Sunday, April 20, 2014

Superfriends: The Power Pirate

Superfriends: The Power Pirate

In 1973 kids everywhere were overjoyed that their favorite superheroes were coming to Saturday morning cartoons, produced by the giants of televised animation Hanna-Barbera comic fans were finally able to see the likes of Batman and Superman battling the forces of evil…well to be honest they mainly inconvenienced the forces of evil and by evil I mean inept villains who should really concentrate on crimes along the lines of taking candy from babies, and it would be best if said babies were asleep.  The first season of Superfriends the DC heroes weren’t battling Lex Luthor or Sinestro but mainly villains that had some dangerous goal that the Justice League could somehow talk them down from.   Due to Standards and Practices at the time violence on television, particularly kid’s shows, was heavily monitored and things like people punching each other was not allowed.  As one must realize this kind of hampers characters like Batman who tend to rely on actually fighting his enemies.  To make the show more kid friendly three non-superhero characters were added; Marvin, Wendy and Wonder Dog.  This was a clear case of trying to bring in fans of the Scooby Gang.
 The first episode entitled The Power Pirate begins with an older gentleman skiing while, unknown to him, he is being followed by a UFO, he hits a rock and takes a nasty spill.  He asks help from a stranger who approaches him but that the stranger is a pointy-eared alien doesn’t seem to faze him at all is the real mystery here.  The alien then proceeds to zap him with a ray from a pendant hanging from his neck.
 Cut to Superman arm-wrestling with an opponent who we can’t see.  He calls for the rest of the Justice League to come to his aid.  Aquaman votes to not get involved because the combined mite of the JLA may not be able to handle Superman’s fantastic adversary (Aquaman showing his true colors right out of the gate).  Of course this is just the set-up for the lame reveal Superman is getting beaten by Marvin the teen-age idiot.The group finally decide to aid Superman and thus causes Marvin to make a break for it and he hovers in the air out of reach of the Superfriends.  It is never explained how this is possible, because even though Marvin is wearing a cape it is established throughout the series that he and Wendy are just two average teens.
  Suddenly the TroubAlert goes off and the team is informed of the latest danger.  The UFO from earlier is draining the power from a locomotive as it tries to climb a hill, it loses power and starts to roll back to where it will crash with a passenger train.  “I’ll get this one, friends.  Stopping trains is my speciality.” Superman responds and flies of to save the day.
Trivia Note: The train is trying to climb Donner Pass when it runs into trouble and must be saved by Superman, a few years later Richard Donner will make the best Superman movie to date.

The TroubAlert goes off again notifying the Superfriends that the ocean liner Queen Victoria is in danger as she has lost all power and is in rough seas.  This looks like a job for Aquaman. *snicker*  Batman offers to give Aquaman a ride to the coast in his Batmobile but Wonder Woman suggests that her “transparent plane”  would be faster.  Aquaman may be guardian of the world’s oceans that make up three quarters of the Earth’s surface but he still has to catch a ride to get there.  *sigh*

Super Power Note:  Wonder Woman’s transparent plane is thought powered.  Aquaman comments, “I still marvel at your transparent plane Wonder Woman, a robot plane that you fly by using your brain waves.”

 Aquaman dives out of Wonder Woman’s plane and fails almost immediately.  While swimming towards the Queen Victoria he is seized by a “renegade giant anemone.”  So the king of the sea then has to send out an urgent call to all octopi in the area.  After they rescue Aquaman enlists their help in saving the ship.  He also calls on a great whale because there is no problem that Aquaman cannot solve by calling a whale.  I’m pretty sure he calls them when he runs out of toilet paper or can’t find the TV remote.   It seems a “Power Pirate” has been victimizing British ships and he’d like the help of the Justice League.  Robin brings up that Superman just dealt with a train that lost its power Sir Cedric Cedric rules that out as probably a coincidence.
After saving the Queen Victoria the Superfriends are approached by Sir Cedric Cedric, Special Inspector, Scotland Yard.

Just as Batman begins to wonder if someone is trying to steal power the TroubAlert informs them that a dam has lost power and cannot close its flood gates.
         Superman gives Batman and Robin a lift.  Aquaman tags along because, why not.

