All posts by Sheldon Wiebe

It’s Official! JJ To Direct Star Trek XI!


JJ in Enterprise CorridorOne of the worst kept secrets in film was confirmed today when Paramount Pictures announced that JJ Abrams – creator of "Alias," co-creator of "Alias" and director of "Mission: Impossible III – will, indeed, helm the return of "Star Trek," one of the most popular and successful franchises in the history of movies and television, to the big screen.

 

 

 

 

 

JJ's creative team on the film includes Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci ("Mission Impossible III") who wrote the screenplay and will executive produce with Bryan Burk. JJ Abrams and "Lost" co-creator Damon Lindelof will produce. The film will begin shooting this fall for a Christmas Day 2008 release.

"If there's something I'm dying to see, it's the brilliance and optimism of Roddenberry's world brought back to the big screen," said Abrams. "Alex and Bob wrote an amazing script that embraces and respects Trek canon, but charts its own course. Our goal is to make a picture for everyone — life-long fans and the uninitiated. Needless to say, I am honored and excited to be part of this next chapter of Star Trek."

One of the most popular film and television franchises of all time, "Star Trek" has encompassed 726 total episodes for television in six different series, beginning with the original 1966-1969 series created by Gene Roddenberry. The 10 "Star Trek" films have grossed in excess of $1 billion at the worldwide box office. The original characters have been named among the 50 greatest TV characters of all time and the Enterprise has lent its name to two proposed spacecrafts.

Star Trek - The Kiss

Brad Grey, chairman and CEO, Paramount Pictures, said, "We could not be more thrilled to be back in business with J.J. Abrams. The revival of the "Star Trek" franchise is an important part of Paramount's turnaround.

 

Fact Sheet

"Star Trek" is one of the most popular film and television franchises of all time:

– 726 total episodes for television spanning six television series

– Original series, created by Gene Roddenberry, aired on NBC from 1966-1969

– 10 movies, grossing in total over $1 billion at the worldwide box office

– Hundreds of novels

– $3.5 billion in consumer products

– 3 million visitors of Las Vegas's "Star Trek: The Experience" since 1998

– Over 60 interactive software products since 1991; games in production for current and next generationgame platforms

J.J. Abrams is a talent widely admired by audiences and critics alike:
– Winner of two Emmy Awards for "Lost"
– 17 million viewers each week for "Lost"; a top-ten show
– Hailed by the New York Times as "one of the most exhilarating storytellers in television.

– Director of "Mission: Impossible III"

– Creator of "Alias" and "Felicity"

"Star Trek" has influenced the culture:

– NASA's first test shuttle was named "Enterprise"

– The first commercial passenger carrier into space, Virgin Galactic, has announced that the first spacecraft of the line will be named V. S. S. Enterprise

– An episode of the original "Star Trek" featured television's first interracial kiss

– Mr. Spock, portrayed by Leonard Nimoy, was named one of TV's "50 Greatest Characters" by TV Guide

Danger Man – Patrick McGoohan’s Other Spy Classic!

Secret Agent aka Danger Man Box Art"There's a man who lives a life of danger," sang Johnny Rivers in his hit song, Secret Agent Man, which opened the American run of Danger Man. The series, about taciturn young espionage agent John Drake, ran for eighty-six episodes over four seasons – paving the way for future hit espionage series like cult hits The Avengers and The Prisoner

 

Patrick McGoohan remains best known for his own creation, The Prisoner, although his by previous series, Danger Man, ran for five times as many episodes. The series was unique insofar as it had a permanent cast of one – McGoohan – and introduced a spy who could be ruthless when necessary, but remained a good person. The first season of the show was composed of thirty-nine thirty-minute episodes, while seasons two through four added forty-seven hour-long eps – the last two in color [the series was cancelled two eps into season four because McGoohan had developed The Prisoner – and persuaded Sir Lew Grade to do it].

Every government has its secret service branch. America, the CIA; France, Deuxieme Bureau; England, MI5, NATO also has it's own, A messy job, that's when they call me, or someone like me. Oh yes, my name is Drake, John Drake."

