Story-liners: Strider (1989)

Game: Strider
Release: Retail, 1989
System: Nintendo Entertainment System
Starring: None
Directed by: Masayoshi "Patariro" Kurokawa
Next in the series: Strider 2
IMDB page: None
Description: In the dark future of 2048, a criminal cartel of highly trained ninjas known as the Striders operate throughout the world. The youngest ever member of the elite-squad named Hiryu uncovers a conspiracy that will change the organization forever.

Hans' thoughts:

Ah, the NES. Bringing back gaming from the horrible aftermath of the legendary crash of 83, the Nintendo Entertainment System became one of the only consoles on the market and the best-selling one for a substantial period of time. One of the superstar companies of the NES was Capcom, who created such well-known properties as Mega Man, Street Fighter and some of the best Disney games to date. However one of their lesser known franchises is the action science fiction of Strider. Strider broke ground at the time by being one of very few games that had much in the way of an actual storyline that wasn't just slapped together for the sake of convenience. Strider is a tale of aliens, ninjas and nefarious plots all centered around some kinda wonky but ultimately fun gameplay. You take control of Hiryu, an expert in most forms of weapons use but with focus on the quickness of his blade.

The designs of the game, while poorly animated even for their time are absolutely gorgeous. Monsters will look threatening despite their lack of movement and human characters will be simplistic but easy to tell apart. The game was released in tandem with a manga based on the storyline and you can tell that a professional comic book artist has been behind the designs as it takes cue from classic manga conventions of the era. The sci-fi setting, while not plausible at all is a least a little reserved from potentially going completely off the chain and just inventing all sorts of stuff that you could see no practical usage of. Hiryu will go around several locations in the world, from Australia to Kazakhstan. 

The music while a bit melancholic is designed to get you pumped for the adventure you're about to embark on. Capcom was an absolute powerhouse for video game music at the time and it is very present already when you listen to the title screen. The many different sets of locations combined with the many secrets to uncover sets the scene for a ton of exploration which is why the music being actually good and not too repetitive is extremely important. Thankfully it keeps the Capcom tradition through and through, the upbeat rhythm makes you pumped for fighting soldiers with your short ranged but highly effective weapon.

The characters, while not fleshed out in the slightest are strangely enough compelling. I'd actually argue that the low amount of information we receive in the game speaks for the validity of this being a shadowy organization with little time for lengthy explanation. You do what you're told and you do it without question. The villains of the game works with an alien race known as the Zain, creatures that can take over the minds of others and make them insane. Their creepy designs really serve to make this backstory into a real threat worthy of our capable hero. While definitely aged, the story of Strider is a fun action/adventure science fiction that encompasses a game that could just have been a bunch of nonsense as was the norm for the era, which makes it a great little extra touch on an otherwise fun experience.


Editorial: Top 5 Stories of 2013

Happy Holidays everybody! Here at Kaiser Critics we hope everybody is having a good one as people around the world celebrate (or don't! In which case we hope you have a nice day) the holiday of their religious choice. Around here it's become time to find out just what stories held it together the best this year. Why stories you ask? Well as you may very well be aware here at Kaiser Critics we review both movies and games, so instead of making two separate lists (which we arguably don't have enough material for) I've decided to just judge both things interchangeably on their stories. Ground rule for this one? It has to be from something that's been reviewed on the site, meaning if your favorite from this year isn't on the list it just might be because it hasn't been done on here. Here we go!

#5: The Wolverine

The 20th Century Fox X-Men movies helped bring back superheroes as a genre when the original film was released in it's hayday. Following the deteriorating releases of X3: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine a lot of people had sentenced the Fox X-Men series dead until the release of X-Men: First Class which despite some minor flaws managed to bring back the notion of a genuinely good X-Men movie. Many were still vary however when Hugh Jackman once again returned as the most popular X-Man Logan, whose previous solo-effort has been dubbed one of the worst superhero flicks ever by fans and professional critics alike. However The Wolverine managed to not only pull through, but become one of the better Superhero movies featuring a solo-hero to date. The story takes place following the events of X-Men 3, Wolverine had been forced to take out his beloved Jean Grey in a last ditch effort to save the world from the crazed homicidal force of The Phoenix and is now living in seclusion in the wild. This is where his past once again comes back to haunt him, as an elderly Japanese man he saved from the Nagasaki bombing by shielding him with his regenerative body sends for him to thank him one last time before he dies. However things go terribly wrong as Wolverine is cast into a succession drama surrounding the large company owned by his old friend and loses his power to regenerate in the process. Ultimately not wanting the attention of any such action at all, he reluctantly becomes the bodyguard of the mans granddaughter and must fight a large army of highly trained professionals with the very real possibility of death looming over his head all the while being haunted by hallucinations of his deceased beloved. Wolverine has a real danger of being written a little cheesy, even portrayed by his most iconic actor as was the case in X-Men Origins. However he's here written very sympathetically and as a very 80's type action heroes in a classic kung fu movie type story. It's not often that western movies get this genre right, and throwing in as well-known a character as Wolverine would have made the movie almost seem impossible to do. However there is a lot of visible heart and dedication in this film that could just as easily have been another quick paycheck in the box office from one of Fox's most popular cinematic franchises something that was sadly lacking in some of the former outings. There also seems to be less of a snark about the source material, keeping in some of the cheesy fun that most previous X-Men movies has tried to leave behind completely.

#4: Monsters University

2013 has been a busy year for Disney animation, and this latest outing from their masterpiece-littered studio Pixar has surprisingly ended up not being the most popular animated release this year. Monsters University gives us the backstory of the superstar scaring team of Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan, inhabitants of a monster world which is entirely powered by the frightened screams of little children. The original movie, while not the most popular Pixar movie had gathered a following it was interesting to see how they were gonna justify a sequel to a movie where the problems of the universe were all solved in it's first installation. That's why I'm guessing they decided to do a prequel instead, and what a prequel it was, the previously in the background character of Mike Wazowski takes top billing in this college-comedy with a surprisingly sobering message behind it. Between a new fun supporting cast, and three pretty cool origin stories, Monsters University may not be the best Pixar movie out there, but I actually think it might be one of the better stories from the studio as it for once doesn't explore the parent/child relationship that dominates a lot of it's other movies.

