasses also seem to figure into the formula, while Caine gets to play the toff (though his accent slips in his last scene). Vaughn brings back Mark Strong to show why he is greatly under-appreciated in Hollywood (the man is a great actor and has been since at least Prime Suspect 3). Taron Egerton makes an excellent young Eggy, while Sophie Cookson is the capable, but self-doubting Roxy. On the bad guy's side we have Samuel L. Jackson, as a sort of Richard Branson crossed with Bill Gates and Russell Simmons, with a dash of megalomania. he is aided by his henchperson, Sophia Boutella, as Gazelle, the most memorable sidekick/assassin since Oddjob. All do a wonderful job.

This has just about everything I felt had been missing from Bond, for years (even before Daniel Craig and the serious tone): a great villain, plenty of action and intrigue, a sense of humor, and a sense of danger. Modern Bond has the danger and intrigue, but has lost the sense of humor and the sheer fun of a super-agent. There hasn't been a memorable Bond villain in years, yet Samuel L Jackson delivered a great gonzo billionaire, where Christopher Walken and Jonathan Pryce struggled.

I can quibble about a few things; some of the violence would be better left to the imagination and the language really doesn't add much; but, on the whole, those are minor criticisms. The characters are engaging, the plot is entrancing and the action is well staged and rarely gratuitous. This is pure cinematic fun, with a dose of brainpower. I can't wait for more.
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7/10
Nice throwback to the era of spy-fi.
21 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
The Man From UNCLE was a long time in coming. Attempts at a revival go back to the 1980s, with nothing, other than a reunion TV movie, ever coming to fruition. Finally, Guy Ritchie delivered a film and it is one that captures the feel of the era. The Man From UNCLE grew out of the spy-fi craze that followed the success of the early James Bond films, and delivered weekly doses of superagents Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, along with some amateur, as they matched wits with agents of THRUSH and other baddies. This time out, we get a sort of prequel, as American agent Napoleon Solo finds himself reluctantly working with KGB agent Ilya Kuryakin, as well as amateur Gabby Teller, as they hunt for Teller's father, a German nuclear scientist, in the hands of neo- Nazis. The film is set firmly in the period and gives us the intrigue of an escape over the Berlin Wall, car chases, brutal fistfights, elaborate gadgets, doublecrosses, exotic locales and everything that was great about the classic Bond films; and, to a lesser extent, UNCLE. Henry Caville and Armie Hammer make a fine duo and the film is a nice blend of humor, action, and intrigue, in the best traditions of UNCLE. No new ground is broken; however, an entertaining film is delivered, especially to those who miss the classic era of Bond films, where things were a bit larger than life.

There are little nods here and there, for fans, as Solo is given a back story derived from such classics as Harry Palmer and David Callan (a crook blackmailed into working for an intelligence agency) and Kuryakin has touches in tribute to David McCallum and the UNCLE reunion film (where Kuryakin had become a fashion designer, after leaving UNCLE). If it has a failure, it's that the film sometimes buries some great scenes in montages, probably a nod to shorter attention spans of modern audiences. Even that is a minor flaw. My only other quibble is that the UNCLE special is largely buried in a nighttime action sequence, though we get a glimpse, of a different version, at the closing credits.

All in all, this film delivers most of what I have been missing from the newer Bond films and the kind of sprawling adventure I always wanted on the TV series, good as it was. If you are a span of spy- fi, you will enjoy this.
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Are You Being Served? (1972–1985)
8/10
Cheeky Long-Time series!
7 June 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Are You Being Served? was on for years; and, for good reason. It's filled with wonderful characters, played by incredibly talented actors, who were able to elevate some rather old jokes and repetitive plots. You could forgive the groaners because the cast had such impeccable timing.

The show features a microcosm of socio-economic status, via the pecking order of the staff. As such, it presents humor form several points of view, though its sentiments seem to be decidedly traditional and a tad conservative.