That introduction opened the series during its first season, giving us a quick capsule explanation of the series' premise. The speaker was a lean, athletic looking fellow who smiled rarely, carried a gun that he only used when there was no other choice, and was accomplished as a fighter but preferred to use his wits. His eyes had to be a piercing blue – his stare could unnerve without a word being spoken.

From the series premiere, View From The Villa, – shot in Portmeirion – later prison to Number 6] to its finale, Shinda Shima, Danger Man distinguished itself with its intelligence and wit. Series creator Ralph Smart ensured the level of excellence by hiring writers like Brian Clemens [Ghost Squad, The Avengers, The Champions and Thriller] and Philip Broadly [Department S, Jason King, The Champions]. Smart, himself, contributed to shows like The Champions and Randall and Hopkirk [Deceased], but Danger Man remains his one classic creation.

Of course, writing, alone, can't make a show sing. Smart hired a number of veteran and new directorial talent and a surprising number of soon to be well-known actors for his series. Peter Yates [who went from Danger Man directly to Bullitt], McGoohan [who used his Danger Man experience to springboard his writing and directing on The Prisoner] and Don Chaffey [The Prisoner, The Avengers, Charlie's Angels, Spenser: For Hire] were among the show's directors.

Secret Agent aka Danger Man Box Art

Danger Man's guest cast included, among others: Edward Hardwicke [the definitive Dr. Watson in the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series], Laurence Naismith [Village of the Damned, Jason and the Argonauts], Lois Maxwell [the movies' first Moneypenny], Patrick Troughton [Doctor Who's second Doctor], and Honor Blackman [The Avengers' Cathy Gale, Goldfinger].

Whether working for NATO, or [from the second season on] England's M9, Drake's adventures took him around the world – and from one odd situation to another. In season one's Colonel Rodriguez, for example, he's arrested for the attempted murder of a nightclub singer while trying to prove an American journalist is not a spy. Season Two's A Room in the Basement, finds Drake going off on his own to save a friend who's been kidnapped by an enemy country – and enlists personal friends to resolve the situation.

Possibly my favorite episode comes in Season Three. In I'm Afraid You Have The Wrong Number, Drake is sent to Switzerland to clean up after the chief of M9's Switzerland operation is apparently killed in a car accident. Unfortunately, Steadfast is still alive – the accident having been set up by enemy agents, who substituted the body of a similarly built nobody for his – and being interrogated. A local police lieutenant suspects Drake is more than he's saying, and Drake has to conduct his investigation while appearing to be an insurance agent.

Danger Man - Fight

Another third season ep, The Paper Chase, is also pretty spectacular. When a British diplomat loses his keys while on a date, they fall into the wrong hands – and the result is pilfered secrets. Drake has to go on what amounts to a scavenger hunt with dire results if he fails. In a cool twist, while using his wits to follow the stolen secrets, he manages to form a bond with a former enemy – a bond that is instrumental in his successful resolution of the situation.

The first season of Danger Man was fast-paced and allowed for little character development. McGoohan had only a half-hour each week to impress Drake's personality and traits on his audience – all the while trying to solve one nasty predicament after another. From season two on – between the change of employers and the increased episode times – we began see more and more of what made Drake such an effective agent. The series frequently played on the contrast between Drake's essential decency and the nastiness required to survive in the shadowy world of espionage.

Danger Man also introduced an intriguing array of gizmos over its run – though never to the point where it became a gadget show. Considering the era, a tape recorder in a packet of cigarettes [as just one example] was amazingly sophisticated technology. Usually, though, what gadgets there were, were used by others. Drake generally preferred to rely on his intelligence and improvisational skills – and that is what made Danger Man unique for its time – and enables it to remain fresh and entertaining forty-seven years after its debut.

Features include: the American opening with Johnny Rivers' Secret Agent Man; Patrick McGoohan bio and filmography; photo galleries.