#3: Pacific Rim

Bringing us a western take on the Kaiju formula, Pacific Rim ended up being a movie meant for fun and games but also one hiding just a little bit more. The premise is very basic, a rift in time and space has opened somewhere in the pacific ocean in the near future and giant monsters dubbed "Kaiju" by humanity are unleashed from the depths wrecking havoc all other planet Earth. To combat these abominable creatures the governments of the world has banded together and created giant robots named Jaegers that are powerful enough to go toe-to-toe with the monsters. The catch? Only certain individuals are able to actually pilot the things and they have to do so via a psychic link, only possible to obtain between two people who have aligned personalities meaning almost only family members pilot them. However one young man who used to be an ace-team with his brother suddenly has to be teamed up with a woman he's never met when his brother unfortunately passes away and it's a race against the clock to get all the jaeger pilots up and about in time for what seems to be the biggest Kaiju attack yet and before the program is scrapped in favor of another experiments. What could've been a very sappy spectacle-fest actually turns everything on it's head when it presents us with one of the better female characters in years, and a mostly unknown cast that even beats the performances of this years outings from some of the bigger names. Guillermo Del Toro has proven with Pacific Rim that the Kaiju genre doesn't have to be obscure to a western audience that's mostly been fed with poor westernizations of Japanese series up to this point. With it's great blend of spectacle and honest to goodness well-written drama it breaks tradition from roots of the genre and the previous American imitations.

#2: Thor: The Dark World

Picking up after the bestseller of The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World had the burden of not only living up to the expectations following that, but also raising the popularity of Thor as a cinematic character. The original Thor, while a fun movie in it's own right was not a very popular one compared to the other releases in the aptly dubbed "Marvel Cinematic Universe" series. However whereas Thor was very much a dramatic comedy, Thor: The Dark World decides to go full on Space Opera as we leave Earth behind in favor of more exciting adventures in the world of Asgard. The story picks up where the previous title left off, Jane Porter has now not heard from Thor in 2 years after he had promised to come back for her once he had dealt with the immediate threat of the previous movie. Now trying to move on, she is cast into a conflict several millennia old as her actions awake a dormant race from the beginning of the known universe called The Dark Elves. Their leader is the hard-hearted Malekith, played by Christopher Eccleston who has the gigantic burden of being in the shadow of fan favorite Loki played by Tom Hiddleston. Eccleston unfortunately doesn't pull through as much as he would seem to as the writers doesn't give the character a lot of nuance for him to work with. However, what makes the movie good is the absolute spectacle of the space opera genre, gone are the shifty eyed jokes of the New Mexico desert from the previous movie and instead we have Thor fighting against armies and directly fighting against the will of his own father as he does everything in his power to stop the threat with as little casualties as possible. Hemsworth does a great job as he shows us just how far Thor has come from his role as a hearty frat-boy like character in the beginning of the first movie. He has learned to judge every situation on it's own merit and doesn't just barge into a fight trying to take every problem out with the power of his hammer. We are also given a more in-depth look at Asgard, a world that was left mostly in the background in the previous story. Supporting cast members are likewise no longer just standing idly in the background as some of them each get their own respective crowning moment in the movie to justify them being there instead of just being there for the sake of keeping true to the source material. Loki also returns and he is given more depths as well, as we see just how much his journey mirrors that of his brother's, him becoming more blunt and rash in his decision making as a result. Thor: The Dark World takes us on a breath-taking adventure with great fight scenes and some really cool imagery.

#1: The Last of Us

Stealth titles has seen a great resurgence in recent years, given new popularity with Rocksteady's Arkham series. Sony's in-house studio Naughty Dog previously well-known for titles like the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy and the Uncharted series gives us a taste of just how much juice can be pressed out of the aging Playstation 3 even in the same year as the launch of it's much more powerful successor. Bringing us not only some fun gameplay mechanics but beautiful environments, nerve wracking situations and a great cast of characters. The Last of Us takes place 20 years after the fall of mankind, a weird fungus-like plague that takes control of the dead has made most of the planet completely uninhabited, humanity instead gathering in small closed up societies controlled by the military. The player takes control of Joel, a man who makes his living smuggling supplies and humans in and out of the otherwise completely exclusionists cities with his partner the tough-as-nails Tess. Joel, like so many others has become disillusioned with the world and he will seemingly do just about anything to survive till the next day. When he and Tess are given the task of smuggling a young girl named Ellie who's around the age of his now deceased daughter, he very reluctantly abides and through their many adventures the two of them form a special bond of mutual dependency in a world that has gone completely crazy. It's a very basic concept when you think it through, and you can tell where the story is going a times but what makes it so great is how well written the characters are. Ellie could just as well had become a damsel in distress, a girl who'd constantly need saving by the sheer masculine musk of the very capable Joel. Joel could just as well have been your very basic "badass" hero, but both of them along with the supporting cast turns out to have so many more nuances in their characters than what would normally be the case in this kind of story. Zombie survival tales are easily the most drama driven horror genre, however a lot of writers depend a lot on archetypes to make it work out so it's a real treat to see what has been done with the characters this time. A lot can also be said for the great use of juxtaposition, throughout the game you will be fighting cannibals and gangsters and horrible abominations but that has next to no effect on the environments. All of these cities has been left to their devices for 20 years, meaning they're completely overgrown by trees and grass. As such you will see all that the PS3's graphics engine has to offer as you will be treated to some absolutely spectacular sights throughout.  


Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964)

Film: Santa Claus Conquers The Martians
Release: 1964, Theatrical
Starring: John Call, Leonard Hicks, Vincent Beck
Directed by: Nicholas Webster
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Descriptions: The children of Mars have started to obsess over TV-shows from Earth, oddly fascinated with the concept of "fun" & joy". In order to make their children behave normally again, Kimar the emperor of Mars and his elite council goes to kidnap the source of joy on Earth: Santa Claus.

Hans' thoughts:

On the planet Mars, children are given learning helmets from birth turning them into adults in children's bodies. It's an effective way of creating a logical society for sure, but when the video screens of Mars become able to watch Earth programming, the children stops eating and functioning at all causing the emperor of Mars to decide that Mars must have a Santa of their own, so why not kidnap the one from Earth? It's a completely ridiculous concept but somehow the movie just kind of - works.

Part of that comes from the actors portraying the characters, aside from Bill McCutcheon that plays a dimwitted but kindhearted martian, all the actors play out this concept completely straight. They take it as seriously as a child feasibly would and that's why, despite the horrible effect and the absolutely stupid costume designs on the martians, I completely succumbed to the atmosphere of the film. I credit Leonard Hicks the most with this, while the other actors play it straight but with a hint of cheesiness between the lines, the sheer dignity and badassery of Kimar the Emperor just shines through in his way too serious performance. Maybe it's the addition of the cape, but Hicks looks like he's playing a character from a serious sci-fi or a crime drama. It also has, despite how stupid it is, some hints of cool concepts. Mars being a world of complete logic that has taken away the childhood of their people is a pretty interesting science-fiction concept and it sorta mirrors the dangers of the educational system. Younger children are expected to know more to fit into society these days and the danger of turning them into little adults are a bit of a dilemma.

Not to be forgotten is the awesome spectacle of Santa Claus facing off against an attacking robot or being kidnapped by martians. Like any kid, I've always loved the Santa Claus character but he's honestly never been the focus of all that many movies. Here in Denmark we have 24-episode daily television series each year leading up to Christmas eve where Santa Claus usually shows up in some form or another, but even in those he rarely makes a big appearance. Therefore, seeing Santa as the main focal point of a movie is a treat, and he's exactly what you'd expect Santa to be. Loving and kindhearted, laughing and hard at work at making sure Christmas will bring joy to children all over the world. John Call plays Santa in this film, and although Santa isn't one of those big complicated roles to portray I have to say he does a bit of a generic job that even some mall Santas might scoff at. However he carries the look pretty well and for what it's worth he works in this environment.

On the other hand, I was not a fan of the child actors either. There are four kids in this movie and they read their lines terribly. This might seem like a harsh judgement on behalf of how young they are but there are drama classes for kids around, the studio could have cast someone from one of those. This just seems like they did a quick coaching of the kids of the crewmembers and put them in front of the camera. This is also a strange movie to be complaining about this sort of things, but the characters weren't all that well-developed either, they don't actually seem to have something that looks like a personality and they just kinda go along with whatever is happening to them at any given time with very little resistance. Then again, how much would a kid actually complain if they got to get a trip on board a Martian spaceship? not much.

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians is worth a watch for that strange combination of holiday cheesiness and just plain bizarre concept. The film is kind of slow in the beginning but once they actually start having the Martians come to Earth the strangeness truly begins along with the dubious guilty pleasure of laughing at weird dialogue. If you wanted a science fiction christmas movie, well look no further! This is about as clear cut as the combination gets. I mean how do you get more in the holiday spirit than Santa Claus making sure Christmas gets to Mars? Easy answer, you don't. A curiosity of the space craze for sure, I'll say give the movie a try before you judge it too harshly.


The Big Lebowski (1998)

Film: The Big Lebowski
Release: 1998, theatrical
Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore
Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: Jobless slob Jeff Lebowski, otherwise known as The Dude is thrown into a kidnapping negotiation when he's confused for a local billionaire with the same name

Hans' thoughts:

Between bowling tournaments, drug fantasies, riled up war veterans and one of the most complicated to sum up movies of all time, The Big Lebowski sits as one of those big quotable cult classic comedies. Made by the impeccable Coen bros., The Big Lebowski stars Jeff Bridges as "The Dude" a laidback slob that signs checks for ridiculously small amounts and whose only social outing is that of the ongoing Bowling league where he hangs out with his peers. The paranoid and quick to arms Vietnam veteran Walter played by John Goodman and the socially awkward loser Donny played by Steve Buscemi. Everything takes a radical turn for the complicated when The Dude is mistaken for a multimillionaire of the same name, said multimillionaire being the titular "Big Lebowski" whose wife owes a considerable amount of money to a local loan shark and pornography magnate and then seemingly gets kidnapped. The Dude will now have to balance the drama of being hired to negotiate with the kidnappers while fighting his own personal battle of wanting to win the local bowling league where his greatest adversary is the colorful sex offender Jesus Quintana played by John Turturro. This may seem like I'm spoiling the plot of the movie, but trust me that this is actually just the setup for a plot that will go further and further down a very strange rabbit hole. 

Acting wise the movie is great, The Coen brothers have always been a star pull and this time is no exception. John Goodman and Jeff Bridges as the movies leads make for a very funny oddball pair and every character in the movie is just so darn colorful that you can tell the actors involved had fun on the set. There's not really much of a limit to the utter cool of The Dude, he's a laidback guy who's just found his special sweet spot in the world and he very much channels the spirit of a grown up hippie who's never really gotten to the point of a formal career but instead decided to do whatever he wants. He may not be a big player in the political leagues or a hero in the formal sense but The Dude is nevertheless a man steadfast on his principles and he really just wants to go on existing the way he's done so far which is what makes him so relatable everytime he tries to call it quits on the strange version of The Hero's Journey he's been put on. Bridges does a great job of portraying the character and you can kinda see elements from his performance as Flynn in the 1982 movie Tron as he prefers pleasure to duty and is bare bones honest about it. The Dude is very much a hero of the era he exists in and would go on to become an icon of 20-somethings everywhere. The film is also littered with strange but compelling and well choreographed dream sequences where we explore the psyche of our very laid back character. 

