The Lego Batman Movie

This Review includes SPOILERS.

  • Title: The Lego Batman Movie
  • Director: Chris McKay
  • Date:  2017
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Animation, Action, Fantasy
  • Cast: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Siri, Conan O’Brien, Billy Dee Williams, Eddie Izzard, Channing Tatum, Mariah Carey
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray

“Black. All important movies start with a black screen. And music – edgy, scary music, that would make a parent or studio executive nervous. And logos, really long and dramatic logos.” – Batman

“Whoa. Let me tell you something, J-bird. Batman doesn’t do ‘ships.” – Batman
“What?” – Joker
“As in ‘relationships’. There is no ‘us’. Batman and Joker are not a thing. I don’t need you. I don’t need anyone. You mean nothing to me. No one does.” – Batman

“Sir, if you don’t mind my saying, I’m a little concerned. I’ve seen you go through similar phases in 2016, and 2012, and 2008, and 2005, and 1997, and 1995, and 1992, and 1989, and that weird one in 1966. Do you want to talk about how you are feeling right now?” – Alfred
“I don’t talk about feelings, Alfred. I don’t have any. I’ve never seen one. I’m a night-stalking, crime-fighting vigilante, and a heavy metal rapping machine.” – Bruce Wayne

The Lego Batman Movie is one of the best Batman movies ever made because it gets to the core of the Batman character, and it revolves around both as a plot point and as the emotional core of the movie the fatal flaw in Batman’s character. The film is also a ton of fun, funny, packed with action, full of references to every previous version of Batman and quite a lot else besides, and one of those movies that one can enjoy over and over again. The Lego Batman Movie is funny and colorful but it is not a parody of Batman, something that also makes it a great Batman film.

The film opens with “McGuffin Airlines” flying over Gotham City in a plane loaded with a ton of weapons and bombs. Joker attacks the plane, and plants bombs that will blow-up an energy plant causing Gotham City to fall into an endless abyss. The attack itself resembles the opening of The Dark Knight Rises, while Bane’s later plan results in something akin to the No Man’s Land storyline from the comics. But Joker also, in a conversation with Batman, references the two boats from The Dark Knight and the “parade with Prince music” from Tim Burton’s Batman. In other words, within a few minutes, this movie is acknowledging its predecessors. Joker also isn’t working alone, he has a number of B-grade Batman villains, all of whom did appear in the comics at some point, and Harley Quinn helping him. Yet when Batman catches Joker he has to let him go – so he can stop the bomb Joker and his gang planted earlier. It’s when Batman catches then releases Joker that we get their conversation with Joker insisting he is Batman’s Greatest Enemy and Batman insisting he doesn’t do ‘ships with anyone.

Once he releases Joker, stops the bomb and celebrates his win, Bruce heads home. He changes into a comfy robe, eats a meal made by Alfred and heated-up in the microwave, and then watches a sad, romantic movie in his home theater. He is very alone. Bruce stands before the picture of himself with his parents at the theater and asks if they would be proud of him. At this point, Alfred arrives. Alfred is worried about Bruce, stating he’s gone through these stages before. But Bruce insists he doesn’t talk about feelings. Alfred then reminds Bruce he’s to attend a gala retirement party for Police Commissioner James Gordon. Bruce objects, but finally reluctantly agrees.

At the party, he meets Dick Grayson but doesn’t really pay much attention to the young orphan, as he also sees Barbara Gordon and has one of those “love at first sight” moments. Barbara is the new police commissioner, having already cleaned-up Gotham’s “sister-city” of Blüdhaven (and graduated from “Harvard for Police”). Barbara’s plan for Gotham? It takes a village, not a Batman, to truly reduce and eliminate crime. But Barbara also wants there to be a partnership between the police and Batman. Bruce isn’t having the no Batman idea, though he’s intrigued by Barbara. Still, Bruce, being distracted at the time, agrees to adopt young Dick Grayson, as we find out later.

Joker hangs out with Harley Quinn and his B-grade villain friends, plus a few well-known ones like Bane, Clayface, and Scarecrow. He sees a TV interview with Superman, where he’s talking about banishing Zod to the Phantom Zone. The Joker gets an idea and he and the other villains attack Gordon’s party. But once chased back outside, they all surrender. Every one of them, including Joker. Batman is confused – without crime, what is he to do? Barbara and her police department organize arresting everyone and taking them to the prison.

Batman then gets the idea of using the Phantom Zone projector to send Joker to the Phantom Zone. But when he returns to the Batcave he finds a parental lock on his computer. Alfred, who is reading, Setting Limits for Your Out-of-Control Child, tells Bruce he must raise Dick, whom he adopted last week at the orphanage. Alfred shows clear affection for Dick already and tells Bruce that he and Dick have a lot in common. But Bruce cruelly tells Alfred he “knows nothing about raising a surrogate son”. So Alfred lets Dick into the Batcave. In what becomes a running joke, Dick says, “Wow, Batman lives in Bruce Wayne’s basement?” Bruce points out that Bruce lives in Batman’s attic. But with the parental lock released, Batman makes a plan to steal Superman’s Phantom Zone projector, and he takes Dick along because he’s perfect for getting through the death traps protecting the projector that Batman himself would never be able to negotiate alone.

They arrive at the Fortress of Solitude, Batman tells Dick that all superheroes are brooding, serious people who need a quiet place of reflection and solitude, then rings the doorbell – which plays the theme to Richard Donner’s Superman film. Superman sticks his head out of the crack of the door and reluctantly lets Batman in. There is literally a party going on. The entire extended Justice League is there, celebrating the 73rd anniversary of the Justice League. Superman pretends Batman’s invitation was lost in the mail. While Batman encounters the Flash, Superman, Wonder Woman, and many others in the League and gives instructions to Dick Grayson over a communicator, Dick negotiates a series of intricate death traps and successfully borrows the Phantom Zone projector. Then he and Batman leave the Fortress of Solitude for Gotham.