Danger Man: The Complete Collection – Grade: A

Features – Grade: D

Final Grade: B

The Astronaut Farmer: This Is Where Dreams Live

Astronaut Farmer OnesheetThanks to Billy Bob Thornton's cheery, slightly off-center portrayal of rancher/astronaut Charlie Farmer, The Astronaut Farmer is one of the most delightful surprises of the year, so far. This fable about life, death, family and dreams walks the line between cheese and heart with the sure-footedness of a mountain goat…

 

In some reviews, The Astronaut Farmer has been likened to Field of Dreams. Insofar as they are both fables about men who are willing to make sacrifices to achieve their dreams, that's a valid comparison. In the case of The Astronaut Farmer, however, the part of the dream that revolves around the lead character's father is much darker, giving this film a more deeply felt emotional core.

Charlie Farmer was an astronaut until a crisis with his father forced him to leave the Air Force – but he never gave up on his dream to go into space. Now, he has built his own rocket and is getting ready to launch. His family – wife Audrey [Virginia Madsen], son Shephard [Max Theriot] and daughters Stanley [Jasper Polish] and Sunshine [Logan Polish] – is solidly behind him. They even play a game at the dinner table where he leads off by saying, "I'm going to the moon and I'm taking…" and each member of the family echoes that sentiment and adds something that ties in, thematically, with whatever he's taking.

Astrioanut Farmer - Dreamer

Unfortunately, when Charlie places an order of ten thousand pounds of rocket fuel, it brings down the FBI on him – and leads to an FAA review [which spawns the WMD lines that are featured in the trailer]. Because Charlie has financed his rocket by missing half-a-dozen mortgage payments on his ranch, he is in danger of losing it. Even a visit from an old friend from the space program [Bruce Willis] starts out positive but winds up depressing.

Even so, even the death of Audrey's father [Bruce Dern] can't daunt him. Finally, Charlie comes up with his own formula for fuel and manages a surreptitious launch – with disastrous results.

After a stay in the hospital, poor Charlie figures it's time to give up the dream. When Audrey discovers that her father left her enough money to pay off the bank, she is jolted by the banker's condescending attitude toward her husband's dream and winds up giving him the money to do what he's gotta…

You can tell that the Polish Brothers [Mark and Michael] are aiming for something special from the way the film strings iconic images throughout: Charlie in spacesuit rounding up a stray calf; Charlie in spacesuit, speaking for show & tell for his daughter's class; the reveal of the rocket, and so forth. That they succeed is, in part, due to our continuing fascination with space – and, in part, because they've given us a family that genuinely loves each other. In that context, the iconic shots and big dreams not only seem plausible, they feel necessary!

Astronaut Farmer - Show & Tell

Something else that helps is that director Michael Polish clearly knows these people. He lingers just the teensiest bit when shooting Charlie and his family, giving us time to register their emotions and react. When he deals with the FBI Agents [Jon Gries and mark Polish] and FAA Chairman Jacobson [J.K. Simmons] his cuts are almost surgical, emphasizing their antagonistic and obstructive behaviour.

While the kids playing the Farmer children are quite delightful, Audrey seems underwritten just a hair, but is saved by Madsen's warmth and strength. Thornton is just right as the slight off kilter, but dignified and determined Charlie. When he pleads his case before the FAA review, or answers questions from the press who have surrounded his ranch, we never doubt for one second that he is completely, transparently sincere.

Although the effects aren't exactly state of the art, they are more than adequate to serve the story [are you listening, George Lucas?] – especially in the launch-gone-wrong that puts Charlie in the hospital. Which leads us to Charlie's decision to sacrifice his dream for his family. Thornton, again, makes us believe in him completely – and when he gets the money to try again, and his dream is reawakened, he communicates his joy so thoroughly, that we are energized as much as he…

The Astronaut Farmer is a film for all ages. There's a spirit of fun and adventure that will delight kids of all ages, and a core of heart and soul that will engage that part of us that dreams.

Grade: A

Documentaries: Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing; …So Goes The Nation; The U.S. Vs. John Lennon

Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing Box ArtIt's not often that political documentaries are both informative and entertaining. It's even less often that three such documentaries appear on DVD at the same time. …So Goes The Nation makes the mechanics of presidential campaigns – in their last days – fascinating; Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing looks at how a simple statement of opinion blossomed into a politically charged mess, and The U.S. vs. John Lennon tackles the subject of the Nixon administrations efforts to rid themselves of one of the most influential activists to emerge from the world of entertainment…

Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing Box Art

Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing

It all began with a single sentence, "We're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas." Twelve words that expressed a specific sentiment; twelve words delivered, off the cuff, during a concert in London as a bit of comedy to further an already solid connection with the audience.