While the plot may seem very complicated, it never goes too far and leaves the casual audience behind. Reusing many of the same characters and expanding on them while the movie goes along even minor characters kinda get their own little moment in the movie and we can kinda tell who they are even if we're never given all that much time with them or information about their past. It's very reminiscent of the Iceberg-style created by late author Ernest hemingway, a style where you're only shown the tip of the iceberg directly but it's a tip that you can really read a lot into thus revealing the rest of the iceberg hidden underneath. It's a very show-don't-tell style and one I feel really fits the visual medium but unfortunately never get's used enough. This is an independent piece and that use of style is a sign of it, I very much doubt that a film like The Big Lebowski would've been greenlit by a major studio. However the Coen bros funds all their movies themselves and the revenue always goes into the next project, they only really use the big companies like Universal Studios as in this case for the sake of distribution to a mainstream audience. That's a pretty hard thing to pull off, yet the Coen bros. have done so with all of their movies and it really speaks for the amount of talent that's behind them. Especially interesting to me were the political commentary inherent in the story. There are next to no innocents in this movie and everyone is portrayed as a bit of a two-faced buffoon with the only possible exceptions being Steve Buscemi's Donny and Julianne Moore's character whom shall go unnamed for the sake of spoilers. The Bowling imagery is a running theme in the movie and what exactly it means is thankfully left to interpretation, something I once again don't think a mainstream studio would've let slide.

The Big Lebowski is one of those bizarre instances of good acting meeting good scriptwriting and magic just happening on screen. Between characters taking on a life of their own, really well-written dialogue and some fun imagery the film presents us with a strange journey taken by a strange man where he meets strange people. The film takes on nihilism, social status, the burden of keeping up appearances and the presidency of George Bush senior all seen through the eyes of a man who actually just wants to be left alone and live out his humble but comfortable existence. 


Hocus Pocus, Alfie Atkins (2013)

Norwegian poster
Film: Hocus Pocus, Alfie Atkins (Hokus Pokus, Albert Åberg)
Release: 2013, theatrical
Starring: Henrik Forsbak Langfeldt, Kim Haugen, Hallvard Lydvo
Directed by: Torill Kove
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: Alfie Atkins really wants a dog, but he and dad can't afford one so when he meets a magician that can conjure money out of thin air he decides to ask him for help.

Hans' thoughts:

The Swedish childrens books by Gunilla Bergström about the young boy Alfie Atkins has become a staple of Scandinavian childhoods since their initiation in the early 70's. Their short stories about everyday problems are easy for any kid to relate to so of course it was only natural that they would eventually turn to animation, and they did - a short lived series of 13 episodes each based on a book was created between the 80's and early 90's. The series was almost entirely narrated with the actual writing from the books and the animation was, at times, very scarce. That being said, it managed to strike a cord with a whole generation of children and 19 years after the last episode was made it's now become an animated feature presentation made by Norwegian director Torill Kove. So how does it hold up?

I was happy to see (or rather hear) the theme music from the series returning in this movie in some form, the main 5 chords of the theme returns in some form throughout even the new songs in the film and it's a nice nod to the classic series. The animation style also looks really good, even though it's with thinner linework it manages to recreate Gunilla Bergström's drawings from the books pretty well and it was nice to see a smoothly animated Alfie. I have to say though that the lack of shading did take a little getting used to. The environments of the movie are also drawn really well, just like with the books it has a very small number of locations and they're all drawn with a blend of detail and empty linework. Objects will sometimes be in the background that doesn't have colors filled in, for whatever reason. However, that's all lifted directly from the art of the books so it's a nice way to stay true to form. 

Unlike the original animated series though, the movie isn't narrated at all. It's frankly a good choice, having to sit through the lack of dialogue throughout an entire 1 hour and 12 minute movie would've been painful. Another change is the addition of song and dance numbers, reminiscent of the Disney formula. While a nice change of pace from the storyline, it does feel a bit tacked on. It should be noted that this is actually where the imagination of the art crew shines through the most, it has some really nice sequences in there with, as an example, a magician conjuring up various animals. On the sound side they decided to let the old theme's chords return in some of the song making all the music of the movie tie together in an overarching type of sound. I'm not a music critic, but I still picked up on it and I really liked it.

Concerning the story, this book was probably the best candidate for a feature adaptation. Hocus Pocus, Alfie Atkins is about Alfie wanting a dog, one day he meets an old man that can do magic and he decides to ask him for help in convincing his father that he's old enough to take care of one. It's a fun story about not always believing everything and a good story for adults about underestimating the capability for responsibility in their children. This being a feature presentation, of course they've made a few additions. More characters have been added to the story, there's been added an entire new subplot reminiscent of "Där går TJUV-Alfons!" (There goes Thieving-Alfie) and there's references to the other books throughout the movie. What makes the Alfie Atkins stories so compelling is because they're not written for a single age group, kids can read Alfie books from their early childhoods all the way through the first year of school. It's like having a companion that goes through the same troubles that you go through growing up. 

The books are also always fairly laid back, while never referenced directly Alfie seems to only live with his father. The father character is learning how to deal with each situation on the same terms Alfie is so it makes him relatable to parents of both sexes in that sometimes adults don't know all the answers and they're learning just like kids are. The books also manages to represent the logic of kids almost flawlessly, conversations like "Do you know why you don't believe in magic?" "Because it doesn't exist?" "Because nobody conjured money out of YOUR nose!". This is pretty much how kids think about these things and even though it might seem silly there's actually some kind of weird logic behind it. It kind of makes sense, doesn't it? Hocus Pocus, Alfie Atkins is a fun childrens movie without anything big and mystical going on, it's just kids problems seen through the eyes of a kid and as such some immediate things might seem phenomenally big because to a kid, they kinda are. I found myself rooting for Alfie all the way through and almost talking at the screen alongside my niece and nephew "no no no, Alfie! Don't do it!". The same seemed to go for all the other kids and adults at the pre-screening, and managing to get adults into the story and universe as well is a pretty well done job. Though it might be a bit too long for some of the younger ones I guarantee that it's family friendly fun for all ages, with some cute little music numbers and a good story to boot. 


