For a few years in the '60s and '70s producer Gerry Anderson made "supermarionation" all the rage in the world of British children's television. His stop-motion puppets starred in a number of sci-fi adventure series most memorably Thunderbirds which followed the exploits of International Rescue -- a team comprised of ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy and his sons. Based out of their secret fortress on Treasure Island the Tracys (aided by lovely secret agent Lady Penelope) used their amazing rocket-powered vehicles to prevent disasters and save lives around the world. Now 40 years after Thunderbirds' TV debut Star Trek vet Jonathan Frakes has brought Anderson's characters to life on the big screen. Front and center is youngest son Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet) who dreams of the day he too can pilot one of his family's fab ships and lead missions. But first he has to prove himself to his father Jeff (Bill Paxton). That opportunity comes sooner than either expects when mysterious villain The Hood (Ben Kingsley) strands Jeff and the older Tracy boys in space and attacks Treasure Island. With only his friends Tintin (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) and Fermat (Soren Fulton) to help him Alan has to grow up quickly if he wants to save his family ... and the world!
It would be easy to mock several of the performances in Thunderbirds-- to chide Paxton for his earnest seriousness as Tracy patriarch Jeff to dismiss Corbet's angst-tinged eagerness as Alan to roll your eyes at Kingsley's over-the-top mystical fierceness as The Hood and to wince at Fulton and Anthony Edwards' nerdy stuttering as science whizzes Fermat and his dad Brains. But actors are only as good as their script and the one Frakes has given his cast (courtesy of screenwriters William Osborne and Michael McCullers) is weak and clichéd at best filled with after-school-special-worthy lessons for Alan to learn. "You can't save everyone " Jeff tells his son somberly and even Tintin has a moral for her crush when he's feeling selfish and indulging in self-pity: "This is hard on all of us Alan." Talk about insight! What makes it even more frustrating is knowing that the actors are capable of much more even the kids: Both Corbet and Hudgens did well with supporting roles in Thirteen. Thunderbirds' only real bright spot is Sophia Myles as Lady Penelope. A cross between Reese Witherspoon's Elle in Legally Blonde and Jennifer Garner's Sydney on Alias Myles' Lady P doesn't let her pink couture wardrobe prevent her from coolly kicking ass when the situation demands it. Attended by her droll driver/man-of-all-trades Parker (Ron Cook) Lady Penelope is a fresh feisty heroine with all of the film's best lines -- and the coolest car to boot.
Frakes cut his directorial teeth on episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and his first feature film was Star Trek: First Contact so he would seem like a natural choice to bring a cult sci-fi TV show to the big screen. Unfortunately while he does an admirable job re-creating (and improving on) the original Thunderbirds' mod sets cool ships and special effects (which are fine if a bit more TV-sized than summer blockbustery) Frakes can't seem to decide who his audience is. If he was aiming at grown-ups who remember the show fondly from their own childhood he should have embraced the source material's campiness (à la Starsky and Hutch) rather than restricting it to the Tracys' plastic Barbie-like furniture and Lady P's bouffant hairdo. If on the other hand Frakes was hoping to entertain today's kids he should have really reinvented the show for a 21st-century world (à la Stephen Hopkins'1998 Lost in Space) rather than clinging to the '60s references As it is he's stuck somewhere in the middle leaving adults bored during the kids-on-an-adventure bits and children mystified by the handful of jokes aimed at their parents.
After a particularly rough jamming session Metallica frontman James Hetfield warns his bandmates that he's in a "shitty mood " which basically means he's about to become one extremely uncooperative guy. Metallica formed by Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich in 1981 have been through their share of problems in the past two decades and it's not surprising to see them bickering like an old married couple. But as the film reveals their issues are far more complex than some matrimonial spat and the group is ready to shell out $40 00 a month to Phil Towle a therapist and performance enhancement coach to help them work through their differences and hopefully St. Anger--Metallica's first studio album in six years. Metallica: Some Kind of Monster documents this two-year struggle which begins when Hetfield checks himself into rehab to sober up and leaves the band in limbo for almost a year. They eventually regroup and after a few more clashes record arguably their finest album since 1984's Ride the Lightening. This documentary covers everything about the band including Ulrich's public bout with Napster that resulted in a fan backlash the group's struggle to replace bassist Cliff Burton who was killed in a 1986 bus crash in Copenhagen and how to get rid of the increasingly controlling Towle once they've been "cured."
Hetfield and Ulrich share the spotlight in this documentary which ironically is also the root of Metallica's problem--the constant tug of war between the two members for control of the group. Take Hetfield's post-rehab return to the studio: In order to keep his sobriety in check the singer must stick to a regimented schedule which includes limiting work hours from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. daily. This irks Ulrich who says Hetfield's demands are just a manipulative way of asserting his power over the group. But it's interesting to see how the presence of cameras as well as Towle affects the two's interaction. Rather than lash out at one another they express their anger politely. "I'm not enjoying being in the room with you playing " an annoyed Hetfield passively tells Ulrich after a hot disagreement over a tune. The underlying issue for Ulrich however becomes clear when he discusses former guitarist Dave Mustaine who joined the band in '82 and was booted a year later. Ulrich laments that he and Hetfield use to be close even declaring their love for one another after some 42 beers--until Mustaine came between them. Flying under the radar in this film is guitarist Kirk Hammett who prides himself on being the ego-less member of the band.
Documakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky use their no-nonsense approach to filmmaking to deliver a straightforward documentary devoid of the usual narration and artistic cinematic effects and whittle away 715 days worth of footage into a 135-minute film. Although it's a bit on the long side it works nonetheless thanks to the documentary's participants who put themselves out there emotionally for the world to see. And while the filmmakers detail the inspiration behind various songs from St. Anger the charm lies more in their personal trials and tribulations than their creative ones. But will Metallica's attempt to bare their souls win back the fans they lost because of Ulrich's attack on Napster? On May 3 2000 Ulrich showed up at Napster's headquarters with the screen names of 350 000 users who had downloaded their songs and demanded each be removed from the online song-swapping aid. But in their fight to bring an end to Napster Ulrich and the band alienated fans who were quick to point out that Metallica benefited from the circulation of bootleg copies of their albums early in their career. Looking back Ulrich comments the Napster thing made him "the most hated f***ing ass in the history of rock 'n' roll " but doesn't elaborate beyond that. Berlinger and Sinofsky then show Ulrich making a cool $5 million off his oil-on-canvas paintings through Christie's which makes the drummer's Napster fight look so damn petty. Even more interesting than the auction's bottom line is Ulrich's reasoning for selling the work that adorned the walls of his home for years: To wipe the slate clean.