Within days, thanks to one of the most McCarthyesque campaigns by what can only be described as the closed-minded far right [politically speaking], the Dixie Chicks saw their number one single drop off the country charts and people were burning and crushing their DVDs with an amazing ferocity – and they hadn't even said they were "more popular than Jesus!"

Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing chronicles the lives of the Chicks from just before that event, right through to the success of their newest album – and how they dealt with the pure idiocy of statements to the effect of "I'm all for free speech – just not in foreign countries or in public" – and being castigated online by people could safely hide behind pseudonyms as they spewed their hated and made their death threats.

It is a film of bravery and tenacity; of a trio of women who became unlikely advocates of free speech by putting into words what a lot of other, less brave people were thinking. It's a film about the feeling of family that exists with the Dixie Chicks, the members of their band, their management, and their individual families But most of all, it's a film about how a group of tough, smart, perceptive people stood together in the face of fascist behavior masquerading as patriotism – and prevailed!

Technically, there's nothing remarkable about Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing – it's a well-made documentary with the obligatory talking heads, concert footage, and footage of demonstrators advocating that they be deported [to where? Deportation only works if they're from another country!], or be strapped to a bomb and dropped on Baghdad [see: Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove].

The reason the film is amazing is, well, the people. When the women are pitched the idea of doing a song called "Undivided" – a paean to uniting the country, Natalie Maines asks if that means she would have to apologize. When told that, in the context of the song, yes, she outright refuses. That may the moment that Not Ready To Make Nice began to happen. We follow the Chicks through discussions on what to do, when to do it, how to do it. We're there as Emily Robison gives birth to twins.

By making Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing a film that deals with the people, it makes their stance on the war – and, not coincidentally President Bush – more powerful and more heartfelt. The dignity with which they comport themselves during this period of their lives is as much a blow against the unthinking, un-American behavior of those who censured them. The result is a film that has something to say and presents a lot of seriously kickass music.

Grade: A

...So Goes The Nation Box Art

…So Goes The Nation

In the last few months and weeks before the 2004 election, both the Democratic and Republican parties ramped up efforts to get their candidates into the White House. You might remember the various approaches that were taken: Bush's declaration that you might not agree with him but you would always know where he stood, and the Swift Boat attacks on Kerry; Kerry's efforts to stay on message and avoid retaliating with attack ads.

…So Goes The Nation focuses on the state of Ohio, which wound up holding the balance of power in the election. It tales a closer look at all the tactics used by each party and the manner in which each party mobilized [or not] their volunteers. We get to hear both campaigns dissected by both sides. When Democratic strategists identify their mistakes – and when Republican strategists identify their mistakes – it's a very sobering thing, though as sobering as when they each identify their opponents' strengths and flaws.

When seen in the space of a ninety-minute documentary, the evolution [and devolution] of the campaigns becomes so much clearer. Remember "Kerry flip-flops"? Remember Kerry focusing on jobs, while Bush focused on protecting America from terrorists? Here's a film that literally explains how these things happened. …So Goes The Nation is, literally, a primer on how to run successful [and unsuccessful] political campaigns.

If you wonder how the heck someone won an election, when it seems that everyone was fed up with him, …So Goes The Nation may go a long way to explaining just exactly what happened. This is a scary, scary movie.

The only feature is an audio commentary with co-directors/co-producers James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo. As commentaries go, this is a gem – Stern and Del Deo get into fascinating details from the get-go when they explain how they were able to interview the four top strategists from each party.

…So Goes The Nation – Grade: A

Feature: A+

Final Grade: A

The U.S. vs. John Lennon Box Art

The U.S. vs. John Lennon

John Lennon was always an outspoken kinda guy but when he left The Beatles, he became known for more than just his music and general contrariness. Among the things John did were: voice strong opinions against the Nixon administration and the Viet Nam war; offer support to radicals like Angela Davis; write songs like Give Peace a Chance and Imagine – which were taken by the Nixon administration as anti-Nixon anthems; embark on a world tour of lie-ins in which he and his wife, Yoko Ono Lennon spent days in bed in several cities, giving interviews and holding impromptu sing-alongs in the cause of world peace, and step up on behalf of what would become the feminist movement with his song Woman Is The Nigger of the World.