The show had a lot of great moments; but, it's real strength lay in the characters and actors. Molly Sugden is the haughty Mrs. Slocombe, who betrays her origins when she gets angry and via her malapropisms. She's a lonely woman who isn't adverse to a bit of fun, though she is more than a bit snooty (most likely out of jealousy). Wendy Richards is the cheeky Cockney Miss Brahms, the junior associate in the Ladies Department, forever the object of the male characters and more than a little sarky. Frank Thornton is the imperious Capt. Peacock, a man whose legendary military career is more fantasy than fact. He floats between the worlds of the workers and management, his allegiances constantly changing, depending on what he has to gain. John Inman is the improbable Mr. Humphries, who is neither one way nor another, though he is certainly not ordinary. Arthur Borough is Mr Grainger, the slightly grumpy head of the Men's Department. He tends to be there to react more than the rest of the characters and would eventually depart the series (and passed away soon after). Trevor Bannister is the less than stellar Mr Lucas, who lusts after the birds and avoids work as much as possible. Bannister would also depart the series and his loss was keenly felt. Nicholas Smith is the manager of the floor, Mr Rumbold, a rather ineffective leader, though he gets a few good moments, usually putting Capt Peacock in his place. he also gets a few sexy secretaries, from time to time. Harold Bennett was the wonderfully dirty old man who owns the store. Benentt was a late comer to acting and had tremendous comedic timing. His presence is greatly missed in the later series. In later years, the cast would be joined by James Hayter (Mr Tibbs), Alfie Bass (Mr Goldberg), Milo Sperber (Mr Grossman) and Benny Lee (Mr Klein) in attempts to replace Mr Grainger. They eventually gave up and made Mr Humphries the senior salesman, and added Mike Berry, as Mr Spooner, to be the junior and take up the role of cheeky young man.

The show probably stayed on too long; but, the characters became old friends and you tended to forgive the worn out jokes and plots. In fact, the characters became so familiar you could often anticipate the punchline. Regardless, you were happy to see your old friends.

The show became a staple on PBS, as it is genuinely funny, well acted, and not too adult or too juvenile. It's bawdy enough to give you a chuckle but never enough to really offend you, though a few of the more insulting elements are usually cut out in US broadcasts (such as a couple of episodes featuring actors in blackface).

This series is loads of fun and won't disappoint.
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Jeeves and Wooster (1990–1993)
9/10
Perfect Casting and About as Good a Literary Adaptation as You Can Find!
14 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Jeeves and Wooster is the perfect blend of writing and casting. PG Wodehouse is one of the giants of English humor and a prodigious author. His best known characters are Bertie Wooster and his valet and tremendous intellect Jeeves. Jeeves first meets up with Bertie when he is deep in the hold of a massive hangover and Jeeves conjures up the cure to end all cures. From that point on, the pair are inseparable, except for brief moments of insanity, usually caused by Bertie.

The stories are the epitome of the servant who is more able than the master. This is especially true as Bertie is the scion of a wealthy family and pursues no work (though he will flee from it). He is an amiable chap, who tends to get on well with most people, apart from his domineering Aunt Agatha, the odious Roderick Spode, and the occasional nemesis. Bertie spends most of his time visiting friends and relatives or passing the time at the Drones Club (aptly named for a group the produces very little). More often than not, it is this circle of friends (or relatives) that pulls Bertie into some farcical situation from which Jeeves must extricate him, via his massive brain power.

Jeeves is the brains of the outfit and his advice and intellect are sought by all. he is content to serve his master, who he sees as a good soul, provided that he learns his place when it comes to selecting his wardrobe, wearing a mustache, and keeping himself from harm's way (read: marriage). Jeeves keeps the wheels spinning, solves the problems, and devises schemes to maintain his position and influence.