Batman and Dick attempt to sneak the projector into the prison and Batman, after getting caught, manages to obtain the Phantom Zone projector and use it on Joker. Barbara, very disappointed in Batman, arrests him and Dick for what they did. Meanwhile, Joker ends up in the Phantom Zone, is greeted by Phyllis the brick, and starts to prepare a long speech to the villains in the Zone about getting out to wreak havoc. The villains don’t even let him finish his speech, before agreeing. The villains include: Daleks, Sauron, Voldemort, the Wicked Witch of the West, a shark, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, those guys from The Matrix, King Kong, Medusa, Godzilla, etc. Joker releases them all after Harley Quinn gets Joker out.

The villains and Joker attack Wayne Manor and they take over the Batcave (he also assumes Bruce Wayne is Batman’s roommate).

Barbara releases Batman and Robin, and the three work together with Alfred. At Arkham, the B-class villains who are still incarcerated offer help to Batman, Robin, Barbara, and Alfred (in a 60s Batman outfit). This allows Batman to remark on the “stupidity” of the idea of getting criminals together to fight criminals. Joker turns Wayne Manor/Island into “Joker Island”.

Batman, Alfred, Robin, and Barbara are squeezed into the Batwing, but one by one their engines fail. Batman goes to the outside of the plane to fix the engines and is joined by Dick and Alfred. Flying monkeys attack and Dick falls off the plane and through the sky. Batman barely rescues him, but Alfred falls. Bruce is really upset and freaking out when Barbara flies the Batwing and rescues Alfred. Batman realizes he would have lost Alfred without Barbara and the four begin to work together. They defeat Sauron, and Godzilla leaves. The Batwing lands. But when Robin takes a picture of everyone together to celebrate, Batman looks at it and is reminded of the picture of himself with his parents when he is younger. He tricks everyone else into getting into the Scuddler and sends them off to get burritos on the edge of town. Now he is doing this to protect them, but at the same time, his friends don’t want to be “protected” they want to help. Once more, Batman wants to work alone.

Batman arrives at “Joker Island” and confronts Joker, who again brings up their “relationship”, including a heartfelt, “I hate you”, before sending Batman to the Phantom Zone. In the Phantom Zone, he meets Phyllis (the brick) who thinks he’s a villain. There’s a series of flashbacks, showing Batman in his worse light, hurting others. He agrees that if Phyllis releases him for 24 hours, he will bring back all the villains. Phyllis agrees – and emphasizes that Batman must return all the villains.

Batman gets back just in time to rescue Alfred, Barbara, and Dick – but they are all angry at him for sending them away in the first place. Batman admits he was afraid and even says he’s sorry (barely). He then shows the Babs-signal, as well as signals for Robin and Alfred to Barbara and everyone. They agree to work together again and even go to Arkham to release all the B-villains to get them to help in rounding up the villains from the Phantom Zone as well as Joker.

There’s a massive, complex, fight scene between the Gotham family and the Evil Army. At one point, Batman tells Robin, “Okay Robin, together we’re going to punch these guys so hard words describing the impact are going to spontaneously materialize out of thin air!”, which they do, in true 60s-Batman style. Voldemort is sent to the Phantom Zone. Other bad guys are sent to the Phantom Zone. Robin actually uses the shark repellant which came up earlier (another 60s reference as well). But the bombs that Joker and his evil gang have placed around Gotham City go off and, as mentioned earlier the city is cut off and heading for the abyss.

The only way to save Gotham is to “stick together using [their] heads”, they build a bridge. Batman admits his connection to Joker to save Gotham and they stick together creating a bridge. With a click, everything comes together. Citizen bridges, um, bridge the other gaps, and again with a click – Gotham is saved. Batman tells Joker, with a sunset behind them, “I hate you, Joker.”

Batman gets ready to go to the Phantom Zone. He lets Dick call him Dad and, and reveals he is Bruce Wayne. Bruce talks about what he’s learned. Bruce and Dick even hug. But when Bruce tries to send himself to the Phantom Zone he hits a wall and bounces back. Phyllis points out that Batman has changed for the better. The movie ends with a white screen (and a montage of Bruce with his new family).

The Lego Batman Movie is a great film. Yes, it’s funny and smart and references all the previous Batman films. Yes, the idea of Batman and company fighting famous movie (and television) villains from Voldemort to “British Robots” as the Daleks are called is amusing. But what makes the movie re-watchable is that it tells a very moving story. That story is of a man, finally, facing his demons and moving on. It’s a story of a man putting aside his loneliness and creating a new family. Dick Grayson is central to this story. And in the comics, Dick was introduced for three main reasons. First, narrative necessity – giving Batman a partner gives him someone to talk to, this improves the story because it becomes reliant on dialogue instead of the main character’s monologue. As well as someone to talk to, a sidekick, partner, or companion also gives the main character someone to worry about and rescue when they get in trouble, this, in turn, humanizes the main character. Second, Robin was a lighter character. After Robin was introduced in 1940, Batman introduced his famous “no kill” rule, and Robin’s Joie de Vire lightened up the Batman comic books considerably. Finally, Robin as a young character was meant to give the children reading the Batman books a character they could identify with who was their own age. In many ways, by introducing Robin, The Lego Batman Movie is the first time we’ve seen this transition in Batman on the screen. Yes, we don’t see the dark, brooding, willing to kill, stalker vigilante of circa 1938 Batman or solo adventures like Dark Victory, but by constantly referencing the entire Batman canon, The Lego Batman Movie is using a shorthand that both trusts the audience hasn’t been living in a cave for the last ten or twenty years and that they know who the Dark Knight is or was. Additionally, the film itself shows you the lonely, desperate for approval Bruce Wayne in the scenes in his mansion where he heats up the dinner Alfred made in the microwave and watches sad movies – alone.

Needless to say, The Lego Batman Movie, is one of the best Batman films ever made and I highly recommend it. And, there is a considerable about of action and humor too. It’s not grim. It just gets to the core of just who Bruce Wayne and Batman is, alongside his Bat-family of Alfred, Dick Grayson, and Barbara Gordon.