Because Lennon was so insanely popular, the Nixon administration assumed that his actions represented a threat to them and he became a target for investigation by the FBI. Because of a marijuana conviction, the government instigated an order of deportment for him. The U.S. vs. John Lennon is a documentary that looks at how the government of the most powerful nation in the world tried to bully a lone – though highly influential – musician and failed miserably.

The film looks at Lennon's entire life, but focuses on the period following his departure from The Beatles, when he became loudly vocal on any number of touchy topics [at least, touchy in the view of the American government]. Directors David Leaf and John Scheinfeld examine the acts and methods of the government in their efforts to remove Lennon from the public eye as well as Lennon's message and methods.

The U.S. vs. John Lennon is a remarkably thorough piece of work. There are many clips of relevant stage performances and the Lennons' tour of lie-ins [one cool scene features Tom Smothers jamming with Lennon as the roomful of friends and media sing along]. Interviews are culled from a truly broad spectrum of people.

The Nixon administration is represented by John Dean and G. Gordon Liddy; prominent Black Panther leaders Bobby Seale and Angela Davis give their perspective. Radical journalists like Tariq Ali and mainstream journalists like Walter Cronkite and Carl Bernstein add their insights. Politicians from both sides of the ideological fence chime in, including: Mario Cuomo and George McGovern. Pundits like Gore Vidal and activists like Viet Nam veteran Ron Kovic add their thoughts. The result is a fascinating and entertaining – not to mention provocative – film.

Features include: fifty-four minutes of additional footage; the theatrical trailer, and the complete thirteen-page interview Lennon gave Tariq Ali and Robert Blackburn of the leftist magazine, Red Mole.

The U.S. vs. John Lennon: A

Features: C

Final Grade: B+

Jericho Returns With The First Of Many Answers To Come!

Jericho Cast MembersWhen CBS' minor hit Jericho returns tomorrow evening [8/7C] we will, at last, get some idea of what was going on in the lives of the show's characters before the bombs dropped [if they were, in fact, dropped]. Some of the revelations are major, some are pretty minor – but most are the basis for what should be some extremely major answers… CLICK THIS LINK TO SUBSCRIBE TO EMTV, OUR iTUNES VIDEO PODCAST!!

Over the course of The Day Before, which actually opens eight weeks before the bombs before progressing to the day before, we see Jake [Skeet Ulrich] applying for a job as pilot for an exclusive charter service; Emily [Ashley Scott] and her fiance

Lots of TVonDVD: Grosse Point; Masters of Horror; Anything But Love; Beauty and the Beast; I Dream of Jeannie, and Two-A-Days

Grosse Point Box ArtDarren [Sex and the City] Star's behind-the-scenes semi-satirical sitcom, Grosse Pointe, leads off a half-dozen of the most interesting of recent TVonDVD releases – along with Dario Argento's elegantly deranged Masters of Horror episode, Pelts; season one of the long-awaited cult classic, Beauty and the Beast; the first volume of Anything But Love [which paired standup neurotic Richard Lewis with movie star Jamie Lee Curtis]; the third season of I Dream of Jeannie [which gave Barbara Eden a notorious second character to play], and the first season of the only reality series that hasn't [so far] made me want to throw up a little in my mouth, Two-A-Days: Hoover High CLICK THIS LINK TO SUBSCRIBE TO EMTV, OUR iTUNES VIDEO PODCAST!!

Grosse Pointe Box ArtGrosse Point: The Complete Series

Set on the soundstages for a archetypal teen-angst soap of the same name, Darren Star's Grosse Pointe is one of those shows that fall under the "brilliant but cancelled" heading. The set up is simple – a new girl joins the cast whereupon she upsets the chemistry of the group and as the liner notes put it, "threatens the offscreen balance of power." The result is what is possibly the second best behind-the-scenes [behind only Sports Night] TV series ever.

