Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Film: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Release: 1982, theatrical
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Ricardo Montalban
Directed by: Nicholas Meyer
Previous in the series: Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Next in the series: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
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Description: While undergoing an inspection of the Star Ship Enterprise, the aging Admiral James T. Kirk is called to an emergency situation concerning a scientific project simply known as "Genesis". However an old and very capable foe is lurking in the shadows.

Hans' thoughts:

Critics log, Star date -308846.50745180104. Subject is the second installment in the Star Trek cinematic franchise. After a lukewarm reception of the original movie, the creators seemingly decided to appeal more to the already sizable fanbase of the original series as opposed to make a more main stream picture like the predecessor. Ironically, this movie would prove to the most critically acclaimed of them all and a great jumping on point for newcomers to the franchise. Set roughly in the distant future of the 2200's, Star Trek features the continued exploits of the crew of the S. S. Enterprise, in the main series on a mission to explore uncharted territories in outer space. In this movie however, James T. Kirk now promoted to the status of Admiral has long since left the captains chair and is celebrating his birthday in somber mood. To lighten up his spirits he decides to make an inspection round of his former ship when he is thrown into a dangerous venture concerning powerful revolutionary science and the revenge scheme of Khan, a genetically modified super soldier created in the 1990's. 

If that all sounded a bit complicated to you, have no fear. The film does a remarkable job of bringing everyone up to speed and while some of the terminology might be mostly understood by fans of the original series, the film features classical concepts of aging, revenge and obsession. In the role of Khan we have Ricardo Montalban. He plays a very quiet well-spoken man who only few times feels the need to raise his voice at all. You can just feel the seething hatred he harbors for the main character every time he encounters him. But somehow there's also a great deal of mutual respect between him and William Shatner as Kirk. There's a lot of parallels to classic literature in the film, particularly that of Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Khan shares the obsessive vengeful nature of Captain Ahab throughout the film, to the point of almost letting his emotions get the best of him at times. He's a man that has lost everything and is blind to compromise. The delivery of his lines are just so intense and the nature of them lies closely to almost Shakespearian.

On the other hand we have the cocky William Shatner as James Kirk. While he is more gloomy in this picture than normally he certainly hasn't lost his flair for wit and fast thinking in pressed situations. Kirk has seemingly taught himself to grow up and acknowledge that he won't stay young and spry forever, but his journey in this movie is more about coming to terms with it. While Khan seems to lose everything around him, Kirk is through the looking glass and reliving old thrills from his time as the captain. By his side as always he has Mr. Spock played by Leonard Nimoy and Doctor McCoy played by DeForest Kelley. Actually most of the classic cast of the series has reprised their roles and it's like they never left in the first place. They're all spouting off science fiction terminology like a second nature while keeping their characters well-known features intact. This is despite that the last season of Star Trek the original series was aired in 1969 and this movie came out in 1982. That's over 20 years of absence from a role.

Visually the film is gorgeous, it features new redesigned Star fleet uniforms which more closely resembles that of an army, with the rank of characters shown by stripes and stars rather than the color of their shirt. These costumes feel like they could be worn by an actual fleet rather than the more casual look of the uniforms from the original series. On top of that, we also have some really nice looking sets, simplistic at times but since most of the movie takes place on the bridge of a spaceship it makes sense in context. When the characters do depart to ground level operations, we have some fairly imaginative settings. The most visually appealing part of the movie however, is the exterior shots. For its time the effects are pretty goof, these are some of the best VistaVision model shots of space ships I have seen this side of the original Star Wars movies. Damage to the ships were all hand animated and even though it's outer space there's some great looking colorful shots in there. This, combined with the new original score by James Horner absolutely goosebump-inducing. While Star Wars is certainly the more approachable franchise movie-wise, a lot can be said for the sheer amount of skill in the execution of this film and it's highly recommended for anyone who loves the genre.


La Reine Soleil (2007)

Film: La Reine Soleil (The Sun Queen)
Release: 2007, theatrical
Starring: Philippe Allard, Catherine Conet, Coralie Vanderlinden
Directed by: Philippe Leclerc
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Description: During the reign of Akhenaten, a young princess named Akhesa is a lively troublemaker that escapes the palace ever so often. However, a group of soldiers from the neighbouring nation of the Hittite empire is burning down small settlements in search of gold. Soon, a much larger conspiracy is revealed that will decide the fate of the Egyptian royal family.

Hans' thoughts:

In the period around 1350 BC - 1335 BC (there exists some dispute over the actual dating) Egypt experienced for a brief moment of time nationwide monotheism during the reign of Pharoah Akhenaten in the 18th dynasty. Akhenaten was a devoted follower of "Aten", the disc of the sun. It's not a period much talked about in popular media so the fact that there exists not only a novel about it, much less an animated movie intrigued me. It of course follows more closely the events concerning the crowning of Akhesa, who would take the now famous Tutankhamun as her consort. Normally when studios make these kinds of movies they take a lot of liberties with historical events, and yes this movie does too. However the film still manages to capture a lot of the tense politics during this time period and for what that's worth at least I will give it that. Well done.