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Labyrinth

  • Title:  Labyrinth
  • Director:  Jim Henson
  • Date:  1986
  • Studio:  TriStar (Jim Henson Productions, Lucasfilm)
  • Genre: Fantasy, Children’s Film
  • Cast:  David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray

“It keeps changing, What am I supposed to do?” – Sarah

Sarah is a young teen-aged woman who enjoys Cosplay (she dresses in a watery green gown that she probably made herself, and wears over her jeans, while reciting lines from her favorite story), her books, her stuffed animals, and her other trinkets of childhood. When her parents ask her to babysit her baby brother, she acts very put upon and even bratty. Finally, she wishes her baby brother away. When the Goblin King takes her brother, she immediately regrets her actions and becomes determined to get her brother back.

Sarah must solve the labyrinth, get to the castle beyond it, and rescue her brother. At first, she constantly asks for help from anyone she meets, but over time she gradually begins to trust her own instincts and solves a series of tests, riddles, and puzzles herself. She makes new friends, and works her way to the goblin castle.

Once at the castle, she decides she must confront the Goblin King herself, uttering the magic words, “You have no power over me,” which free her and her baby brother. When she returns home, she begins to pack away her childish things. But her friends from the Labyrinth appear in mirrors to tell her, they’ll be there, “should you ever need us.”

Labyrinth is a story about growing up. Not only must Sarah learn to care for her baby brother without complaining, but she must learn to trust herself, not others, and rely on her own ability to solve problems. Which isn’t to say she must be totally alone – the importance of real friends is another theme of this classic children’s/teen movie.

What makes the film stand out, however, is David Bowie’s performance as the Goblin King. Bowie sings three songs in the film, all of which are just awesome! The song and dance routines are well integrated into the film – and they make the movie.

The Blu-ray looks really good, though I was disappointed that the songs weren’t subtitled. The Firey sequence shows some really bad travelling matte lines and green screen artifacts, though. The rest of the film, which features Jim Henson’s signature muppet creatures, and an actor in a suit (Ludo) looks good. That is to say, it’s not dated looking. The film references (and has a credit for) Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, and the paintings/drawings of MC Escher, both of which are acknowledged in the end credits. I especially enjoyed Sarah and the Goblin King’s confrontation in Castrovalva.

I loved this film as a teen – and I might have even owned a copy on VHS at some point. It’s been on my “buy when you see it cheap” list for a long time – and I just bought the Blu-Ray on sale for a very good price last month. The film does stand up, which is always a concern with movies you loved as a child or teenager but haven’t seen since becoming an adult. I did feel, especially early in the film, that Sarah was a bit of a brat. But, I also felt sad to see her boxing up her toys and stuffed animals at the end of the film.

Recommendation:  See it! Especially good for pre-teens and teenagers
Rating:  PG 
Next Film:  To Catch a Thief

Thunderbird 6

  • Title:  Thunderbird 6
  • Director:  David Lane
  • Date:  1968
  • Studio:  MGM, United Artists
  • Genre:  SF, Action, Children
  • Cast:  Peter Dyneley, Sylvia Anderson, Shane Rimmer, Jeremy Wilkin, Matt Zimmerman, David Graham
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

Thunderbird 6  is based on the Gerry Anderson Supermarionation series, Thunderbirds, and was made at the same time. For more information on the television series, see this post. The film opens with a secret meeting at the New World Aircraft Corporation, where the designer of the Thunderbirds, Mr. X, addresses the group. He suggests New World Aircraft should build an airship. The men at the meeting literally laugh at him, but build the ship anyway.

Once the ship is build, Alan Tracy and Tin Tin fly to England in an antique Tiger Moth Biplane to meet up with Lady Penelope and Parker. The four travel to the air field at New Word Aircraft. FAB 1, Lady Penelope’s pink Rolls Royce is loaded on the airship, and Alan, Tin Tin, Lady Penelope, and Parker, all go aboard the lighter-than-air craft for the around-the-world maiden voyage of Skyship One as it’s called.

However, all is not smooth sailing. Prior to the arrival of the International Rescue crew members, a group of men had gotten into the ship. These men kill the ship’s captain and the entire crew, and take their place. Skyship One is completely automated, and the crew is only there to serve the passengers and in case of emergencies.

With the International Rescue members aboard, and unaware that the crew isn’t the real crew – Skyship One lifts off, and begins it’s around-the-world cruise, stopping at many famous sites, and even making ports of call where the passengers can see the sights. They visit New York, the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, Niagara Falls, Switzerland, the Pyramids, and other famous tourist locations.

Meanwhile, Jeff Tracy has told his engineer Brains (also the mysterious “Mr. X” who suggested that Skyship One be built in the opening scene of the film) that International Rescue needs a Thunderbird 6. Jeff gives no explanation of what he wants, nor does he explain why he thinks it’s so important. Throughout the film, Brains develops machines for Jeff, showing him various models, and Jeff rejects all of his designs and hard work. This becomes the “B plot” of the film, while the around the world tour on Skyship One is the “A plot”.

During the tour, Lady Penelope discovers she is being bugged. Alan, Parker, and Lady Penelope all investigate – and discover only Lady Penelope is being recorded. Meanwhile, it’s revealed that the substitute crew have written a message from Lady Penelope to Jeff Tracy at International Rescue – they plan on recording Lady Penelope saying all the words of the message, the re-arranging and editing together the words she says, so it sounds like she is sending the message herself. The message will then be sent, so Jeff hears it and thinks Penny sent it. Additionally, the message, which essentially sends Thunderbirds 1 and 2 to a disused airfield south of Casablanca, also tells Jeff to not acknowledge the message.