Wonder Woman makes a temporary earthen dam that buys them time to split up and seal the three floodgates.   Wonder Woman fails but Superman and Aquaman close the gates while Batman saves Wonder Woman.

Back at the Hall of Justice the gang has come to the conclusion that a “Power Pirate” is responsible and is trying to create and energy shortage.  Batman declares that “We must drop our defense posture and take on a preventive one.”  No one bothers to tell Batman that those are one and the same.  Going on the offense is something the Superfriends just can’t do as that could lead to punching.
Upon seeing a UFO hovering over a power plant Wendy observes, “Hmm, that’s pretty far out.” Marvin asks what is “far out” Wendy says “Uh, oh nothing, Marvin.  Something puzzled me for a moment but I guess it’s not important.”  So while investigating a mysterious force that is somehow draining power Wendy doesn’t think a UFO is important.  She needs to go sit in the corner with Aquaman.

Wendy eventually earns some points by figuring out Sir Cedric Cedric might not be on the up and up and Batman confirms this with the use of the Bat Computer that a UFO has been seen at every instance of a power theft, but when checks the “Good Guys International File” to see if there is Sir Cedric Cedric of Scotland Yard.  Turns out there is.  “Holy wipeouts, Batman!”  But what’s this the computer then states that Sir Cedric Cedric is a patient at Central Valley Hospital in Ski Valley!

Super Power Note:  Batman is the world’s greatest detective but in the Superfriends he is relegated to being the guy in charge of turning on the Bat Computer.
Standard reversed Bat Symbol that plagues the series.

So the big twist at the end is that the aliens impersonated Sir Cedric Cedric to help cover-up their power stealing shenagins.   The ray the alien used on Sir Cedric Cedric scanned his mind so they could do a proper impersonation.  His newly created twin then carried Sir Cedric Cedric to the local hospital where Cedric then chocked the whole thing up to delirium due to the accident thus never mentioning the UFO incident to anyone.

 The gang race to the grand opening a nuclear reactor knowing that it is too good a target for the fake Sir Cedric Cedric to pass up and Wonder Woman wraps things up nicely. 
The alien reveals himself to be, “Anthro from the planet of Traum in a far distant galaxy.”  He was stealing Earth’s energies because his own people failed to heed the warnings of their conservationists and used up the energy resources of their planet.  Without the stolen energy his planet is doomed.  Superman comes up with a the solution by using his super powers to polish the surface moon of Traum to be as smooth as glass so that it becomes a reflective solar power plant.

There is the key problem with the first season of Superfriends; most of the villains turn out to be just misguided individuals who just need help.  All this is of course to make it easier for our heroes to avoid having to get physical with their opponents, and a nice to throw in a preachy life lesson for the kiddies.
Who is driving?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

Joe Turner (Robert Redford) is a CIA analyst whose job is to read books, he's not James Bond or Jason Bourne he just reads books. One day he returns from lunch to find all his co-workers dead, apparently he filed a report that revealed something someone in the agency doesn't want known. This is a solid spy thriller with Redford giving an excellent performance as a man, though not a super spy, has read a lot of books and can put that knowledge to good use. The film does have an odd love interest between Redford and Faye Dunaway who plays a woman that he takes hostage, it's weird and a bit dark. The highlight of the film is Max von Sydow as the contract killer hunting Redford down and he epitomizes the word "professional." The final scene between Redford and Sydow make this one of my favorite thrillers.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Category 6: Days of Destruction (2004)