Dragon Ball Z: The World's Strongest (1990)

Film: Dragon Ball Z: The World's Strongest (Doragon bôru Z: Kono yo de ichiban tsuyoi yatsu)
Release: 1990, theatrical
Starring: Sean Schemmel, Stephanie Nadolny, R. Bruce Elliot
Directed by: Daisuke Nishio
Previous in the series: Dragon Ball Z: The Dead Zone
Next in the series: Dragon Ball Z: The Tree of Might
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: The aging Dr. Kochin gathers the Dragon Balls and decides to wish for the resurrection of his mentor, the most brilliant and villainous mind the world has ever seen, Dr. Wheelo.

Hans' thoughts:

The second movie to be based on the Dragon Ball Z series, this movie once again doesn't seem to fit in anywhere particular in the overall timeline. However if it were to based completely on their looks and power levels I would wager somewhere during the attack of the Saiyans. The World's Strongest tells the story of the resurrection of a brilliant but slightly mad scientist called Dr. Wheelo. The man's body did not survive the restoration process however and he is nothing but a living brain able to communicate through machinery, he decides he wants to be the most powerful man in the world so he sends his people out to find the world's strongest man - whom he believes to Master Roshi, due to the many years that have passed since he was alive. While you can certainly question why Dr. Wheelo and his henchmen didn't just look up "The World's Strongest" in a modern day encyclopedia to find out that Master Roshi hasn't held the title for years, it makes for an interesting concept that someone would actually have a beef with Roshi. 

However good setup does not a good plotline make and Dr. Wheelo as a villain did not interest me in the slightest. His character design is never really shown due to the dark coloring of the movie and once he becomes the actual action villain of the piece he is taken out so quickly that it felt like a big load of nothing. This movie is a prime example of good concept but ridiculously poor execution. His underlings aren't especially interesting to look at either, some of them look like a barebones recolor of the saibamen from the Saiyan attack in the main series, while his elite squad of 3 fighters all look like they could have been interesting if they had actually been given anything to do in the movie besides make up for the action sequence quota. Dr. Koshin who kickstarts the problems just looks like a creepy old man but at least the reveal of how he was able to collect the Dragon Balls in his poor physical condition does make for a fun little twist. Unfortunately the five minute resolution of the movie just kills everything that was set up.

Not even our heroes get all that much to do this time around, aside from some barebones social interaction they pretty much just go from fight scene to fight scene. Had they actually done something with the fact that they having Roshi partake in the action perhaps the movie could have been salvage in the dramatic department but that part of the plot is brushed aside very early on in order to exploit the potential for rivalry between Son Goku and Piccolo. Dragon Ball has always had a very colorful character gallery and it's always sad when characters go barely used like in this case. I'm almost convinced that this movie could have taken a more interesting route had it either been put in another franchise altogether or at the very least at a more suitable point in the timeline. 

The World's Strongest is in my opinion one of the poorest Dragon Ball movies because of it's lazy design, poor writing  and just boring tone. This is a very boring Dragon Ball movie, the stakes are as low as ever and the fight scenes just kinda buzz by your eyes on the screen. Coloring wise the movie is also very poor, this might just be because of the age of the picture but in none of the versions I have seen of this are the dark coloring of the backgrounds not a problem, features will frequently blend in with the background and our main villain is barely visible once he joins in the fight. To top it all off, the movie also has some of the poorest sound design I have ever seen in a animated feature, the reused sound effects are a staple of the series, but why they decided to have such a barebones usage of the series soundtrack is anyone's guess. If you don't want to miss any of the Dragon Ball movies, you will find at the very least a light dosage of entertainment but everyone else I'll argue that your time is better spent elsewhere.

Dragon Ball Z: The Dead Zone (1989)

Film: Dragon Ball Z: The Dead Zone (Doragon bôru Z: Ora no Gohan wo kaese)
Release: 1989, theatrical
Starring: Sean Schemmel, Stephanie Nadolny, Christopher Sabat
Directed by: Daisuke Nishio
Previous in the series: Dragon Ball: Mystical Adventure
Next in the series: Dragon Ball Z: The World's Strongest
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: One day a mysterious group of fighters kidnap the son of Son Goku. It turns out to be the work of the powerful Garlic Jr., a villain with a connection to Kami's past.

Hans' thoughts:

The first of the Dragon Ball movies to be based on the adulthood era, the only one of the movies to directly affect events in TV-series and the first of the movies to not continue the storyline in the alternate movie universe. The Dead Zone takes place between the fight against Piccolo at the Martial Arts Tournament and the appearance of Raditz on Earth. Years after barely defeating Piccolo and saving the world, Goku has married his fiancé Chichi and had a child whom he named after his grandfather, Son Gohan. Most people who know of this era of the show know it as "Dragon Ball Z", it's a direct continuation of the original series and draws from the latter half of original manga but the "Z" was added to the title of the animated series as a reference to the distinct change in tone the story would have beyond this point, the humor would be greatly downplayed in favor of longer fight scenes and more drama-driven storytelling. The Dead Zone pretty much exemplifies this change, most of the characters that until now have been mainstays of the series have been put on the backburner. The character designs are also more humanoid - the details come more from their battle armors and hairstyles. 