And that is exactly what happens – Alan, Parker, and Tin Tin discover recording equipment, and realize what is going on, but not before the message is sent. Penny calls Jeff directly using her compact-phone, only to find that Thunderbirds 1 and 2, and their pilots have been sent to the co-ordinates in the message. Lady Penelope warns Jeff it’s a trap. Jeff contacts his sons, and they blow the heck out of the buildings at the airfield, destroying everything with guns.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to round-up the false crew as the ship approachs Dover in the UK, there’s a gunfight in the “Gravity Compensation Room” (an impressive model set full of silver spinning things). The gravity compensaters are damaged, and the airship begins to slowly sink. Tin Tin, however, is taken hostage by one of the false crew and the International Rescue team is also taken hostage.

Meanwhile, Thunderbirds 1 and 2, fly to the location of Skyship One to find out what’s going on, and to rescue Lady Penelope, Tin Tin, and Alan.  As he gets close to where the airship should be, Scott has trouble finding it – then notices it is cruising at a much lower altitude than it should be. Skyship One then hits and becomes entangled in the Interceptor Towers at a missile base on the British coast. The ship is in a dangerous and precarious position. Scott has the missile base evacuated and in the meantime tries to effect a rescue of the people aboard Skyship One, with the help of Virgil in Thunderbird 2.

Unfortunately, because Skyship One is so light, and the tower isn’t steady, Thunderbirds 1 and 2 can’t get close without causing the ship to start tipping or crashing. They use lines to try to stabilize the ship but are unsure how to effect a rescue of the people. They contact Tracy Island Base for ideas.

Brains comes up with a solution – they will use the 2-seater Tiger Moth to rescue people from the Skyship one at a time. This would be difficult enough, but when the small biplane lands on the huge airship, Brains is quickly taken hostage – and Foster, the captain, tries to escape by himself, only.

However, Brains, Parker, Alan, and Tin Tin are able to overcome the false crew and get on the Tiger Moth. It isn’t straight forward though – other members of the substitute crew get on the Tiger Moth, there’s a gunfight, and eventually all of the false members are killed, including Foster who is in the pilot’s seat of the Biplane. Lady Penelope ends up in the forward seat of the Biplane, and Parker in it’s undercarriage – and the plane’s engine is shot and losing fuel. Lady Penelope is the only one of the group who doesn’t know how to fly a plane. Alan carefully moves along the exterior of the plane from where he had been hanging on the wing to the cockpit. He tries to talk Penny through a dead-stick landing but she can’t quite get the plane down. So Alan has her pull-up, roll the plane to get rid of Foster’s body, then gets into the second cockpit himself and eventually lands the plane (without fuel he ends up in a tree – but no one is hurt, not even Parker).

Meanwhile, once everyone has left Skyship One via Biplane, and the missile site is evacuated, Scott and Virgil let go of their lines supporting the doomed airship. It crashes into the missile base and there’s a series of really big explosions.

Later at Tracy Island, Brains introduces to Jeff the completely built and field-tested Thunderbird 6 – the Tiger Moth.

Thunderbird 6 does feel much more like an extended episode of the television series, and the plot holds-up together better than Thunderbirds Are Go. However, it’s still very slow moving. The world-wide cruise of Skyship One just seems to take forever. The film also has two problematic issues with it – first, it’s very violent, especially for Thunderbirds.  The entire crew of the airship (granted, its only four people, but still) is ruthlessly slaughtered. When Jeff tells Scott and Virgil that their rendezvous at the airfield south of Casablanca is a trap, the boys simply annihilate everything in sight. What if the Black Phantom’s cronies had taken people hostage at the airfield? I mean, sure, it was abandoned – but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no one there. And then, in the midst of the actual rescue, the entire substitute crew, who were, granted, up to no good – are killed. It’s remarkably violent for a kid’s movie. And the second issue is the film is pretty sexist. Of course, it’s Tin Tin who’s taken hostage. Of course, Lady Penelope can’t fly a plane or follow Alan’s instructions for landing it. I mean, yes, that would be difficult – but this is Lady Penelope!

Still, overall, the film is better than Thunderbirds Are Go, simply because the plot holds together better, even if the movie moves very slowly.

Recommendation: Recommended for fans of the original show only
Rating:  3 1/2 Stars out of 5
Next Film:  To Catch a Thief

Thunderbirds Are Go

  • Title:  Thunderbirds Are Go
  • Director:  David Lane
  • Date:  1966
  • Studio:  MGM/UA
  • Genre:  SF, Children
  • Cast:  Shane Rimmer, Peter Dyneley, Sylvia Anderson, Jeremy Wilkin, Matt Zimmerman
  • Format:  Technicolor, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“OK, boys, Thunderbirds are go!” – Jeff Tracy

“Well, clearly, there’s life on Mars. But I guess it’s not life as we know it.” – Jeff

Thunderbirds Are Go is based on the Gerry Anderson Supermarionation TV series, Thunderbirds and was made at the same time. The movie is very much like a bigger, more complex and meant to be more exciting episode of the series. And that is where the film falls down, unfortunately. The film opens  with the control center for the Zero X, a manned flight to Mars. A saboteur inside the vessel is able to sabotage it, and the ship crashes into the ocean. The crew, however ejects and is rescued by normal air/sea rescue.

Two years later, there is a discussion of the crash in the wake of a 800-plus page report detailing exactly what happened. The conclusion of the report – sabotage!  However, Earth is again in position to try for Mars. The proposal to do so meets with one negative vote. The captain of the previous mission asks that International Rescue be called in to provide security and be on-hand in case anything goes wrong. The head of the space organization isn’t happy about asking for help, and refuses to do so.

Meanwhile on Tracy Island, the boys are eagerly standing in front of Jeff Tracy’s desk. Though he points out that International Rescue does not normally respond until they receive a request for help, he tells them that rules are meant to be broken and sends Scott in Thunderbird 1 and Virgil in Thunderbird 2 to Glenn Field to monitor and assist. Alan is dispatched in Thunderbird 3 to monitor from space. John is of course, on Thunderbird 5, and will only monitor communications as normal. Gordon is left at home with nothing to do. Once the boys have left, Jeff calls Lady Penelope and asks IR’s London agent to also go to Glenn Field to investigate and route out any saboteurs.