With the advances in computer software that allow even the cheapest effects houses to churn out scenes of incredible, if not totaling convincing, mass destruction the boom in made for TV disaster movies has really escalated over the years. Category 6: Day of Destruction is prime example of one of these and it tosses the viewers a roster of B list actors and has been veterans into pretty much paint-by-number scripts in cacophony of CGI destruction, but the thing is if it is viewed in the right light and with proper expectations these films can still be a lot of fun.
This film starts off with a God giving sin city the finger as Las Vegas is torn apart by tornadoes that completely caught the people at the Severe Weather Center off guard. Running the show at the SWS is Andy Goodman (Brian Dennehy) a weather man who praises his guts and instinct over doppler radar, and is legendary in the field (I had no weathermen had heroes). Upon seeing the way the weather is going lately he isn’t all that upset that he’s being put out to pasture. He is of course being replaced by a smarmy jerk who doesn’t think instinct and hunches have any place in weather forecasting. Meanwhile Mitch Benson (Dharma and Greg's Thomas Gibson) is trying to keep the lights on in Chicago at Greater Midwest Electric during a record breaking heat wave, but is a bit distracted as he is having an affair with Rebecca Kerns (Chandra West) a public relations head working for the evil energy company Lexer Corp (I’m assuming the name of the company is suppose to make us think of Smallville's Lex Corp) whose practices of cutting corners makes them especially vulnerable to hackers. Reporter Amy Harkin (Nancy McKeon Fact's of Life) tired of puff pieces her boss keeps sticking her with finds a whistleblower, but is it too late? Secretary of Energy Shirley Abbott (Dianne Wiest) declares that America is a first world super power with a third world energy network and if things aren’t upgraded soon it could lead to…wait for it…DISASTER! Rounding off the cast of characters is Amy’s brother who flies for the U.S. Air Force Weather Hunters and his pregnant wife, but the gem in this ensemble is Tornado Tommy (Randy Quaid) who is a storm chaser par excel lance, and who will get you closer to a twister than you’d really rather be.

A massive hurricane rips through the Gulf of Mexico destroying everything in its path which of course enrages Goodman because none of his people saw it coming...again, “And now people are dead! From now on if a dog farts in Duluth I want somebody in this office to know about it.” Then a huge lightning storm destroys the generators that keep Chicago lit so Lexer Corp steps in to save the day, but pushes their plants beyond safety regulations and ends up polluting the waters, but of course they claim it was an accident (psst It’s cause they’re evil).

Goodman and his cute young intern discuss concerns that the arctic front pushing down towards them fueled by the polar jet stream is going to collide with the storm coming up from the Gulf being fueled by the tropical jet stream, and guess where they are going to meet? Yep, down town Chicago. Amy’s whistleblower gives her the scoop on the vulnerability of the Lexer Corp power system but her boss won’t run the story because he’s afraid of fighting such a big company (he must later get a job at Fox News). So the whistleblower decides the best way to show people how easily the system can be wrecked is to hack into it himself and shut down the power to the city. Of course he does this just as the two major storms are about to converge on the city and with no television or phone systems operating the people can’t be warned. Needless to say things go from bad to worse. Mitch Benson’s wife and rebellious daughter (are there any other kind in these films?) are trapped in the bank with the daughter’s gun wielding boyfriend, Amy’s pregnant sister-in-law gets stuck in, you guessed it that hoary old chest rears it’s ugly head, an elevator. To paraphrase Elmer Fudd, “North winds blow, south wind blow. Typhoons, Hurricanes… Earthquakes! CLICHÉS!!!”
A band of tornadoes (F-6 in scale) race up Tornado Alley taking out St. Louis and its landmark arch heading to join up with the category 6 hurricane coming down from the north and when they meet it will be as Goodman states, “Nagasaki and Hiroshima times fifty.” Our band of characters have a lot to contend with as the whistleblower futilely attempts to undue the damage he caused, while Mitch and Amy team-up to rescue his wife and daughter and the trapped sister-in-law.
The storm roars over the city as triple twisters take Tommy Tornado up into their loving embrace (he goes laughing so we don't feel bad), the evil head of Lexer is taken out by his exploding escape helicopter, and the Air Force Storm Hunters form a daring plan to fly into the eye of the storm to rescue their loved ones.

Now the visuals this movie provides for these storms consist of three elements; stock footage, CGI effects, and scenes from The Big One: The Great Los Angeles Earthquake and in some cases they are very effective but in others they come off really, really cheesy. We certainly didn’t get anything like the cover art implies of an F-10 tornado ripping through the heart of Chicago while a massive storm surge sweeps across the city, in fact the mentioned storm surge is never shown.

