July 31, 2015

One Wonderful Sunday (1947)

Yuzo (Isao Numasaki) and Masako (Chieko Nakakita) meet in Tokyo one Sunday morning for a date. They have only 35 yen between them. Over the course of a single day they face numerous challenges as they wander the streets of post-war Tokyo.

One Wonderful Sunday is Akira Kurosawa's sixth feature film as director, and marks another sharp change in style. His previous film, No Regrets For Our Youth (1946), was a serious melodrama set over a period of years. One Wonderful Sunday is a much brighter picture. It is still at its heart a drama, but it's filled with brightness and humour and takes place over the course of a single day.

It's a highly episodic affair, as Yuzo and Masako bum around Tokyo looking for inexpensive - or preferably free - things to do. They browse through a display home, play baseball with a group of children, go to the zoo, try and fail to buy cheap tickets for a symphony concert, attempt to meet up with one of Yuzo's war buddies, have a quiet cup of tea, and take a stroll through the park. They also struggle with self-doubt, get treated like second-class citizens by more monied Tokyo residents, also break off their engagement, and generally get depressed about life in the ruins of the Pacific War.

The Pull List: 29 July 2015, Part II

Barbara Gordon seems to be in a little bit of a quandary at present. Her father, former police commissioner Jim Gordon, has confided in her that he's the new Batman, but she - for complicated and angst-ridden plot reasons - has not confided in him that she's Batgirl. As a result encounters between the two are more than a little fraught, including in the new issue #42, where Batman has orders to arrest Batgirl on sight - but needs her help at the same time. Awkward.

Of course given that Barbara only wears a mask over half of her head, and her own father can see her eyes, mouth, chin and hair, not to mention hear her voice, and the idea that he's the new "world's greatest detective" seems a little farcical. Unless of course he knows, and isn't letting on to make his daughter feel special. Actually I like that as an explanation. It's rather sweet.

Batgirl #42 is a fast, densely packed little story in which Batgirl and Batman team up to take down Livewire, while the various supporting characters in Barbara's civilian life all move on and develop in interesting little ways. It's a great issue. This is just generally a great comic. (5/5)

DC Comics. Written by Brendan Fletcher and Cameron Stewart. Art by Babs Tarr. Layouts by Jake Wyatt and Malcolm LaCombe. Colours by Serge LaPointe.

Under the cut: reviews of Black Widow, Copperhead, and Daredevil.

July 30, 2015

Blake's 7: "Hostage"

It's 27 February 1979, and time for more Blake's 7.

After barely surviving an encounter with a Federation pursuit flotilla, Blake receives a message from the planet Exbar: Travis has kidnapped his cousin, and will kill her unless Blake comes to negotiate. Despite knowing it is almost certainly a trap, Blake decides to teleport down to meet with Travis - only to discover to nobody's surprise that it was a trap.

Writer Allan Prior returns to Blake's 7 for his second episode, and sadly it's not much better than his first attempt. "Hostage" is a remarkably weak episode on a number of levels. The key one, and ultimately the only one that matters, is that it's pretty boring. The script is messy and unfocused, and Vere Lorrimer's direction makes it all feel rather sedate and uninvolved. I don't think anyone was particularly enthusiastic when they made this one.

The Pull List: 29 July 2015, Part I

Ninjak is two steps from the Weaponeer, the illegal arms trader he's been sent to assassinate. Sadly one of those steps is the Weaponeer's martial artist bodyguard: the mysterious Roku. The other is the Weaponeer himself, who may not be as defenseless as Ninjak thought.

Ninjak is a flat-out fun read. The premise - James Bond meets ninjas - is ridiculous, but writer Matt Kindt goes all out with it. It's not self-aware, it simply takes a silly concept and commits to it one hundred per cent. This is a marvellous comic book for fans of action and espionage. Kindt even throws in some cleverly placed flashbacks to flesh out Ninjak's character via his childhood.

Clay and Seth Mann's artwork is finely detailed and beautifully drawn. Characters are drawn in an idealised fashion, but never a sexualised one. There's often a fine line with this kind of superhero art, but the Manns handle it perfectly.

