Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dinosaur! (1985) (Documentary Review)

    Dinosaurs were a big fascination of my childhood and I think most kids can agree. There’s something about them that captures our imagination very quickly at a young age. Sure they look really cool, they make for great action figures for kids but I think the big reason they leave such a huge impression on us is because unlike other movie monsters, Dinosaurs actually lived on our planet, they were real life monsters that existed no differently than the animals of today and a part of us can’t help but feel like they should still be here. Why where these mighty giants just killed off so mysteriously, and if they can just parish, why not man, dose their fate preview our own? Just the subject of Dinosaurs can open up a world of so much thought, imagination and when I was a kid there was a single documentary film that took my fascination about Dinosaurs to amazing new heights. Before “The Land Before Time” in 1988 and “Jurassic Park” in 1993, there was a 1985 TV documentary simply titled “Dinosaur!” and it’s here that my whole childhood fascination on the subject all started.    

     It first aired on CBS in 1985, and re-aired several times in the early 90’s on Disney channel. I still own an old VHS tape, distributed by f.h.e. Family Home Entertainment. This was like the ultimate Dinosaur Documentary, covering Dinosaurs in the media, comic books, movies, attractions, museums, toys, decorations you may see out on the highway or in carnivals. There’s interviews with paleontologists like Jack Horner, scientific discoveries, theory’s on what happened back then, what could happen in our future, how some animals that lived back then still live amongst us today, it just covers an impressive gambit of different Dinosaur related topics in just 60 minutes. The musical score got me so hyped as a kid, and even to this day, it’s still a fun little musical score.    

    Our host for this presentation is none other than the classic Superman himself, Christopher Reeve. He has such a gentle yet mature voice and brings a lot of class and dignity to this documentary. But what really makes his appearance so pleasing is that he’s a really big Dinosaur fan himself. You can feel his genuine love and nostalgia for the creatures he talks about, but he never acts like a kid, he still stays calm and is honestly loving every moment of sharing his knowledge and fascination about dinosaurs with us. To further demonstrate his enthusiasm for this documentary, he flew himself out on his own plan to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, which is his permanent setting thought the feature. He even requested that several of his scenes be re-shot, just to make sure everything was as perfect as possible. This wasn’t just a job for Christopher Reeve, it really meant something to him, and it makes me care so much more about what he has to share with us. Now I saw this documentary years before I had seen the original “Superman” movie from 1978, and while Christopher Reeve will always be remembered best as the man of steel, I’ll always remember him best as the “Dinosaur” host. 

    In 1984, an animator named Phil Tippet created a ten minuet short film titled “Prehistoric Beast’s”, and it was a test to improve “Go Motion” animation. Phil had earlier animated creatures in “Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back” and later was the animation supervisor for the dinosaur effects in the 1993 hit “Jurassic Park”. The director of this Dinosaur documentary named Robert Guenette was impressed with Phil’s craft and asked him to animate scenes for this documentary alone. In-between takes with our host and other subjects are “Go Motion” animated Dinosaur scenes that show the lives of these creatures in their time. Sometimes there like short films, a lot of which focus on a family of Duckbill Dinosaurs that are raising a single infant. The effects for these Dinosaurs are very impressive for TV documentary standards, in fact they look more genuine and real than the stop-motion Dinosaurs you’d see in actual movies before this. I honestly think these creature effects are cooler than the CG Dinosaur effects we see in documentaries today, and there’s just something really special about this craft. In 1986, this special received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Visual Effects.

    A lot of these Dinosaur scenes could get really scary and violent at times. There’s a scene with a pack of predators ripping the flesh off of another Dinosaur ... it’s so brutal. My favorite part is when the documentary takes a look at the T-Rex, which was my favorite Dinosaur as a kid. This leads to a scene that might just be one of the most terrifying moments of my childhood. The scene opens with a dinosaur lost in the woods while a T-Rex is lurching in the shadows and walking quietly behind the trees. The suspense is just nail bighting, but the T-Rex doesn’t attack right away, instead this pore dinosaur keeps walking around until he finds the remains of other dead dinosaurs. Then when all is quiet, the T-Rex makes his surprise attack! I was four years old when I saw this scene and it scared the piss out of me. The fallowing battle is quiet bloody, with the one dinosaur shoving his horn up the T-Rex’s leg and there’s a piercing musical score that just adds to the intensity of this whole scene. Then just when the T-Rex goes in for the kill, the most bewildering thing happens ... we cut to a kindergarten classroom where little kids are playing with toy models. What the heck, how do we just go from this intense dinosaur battle to the death, then to a room full of kids playing with toys. It’s the most bewildering transition I’ve ever experienced.     

