November 21, 2014

Accident (2009)

The Brain (Louis Koo) is an anonymous assassin who leads a team of operatives. Together they develop and enact elaborate murder schemes for hire: schemes that are carefully constructed so as to appear like freakish but readily explained accidents. When one of the Brain’s team is unexpectedly killed, and the police begin investigating his apartment, he becomes paranoid that he has become a target for murder himself.

Accident is a short, sharp, and immensely stylish thriller. It is directed by Soi Cheang (Motorway) and produced by Johnnie To via the latter’s Milkyway Image production company. There is a particular aesthetic to Milkyway films. They have a certain stylistic sheen and slow, methodical pace. Accident is no different, and slots in seamlessly among To’s own directorial works.

Blackfish (2013)

Gabriela Cowperthwaite's 2013 documentary Blackfish focuses on Tilikum, a captive killer whale that lives in a Seaworld theme park in the USA. He's male, large, intelligent and emotional. He has also killed three people. His story is a window into two realisations: firstly, that killer whales are truly extraordinary animals; secondly, that in capturing them and forcing them to perform for our amusement in theme parks and water attractions, we are torturing and killing them. This is not an easy documentary to sit through. I cried several times. I'm almost profoundly grateful for having seen it.

The events that led to this documentary being produced - the violent death of a Seaworld trainer - could easily inspire something quite sensationalistic and tacky. It is testament to Cowperthwaite's skills as a filmmaker that it never takes this route. It is oftentimes confronting, and in some scenes quite violent and brutal, but it never loses sight of what it is aimed to do, and it succeeds admirably in its goals. This is not simply a worthwhile and informative documentary - it is a necessary one.

November 20, 2014

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "The Search, part 2"

It's 3 October 1994, and time for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Odo has been reunited with his own people, the Changelings. While he attempts to learn their ways and re-integrate into their society, Kira begins to have some questions about what the Changelings' motives really are. Meanwhile Sisko and his crew return to Deep Space Nine to discover the Dominion have made contact with the Federation in their absence, and that a peace treaty is being negotiated. How much is the Federation willing to sacrifice to keep the peace?

"The Search, part 2" is a rare phenomenon in Star Trek: the second part of a two-part story that's actually better than the first. Usually it goes the other way around: part 1 is able to set up all manner of shock climaxes and cliffhangers, and it's up to part 2 to stagger around picking up the pieces and making sense of it all. Instead "The Search" moves quite smoothly from one installment to the other, and its cleverest ideas and most surprising moments are all actually here in the second half.

Clue (1985)

I remember everybody leaping onto the bandwagon in 2012 to mock Peter Berg's sci-fi action flick Battleship for actually attempting to adapt a board game into a motion picture. This wasn't Hollywood's first attempt to turn a board game into a movie of course; back in 1985 Paramount Pictures released Clue, aka Cluedo, based on the popular murder mystery game. It's an odd little film which broadly succeeds by refusing to take itself seriously. Is it a good film? I'm honestly not sure. I laughed, just probably not quite enough for me to give it an enthused recommendation.

The film was written and directed by Jonathan Lynn, best known for co-writing the excellent BBC comedy Yes Minister. This was Lynn's first feature film, but not his last: he went on direct My Cousin Vinny, The Whole Nine Yards, The Distinguished Gentleman and The Fighting Temptations.

It has a strong cast of comic actors, including Tim Curry, Lesley Ann Warren, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd and Michael McKean. It's essentially a farce: people running in and out of rooms, comical misunderstandings, mannered performances. How much you enjoy the film does, in part, depend on what you think of farces.

November 19, 2014

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "The Search, part 1"

It's 26 September 1994, and time to begin watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's third season.

With Starfleet reeling from the destruction of the USS Odyssey, Commander Sisko is given command over the Defiant: a small over-powered battleship originally developed to fight the Borg. He takes the Deep Space Nine command crew with him on an urgent mission to the Gamma Quadrant to find the mysterious Founders of the Dominion, and to avert a galactic war before it can begin.