Lady Penelope, undercover as a journalist, asks one of the scientists on the mission a question, then gives him a St. Christopher medal, with a transmitter/homing beacon inside. Later, once everyone is meant to be on the ship for takeoff – she runs a check and realises Dr. Grant is not on the ship. Scott goes to investigate and unmasks a phony and saboteur. Penny locates the real Dr. Grant who is unharmed and returned to the aircraft before it takes off. Penny and Parker also chase the saboteur in FAB 1, Lady Penelope’s pink Rolls Royce. The chase includes the car turning into a hydrofoil and continuing the chase on water, and finally bringing down the saboteur’s helicopter with machine gun fire.

Meanwhile, Zero X takes off as scheduled and without difficulty. Thunderbird 2 escorts it as far as rarefied atmosphere, where Thunderbird 3 takes over and sees that the ship safely leaves Earth’s atmosphere. Alan returns in Thunderbird 3 to Tracy Island. Meanwhile, rather than returning immediately to Tracy Island, Scott and Virgil join Lady Penelope at a new nightclub called the Swinging Star. The Thunderbirds are left under guard at Glenn Field.

Back at Tracy Island, Alan isn’t happy to have heard that Scott and Virgil are going out for a night on the town. He asks Jeff for permission to go to the mainland with Tin Tin, but Jeff refuses.

That night, Alan has a dream – Lady Penelope picks him up and takes him to the Swinging Star nightclub in space. There’s instrumental music and Alan wear’s a medium blue suit, while Lady Penelope wears a stunning blue dress with a white feather boa. After the first musical number, Cliff Richards Jr. and the Shadows come on and play an elaborate number which includes them playing on FAB 1 in space, and on a giant guitar and other effects. After his musical interlude, the dream gradually becomes slightly nightmarish and Alan is woken up by his father, after he falls out of bed.

thunderbirds-are-go-5

Next, the boys, Jeff and Tin Tin are relaxing by the Tracy’s pool. Jeff notes the Zero X is now on Mars.

The film cuts to Mars, which is grey and rocky – like the moon. The Martian Excursion Vehicle rolls along the surface, while the scientists inside talk of collecting samples. The scientists and astronauts notice some unusual rock formations. They then decide to fire on one to break it down for easier collection.  This is a bad move, as the “coiled rocks” are living creatures. These “rock snakes” attack. The group in the MEV call for immediate pick-up and learn it will be a short time before the rest of the ship is in position for rendezvous. The MEV tries evasive maneuvers. Finally, the MEV takes off before the rendezvous check time. However, they safely reconnect with the ship.
On Tracy Island, Jeff and the boys discuss the amazing discovery on Mars and that the ship will return in six weeks.

Six weeks later the Zero X runs into trouble on it’s return journey.  International Rescue is called in. Not only is Zero X crashing, it’s heading for a small city, and access to the escape unit is jammed.

Scott heads to Glenn Field in Thunderbird 1 to oversee the rescue operation in Command and Control. Virgil, with Gordon and Alan, responds in Thunderbird 2. Once Thunberbird 2 gets closer to Zero X, Gordon oversees the rescue winch and Alan attempts to get aboard the Zero X to fix the escape unit system.  Brains, the engineer, reads a circuit diagram to explain to Alan what he needs to do.  Alan adds a transistor to the broken/burned out unit, and starts to re-wire it.  The pilot sends his co-pilot and navigator to the escape unit, but continues to fly the plane – such as it is, since it’s crashing.

Although Alan drops his screwdriver, and the ship is skimming the treetops, Alan’s able to re-wire the machinery. The pilot gets to the escape unit and the unit is safely ejected. Alan also ejects but isn’t able to get directly to Thunderbird 2. He is, however, safely lowered to the ground, where he’s picked-up by a waiting Lady Penelope in her pink Rolls Royce, with Parker acting as chauffeur. Lady Penelope promises to take him to the Swinging Star nightclub.

Meanwhile, the crew of Zero X are safe, including the pilot – who got into the escape unit at the last moment.  The plane itself, however, crashes into the city – presumably without harming anyone on the ground since the area was evacuated.

At the Swinging Star, Alan is wearing a fake mustache disguise. He soon learns that the rest of his family, including Jeff, are at the next table also in disguise. They congratulate Alan and toast him as an hero.

Thunderbirds Are Go has a few problems. First, for a movie that should be about a fantastic rescue – it isn’t really. The first Zero X goes down, but the crew are rescued by conventional means. When the Thunderbirds go to escort the second Zero X, other than routing out a saboteur, there’s no need for them to be there because the launch goes off perfectly. When the Zero X gets into trouble on Mars, they are too far away to call International Rescue – even Thunderbird 3, and they rescue themselves. And finally, the actual rescue at the end seems rushed. Alan does get to be the hero, but he’s also a seasoned professional (if anything Gordon and John get slighted in the story). Also, although the crew is rescued, always the most important thing for International Rescue – rescuing people; one really has to wonder about the wisdom of allowing a very large spaceship to crash into a city. I mean, Did they really think it would be completely evacuated?  And then there’s the fantasy dream sequence. The whole film is slow, clunky, and feels like two or more Thunderbirds TV episodes cobbled together.

The positives are of course the model work, which is really good, even though the models do scream that they are, in fact, models, and not something realistic. It’s worth noting that Derek Meddings, who did the model work for the series, this film, and many of Gerry Anderson’s other series; also worked on Doctor Who, the James Bond feature films, and had a distinguished career in special effects. I have this and Thunderbird 6 to round-out my collection of Thunderbirds DVDs. I also have the entire TV series. But other than as a collectible, it’s not really worth it.