   Perhaps the most freighting aspect of this special is when they go into thoughts on how the Dinosaurs were killed. We get a beautifully created scene of a giant meteor hitting earth, and wiping out the chain of life. It always bothered me to think that something similar could just as easily happen to us. Another moment that always gave me chills is when a scientist determines that if the Dinosaurs had survived, they gradually would have evolved into a species called “Dinosaur Man”. Where then given a wax figure example of what a dinosaur man would most likely look like, and the image of this thing always bugged me. Near the end of this special, we look at modern day myths, and Dinosaurs that may still live amongst us. This includes the Loch Ness Monster from Scotland and the supposed Brontosaurus spotted in the African Congo. While these stories are all dated and more obviously myths, they still fascinated me as a child and make for fun stories.  

    Another really big highlight was when this special looked at Dinosaurs in the movies. I always wanted to identify every movie clip but they were all old films and most of which are unknown to the general public. 

Most of these movies I’d discover on TV or at a rental store and I’d always get excited when I’d recognize familiar Dinosaur movie footage that I didn’t know came from the film. There are moments when they’d play clips from the 1933 film “King Kong” and it was so cool seeing the movie for the first time, and recognizing some of the moments. Clips were used from other Dinosaur movies including “One Million Years BC” (1966), “Planet of the Dinosaurs” (1978), “The Lost World” (1925), When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” (1970)Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend” (1985), and one of my favorite clips was from the 1981 movie “Caveman”, which featured a T-Rex eating an intoxicated plant and falling off a cliff like a drunken idiot. My friends and I would re-wind this clip all the time because it was just so funny.  Where also shown a clip of the first animated Dinosaur cartoon ever in 1914 called “Gertie the Dinosaur” and speaking of cartoons, there’s footage of animated classics that reference Dinosaurs including “The Flintstones” cartoon and even the “Charlie Brown” cartoon.                          

        Overall, this documentary is about as enchant as the subject material, which feels very appropriate. Like an old dinosaur fossil yet to be discovered, this little documentary makes for quite the find. If you’re someone who still finds Dinosaurs interesting, definitely try and find this film, because it does an amazing job of being informative and educational while still feeling as engaging and exciting as an actual movie. Even though I’m 22 years old, I still hold this little documentary as a small treasure on my movie shelf and it still has the power to take me back to that wonderful time from my child hood, when Dinosaurs were awesome. 


I give the documentary “Dinosaur!” 4½ stars out of 5.      


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Top Ten favorite Comic book adapted movies (Non-Marvel or Batman related)

     When it comes to comic book adaptations into film, I’m always the most interested in the Marvel comic films or the Batman films, I don’t even know how many times I’ve posed things regarding those two topics, so here’s some other comic book adaptations into film that I love and have nothing to do with either Marvel or Batman.   

10. Kick-Ass 
Kick-Ass” is what it’s called and kick ass is all it does. This is a great warning for us comic book geeks who think it would be cool to be a superhero and at the same time it’s fast, it’s funny, it’s dark and its action packed. Balancing dark tones and juvenile elements with lots of style and wit isn’t easy, but this film does an awesome job of it, bringing together a cast of colorful characters and providing lots of fun for us comic book nerds. 

9.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie 
It’s far from art or even what you may define as a good movie but damn it, do I ever have a big, soft, nostalgic spot for this film. It was the very first super hero movie I had ever seen in my life (I was about 5 years old when I first saw this) and I still enjoy looking back at it to this day. The action scenes are quiet good for people in costumes, the music gets me so pumped and the Shredder is still one of my favorite villains to ever come from a comic book adapted film. All in all, it’s cheesy fun at its best.

8. 300 
Bet you didn’t even know that this was based off of a comic (speaking to a general audience) and it definitely belongs amongst the best. The slow motion, the awesome lines, the rocking sound track mixed with epic battles and a visionary unique style of filming, “300” is simply the perfect, macho, guy flick.

Men in Black 

Not every great comic book adaption has to be based off of a superhero and here’s a perfect example. “Men in Black” manages to combine high-tech gadgets and cool aliens (most notably the giant cockroach at the end of the film) with a relatively competent script and very fun, charismatic performances from two of my favorite actors, Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. It’s easily one of my favorite parings of talented actors and when you combine them with all the style that the film has to offer, you got yourself set for a fun time at the movies.   