Like most Valiant titles, Ninjak is simply wonderful action-oriented entertainment. It does what it wants to do, and it does it remarkably well. A few more Marvel and DC fans should consider expanding their interest and accommodating a few of Valiant's titles. (4/5)

IDW. Written by Matt Kindt. Art by Clay Mann and Seth Mann. Colours by Ulises Arreola.

Under the cut: reviews of Jem and the Holograms, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye.

July 29, 2015

Blake's 7: "Killer"

It's 20 February 1979, and time for more Blake's 7.

Avon and Vila teleport down to the planet Fosforon, where a Federation communications base holds a vital crystal needed to translate newly encrypted security transmissions. While they conspire with the base's corrupt commander, Blake is more concerned with a 700 year-old derelict spacecraft that's just entered Fosforon's orbit - and the possibility that there might be something alive inside.

Blake's 7 gets another new writer - its fourth - and thankfully it's of a much higher calibre than Allan Prior. Instead it's Robert Holmes, former Doctor Who script editor and one of the finest television script writers in the history of British television. He brings all of his talents to bear on the series, providing a well-constructed thriller that showcases one of the best combinations of characters the series will ever have.

July 28, 2015

The Book of the Dead (2005)

Nara, Japan: 750 CE. Iratsume, a young noblewoman, becomes obsessed with the Chinese religion of Buddhism that is spreading across Japan. When she transcribes one thousand copies of a particular sutra she has a vision of the Buddha between the peaks of a nearby mountain. When she follows the vision she discovers a mountain temple - and learns that her vision may not be divine at all, but instead is the apparition of a long-dead Prince whose soul cannot rest.

The Book of the Dead is an animated feature film directed by Kihachiro Kawamoto. I suppose it could be described as an anime, being as it's both Japanese and animated, however it's not like any other Japanese animation I've seen. This film employs not hand-drawn animation but rather stop motion. Its story plays out via elegant theatricalised puppets against miniature sets.

I have no idea whether Japan has a particularly rich history of stop motion animation or not. I know Europe does, starting with Ladislaw Starewicz and running through the past hundred years. Kawamoto even went to Europe to train in the field, working underneath the Czech master Jiří Trnka in Prague.

Bosch: "'Tis the Season"

Police detective Harry Bosch (Titus Welliver) is supposed to be sitting at home waiting for the verdict in a civil lawsuit laid against him for shooting a murder suspect. Instead he's up in the Los Angeles hills investigating a grisly discovery: a child's skeleton.

The police drama is a very crowded marketplace in television. It's been one of the most popular genres for TV drama for about 60 years. Bosch's production arrangement - it's been produced directly for Amazon in the USA - may be reasonably new, but its heritage is very, very old. Titus Welliver plays Bosch: a weary loner working the streets of Los Angeles. He's a maverick, prone to rushing off and investigating things on his own rather than playing by the book. He's constantly circumventing authority in an attempt to crack his latest case. He's troubled by his own personal traumas: a murdered mother, a childhood of abuse, and several years' experience as an army ranger in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. This is to an extent less of a TV pilot and more of an extended series of stereotypes and clichés.

And yet to a certain degree it all works.

July 27, 2015

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

Generally speaking I am not hugely fond of DreamWorks Animation. I liked them at first, with their excellent cel-animated features The Prince of Egypt and The Road to El Dorado demonstrating some willingness to push beyond their Disney origins. Their hugely successful CGI-animated Shrek, however, seemed to overthrow that particular apple-cart, leading to a long-running series of bland, weakly designed films packed with celebrity voice casts and unnecessary pop culture references. Films like Bee Movie, Shark Tale, and The Croods seemed to be about the most boring animated films coming out of America in the past 20 years.

The one massive exception to this trend seemed to be Chris Sanders and De DeBlois' 2010 fantasy film How to Train Your Dragon. Here was a film with strong design, beautiful animation and a well-considered, very well-crafted storyline. It wasn't perfect - there never was a satisfactory explanation for why all of the adults in the film sounded Scottish and their children like Californian teenagers - but it really did stand out as something really special.

Last year DreamWorks released a sequel, because if nothing else sequels appears to be the company's raison d'être. I initially resisted watching it, since the risk seemed pretty high that the studio would ruin what made the original so effective. Thankfully they've avoided that risk, and presented an excellent film. It is not quite a solid as the original for a number of reasons, but does a fairly strong job of expanding the self-contained first film into an ongoing franchise.