Recommendation:  Skip it
Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Thunderbird 6

Thunderbirds

  • Title:  Thunderbirds
  • Director:  Jonathan Frakes
  • Date:  2004
  • Studio:  Working Title, Universal
  • Genre:  SF, Adventure, Action, Children
  • Cast:  Brady Corbet, Bill Paxton, Sophia Myles, Ron Cook, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Edwards, Genie Francis
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Alan, This equipment’s only to be used in an emergency! [Tin Tin and Alan look at each other] I guess this qualifies.” – Fermat

“It’s the children. They have it.” – The Hood
“No way. They’re dead. No one could live through something like that.” – Mullion
“I did.” – The Hood

“Alan? He’s just a kid.” – Gordon Tracy
“He’s a Tracy.” – Jeff Tracy

Thunderbirds is a live-action children’s adventure film based on the ITV Gerry Anderson Supermarionation series of the same name. For more information on the original television series see this post. The film is an origin story of sorts, set early in the career of International Rescue and the Thunderbirds. Jeff is very much an active part of the organization, and Alan – the youngest Tracy, is still at school, attending Wharton Academy, an all-boys boarding school, with Fermat, Brains’ young son.

Alan dreams of the day he can leave school behind and join his brothers in International Rescue as a full Thunderbird.  In this film, the Thunderbirds are the pilots of the machines as well as the machines themselves. Alan’s at school when he’s caught daydreaming by a teacher – and is given an extra report to write during Spring Break. However, soon all the students are watching a news cast – the Thunderbirds respond to an fire at an oil rig in Russia and rescue the trapped men, despite heavy rain and other problems. Alan and Fermat watch with the other students, but Alan, far from being worried about his older brothers and father – mimes their actions and wishes to be with them.

Lady Penelope, the family’s London agent, arrives at Wharton and picks-up Alan to bring him home to Tracy Island, because the rest of the family is obviously busy. Not only does she arrive in her 6-wheeled pink Rolls Royce – but Lady Penelope’s entire wardrobe is pink. Once she, Alan, Fermat, and Parker have driven away from any traffic the car turns into a flying car – and Parker pilots it to the Island.

Unbeknowest to Scott Tracy, however, when he and Virgil drop off the rescuees at a local hospital, one of them shoots a tracking compound onto Thunderbird 1. Scott doesn’t notice. At dinner, Alan asks his father when he can become a Thunderbird, and Jeff rebukes him saying he’s too young.

Alan and Fermat sneak into Thunderbird 1 where they accidentally start the launch sequence. The sequence is stopped without incident, but Jeff is so mad at Alan’s behavior he doesn’t give Alan a chance to tell him about the tracking goo he and Fermat found. (At this point the children don’t realize what the goo is for.)

John’s on Thunderbird 5, a manned satellite and communications station. He reports to Jeff on a couple of minor problems but his report is it’s basically a quiet night. Then, suddenly, and without warning, The Hood (Ben Kingsley) fires a rocket into Thunderbird 5. The satellite is crippled and John is in trouble.  Jeff, Scott, Virgil, and Gordon take Thunderbird Three, the giant, red rocket ship into orbit to rescue John/fix the satellite.

Meanwhile, The Hood invades Tracy Island.  Alan, Fermat, and Tin Tin see his sub – but are unable to stop the attack on Thunderbird 5.

The Hood bursts into the house on the island, looking around he recognizes Jeff’s picture. The Hood’s vendetta seems personal. The Hood forces Brains to activate command and control. Jeff and his boys enter Thunderbird 5, but The Hood locks the door so they can’t get out.  Jeff handles the emergency on Thunderbird 5 well, and finds and cares for his injured son, John.  However, the five men are unable to escape the satellite because The Hood’s locked and jammed the door from Command and Control.

Alan, Fermat, and Tin Tin (Kyrano’s daughter) go the Thunderbird Silos – they use the Firefly and the Thunderizer to escape The Hood’s henchpeople, Mullion and Transom.  They slide down an exhaust pipe into the Ocean surrounding the Island, then get to shore. The three need to come up with a plan. They decide to cross the Island on foot, through the jungle to the Island’s satellite dish to try to contact Jeff on Thunderbird 5. After a few adventures, they make it.  They have some difficulty with the transmitter, but eventually get it working.  Alan asks what to do – but Jeff tells him to follow protocol and get to Lady Penelope.

Alan would rather have an more active role. He finds one of the family’s old hover-sleds, and builds a sidecar-like device so he can carry Tin Tin and Fermat as well behind them. They are chased by the Hood’s Henchpeople, Mullion and Transom.  Fermat and Tin Tin are caught, and put in a freezer with their fathers, Brains and Kyrano.

Meanwhile, Alan is still free, and he sees Lady Penelope and Parker arrive. He follows and sees them challenge and fight the henchpeople in the Tracys’ living room.  Although the British agents fight extremely well, they are no match for The Hood’s mind control – the are caught and put into the freezer with everyone else.

The Hood, Transom, and Mullion head off to the Bank of England in Thunderbird 2 – having gotten the guidance computer chip Fermat had taken out of the machine.

In the freezer, Parker remarks that he can open the lock if he had a small piece of wire. Lady Penelope offers him the underwire from her bra. Everyone had discretely turned away as she retrieved it.

The group manages to rescue Jeff and the boys on Thunderbird 5 just before the satellite burns up in a decaying orbit, as well as reversing the sabotage to the satellite airlock door to Thunderbird 3. Then, the group, including Lady Penelope take Thunderbird 1 to London.

The Hood lands Thunderbird 2 in Jubilee Gardens, near the London Eye.  They take the Mole and dig a route under the Thames towards the Bank of England, their route cuts the supports of the monorail – causing a disaster.

Meanwhile, Jeff and his boys head directly to London in Thunderbird 3.

Alan arrives in Thunderbird 1 – he lands and uses Thunderbird 4 (the yellow sub) to rescue the monorail car, with help from Tin Tin who secures the line around the monorail, which is then lifted by Thunderbird 1.

Jeff watches his youngest son in action, and is proud of how his handles himself. He lands Thunderbird 3 in Jubilee Gardens next to the other Thunderbirds.