6. Hellboy II: The Golden Army 

If you didn’t like “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, here’s a fairytale based comic book that completely makes up for it. Ron Perelman and cast deliver very charismatic performances to surprisingly endearing characters and Guillermo Del Toro’s crafty direction, set pieces and creature designs are so elaborate and creative that it livens this film up with a very strong, other worldly atmosphere. This is a fine example of a sequel being far superior to the original.     

5. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World 
Talk about style over substance, but holly cow, what awesome style. “Scott Pilgrims vs. the World”, literally makes the world a live action video game and has a blast doing it. The film may not have much of a story or life like characters but its unique style and creative visuals are just too much fun to pass up.  

4. Mystery Men 
This spoof on the superhero genre packs plenty of laughs and clever gags but it also stands strong as a fun little underdog story about the superhero’s that are great at their job but are never noticed. It’s about the guys who are constantly upstaged by the bigger, stronger characters, and have something to prove. I’m not saying that “Mystery Men” is deep or insightful, it just has a nice little heart that goes a long way and as a whole, it’s a fun, campy superhero film with some perfectly absurd character that are all brought to life terrifically by a very well rounded cast.

3. The Rocketeer
 With all the big budget superhero movies that are constantly released from Hollywood, it’s such a breath of fresh air to just have an old fashioned action adventure like this. "The Rocketeer" is a nice little homage to the old film serials of the 1930’s and 40’s that ages very well with me. The characters are all terrific and it functions as a relatively high spirited adventure for the family. It’s no “Dark Knight” by any means, but it has so many simple charms, exciting action scenes and a genuine self awareness that it’s not trying to be the next big superhero flick, just a very simple good time.  

2. V for Vendetta 
Unlike other comic book adapted movies, “V for Vendetta” is a dark portrayal of a corrupt society and provides a rich story that’s very exciting and honestly quiet thought provoking. Combine that with two outstanding lead performances from Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving, some stellar visuals, impressive set pieces and you got something that’s better than just a good comic book adaption, this is a damn good movie in general.

1. The Mask 
It may not be a film about a superhero and it certainly dosn't reach the same level of greatnes that "V for Vendetta" does but it’s still my personal favorite comic book adapted movie that isn’t Marvel or Batman related. It’s funny, it’s wild, it has its charms, it’s never to overly frantic and while it offers a fun aroma of flashy effects and cartoony overtones, they never overshadow the talented cast. Jim Carry just shines in this film, switching between the roles of an everyday guy that can just blend into the crowd, then to this wild and silly cartoon character. Both the actor and the effects work hand in hand without over shadowing one another and the rest of the cast do an equally good job giving the film it’s substance, most especially Cameron Diaz, who’s insanely good looks still get men drooling to this day. Overall, it may not be cinematic gold, but it sure is a fun film to watch. 

The End

Aladdin and the King of Thieves (Movie Review)

     Disney’s "Aladdin" was one of my favorite animated movies that I grew up with as a kid. To this day, it’s still a fun film to watch, certainly one of Disney’s finest. Of cores like all successful Disney movies it had a sequel called "The Return of Jafar" and again like most Disney sequels, it sucked. It was a terrible fallow up to a great movie and it somehow launched an Aladdin T.V. show that for the most part was a decent show. Then not long after all this, there was another sequel called "Aladdin and the King of Thieves", and to my surprise, it wasn’t that bad a sequel. In fact, for what ever it's worth, I think this movie is the absolute best of Disney's forced direct to video squeals

    The story was based off the tale Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves from the 1001 Arabian Nights. Just a fun bit of trivia, “Ali Baba and the forty thieves” are mentioned at the beginning of the song “Friend Like Me” from the first Aladdin movie. Now, instead of making this another love story between Aladdin and Jasmine, this is a story about a struggle between father and son. This is how you make a sequel work, creating new story elements that weren’t part of the first film, developing the characters further and it makes for a fitting conclusion to the Aladdin series. In this film, we learn that Aladdin has a father named Cassim who soled his sole to crime and has rallied his own team of pillagers and thieves to gain riches. However, once his son comes back into his life, he goes through a personal struggle between what’s more important to him, wealth or family. It’s a basic story but done relatively well. Aladdin and his father have good chemistry, the story holds your interest and there’s some fun scenes. On the grounds of a direct to video movie, the animation is quiet good, it’s not up to par with the first film but there’s plenty of detail in the locations and at times it can be very colorful. 