The rest of the characters are made up of the monied classes, with names like Bingo Little, Tuppy Gloster, Madeline Basset, Barmy Fortheringay Phipps, and Gussy Finknottle; all uniquely English names, and ones that require money to exist. There is Bertie's more likable aunt Dalia, who pulls Bertie into some scheme to gain Jeeves brainpower, often relating to her publication, Milady's Boudoir. It's all silly, often confusing; but always fun.

Clive Exton does a masterful job adapting Wodehouse and watching the program is much like reading the books and stories. Hugh Laurie is the perfect Bertie Wooster, an amiable idiot and Laurie knows the type well, and played it often, before House came calling. Stephen Fry has the brains to match Jeeves and excels at portraying Jeeves steady manner, and cunning nature. he is precise in his movements, as a master servant would be. He's younger than the literary character; but perfectly suited to the man. The rest of the cast would shift a bit and characters can be a bit confusing because of the recasting and similar personalities. Wodehouse had little use for the monied types, though he came from that world. He pokes fun at them at every turn and makes a delightful concoction out of them.

The series is at it's best for the first two series, and at its weakest in the fourth; but, even weak Jeeves & Wooster is heads and shoulders above the rest. There is a sameness about many of Wodehouse's stories and characters, though they are still delightful, all the same.

If you love farce or character-driven humor, the series will delight and if you just want good writing and acting it has it in spades. The series brought me to Wodehouse and I have relished the man's work ever since.
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Notting Hill (1999)
8/10
Charming, If Slightly Improbable Romance
30 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Writer Richard Curtis set out to answer a question: What if I showed up to a regular get-together with friends, accompanied by the World's Most Famous Woman? This is his answer. Hugh Grant plays a bookshop owner, in Notting Hill, who lives his life within a very small area. Of course, as these things go, he has a chance encounter with Julia Roberts, who is stretching her acting muscles by playing a famous, superstar actress. After an awkward first encounter, a series of events lead to a slightly more charming, if improbable second encounter. From there, an incredulous, and rocky romance develops.

As with four Weddings and a Funeral, the film is largely a series of sketches, driven by dialogue between the characters. Curtis excels at this kind of stuff and his scripts have memorable exchanges. Perhaps his plots are a bit far fetched, though stranger things have been known to happen. They do tend to tread a bit on a romantic fantasy of life; but it is a romantic comedy, after all.

The cast are first rate, with Hugh Grant returning to the Curtis world as yet another charming, awkward man. He can pretty much play this part in his sleep. Julia Roberts plays a version of herself, though with a bit of tweaking here and there. The rest of the cast are filled with terrific character actors, including Curtis alumni Tim McInnerny (Black Adder series) and Emma Chambers (Vicar of Dibley), as well as newcomers Gina McKee, Hugh Bonneville, James Dreyfuss and Rhys Ifans. Curtis knows how to write character pieces and these actors make music of his writing.

It's easy to pick apart the reality of the film, that a famous actress would find true love with an ordinary guy that she, literally, bumped into; but, the scenario is so wonderfully done that you don't really care. The chemistry between the leads makes you forget the plot holes and the rest of the cast create an atmosphere that would be attractive to anyone, famous or not. It doesn't have a huge laugh quotient, but peppers the film with some really great comedic moments to keep you amused, while it charms you and brings a tear or two to your eye (like the scenes at the park bench, or when Roberts is in Grant's shop, begging him to forgive her). You can dismiss it as forgettable fluff; but, chances are, you'll be swept up in it, even if it's for just a little while. That's what movies do.
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8/10
One Ultra-Cool, If Slightly Goofy Series!
16 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I only saw a few episodes of Johnny Sokko in my youth, but the imagery stuck in my head enough to buy the few Orion Pictures video releases and then the official DVD release. It's just a really fun, action-packed bit of 60s fun, with a slightly demented world on display.