Once the people from the monorail are safe, the Thunderbirds and Lady Penelope go to the Bank of England to stop The Hood.  Lady Penelope, thanks to The Hood’s special powers, and Jeff end-up locked in a vault.  Alan, with the help of Tin Tin’s use of her own special powers, defeats The Hood.

At a celebratory beach party, Jeff gives International Rescue pins to Fermat, Tin Tin, and Alan – and welcomes Alan officially into the family business.

Thunderbirds is a fun family movie. It always makes me smile whenever I watch it, from the opening animated sequence, to the ending credits theme tune by Busted, “No strings to hold them down,” indeed.  Yes, it’s a kids movie, and Jeff and the older Tracy sons are basically stuck in Thunderbird 5, completely helpless for the majority of the movie. The movie emphasizes Alan – and shows us his journey from teenager, to full-fledged International Rescue member. Jeff Tracy does come off as an, excuse the expression, bit of an hard-ass, but explanations are given. The Hood hates him because when International Rescue responded to the collapse of his illegal diamond mine – he wasn’t rescued, but stranded. Being trapped led him to develop his mental powers. When Alan asks if The Hood’s story is true – Jeff tells Alan, yes, it is, and that sometimes you can’t save everyone, even though International Rescue saved 600 people that day. Alan then asks, “What was Mom like?” To which Jeff replies, “She was like you.” Jeff had been inspired to start International Rescue after his wife was killed in an avalanche.

There are some notable differences from the TV show the movie is based on – one of the most notable is that the International Rescue members, that is, the Tracy boys who pilot the Thunderbird machines call themselves Thunderbirds as well. In the series, their organization was always International Rescue, the machines were Thunderbirds, and the pilots were the Tracys. Though, as it was a secret who IR was – I could easily see the public also calling the pilots Thunderbirds rather than members of International Rescue as they do in the TV show. Also, in the series, Alan is an adult – an astronaut who is also famous as a race car driver (which was almost a hobby for him). And Alan’s a competent member of International Rescue, and the pilot of Thunderbird 3 – who splits space monitor duty with John, aboard Thunderbird 5.  Jeff leads his boys from the ground as base commander. And Lady Penelope doesn’t wear so much pink. Though I must admit her wardrobe in the film, is fantastic.

Still, even with the shift of focus to Alan, Fermat (a new character for the film), and Tin Tin, the film is fun. It’s an excellent family film. And I always enjoy it every time I watch it.

Recommendation:  See It! Especially appropriate for families and pre-teens.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Thunderbirds Are Go

Oz the Great and Powerful

  • Title:  Oz The Great and Powerful
  • Director:  Sam Raimi
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Disney
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Children
  • Cast:  James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Joey King, Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • Blu-Ray Format:  NTSC

“You want me to lead an army that can’t kill?” – Oz
“If this was easy, we wouldn’t need a Wizard, would we?” – Glinda

“So you’re not the wizard I was expecting. [pause] So you don’t have the powers I thought you’d have. But you’re here. There must be a reason. Maybe you’re capable of more than you know.” – Glinda

“Look, I know I’m not the Wizard you were expecting. But I might just be the wizard that you need.” – Oz

Oz the Great and Powerful starts in black and white in 4 x 4 ratio (it should be 3X4 but the Blu-Ray has it boxed as an exact square). Oz is a magician and con-man in a small, and shabby travelling circus, and he’s not even that good a magician. He’s actually running away from his latest conquests boyfriend, when he leaps into a hot air balloon and is whooshed away in a tornado.

He crash-lands in the land of Oz, and when he does, not only does the film change from black and white to color – but the film literally opens up to wide-screen too. The image rolls to the side and up to fill the screen. It’s both reminiscent of the famous 1939 film starring Judy Garland (which starts in black and white and becomes Technicolor in Oz), and an almost physical transportation into a new world. And what a colorful world it is. The colors are bright, and beautiful, and it really does look like technicolor. Especially in the opening, and early scenes, the scenes in Oz almost feel like animation – classic Disney animation at that and it’s truly beautiful.

Oz crash-lands in a river, and meets Theadora, a woman dressed in red and black. When Oz introduces himself, she tells him of her father’s the king’s prophecy – that one day, a great Wizard, bearing the name of “our land”, will come to save all the people, and become the new king. Oz gives Theadora one of his music boxes, as he has to many other women that he’s been interested in, telling her the made-up story that it belonged to his late grandmother. He then dances with Theadora. She’s smitten.

Theadora takes Oz to the Emerald City and introduces him to her sister, Evadora, the royal adviser. She also becomes instantly interested in Oz. She gives him a tour of the palace, shows him the royal treasury, then tells him he must save the Land of Oz by killing the Evil Witch. Oz isn’t so sure about the whole “killing” thing, but when he learns that destroying the witch’s wand will kill her, he agrees.

Oz, along with a highly amusing talking monkey in a bell-hop’s uniform head out on their quest.  Along the way, they see smoke, and wander into the destroyed China Town.  There they meet and rescue the China Girl, and Oz repairs her legs with glue.  China Girl joins their quest.

They soon enter the Dark Forest. Oz has a plan to distract the Evil Witch and steal her wand. But when he meets Glinda – he learns she is a Good Witch, and it’s Evadora who’s wicked – and who killed her father.

Meanwhile, Evadora is laying plans, and manipulating her sister, Theadora.

Glinda convinces Oz to help her. Evanora’s men and flying baboons attack. Glinda creates a ground fog for cover. Oz, China Girl, Finley, and Glinda end up on the edge of cliff, with a wind-swept tree in silhouette and a sunset behind them.  Yes, it looks like the famous scene in Gone with the Wind.  Glinda dives off the cliff, and they all travel by bubble to her castle in Quadling Country.  There, Oz meets the good people of Kansas, I mean, Oz – farmers, tinkers, seamstresses and tailors, and the Munchkins.  Oz doesn’t really know what to do, especially to turn the people into an army to defeat two wicked witches.

Theadora, turned green and evil by her sister, arrives and threatens Oz – then leaves.