I can only recommend this film to die hard disaster buffs, and tell everyone else to just move along as their really isn’t anything to see here that hasn’t been done better elsewhere, but still there is worse...Category 7: The End of the World leaps to mind.

Poseidon (2006)

When it comes to remakes this film to me is the way to do it, you take the premise ship hit by rogue wave, is flipped over, and a group of survivors must climb their way up to freedom, and then populate it with completely original characters. There are some scenes that mirror the ones in the original, but overall Wolfgang Petersen has put his stamp on the story.
It’s New Years Eve and the immense luxury liner Poseidon cuts it’s way majestically through the waves. On board is Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas) a professional gambler, Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell) ex-mayor of New York City as well as former firefighter, his daughter Jennifer (Emmy Rossum), her boyfriend Christian (Mike Vogel), Richard Nelson (Richard Dreyfus) whose boyfriend recently dumped him and is suicidally depressed, there is cute stowaway Elena Gonzalez (Mia Maestro), single mom Maggie James (Jacinda Barrett) and her son Conor (Jimmy Bennett). After our introductions to these characters, and a fairly painless “meet cute” moment between the gambler and the single mom, we find ourselves in the grand ballroom as the New Year is rung in…and then disaster strikes! And face it folks this is the moment that gets you in theatre, and like Irwin Allen before him Petersen doesn’t waste time getting to the good stuff. Practically effects and stunts abound, but of course much of the effects of the ship being hit by the wave and the results of it rolling over are liberally enhanced by CGI, and some times the effects look great, while other times they lean a little to the cheesy side. But all quibbling aside watching the Poseidon getting hit by the rogue wave, and all it’s occupants being tossed higgledy-piggledy is damn impressive. Once the ship settles upside down in the water, the survivors take stock of what happened. The captain (Andre Braugher) wants everyone to stay where they are and wait for rescue, while Kurt Russell wants to find his daughter who is one deck below (now above) at the disco. Josh Lucas has no intention of waiting around for a rescue, and upon hearing his plan the mom, her kid, the heartbroken Dreyfus and Russell decide, with the help of a crewmember, to make their way up to the bottom of the ship. Surprisingly there is no scene where Kurt Russell implores the rest of the people to come with them, the small group just decides to leave, and aside from an argument with the captain, they leave rather quietly. What follows is a torturous journey through deck after deck of death and destruction. Dead bodies are constantly floating by to remind the viewer of how precarious the situation is, and while not too grisly it may not be appropriate for the kiddies. The only scene in the movie that I didn’t like was when Elena the stowaway goes into hysterics when told she must crawl through a small air duct, sure claustrophobia is a crippling affliction, but in disaster films I’m sick of the screaming hysterical woman stereotype. Slap her, and if that doesn’t work leave her behind. Well I won’t get into anymore detail as to what happens to our intrepid cast of survivors, just to say that each hurdle they must pass will keep you on the edge of your seat.
This film caps off Wolfgang Petersen’s water trilogy, and though not as dramatically satisfying as Das Boot I did like it more than The Perfect Storm. So if you’re in the mood for a good popcorn film this weekend you have my hearty recommendation to go and see Poseidon.

Next (2007)

Nicolas Cage’s latest film is Next and is about a Vegas magician who actually has supernatural abilities. Cage plays Chris Johnson, or Cadillac Frank as he goes by on stage, and he has the power to see the next two minutes of his personal future and thus he can change the outcome of certain specific events. He uses this ability for his magic act and to quietly rip-off casinos. Two events then pop up to interrupt this idyllic life; the first is a forewarning of Liz (Jessica Biel) who he sees in a premonition well beyond his standard two minutes, and the second is the FBI’s sudden interest in him helping them stop a nuclear detonation somewhere in California. Now one of these elements could lead to possible sex with Jessica Biel so it’s not hard to believe that Cage would blow off the whole saving millions of lives thing. In all fairness the movie tries to make his choice seem less assholish by telling us he and his abilities were treated very poorly when he was a child, and that he believes his two minute window into the future couldn’t possibly help national security (later we get a scene where the FBI straps him to a chair ala Clockwork Orange to help our sympathy along), but I for one don’t buy it. I’d like to think that if I were told that there was even the slightest chance I could save millions of lives that I’d feel obligated to at least try.