Obviously, the series is the American redubbing of the Japanese series Giant Robo (or Jianto Robo). The names have been changed, though the premise is largely intact. The alien Emperor Guillotine seeks to conquer the Earth, through his criminal organization of thugs and monsters; and, what an organization it is! The Gargoyle Gang consists of beatnick Che Guevara/Nazi soldiers (with stylish wraparound sunglasses), a silver headed alien lieutenant with shelf- like eyebrow ridges (Dr. Botanus); a buck toothed, giant foreheaded, one legged lieutenant (Fangar); a one eyed playing card obsessive (Harlequin), and a nutjob in golden knight's armor (Goldennock). meanwhile, their leader is a cross-eyed alien, with tentacles hanging from his head. This bunch of misfits, along with their various monsters and weaponry, seek to subjugate the planet, for whatever reason. Opposing them is Unicorn a security organization that thinks it's OK for a little boy (and, later, a little girl) to casually be exposed to danger and carry a gun. To be fair, the kid seems to be the only one with any sense in the organization. They also seem to adopt stereotypical dress in their subsidiaries around the globe (tyrolean hats, turbans, etc...). The group usually needs the Giant Robot to get them out of a jam, though they do occasionally rescue the kid, so he can call in the robot.

The show is just a lot of fun, as so many adventure shows of the 60s were. They aren't too concerned with kids being exposed to violence, so there is a lot more action and drama, thanks to the dangers involved. This certainly stood out in the 70s, when I first saw the show. However, it is never gratuitously violent, or particularly bloody.

The show was essentially spawned by the success of Tsuburaya's Ultraman (though the series was adapted from a manga); but it proved groundbreaking, as many elements of it would go on to influence other Japanese adventure flair, like Gatchaman and the Sentai series that spawned the Power Rangers. Ultraman had better monster suits and battles, but Johnny Sokko had better action with the human cast, with a nice blend of spy-fi, monster fights, and giant mecha, much of which became a staple for other live action series from Toei.

This is definitely worth picking up for any fan of spy-fi, monster movies, or action-adventure, regardless of age.
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The Equalizer (1985–1989)
8/10
Excellent Series, Which Serves as an "Unofficial" Sequel to Callan
13 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Edward Woodward returned to television, on the other side of the pond, as a different burnt-out secret agent, Robert McCall. McCall bears more than a passing resemblance to David Callan, Woodward's iconic character from his British TV series. He has been used and abused for years, in the shadowy world of espionage, with its murky ethics and high body count. Unlike Callan, he is able to walk away from his masters, when he resigns, after a botched operation leads to the death of is charge. McCall, finding himself finally free of this dark world, decides he wants to do something to make the world better and using the skills that he has, advertises his services in the newspaper, as "The Equalizer," someone who evens the odds for those in trouble.

The series is one part spy-fi, one part private eye, and one part crime drama. Each week, McCall is contacted by someone in need and he responds, charging no fee (he is independently well off, thanks to information gained in his spy days, which allows him to make shrewd investments). Occasionally, he finds his services required by his old masters, via his former boss (and friend) Control. On other occasions, he uses his relationship with control to gain access to agents and resources of "the Agency" to aid in his mission.

The series makes great use of New York location shooting, while also creating an edgy visual style. Shadows are frequently used and the series plays upon urban fears, with various predators menacing his clients. It mixes high class living with squalid apartments and empty warehouse.

Edward Woodward is excellent as McCall, with the character's desire to bring justice and peace giving him ample opportunity to orate. McCall uses powerful speeches as much as powerful handguns. Woodward is at his best when he is raging against something, though he also excels at the quiet moments. He gives the character a well- rounded feel, aided by great writing, which emphasizes McCall's flaws as much as his virtues. McCall's calling has made him a poor father and he often uses guilt to attain favors from Control, yet rants when Control asks him to return the favor.

Apart from the hair and some of the clothes, the one element of the series that scream "the 80s" is the music from Stewart Copeland, the drummer for The Police. Copeland created the synth-heavy sound of the series, from the iconic opening theme, to the incidental music used throughout (again, heavy on synth and drums). However, it is such a part of the show that it never really seems archaic. The same could not be said with the music Copeland created for the Babylon 5 pilot movie ("The Gathering").