Right from the pilot ep, the series opened with a "previously on" intro – though it usually culminated in some kind of gag ["You lost the baby." "I'm so sorry mom – I lose everything!] and led into some kind of barb ["Does she have to thrust her breasts out like that every time she feels an emotion?" "Relax – he's the genius who told Felicity to cut her hair!"].

Into the show comes Courtney Scott [Bonnie Somerville] who will play Laura Johnson, the sweet as sugar country cousin of Hunter Fallow's [Irene Molloy] Becky Johnson. Immediately, Hunter and her best friend – the insecure Marcy Sternfeld [Lindsay Sloane], who plays Kim Peterson – feel threatened and/or outraged. A new character means less screentime to go around… Of course, a new hot blonde means a new potential conquest for the show's heartthrob, Johnny Bishop [Al Santos] – who plays Becky's brother, Brad.

You get the idea.

Balancing the power plays – big and small – by various cast members, are producers Rob Fields [William Ragsdale] and Hope Lustig [Joely Fisher in a recurring role]. As nasty as the young rising stars of the show can be, the more mature nastiness of Rob and Hope [not to mention their deviousness] is on a whole

Breach Breaches of Theatrical Convention, Taut Spy Thriller Eschews Violence!

Breach - Ryan Phillippe & Chris CooperWhile Marvel's Ghost Rider is poised to win the box office derby, Breach, a taut little true espionage tale, comes away as the best film released this weekend – and one of the best spy thrillers ever…

 

In a way, Breach reminds me of the British spy movies of the sixties and seventies [Funeral In Berlin, The spy who Came In From The cold, and so on…]: it's a smart, elegantly layered tale of the espionage version of the old gat and mouse game. Eric O'Neill [Ryan Phillippe], an FBI intel drone who wants to become an agent, is hauled off a sensitive case by Agent Kate Burroughs [Laura Linney] to dig up the dirt on a high-powered agent named Robert Hanssen whom, she says, is a pervert – and therefore a potentially embarrassment to the service.

O'Neill is assigned to Hanssen [Chris Cooper] as his personal clerk and aide in setting up a revamp of the bureau's data security. Before long, Cooper's apparent piety [he goes to Mass every day] and family values [he and his wife seem to be madly in love and his grandchildren worship him] get to O'Neill who can't find a single sign of his alleged sexual deviancy.

Naturally, the details of his new assignment prey on his marriage to an East German expatriate, the lovely Juliana [Caroline Dhavernas], whom he takes to Sunday Mass with the Hanssens – and a family dinner afterwards, where Bonnie Hanssen attempts to convert her to Catholicism. Things become more strained when O'Neill returns home late and finds the Hanssens visiting…

Eventually, O'Neill confronts Burroughs about not finding any evidence of Hanssen's deviancy and wants to know what's really going on. So she tells him – Hanssen has been selling the Russians U.S. secrets for more than twenty years!

Caroline Dhavernas & Ryan Phillippe

In one of those rare cases when a film should be shot in shades of grey, the bleached out look of Breach is a visual metaphor for the shadowy worlds of espionage and counterintelligence. Cooper plays Hanssen as an enigma – there are so many layers to the man that it's entirely possible that even he doesn't know who he is. Even so, he's outsmarted the best the bureau has to offer for so long that O'Neill has an impossible task in getting Hanssen to trust him in a few short months.

Phillippe turns in one of his best performances as the confident O'Neill, who loses his edge as he becomes convinced that the Hanssen investigation is bogus and then has to deal with learning the details the man's crimes – and then has to go back to work with him as if nothing's wrong. Dhavernas is even better here than she was in Hollywoodland. She doesn't get an awful lot of screentime, but manages to convince us that she loves her husband and is becoming more and more frustrating with him as his assignment progresses.

Kathleen Quinlan is equally as effective as Bonnie Hanssen. Her bright sunny disposition masks a somewhat twisted private life and Quinlan captures that sunny surface and the darker shadows that swirl beneath it. Kate Burroughs isn't given a lot of notes to play – frustration, determination and weariness – but Linney manages to give them a surprising feeling of depth.