Plotwise we have a pretty epic tale, it's not often we hear of events on Earth prior to Goku's landing as a small child so it's nice to get some insight, even if it is unofficial. Hundreds of years ago the unnamed Namekian that would later be known as Kami fought a man named Garlic over the succession of the former Kami (Kami being a word for "God" or "Spirit" in the Japanese Shinto mythology). Garlic's greed got the best of him and he was sealed away, in the present his son known as Garlic Jr. is gathering the Dragon Balls in order to wish for immortality and take revenge for his father. This of course causes the involvement of our hero, as one of the Dragon Balls is attached to the hat of his son and he gets kidnapped by Garlic Jr.s elite warriors in the process. The stakes feel pretty high and Goku's newly adopted serious demeanor does make for a very cool action hero. The humor of the previous movies is nearly completely gone, while there are some rather silly moments in the movie (such as a drugged hallucination sequence) the new focus is very visible. Where exactly this movie is supposed to take place in the plotline other than "before Raditz landed" is a bit of a mist however, as some of the vents directly contradict the way things go down in the main series.

Thankfully the villain of this movie is a lot better than the previous movie-original villains we have seen until now. Garlic Jr. being directly involved with characters of the main storyline makes us interested in him as a character and as opposed to original villains that would delve into fanfiction territory in later movies, he doesn't feel like a tacked on side-villain at all. As far as his minions go, while they're not particularly fleshed out they do manage to seem threatening enough for our heroes to take on.The action scenes also take up more of the movie, and thankfully they're a bit better handled than even some fights in the main series. I don't really have much to report on the side of the english voice cast, they're not doing bad jobs at all but they're not being fantastic either. The best performance in the movie is Christopher Sabat, he voices several of the characters but the one he did best with was Kami if only because of his monologue.

Animation-wise the movie is a bit of a step up from any of the former movies, the colors feel more streamlined and not nearly as blurred together with the lineart as in the others while a trippy drug sequence made for comical effect showcases some fun imagery if only briefly. Garlic Junior's "final form" is also a lot more threatening looking design-wise. While certainly not the best Dragon Ball movie, it manages to hold your attention for the duration and like the other movies the short running time of around 40 minutes makes it so it doesn't outstay it's welcome. While I'm personally more fond of the childhood tales of Goku and friends you also can't deny the utter star power of the Z series and it's version of the characters. 

Dragon Ball: Mystical Adventure (1988)

Film: Dragon Ball: Mystical Adventure (Doragon bôru: Makafushigi dai bôken)
Release: 1988, Theatrical
Starring: Ceyli Delgadillo, Meredith McCoy, Kent Williams
Directed by: Kazuhisa Takenouichi
Previous in the series: Dragon Ball: Sleeping Princess in Devil's Castle
Next in the series: Dragon Ball Z: The Dead Zone
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: Taking place a year later, Goku and Krillin has finished their training with Master Roshi and is going to the big city to prove themselves in the international martial arts tournament. Meanwhile, a child emperor has lost his queen and is gathering the legendary dragon balls in order to find her, little aware that his advisor has sinister purposes of his own

Hans' thoughts:

Presumably this movie takes place in the same version of the Dragon Ball universe where the two previous films takes place, as once again we have a retelling of, this time not only one but two major story arcs from the main comics with a series of changes made to make it work as a film. The story lines combined are what is known among fans as "The 22nd Tenkaichi Budokai" and "The Red Ribbon Saga" but with major changes in what amount of involvement different characters have in the plot and what position they have. Most notable are the changes done to the characters of Tien and Chiaotzu. In the original comics, Tien and Chiaotzu made their first appearance as competitors in a martial arts tournament being misguided into cruelty by their ambitious master and rival of Master Roshi, Master Shen. In this version, Chiaotzu is the child emperor of the nation where the tournament is held, Shen is his deceiving advisor and Tien serves as his bodyguard, on top of that, what in the series and comics is known as the Red Ribbon army owned by the devilish Commander Red is in this version the royal army of Emperor Chiaotzu, with Mercenary Tao Bai Bai serving as it's general and Master Shen serving as it's behind-the-scenes commander. Blue does make an appearance as well, but in this case he serves as a lieutenant rather than a General.

However in spite of all these changes, the core feel of the story is actually kept very much intact. Characters still play the same role as they did before but in a vastly different setting and it makes for a interesting "what if..?" scenario. This story, while not entirely humorless, does have a more serious tone but it differentiates from Sleeping Princess in Devil's Castle by actually giving a sense of high stakes. The martial arts tournament also gives the opportunity for more action scenes, but (perhaps thankfully) the focus is quickly shifted to giving us a main villain in the form of Mercenary Tao. Tao was the first character to actually start killing people in the series so having him here makes for a really badass bad guy. His motivations are purely based on bloodlust however, so perhaps for the sake of substance Master Shen is there as well as the one pulling the strings. 

Oddly enough this movie doesn't use any original characters at all to the point of keeping scenes from the original story arcs you wouldn't consider all that important. The most obvious one would be the inclusion of Goku's journey to Penguin City, for those not in the know, Penguin City was the setting for a comedic series called Dr. Slump that the author of the original comic book Akira Toriyama had done before he went on to create Dragon Ball. In the comic, Goku travels to Penguin City while fighting the villanous General Blue of the Red Ribbon army. There he meets some of the characters from Dr. Slump comic series and is even assisted by them in the fight. This is somewhat kept into the movie, as Arale, the superpowered main character of the series stays around to spectate a battle between Goku and Mercenary Tao throughout their second battle. It was meant as a easter egg for the fans of Dr. Slump in the original manga, so keeping it in a movie adaptation is one thing, but putting her on the poster is a really strange choice. Why they did this is anyone's guess but my bet is that it was done for marketing reasons.

Most of Goku's normal allies, while definitely present throughout, takes a major backseat in this movie. This is mainly Goku's adventure and it is mostly focused on having Goku overcome his struggles by himself. This makes the other characters mainly serve as expository characters and most of their scenes involve comic relief. Honestly though, if it wasn't for the cheerful music and bright colors some of the moments in this one actually becomes pretty serious so I'm glad they at the very least decided to leave the other characters in the movie. The Red Ribbon Army saga of the comics is one of my favorite comic book plotlines out there, so take it from me when I say that all the changes made to the story actually doesn't take you out of the experience. Instead it's a fun movie and perhaps one of the best Dragon Ball movies out there, Z or otherwise included.