Now the movie has some great elements, primarily having to do with the use of his ability; seeing him looking into multiple futures to foil pursuers, win a fight, or to find the best pick-up line that could lead to sleeping with Jessica Biel. These moments are a lot of fun but the films use of the terrorist bomb threat badly offsets the story. The nuke itself is just a silly Maguffin as we are never told who the terrorists are or what their agenda is. The bad guy team is composed of French, German, and Asian members while the apparent architect of the attack is just a person on the phone that we neither see nor even hear. Were the makers of this film to afraid to pick a villain?

In the acting category Julianne Moore is that stand out victim here as she is asked to bark out some of the worst dialogue ever written as the head of the FBI team that is trying to track down Cage. It’s as if the makers of this film saw her performance in Hannibal and then asked her if she could crank up the suck a few notches. Cage himself is good and engaging, giving us the quirky performance we have all come to know and love, as for Miss Biel…well she gives it her best shot on making us believe she could fall in love with a guy she just met, and who is old enough to be her father.

*Spoilerish* I don’t think this is much of a spoiler but more of a warning. The movie never bothers to explain why Cage’s character’s two minute future seeing ability was expanded into the days when dealing with Biel’s. Is it destiny as the film kind of hints at or is it simply lazy writing? You be the judge. The ending itself left the audience in a stunned silence, and not a happy silence either more of a “What the hell?” kind of silence.
*End Spoiler*

When I exited the theater I had the distinct impression that I’d just watched a ninety minute television pilot that somehow got a theatrical release. The hero of Next could certainly make an interesting protagonist who week to week is seen solving crimes while fleeing the evil FBI agents that want to turn him into a guinea pig, but as a movie we are left with to many unanswered questions for it to work. I have not read the Philip K. Dick short story the film is based on, I can only assume he took what is a very intriguing premise and did something intelligent with it, unlike what the people responsible for this movie turned out.

So consider this review your own two minute forewarning and give this film a miss.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)

For those of you who are fans of the Fantastic Four comic books you can begin your hate mail campaign to Tim Story now (well that is if you hadn’t already started after the first movie), and pray to what ever deity you believe in that he never gets another shot at a comic book movie. Now in all fairness it isn’t as bad as some other Marvel movie attempts, but if the best thing you can say about your film is that it is better than Elektra you are in deep trouble. At eighty-nine minutes the film is padded with sitcom moments and a returning villain that has no place in a story about the coming of bloody Galactus!

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer starts out with us seeing a planet being eaten by a large cloud (upon seeing The Transformers Movie this weekend I now know were Tim Story got this visual), but soon we are back on Earth where the arrival of the Silver Surfer is causing strange environmental anomalies. Reed would love to investigate them but he has promised Sue that he would keep his great intellect focused entirely on their upcoming nuptials. The military gets pissy, Doctor Doom shows up to “help” and Johnny is altered by the Surfer so that he can transfer powers with a simple touch. Wackiness ensues.

Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans once again get the best lines as Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm, and even Ioan Gruffudd was more Reed like this time around, but Jessica Alba was still as much an emotionless void in this outing as she was in the first film. Julian McMahon (who I'm told is a good actor) is so horribly, horribly miscast as Doctor Doom that every moment he is on screen it hurts my feelings. I really wish they had given Doug Jones the job voicing the Silver Surfer as well as the body work because I found Laurence Fishburne's very identifiable voice distracting at times. Andre Braugher, who I think is a damn fine actor, was given some of the worst lines as the nasty General Hager, and I doubt that any actor could have pulled off.

I'm sorry but if your Fantastic Four movies concludes with our heroes sitting on the sidelines while the Silver Surfer saves the day you need to go back to the drawing board and rethink your strategy. The Surfer's noble sacrifice (which you find out isn't even a sacrifice if you wait five minutes) seems so out of left field because I can't buy his reasoning, which is basically that Jessica Alba has shown him the true meaning of Christmas.