It's when it comes to looking at the film from a cinematic perspective things start to get a little shaky. The main problem with the film is its pacing. Events will quickly fly by at one time and then another time the film awkwardly takes it time with keeping in shots that could've been told in hindsight or through imagery alone. Exchanges like "Will you see this person" "No I won't" "He will not see you" are just a strange addition to the film and it takes up time that the film should've used on its other big problem: characterization. There are not a lot of characters in this movie, but even so only the two main characters seem to have distinguishable personalities and goals. What is the motivation behind the villains actions? Why did the king decide to outlaw almost all the gods? Things are mostly explained in throw-away lines without any deeper explanation in the context of the actual movie.

It's a shame too really, because the film is absolutely drop dead gorgeous to look at. It features streamlined yet expressive character designs, it has a great use of its color palette and the animation is smooth as can be. The music is also very much in the background but it captures the spirit of the moments and you can tell that the creators of this picture was really into making this movie as pleasing to look at as possible. La Reine Soleil could've been a truly great animated movie if more attention was put into the pacing and storytelling of the piece. Unfortunately as it stands, it is a visual masterpiece with very little else to back it up.


V For Vendetta (2005)

Film: V For Vendetta
Release: 2005, theatrical
Starring: Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman
Directed by: James McTeigue
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Description: In the mid-21st century, Britain has become a fascist regime. One night on the 5th of November a reminder to remember a heinous plot is set to never be forgot.

Hans' thoughts:

Very vigorously would valuers of vindictive revolutionary vendettas value V for Vendetta for its volume as a vector for vocal web-users. Re-written and re-visited by the Whachowskis, it ventures wondrously within the very vague vicinity of the victorious and the virulent views of it's reviewers. The video relies the comic book verses regarding the vaudevillian vindicator which wears the visage called V visualized by the recitalist Weaving. I was be-wondered by the ventures victory in verifying the vexing wonder of V. . Vies a vie, it explores the reason for wearing a disguise whilst fighting crime - not as much as in Watchmen where it's the very vestige of the writers work though still very represented in some form. 

The visuals verily wear the visage of revolutionaries, while relying wisdom regarding the role of the victim compared to role of the victimisers. One again the Wachowskis flaunt their vigor for visual violence. while verily the recitalists realize the roles remarkably. Phew, Okay. I'm sorry. Enough of that. To anyone unaware the original introduction of our main character V features a very well written piece of dialogue with wordplay using the V-sound. Out of all the actors I felt Portman in the role of Evey lacked a little bit of energy and it seems as though she just kind of goes along with whatever happens to her, no matter how cruel it is. For the purpose of the story, Portman certainly does a well enough job that it doesn't distract too much however it's hard to not see it whenever she plays off of charismatic actors like Stephen Fry or Hugo Weaving - Weaving is of course given a momentous task as his face is never actually seen and it falls to the cameraman to accurately convey what the character is going through in any instance. That's of course helped a little bit by the fact that the character of V is supposed to be more of a symbol than an actual character. Most interesting to me was the journey of Stephen Rea in the role of the  police detective Finch as he uncovers more and more about the state of affairs in future Britain and the truth behind the government.

In the villain department, John Hurt makes a very threatening Big Brother-esque villain. Being shown on a giant TV-screen throughout most of the movie his knack for monologue and tone of voice shines through. Likewise does Tim Pigott-Smith pose a threat as the head of the state police known as finger men. However it seems like he channeled Dick Cheney of the then current Bush government in America. There's a lot of snarl and down to business temperament portrayed even when we're just looking at his face. V for Vendetta is above all a very beautifully shot movie and at times it distracts from the at times only half-hearted crime mystery tucked in between the plot-lines. Whether the mystery portion was more fleshed out in the original comic I unfortunately don't know as I've not read it, however it's safe to say that like with the movie adaptation of Moore's other famous work Watchmen, details were left out in favor of focusing on the underlying morale and point of the story. As it stands I can at least recommend V for Vendetta for a very captivating story, some masterfully done shot and the Wachowski staple of excellent action.


Astro Boy (2009)

Film: Astro Boy
Release: 2009, theatrical
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Freddie Highmore, Donald Sutherland
Directed by: David Bowers
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Description: When his son is killed in an accident, the minister of science Doctor Tenma puts his memories into a revolutionary new robot lookalike - the powerful Astro Boy.

Hans' thoughts:

In the 1950's, a man named Osamu Tezuka created the comic series "Tetsuwan Atom", or "Strong-Armed Atom" (known as Astro Boy internationally). The series was a tremendous succes, kickstarting japanese animation and setting up a lot of the aestethic choices that we now consider "anime" and "manga". Years later, in 2009 an American adaptation was created using CG animation, that's the one we're looking at. Astro Boy is essentially a science fiction version of the classic tale of Pinnochio, the titular character Astro is built in the image of a scientists deceased son and giving all of his memories. However Astro is not a perfect clone of the child named Toby, he has his own personality and dreams so his creator decides to get rid of him. Now in the original story, Astro loses all memory of ever being called Toby and establishes his own life while becoming a powerful crime fighter in the ongoing ethical battle about the laws of robotics and the rights of robots as citizens. In the movie they decided to downplay the superhero aspect of the character, and instead focuses on his search for an identity.