Season 3 kicks off with "The Search", a two-part story that introduces a lot of changes to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The obvious addition is the USS Defiant, basically giving the series a more iconic means of flying away from the station when certain episodes (like this one) require it. It's a nicely designed ship, sitting somewhere between the pre-existing Runabouts and a starship proper. It's also a ship built for war, which leads nearly into the second big change.

Star Trek: Enterprise: Season 3 in review

Season 3 was the year that Enterprise got put on notice, and the production team started scrabbling around in a desperate hunt to save the series. It had all started so swimmingly: Season 1 premiered with almost 12 million viewers. By the end of Season 2 those viewers had mostly wandered off to watch other things, and Enterprise struggled to hit four million viewers a week. UPN demanded a shake-up, and so in the Season 2 finale the writers had Earth hit by a devastating attack: a prototype super-weapon built and launched by the mysterious Xindi to wipe out the human race. The Enterprise was dispatched to meet and negotiate with the Xindi, and to prevent their main super-weapon from being unleashed. It was basically Space Battleship Yamato: one ship on a year-long quest to save the planet Earth from destruction.

Now clearly this wasn't the first time Star Trek had attempted a story arc: the back-end of Deep Space Nine's final season was almost entirely one big storyline, culminating in an epic ten-part finale. This was a whole season, however, and represented a pretty big leap of faith by producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga. High risks, but potentially a big reward.

November 18, 2014

The Pull List: 12 November 2014

A pilot crashes his spacecraft onto a frontier planet. He wakes some days later in a frontier colony town, where he seems set to make violent first contact with the locals. That's basically the premise for the first issue of Drifter, a new monthly comic from Image written by Ivan Brandon with art by Nic Klein. Brandon's writing is solid but doesn't really do anything that grabbed my attention. Klein's artwork is absolutely stunning, and joins a recent spate of really beautiful Image books. So far so good.

My big question is: does Image need a book like Drifter? If there's one genre that's been in plentiful supply over there it's been science fiction. Prophet just wound up a run monthly run of Rene Laloux-style weirdness. Copperhead kicked off three months ago, with a very similar western frontier vibe (albeit much more on the nose). We only recently had Planetoid, Storm Dogs, and Debris. Saga is still selling like gangbusters. I'm not suggesting there isn't room for more sci-fi in comics - how many superhero books get published a month? - but based on this issue I don't see any way in which Drifter differentiates itself from the crowd. It's coming in too late to the party, and runs the risk of being an also-ran. How many more comics do we need to read about gun-toting gritty heroes on western-inspired frontier worlds? Clearly Brandon and Klein feel there's room for one more, but I'm not entirely convinced. (3/5)

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl, Batman, Batman Eternal, Copperhead, FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics, Klarion, Prometheus, She-Hulk, Silver Surfer, Thor, Wild's End and Wytches.

Star Trek: Enterprise: "Zero Hour"

It's 26 May 2004, and time for the Season 3 finale of Star Trek: Enterprise.

Captain Archer rides a Xindi ship at breakneck speed down a subspace corridor, in a desperate race to reach and destroy the super weapon before it reaches and annihilates the Earth. Back in the Expanse, T'Pol commands the Enterprise in a risky mission to destroy the Guardians' sphere network once and for all.

This episode boasts the most archetypal 'old-school' Star Trek climax imaginable: the Enterprise's captain beams aboard the alien death machine to blow it up, and winds up having a brutal fistfight with the alien leader. It's a climax so archetypal that J.J. Abrams duplicates it in his 2009 reboot movie. Then it will be Chris Pine as Kirk trading blows with the Romulan terrorist Nero (Eric Bana) over a network of precarious walkways. Here it's Scott Bakula as Archer trading blows with the Reptilian Xindi terrorist Dolim (Scott MacDonald). Apart from the change in characters, it's basically the same scene - just five years apart.