Dragon Ball: Sleeping Princess in Devil's Castle (1987)

Film: Dragon Ball: Sleeping Princess in Devil's Castle (Doragon Bôru: Majinjô no nemuri hime)
Release: 1987, theatrical
Starring: Ceyli Delgadillo, Mike McFarland, Laurie Steele
Directed by: Daisuke Nishio
Previous in the series: Dragon Ball: Curse of the Blood Rubies
Next in the series: Dragon Ball: Mystical Adventure
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: The boy with the monkey tail, Son Goku, seeks out Master Roshi the turtle hermit in order to become his apprentice. However he gains a rival in the newcomer, a young but skilled martial artist named Krillin. Roshi decides he only wants one apprentice so he makes it into a contest: Whoever can save the legendary sleeping princess from the evil Count Lucifer's castle becomes his underling.

Hans' thoughts:

Continuing the trend set by Curse of the Blood Rubies, we're once again dealing with an alternate retelling of what is among fans known as "The Master Roshi saga". This is the story set immediately after the saga which Curse of the Blood Rubies was based on making this one of the few direct Dragon Ball movie sequels plus it's an indicator that at this point in the production of the tie-in movies they were trying to establish the movies as their own separate universe - but I'm getting ahead of myself. In this story, instead of telling how Krillin and Goku trained under Master Roshi the story turns into a fairy tale adventure with our heroes raiding a demon's castle. This is a step up from the former movie in quite a few ways, first off the setting is much more fantasy-like with the castle being larger than life and filled with statues of monsters - for a kids movie it actually manages to be very creepy even if most of it is just differently colored backgrounds. The setting of the movie being amongst demon's also allows for much more imaginative designs and while they didn't take the concept and run with it, it is a step-up from the very plain character designs of it's predecessor. 

A lot of modern fans tend to ignore this, but at this point in time Krillin was the closest Goku had to a rival, a spot that would later be taken by characters like Piccolo or Vegeta. While I love those two characters as much as any Dragon Ball fan, this movie reminded me of how closely Goku and Krillin used to resemble each other in strength. Other characters make an appearance as well, as an example Bulma does pay a small part in the story but for the most part it focuses on the adventure of Krillin and Goku. The villain this time is a Count Dracula type character named Count Lucifer, there's not really much to him - his motivations for doing what he does is barely explained and in a movie where most of the new designs are pretty interesting to look at he makes for the most boring design of all. I found myself being kind of taken aback by how boring he looks. At the very least the rest of the movie makes for much better entertainment so he amounts to a small failing at best.

The humor of the movie is pretty good as well, once again playing on how much more naive Goku is opposed to everyone else. The entire reason for Master Roshi to send them out for "The Sleeping Princess" in the first place pretty much amounts to him being a giant horndog so while the reasons behind the adventure on both sides are kind of dumbs, at least the actual action scenes, while not as good as in most other Dragon Ball stories, make for some pretty cool and funny moments. One of my main complaints for Curse of the Blood Rubies was the lack of the series sci-fi element and on that pedestal this movie is even lower, there is next to no indication whatsoever of the cool science fiction this series would later become in that most of it takes place in a medieval castle, however this time it didn't bother me as much because of the higher dedication to sticking to one setting in this film.

Artwise the movie is also a lot more vivid, the high amount of silly faces from the original series makes it mark in much higher amount here and it results in a bigger emphasis in carrying over the style - a lot of this actually looks like a Toriyama drawing instead of just an imitation by the animation studio in question. On the voice acting side I once again watched the dubbed version. While there is a pretty good performance from the regular cast I wasn't overly fond of the performance from most of the newcoming characters especially that of our main villain who, combined with a poor design, just came off as bland. This is really sad because the villain is voiced by Mike McFarland, the same person who voices Master Roshi with whom he actually did a pretty good job. Overall the film turned out to be a fun little fairy-tale adventure - however it fails to make the stakes feel all that high at all and that makes for a major problem in a show centered around a superpowered martial artist riding on a cloud.  I'd say watch it for a doze of that Dragon Ball humor but don't expect as good storytelling as in most other outings for the series. If not purely for curiosity's sake, there isn't much else to find here.


Dragon Ball: Curse of the Blood Rubies (1986)

Film: Dragon Ball: Curse of the Blood Rubies (Doragun bôru: Shenron no densetsu)
Release: 1986, theatrical
Starring: Colleen Clinkenbeard, Monica Rial, Jeremy Inman
Directed by: Daisuke Nishio
Next in the series: Dragon Ball: Sleeping Princess in Devil's Castle
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: In the mountains, a boy named Son Goku lives in total seclusion until one day he meets a young treasure hunting girl named Bulma - meanwhile in a small kingdom, the king has grown cruel and greedy in the hunt for the highly valuable Blood Rubies.

Hans' thoughts:

For kids all over the world, Dragon Ball has played the role of their first introduction to the shounen manga genre. The tale of a young boy, his friends and their action filled hunt for the legendary seven dragon balls that can fulfill any wish has proven to be such a popular genre the the series has spun off several video games, four cartoon shows, a slew of merchandise and of course a long line of movies. This time we're looking at the very first Dragon Ball movie, Curse of the Blood Rubies. The movie is centered around a small kingdom ruled by a king that has recently grown malevolent and has a extreme hunger he believes can only be removed by the magic of the dragon balls, he sends out his two elite soldiers to find the remaining balls he needs, meanwhile the movie also retells the first four or five chapters of the original series as we get the origin of Goku and Bulma's meeting, as well as a re-introduction for Master Roshi the turtle hermit, Yamcha the bandit and Oolong & Pool the two shapeshifting animals. As far as the retelling goes, I have to admit that while I perfectly understand their reasons for doing so I had far preferred they'd kept the origins out of the movie. The original stories the introduced the characters were pretty heavily grounded in the raunchy comedic nature of the show and some of the best moments have been left out - most likely due to the perceived age-rating of the film. However to their credit the writers of the film has managed to keep the spirit of the series very much alive and all the characters have their personalities intact. It should also be mentioned that this film has a running time of a meager 47 minutes, so it doesn't outstay it's welcome at all.