If I had to be downright blunt about it I was not so fond of this movie. It feels kinda stilted, as if some of the energy of the original work has been removed in favor of misguided subtlety. The otherwise really energetic Nicolas Cage plays a very quiet, at times even awkward Doctor Tenma and the same can be said for most of the other actors. The movie also suffers from way too many secondary characters. Astro is quickly pulled from one situation to the next and in some cases we barely get to know a character before we're sent along to the next scene. In one particular example of this, a group of kids were introducing themselves and then Astro is pulled into a completely different scene for 2 minutes to be introduced to even more secondary characters. As if the writers suddenly got bored with one scene and decided to simply start writing the next one. It does the movie a giant disservice of us not really caring about when a character we've only seen for a minute or two suddenly hijacks the movie to be put into focus again. Nevermind the very blunt scene transitions that's already apparent in the product.

This lack of discipline when it comes to what exactly they wanted to do with this movie is very disheartening, and it isn't helped by the fact that the movie has a tacked on environmental message which has no grounds in the original series, nor is it used as part of the ongoing narrative at all. At one point it seems as if they also wanted to talk about class warfare but once again they bring up the subject and then drop it again as soon the next scene starts. At the very least, I liked the art-style. They took the original style and made it more culture-neutral and streamlined. Characters are still recognizable but a lot of the exaggerated features from the comics and cartoon is downplayed severely. Likewise the color scheme and environments of the movie is beautiful and I really wish that the attention to detail in that department had been carried over intro the rest of the production. It's really unfortunate that such a gorgeous looking movie ended up with such a lackluster script and direction. It seems rushed, which is weird considering that there was no large demand for a western adaptation of Astro Boy - a 50 year old series. As it stands I can really only recommend the movie to curious fans of the original series.


Justice League: War (2014)

Film: Justice League: War
Release: 2014, Video
Starring: Sean Astin, Christopher Gorham, Jason O'Mara
Directed by: Jay Oliva
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Description: All over the world, strange kidnappings by monstrous beings are taking place. During an investigating into the matter in Gotham City, Hal Jordan the Green Lantern of Earth meets the rumored "Bat Man".

Hans' thoughts:

Kickstarting a new DC animated universe, Justice League: War is an adaptation of the first story arc of the rebooted Justice League comic books from 2011. On planet Earth, superheroes are appearing for the very first time and brought together to fight a full scale invasion from the death lord of planet Apokolips, Darkseid. A few changes has been made to the original story for the sake of adaptation, the most notable being that Aquaman is switched out with Shazam (Captain Marvel) in the roster of the team. Why they decided to do so is anyone's guess, but it might be because Shazams origin story was retold as a subplot in the original format independent of the main story-line. 

Acting wise I have to admit I felt it in places was a bit weak. Especially the actress playing Wonder Woman had a few lines that felt way too read from the script, probably rehearsed well enough, but it's like she didn't make the dialogue her own. It's the same case in varying degrees with the other actors, however for whatever reason she was the one that stood out the most to me. Steve Blum, who's an industry veteran by this point did a good job as Darkseid however the voice-filtering on him sometimes made him nearly incomprehensible. Despite this, dialogue is actually very much on point and works well with the very uncomplicated plot - exposition is handed out quickly, "this is what's going on and why - now watch Superman punch this alien". This paves the way instead for more silly remarks and reactions between the individual heroes to the strangeness that surrounds them.

I was actually pretty thrilled by the action scenes in this, the movie does not serve as an origin story for the individual heroes (with the exception of Cyborg) so it's taken more of a "less talkie, more punchy" kind of nature. The action scenes are well edited and animated, with sound effects that really underscores the effects of the punches. The artstyle of the movie is similar to that of Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox from last year, and serves as a decent adaptation of the new costumes designed by artist Jim Lee.  Both Flashpoint and this story was written by Geoff Johns, and you can recognize his background as a writer for The Flash and Green Lantern as they've both been given extra attention. Flash was the main character in Flashpoint, and Green Lantern is the main character in this piece. Green Lantern especially ends up being a character with humorous moments and exchanges right from the get-go.

Justice League: War is by no stretch a great animated movie and it pales in comparison to some of the other DC direct-to-video releases. Despite the creators intention of making it a jumping on point for newcomers, It unfortunately also withholds one of the problems of the animated films by just leaving way too much up to the viewer. Hopefully some of the more unknown characters like Shazam will come into their own with a movie detailing their origin. That being said, for anyone who loves well-animated action scenes and the Justice League this is an entertaining piece through and through. It keeps a fast-pace, has some funny lines and a great retelling of both the origin story of Cyborg and the coming together of The World's Finest, setting up what will hopefully be a great series of movies.

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