Oz is unsure of himself, and doesn’t really know what to do.  But after Glinda tells him he might have more potential than he thinks he does, and after telling China Girl a bedtime story about the great wizard Thomas Edison, Oz gets an idea.

Oz puts the Quadling people to work, each to their own special ability. They work to his plan.

The next day, Oz orchestrates his plan. He even has some surprises for his own followers. The plan, which I don’t want to spoil, is perfect, makes great sense for an idea that comes from con-man/magician from Kansas, and most importantly – it works. Which isn’t really a spoiler, as this film is a pre-quel to The Wizard of Oz.

Overall, Oz the Great and Powerful, was just a beautiful film. It looks gorgeous. You really don’t see a lot of movies that look so beautiful anymore. For once, CGI, that screams, “look at me – I’m pretty CGI,” works, because it adds to the storybook feel of the film. And the colors are simply gorgeous, beautiful, incredible. At times, especially in the first few scenes in Oz, this film really looks like an animated feature. I’m assuming that was intentional. The animated look brings the Land of Oz to life – and sets it as a new world.

I also, really, really, really loved that this film opens in black and white.  The move from black and white to color, and from cropped 4×4 ratio to widescreen is handled very well.

James Franco does a great job playing Oz as a lovable rogue – who, at the start, in Kansas, has no moral scruples, really. But, in Oz, he comes into his own, and learns his own lessons. Oz is a fallible hero, and he learns how to be a leader, with Glinda’s help (not to mention Finley and even China Girl), which makes for a good film.

Overall, this is a wonderful, feel-good movie, that is also great for children.

Recommendation:  See it, especially good for children.
Rating:  4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Either The Hobbit the Desolation of Smaug or The Prestige.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

  • Title:  The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
  • Director:  Jon Turteltaub
  • Date:  2010
  • Studio:  Disney
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Children’s Film
  • Cast:  Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“You’ve heard how people use only ten percent of their brains?  Sorcerers can manipulate matter because they’re born with the capability to use the entire power of their brains.  Which also explains how molecular physics comes so easily to you.”  – Balthazar

“The truth is you have a very special gift, you need to see that.” – Balthazar

“OK, the first thing you need to know about me is I’m a sorcerer.” – Dave

Nine-year-old Dave is on a field trip to New York City when he’s separated from his classmates and ends up in a very bizarre magic store run by Balthazar (Nicholas Cage).  Balthazar tests Dave and realizes he’s the Prime Merlinean.  Balthazar has been searching for the Prime Merlinean for over a thousand years.  However, before he can start to train the young sorcerer, they are attacked by an evil sorcerer name Horvath.  Dave escapes the store, and both Horvath (Alfred Molina) and Balthazar are trapped in an urn for ten years.

Ten years later, shy, nerdy, Dave has almost out-grown the embarrassment of his experience at the magic store, and is now a physics student at NYU.  While making a presentation to a 101 class, he re-connects with Becky, a girl from his fourth grade class that due to the mess in the magic store he hadn’t managed to impress.

Dave also meets Balthazar again, who convinces him that he is a sorcerer and begins to train him. Meanwhile, Dave starts to date Becky.  He impresses her by fixing the electrical system of the college radio station where she works as a DJ, and later by treating her to a private Tesla coil concert in his private lab.  Dave’s Tesla coil project is very coil, and the scene where he plays music with the coils to Becky, complete with indoor lightning is awesome. I’ve been to a Tesla coil concert before — and they are awesome and very cool.  Becky becomes suitably impressed with her new boyfriend.

While Dave learns how to control his new-found powers, and starts his relationship with his new girlfriend, Horvath is not idle.  Also released at the same time as Balthazar, he begins to release evil sorcerers from the Grimholt a perpetual prison that resembles a Russian nesting doll.  With each sorcerer released, it becomes smaller and smaller, until finally only Morgana — the queen of evil sorcerers and nemesis of Merlin and, Veronica – Balthazar’s lover and fellow apprentice of Merlin who sacrificed herself  to capture Morgana – remain.  Horvath also finds one modern magical “soldier”, Drake Stone, a modern-day celebrity magician (think David Copperfield or Criss Angel).  But, as Horvath releases the evil sorcerers, he uses a parasite spell to take their powers.

Finally, Balthazar goes to stop Horvath and the newly-released Morgana from enacting a spell called, “The Rising”, which will raise evil sorcerers from the dead and destroy the world.  Dave and Becky also arrive at the final conflict.  I won’t spoil the finale.

Nicolas Cage makes for a great slightly scary, slightly nutty sorcerer.  Jay Baruchel comes off as slightly whiny, but considering he’s playing a self-professed “physics nerd”, it’s not that bad of  an acting job. Alfred Molina plays a fun, over-the-top bad guy.  Teresa Palmer is a surprisingly spunky, non-annoying girl-next-door type, who is surprised but non-plussed when confronted with “real magic”.  I liked that a somewhat “scientific” explanation was given for how magic works (matter isn’t created or destroyed, merely re-arranged; for example — an object is set on fire by rapidly vibrating the molecules in it).  The special effects consist of lots of computer morphing and “liquid object” effects.  However, practical in-camera gags were used at times at the beginning and end of a specific effect.  Also, real fire effects were used, for example, in the sorcerer’s training circles and spell circles.  (Obviously, “cool gel” was used for the fire).

Yes, as the title of the film suggests, this film is based on the Mickey Mouse “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” episode in Fantasia.  However, the film’s opening sequence and voice-over add an intriguing backstory and setting to the main characters, creating a fantasy world that seems new, before moving forward in time to modern-day New York.  Overall, this film has a “pilot episode of a TV series” feel to it, or opening film in a series, rather than an individual separate film, which is too bad.  I would like to see more in the series, but it appears to be the only film Disney made.  Also, I enjoyed this film the most the first time I saw it, it loses some of it’s spark when it’s re-watched.

Recommendation:  Pre-teens and Teenagers will probably enjoy this the best. Still, it’s watchable.
Rating:  3.5 Stars
Next Film:  The Sound of  Music