The series is filled with great guest actors, many of whom would go on to bigger things, like Vincent D'Onofrio, Kevin Spacey, Christian Slater, and others, while also making great use of classic actors like Robert Lansing (Gary 7, on Star Trek), Ron Neal (Superfly), Robert Mitchum, and Richard Jordan. It made great use of outstanding characters actors, drawn in, no doubt, by the quality writing.

This is a series worth watching and owning on home video. It was a stylish piece of TV, with great characters and excellent writing, and top notch performances.
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Tiger Mask II (1981–1982)
6/10
Sequel That Helped Launch a Living Legend
13 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
This series was a sequel to the original Tiger Mask cartoon(and manga) and coincided with the debut of Satoru Sayama as the living Tiger Mask. New Japan Pro Wrestling licensed the character and put Sayam into the role. Sayama had extensive experience around the globe, wrestling in Mexico and the UK and incorporating elements of those styles into his matches. He debuted three days after the first broadcast of the new cartoon, complete with the same costume, facing Dynamite Kid, who he would go on to defeat for the WWF Jr. Heavyweight Championship, while also holding the NWA Jr. Heavyweight Championship. That popularity would outshine the cartoon.

The cartoon itself is typical of anime of the period, setting it apart from the more stylistic original cartoon. The original cartoon had more in common with Ikki Kajiwara's manga, with a "shetchier" style to it.

The new story features a new Tiger Mask, after Naoto Date has been killed rescuing a child from the path of a speeding car. Another orphan, Tatsuo Aku takes up his mantle. He soon finds himself facing an evil organization, bent on world domination.

This series has more of a superhero tone to it than the original and ran for 33 episodes, having far less of an impact that the original or the living Tiger Mask (Sayama). The animation is more fluid, though the story is less compelling and the only thing that really sets it apart from other anime of the period was the wrestling angle. As with the original, many actual wrestlers from the New Japan promotion appear in the cartoon, with promoter/star Antonio Inoki taking a stronger role than in the original (which was made during the days of the Japanese Wrestling Association, when Giant Baba was the star, with Inoki as his partner).

The series is enjoyable enough, though would more likely appeal to fans of Sayama, and wrestling in general.
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Tiger Mask (1969–1971)
7/10
Pretty Violent Stuff!!
13 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I was a big fan of the original live incarnation of Tiger Mask, Satoru Sayama, and had heard there had been a manga and cartoon. Apart from two articles about the manga, I have never seen it. I had also not seen the cartoon, as it never made it to the US. Well, thanks to the internet and youtube, I have seen the first half dozen (of 105) episodes(in Italian!). The first thing that comes to mind is, man is this show violent! However, what little I saw of the manga was equally violent.

The series tells the story of Naoto Date, an orphan (who is fixated on tigers)who ran away to become a wrestler. he is trained by the notorious Tiger Cave organization, which produces the most brutal wrestlers in the world, in exchange for half of their earnings. Date eventually becomes Tiger Mask, one of the most feared wrestlers in the game. After a long stint in America, he returns to Japan to wrestle. While there, he is inspired to visit the orphanage he came from. It is now being run by one of his former friends and is in trouble with some crooks. Meanwhile, Tiger Mask is terrorizing the Japanese ring. Things come to a head, when Tiger Mask hears another orphan boy say he wants to be a villain, like Tiger Mask. Naoto, faced with the terror he sees from fans and with the lengths he went to get there realizes that he doesn't want to see another child become like him. He starts to change, providing money to keep the orphanage going. However, he also finds himself at odds with the Tiger Cave. He refuses to have anything more to do with them and now finds himself the target of the organization's heels. He must face each one in succession, each more vicious than the last.