   All the classic characters from the first film are back and while they aren’t nearly as fun as they were before, there at least given some new traits to make them feel fresh. Jasmine for example is as far away removed from a helpless princess that needs rescuing as you can possibly get, she’s always putting up a fight and is never a basic damsel in distress. However, her design looks kind of different from the first two films, I can’t quiet put my finger on it but at times (especially in her wedding dress) she looks like a different character. At least she’s not as slutty as before and has a much better wardrobe this time around.

   The Genie is once again voiced by Robin Williams but unfortunately, he goes way over board in this film. Don’t get me wrong, I loved this character in the first movie, and I love Robin Williams, but there was more subtlety to his jokes and the character contributed a lot to the film. In this movie, he contributes nothing and is just one really long running joke. Also, I think this film holds a record for the most movie references and pop culture references that I’ve ever seen in a kids movie, all done by Genie of cores. You could have one heck of a drinking game for every movie reference in this film. There’s one moment when he morphs into Mrs. Doubtfire from the 1993 comedy of the same title. Think about this, Robin Williams as the Genie is imitating Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire, that’s outstanding. Genie transforms into a parody of Forrest Gump during the wedding fight scene and says "Mama always said, 'Magic is magic does”. At the very end of the credits, the Genie appears in front of the black screen and says, "Game Over, man! Game Over!", which is a spoof of an identical line by the character Private William Hudson from the movie Aliens played by “Bill Paxton”, like kids will understand that.  During the song "Father and Son", Genie references The Jetsons and recreates the opening to The Brady Bunch T.V. show. The "security system" set up by the Genie has the classic Cylon "sweep eye" found in Battlestar Galactica and it’s also in the form of the character “ED – 209” from the movie Robocop. There are also sense of him morphing into “Rocky Balboa” from the Rocky movies, “Rambo” from the First Blood movies and even “The Godfather” from The Godfather movies. I don’t know about anyone else but I never saw those movies when I was 6 years old and I can’t think of any other 6 year old that did. There’s also a million other Disney movie references, but it would take all day to list them off. Now while the Genie is over used in this film, he dose still have some funny lines, including some of the best adult jokes to ever be subtly hidden in a childrens film.  

    There’s also a new villain named “Sa'luk”, who’s actually kind of cool. He’s not as great or classic as Jafar but he’s a good follow up. Sa’luk’s the seconded in command of the 40 thieves and wants to be leader over Aladdin’s father, he’s fast, dangerous and equipped with “Wolverines” claws just in a gold version. He’s also get's his own villain song called “Are you in or out”, which was awesome when I was a kid but got less good as I grew up.  There’s another villain song called “Welcome to the Forty Thieves” which is nothing short of annoying. The film does at least build to a relatively good climax, which features one of my favorite villain deaths from an animated movie.                 

    Most of the songs in this movie are pretty lame and forgettable. The opening song called “There's a Party Here in Agrabah” goes on for way to long and its chalk foul of dull lyrics and an annoying melody. The worst song is “Father and Son”, it means well but it just comes off as extremely annoying in the end. There is one relatively good song called “Out of Thin Air”, sung by Aladdin and Jasmine and while it’s basically the pore mans version of the “whole new world song” from the first film, it’s still okay. The instrumental music is really good, it sounds like the exciting kind of adventure music you would here in a classic Sinbad adventure. At the end of the film we get a Reprise of the song “Arabian Nights” and is once again sung by the peddler seen at the beginning of the first Aladdin. This is where everything started, so now the tale has come full circle.

   Like I said, the strength that cares this film above most terrible Disney sequels is the father/ son relationship, because you’re never sure how it’s going to turn out. There’s a moment when Cassim seems ready to give up his life of crime and be there for Aladdin on his wedding but his greed gets the better of him and is arrested. This leads to an awesome little scene of Aladdin dressing up like his father, braking him out of prison and then after getting into a fight with the palace guards, he gets his mask torn and his identity is revealed. It’s a strong moment that really makes you feel that Aladdin has now become an outlaw and disgrace to the family he was about to join. Now all he has left is the father that betrayed him. While it’s not a super complex relation, it still works well in the story. 

      Overall, it’s a good sequel, it gives the characters a little more dimension, provides a fun little adventure for kids and builds on Aladdin’s story. It may not be as great as the first film but compared to how bad Disney sequels have been, this one stands out and is good enough on its own. I give Aladdin and the King of Thieves 3 stars.