The screenplay, by Adam Mazer & William Rotko and Billy Ray, stays true to the events as much as they can – right down to the way that we never learn why Hanssen did what he did. They present the story with an understated coolness that translates into real suspense onscreen. Ray's direction is subtle, nuanced and deliberate. Even though there's a lot of exposition, the film never feels overly talky – and when the one sudden burst of violence explodes, it is truly shocking because it is as real as these things get.

Breach is definitely not for everyone – it's not a big-budget effects extravaganza; it's not a spy cartoon; it's not even a classic hero/villain movie. What it is is a smart, truthful, witty telling of a true story that involved the most egregious case of treason in American history. It is a small, almost intimate film that deals with acts that leave us with too many questions – and an exploration of the personalities that deal in and with those acts.

Grade: A

Animation: The Invincible Iron Man; The Animation Show Box: Vol. 1 & 2; More Disney Treasures

The Invincible Iron Man Box ArtFrom the superheroics of Marvel's The Invincible Iron Man, to the award worthy short features of Paramount's The Animation Show Box, Vol. 1 & 2, to the Disney classics found in the Disney Treasures sets, More Silly Symphonies, Vol. 2 and The Complete Pluto, Vol. 2, recent animation releases have continued to bring on the fun. CLICK THIS LINK TO SUBSCRIBE TO EMTV, OUR iTUNES VIDEO PODCAST!!

The Invincible Iron Man Box Art

The Invincible Iron Man

This update of Marvel's Iron Man character takes an interesting tack – it presupposes that, before he was forced to create a crude chest plate to keep himself alive, Tony Stark [voiced by Marc Worden] had already secretly designed and built a number of armored prototypes for potential military use. Thus, when a project to raise a buried city in China goes awry, and Stark is badly injured, he is able to whip up the basic iron suit to save his life – resulting in the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy.

The buried city is the capitol of the long dead Mandarin Dynasty – and the efforts of Stark's company [headed by his right hand man, Rhodey, voiced by Roddy Saulsberry] to raise it are complicated by a series of attacks and instances of sabotage caused by a group who fear that raising the city will resurrect the Mandarin. It takes the news that the group has killed everyone working on the project to jolt Stark from his life of privilege [spelt booze, broads and parties] and fly to china to find out if his best friend is still alive.

Naturally, it turns out that raising the city has allowed circumstances to come to fruition that begin to resurrect the dead emperor. Stark is able to get home and switch to one of the modern sets of armor and returns to take on the elementals who are implementing the Mandarin's return – along with an unexpected traitor.

The Invisible Iron Man is well written. It takes the character's origin and gives it a most sensible and almost inspired updating. The main characters are well delineated, and it's easy to follow the maturation of Tony Stark, as well as the disillusionment of his best friend and right hand man, Rhodey. The re-imagining of The Mandarin is pretty nifty [this version would likely make a cool foe for Doctor Strange, too] and the science versus magic [Iron Man vs. The Elementals] is fun – if maybe a wee bit too pat.

Peripheral characters [like Stark's father, and Pepper Potts] are fun [though I never imagined Pepper as being British] and the female lead – Li Mei [Gwendoline Yeo] comes across as a sweetly conflicted character who really doesn't want to be in a position of responsibility.

The animation of The Invincible Iron Man is not quite feature quality, but is certainly superior to the majority of TV animation – and is quite a bit better than Ultimate Avengers 2. The character design is excellent, and some of the effects work is breathtaking. The voice cast is uniformly excellent as well. Lionsgate's third Marvel-based animated adventure is an intriguing updating of one of the comics publisher's most interesting and powerful characters.

Features include: Alternate Opening Sequence [places more emphasis on the prophecy right from the beginning]; The Origin of Iron Man; The Hall of Iron Man Armor – a gallery of the major versions of the Golden Avenger's armor; Iron Man concept Art, and A Look At Doctor Strange [which looks to be pretty spectacular].

The Invincible Iron Man – Grade: B+

Features – Grade: C+

Final Grade: B

The Animation Show Box Art

The Animation Show Box Set – Volumes 1 & 2

Have you ever watched the Oscar