The series mixes long dialogue scenes with violent action in the ring. As in the manga, actual Japanese and foreign wrestlers appear, though the likenesses leave a lot to be desired. Giant Baba, the star of and promoter of All-Japan wrestling is a central figure in Naoto's turn into a heroic wrestler, while stars like Antonio Inoki, Jack Brisko, Baron Scicluna, Freddie Blassie (complete with filed teeth!)and The Destroyer appear as themselves.

The story is engaging and the action plays well, though it becomes somewhat formulaic. The matches get wilder as things progress.

The series and the original manga proved popular enough that Antonio Inoki's New Japan Pro Wrestling licensed the character to create a live version, portrayed by Sayama, who had gained experience in Mexico and the UK, before coming back to Japan. he became the centerpiece to lively matches with some of the best high flying wrestlers in the world, with legendary bouts against the Dynamite Kid, Black Tiger (Mrc "Rollerball" Rocco), Kuniaki Kobayashi, Gran Hamada, Villano III, and Steve Wright (not the comedian, but an English wrestler, who is the father of Das Wunderkind Alex Wright, from WCW fame). It would lead to a second cartoon, Tiger Mask II.
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5/10
Mildly Amusing, Rather Disappointing
9 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I first heard about the Are You Being Served? movie in a book about the series. Our local PBS station eventually procured it and broadcast the film. Well, to say I was disappointed would be putting it mildly. If you had never seen the series before, the film is somewhat amusing; but, rarely laugh-out-loud funny. You really do have to have some acquaintance with the characters to fully appreciate things. Meanwhile, if you have seen the series, most of the jokes are recycled. The same was true in the series; but, there is a big difference: timing. The live audience for the TV tapings gave a sharper timing to the jokes. Here, the actors have no one to react to, apart from each other. They don't pause to let the jokes take hold, since there is no laughter from the audience. It was often those pauses that really sold the jokes and built to the bigger laugh. The film was actually adapted from a successful stage version, which, again, had an audience to react to.

Meanwhile, what we are left with is rather clichéd farce. There is the multiple switching of tents, which leads to a series of unexpected (by the character) encounters with the wrong partners. It's old material and it isn't handled in a unique manner, so it falls flat.

One of the worst sins of the film is the complete lack of any location or outdoor shooting, apart from boarding the plane. If you are going to film a movie, take advantage of the opportunity. Instead, we have a studio shot on film, instead of videotape, without an audience.

It's not all bad. The actors are in good form and the characters get their little moments. Andrew Sachs is well used and the addition of the revolutionary provides plenty of fodder for the farce.

This was one of several British films adapted from popular TV shows. I have also seen the Rising Damp movie and Callan and have to say that the latter was the only one that really took advantage of the opportunity that a film version offered.

If you are a fan of the series, the film is worth a look, if only to see what else was done with the characters. Other than that, there isn't much to offer.
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5/10
More of a fetish film that a biopic.
20 September 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Make no mistake, this is not a Hollywood film. It's a biopic produced by the fetish community. It stars Paige Richards, who is a fetish model, who has built her career on a superficial resemblance to Betty Page (and there have been many Betty imitators). Richards is typical for a fetish model; she isn't horrible, but she isn't likely to do mainstream films either. She can handle the regular scenes well enough to keep the film moving along, but is at her best when the ropes come out. And they do. The story featured is more legend than truth and it isn't going to win any awards. Heck, I've seen more creative real fetish films. However, it's a decent "fan film." If you look at it in that light, it has its moments.
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6/10
Repackaging of a repackaging
20 September 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Let's be clear from the start; this is not a film. It's not a documentary. What it is is a repackaging of a two-volume compilation of fetish loops, some featuring Bettie Page, originally put out when the Cult of Betty was growing. The loops featured within were produced by Irving Klaw, owner of Movie Star News. Klaw ran a used bookstore and carried many movie magazines. He discovered that young ladies were tearing out picture of their favorite stars. Wanting to save his merchandise, and seeing a market, he arranged to get publicity stills from movie offices (of which there were plenty, in New York). He then sold the stills, and copies of the stills. He created a mailing list to sell them elsewhere. He found that certain photos sold more and received request for those photos; usually, those featuring fetishy elements (spanking, bondage, high heels, lingerie, etc...). However, it wasn't easy to find enough material to satisfy this audience. With some financial backing, he started creating his own material, both in photos and film shorts. The models were strippers and average women, who didn't have a problem parading around in their underwear. He did not produce any nude material, though. In fact, the models had to occasionally wear two pairs of panties to avoid showing anything. Betty Page, who worked as a secretary and posed for photos for camera clubs, was one of his models.