My biggest gripe about Tim Story’s version of the Fantastic Four is of course Doctor Doom, who is thee quintessential Marvel villain, and yet in two films he comes across as nothing more than a two-bit Snidely Whiplash clone. And as I mentioned the character of Doom is certainly not needed in story about the coming of The Devourer of Worlds! And I’m sorry but if Galactus doesn’t say, “I HUNGER” than it simply isn’t Galactus, and the fact he has no lines at all (being just a nebulous cloud with the personality of a weather front) is just plain criminal and another waste of a classic character.

Shame on you Mister Story.

Evan Almight (2007

Can a $200 million dollar comedy hope to recoup its cost? My guess is that if it involves director Tom Shadyac the chances have moved from slim to none. Having watched Bruce Almighty for the first time just prior to seeing this “sequel” I had even less hopes of being entertained, and thus I went into the theatre with expectations so lowered you’d need a unobtaniumed drilling machine to find them. So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself not hating every moment of this film (note there are still plenty of moments to hate), but that is as positive of a note I can give a film that runs out just one too many clichés and tropes for it's own good. Steve Carell is the only reason to even think of sitting through this film as he is very likable (unlike Jim Carrey in the first film), and somehow maintains his dignity throughout this enterprise.

Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) has moved on from his career as Buffalo news anchor to the exciting world of politics as a freshman congressman. His wife (Lauren Graham) is supportive but his three kids are angered about moving to Washington and losing all their friends. Yes, five minutes into the film and cliché number one rears its ugly head, and is further piled on with the tired old trope of the dad who puts work before his family. If only someone would answer their prayers and make this family a close knit picture of Norman Rockwell proportions. Enter God (Morgan Freeman) who tells Evan that a flood is coming and that he must build an ark. At first Evan is skeptical but after God harasses him into submission (I must have missed that part in the original Noah story) he agrees to build the ark. This of course doesn’t sit well with the wife or his co-workers. We also have the shady congressman played by John Goodman who wants Evan to sign a bill that would allow development of park land, and he is even more displeased when Evan starts dressing like a hermit and leading animals around two by two.
This leads to one of the biggest leaps of faith the movie expects you to make as more and more animals arrive to help build the ark or just hang around making Evan’s life more complicated. If one can buy that God is “magically” making lions, tigers, and bears show up in a fashionable suburb outside of Washington they may find it harder to swallow the lack of repercussions. One newsman (played by old Daily Show friend Ed Helms) makes mention that with all these species what is being done about the feces? More to the point what are all these creatures eating? That is assuming God is doing his usual number and preventing them from eating each other. But the big problem I had was the complete lackadaisical reaction the world had to all these animals showing up at Evan’s home in the first place. Come on people! How can any character doubt that Evan is talking to God when he has elephants and giraffes showing up to follow him around? (Not to mention all the animal rights groups and agencies that would be all over him for having such a collection of dangerous and endangered species in his backyard) Add in the fact that he has a magically re-growing beard, and he shouldn’t have any difficulties proving Devine intervention.
One particular idiotic moment in the movie is when he first comes down to breakfast with his new miracle grow beard and his wife asks him, “When did you start growing a beard?” WTF??? She has to be one of the most clued out wives in the history of the world if she hadn’t noticed that the night before her husband was beardless and now somehow has one. That the whole “magic beard” bit is lifted right out of the Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause just makes it that much sadder.
Now I won’t get into the flood, as that leads to major spoiler issues, but if one remembers that God promised Noah he would never flood the world again you may have an inkling as to where the filmmakers are going with this, and plus it would be hard pressed for anybody to make a comedy that ended with the death of billions.

So that does sound like a movie most people should avoid like the plague, but I must admit I smiled and chuckled from time to time (when not being hit over the head with the film’s message) so I can’t condemn the movie completely. At a cost of $4.20 Steve Carell made it worth checking out for me (experiences may vary wildly), and it was leaps and bounds more enjoyable than Bruce Almighty. So if you are bored and want a harmless and silly film to take the kids to you could do worse than Evan Almighty.