If you're familiar at all with the show, you know pretty much the standard fare for what you're in for. Goku is our super strong but fairly naive and stupid hero that saves the day with the help of his more world-weary cynical allies that are pretty much only in it for themselves. As far as Dragon Ball movies go, the storyline for this one is pretty good - Dragon Ball is a very action heavy but also storyline oriented series so trying to make something that fits somewhere into the story can be pretty trying - most of the time, the movies will mix up who were alive and had what powers at a certain point of the series. That's probably why they initially decided to make the movie take place at the very beginning of the story, making this some sort of alternative plotline. The actual big bad of this plotline in the series was the vindictive Prince Pilaf, who is nowhere to be found in this movie.

The villains have very simple designs compared to almost all other instances this series has ever seen, a low amount of color and more focus on body type is also a witness of how early on in the run the movie was made. Our main villain is kept in shadow for most of it, and does look interesting one he's finally revealed but the villains we spend the most time with are just two people in uniform. It's simplistic, but in the context of the story it works very well. By this time in the series, we had yet to be introduced to the major science fiction aspects the show would later encompass, and as such the film as much more of a medieval fantasy feel to it with Bulma's Capsule Corp. technology being the only real reminder of the shows setting most of the time. The animation of the movie is also very simplistic, I imagine it was done on the same budget as the show as it makes high use of still-frames to tell it's story. While mostly good, there is the case of the character of a little girl made especially for the movie, she's the films main character outside of the series mainstays and while she has a simple and cute design very akin to the iconic Akira Toriyama art style, the animators decided to animate some of her hairs separately and that unfortunately gives off the effect of her looking like a glorified Raggedy Ann doll.

I watched the Funimation version of the film, so I was treated to the English voice cast. While it's certainly apparent that the cast has become much better since it actually turned out to be a decent enough dub. Of course at times the difference in sound level between the high quality microphones used for the dub and the background music did become fairly obvious but never to the point that it took me out of the experience. There exists some very horrible voice-overs of Japanese animation out there and you can do far worse than the Funimation dub of Dragon Ball that as to some people become neigh iconic and a preferred choice. That's the boat I'm in, as I have never been a big fan of especially Goku's original voice, while it's standard fare for women to voice main character in japanese animation, in the case of Son Goku I felt the actress let him be way too high pitched. As I said however, this version had the Funimation voice cast and they do a well enough job of conveying the characters and their emotions. 

Superior quality of the original series aside, this movie holds it's own among the dragon ball animated movies and is a fitting start for what would become one of the most popular animated series in the genre. A mix of a sweet and simple story, some nice comedic moments and a fair quality of the series staple of martial arts action scenes. Curse of the Blood Rubies may not be the greatest Dragon Ball story out there but it manages to be a fun animated kids movie and an entertaining nostalgia trip for long time fans.


A Christmas Story (1983)

Film: A Christmas Story
Release: 1983, Theatrical
Starring: Peter Billingsley, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon, Ian Petrella
Directed by: Bob Clark
IMDB Page: Link opens in a new window
Description: The disillusioned 9 year old Ralphie Parker wants nothing more than a B.B. gun for Christmas and does anything in his power to get it while dodging the everyday problems of a kid

Hans' thoughts:

A Christmas Story is a movie that celebrates yet satires all the hijinks that will ensue when trying to celebrate the perfect holidays. Narrated by our main character as a grown-up, the story takes place in 1940's and shows us a rather cynical view of the commercial American christmas. It's mainly a childrens film, but it's probably the most adult childrens christmas special out there. If you're a fan of TV-shows like Malcolm in the middle then you know exactly what you're in for. The kind of sarcasm and observational humor in these kind of stories have never been as in tip top shape as in this piece, where our main character finds out the true meaning of Murphy's law - everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Our main character is played by Peter Billingsley, despite his young age he is played as a very observational and cynical person who puts way too much thought into his actions. Like a kid he is still kind of naive and have child fantasies but he seems much more reserved than most of the people he surrounds himself with.

The lead supporting characters is his immediate family, mother, father and little brother and you are quickly introduced to them in a way that you know exactly who they are and how they will probably react. It's that sitcomish observational humor but with well-written characters and excellent dialogue. My personal favorite character turned out to be the well-meaning but somewhat bumbling father who tries to be the perfect family father and is a lot of heart - but he's also a human being and some of the small problems he faces do manage to make him lose his temper from time to time. On the other hand, I wasn't all that fond of the mother character. While she was a loving classic mother, I kinda wanted her to lose her temper sometimes as well but for what we got the actress did a terrific job portraying a mother as she would have been seen through the eyes of a cynical 9 year old kid.

A Christmas Story is great in it's simplicity, there's no big looming danger at any point in the movie and all the characters seem fully aware of how dumb commercialised christmas can get - but it celebrates the small joys of togetherness and it doesn't try to make some kind of preachy story about how christmas isn't about the presents - our main characters quest throughout the movie is getting his hands on the perfect gift. Nothing more, nothing less. The movie understands that when you're a kid you understand all the good tidings that the television specials are trying to teach you, but at the same time you don't really want to be without gifts and you certainly have an idea about exactly what you want. Between a mix of heartwarming antics, good acting and a sweet story, A Christmas Story pretty much embodies what it's like to be a kid realizing more and more the cynicism behind his favorite holiday.

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