The loops feature little scenarios, such as one featuring two women in lingerie, playing chess (or checkers, can't remember). They are interrupted by a bratty third woman, and after her attempts to gain attention, they tie her up. She still causes problems, kicking the card table they are using. So, as you do, they tie her up even more, until she can barely move. Not exactly Orson Wells, but with a bit more plot than your average porn. The loops run the gamut of walking in ridiculously high heels, and dancing to music, to dressing a mistress, then bringing her a female slave to tie up.

These loops won't win awards and are hardly seductive. They are downright prudish, compared to similar material you can find on the internet. However, you can see Page, in all of her glory, in her heyday. You also can see other Klaw stalwarts, like Lois Meriden (a leggy brunette, who allegedly married a judge), Shirley Maitland, Joan Rydell (who dated Buck Henry) and Lili Dawn. They were not the artificial performers of today; they were real women, with real bodies. The whole thing has kind of a kooky charm.

The video does feature music dubs and a voice-over to give it some continuity and sound (these were silent films). It makes it sound more innocent than it was; but, it also doesn't attempt to make it sound seductive. It's playful, much like the material featured, regardless of how weird or kinky it might be.

If you are interested in Bettie Page, this will give you a look at the work she did, plus some of the other ladies who worked for Klaw. It will also show you what passed for erotica in 50s America (along with girlie magazines and stag films). If you are a fetishist, it gives you a bit of historical perspective to others who might share your interests.
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The Seal (1981 TV Movie)
6/10
Decent little TV movie.
14 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I remember watching this on TV, though I saw it only once and don't recall many details. Ron Ely is a former Navy SEAL, in what was probably the first Hollywood reference to that unit, which was purposely unsung in mass culture. It took a little research to understand what SEAL even meant, at that time (SEa Air/Land). Anyway, he is pulled into a situation involving some bad men and uses his combat skills to take them out. I do distinctly remember Ely pushing a hidden button to reveal a hidden arsenal.

The film was decent for TV, but nothing spectacular, which is probably why it fell into obscurity. I suspect it was a pilot for a TV series that didn't sell (on of many). If you come across it, it's a decent way to kill a couple of hours.
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Battlestar Galactica (2004–2009)
8/10
Heck of a lot better than I thought it might be!
27 July 2014
Warning: 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.
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8/10
Great little movie that gives a realistic view of soldiers in combat.
16 July 2014
Warning: 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.
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Metal Fighter Miku (1994– )
8/10
Great series, with tons of action and winning characters.
2 June 2014
Warning: 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.
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Gatchaman (1994– )
7/10
Decent micro-view of the original
2 June 2014
Warning: 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.
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Gatchaman (2013)
5/10
Different take on the classics series
2 June 2014
Warning: 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.
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Movie version of the TV series.
28 May 2014
Warning: 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.
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Wake Island (1942)
7/10
Compelling, if not completely accurate.
5 February 2014
Warning: 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.
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7/10
Decent account of a soldier who did his job, above and beyond the call of duty.
4 February 2014
Warning: 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.
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The Family (I) (2013)
7/10
A fun little film, but not a classic.
25 January 2014
Warning: 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.
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John Carter (2012)
7/10
A great B-Movie; too bad it cost more than most A-films!
5 January 2014
Warning: 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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