October 1, 2014

R.I.P.D. (2013)

When corrupt Boston police detective Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) is murdered by his partner Bobby Hayes (Kevin Bacon), he finds himself with one chance to escape judgement in the afterlife: join the Rest in Peace Department (RIPD), a supernatural police force purging the world of the living from the evil spirits of the dead. He is partnered with a veteran from the Wild West, Roy Pulsifer (Jeff Bridges), and sent back to Boston on a 100-year tour of duty.

R.I.P.D. was released in 2013 and sank like a very loud, embarrassing stone. This action comedy cost Universal Pictures an estimated $130 million dollars to produce, failed to find its audience, got fairly awful reviews, and lost its studio something in the region of $100 million. The critics aren't always right about these things though, and more often audiences aren't either, so I figured it was worth giving the film the benefit of the doubt and watching it for myself.

Is it an unacknowledged gem? Is it a piece of crap? Well...

September 30, 2014

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Defector"

The Enterprise intercepts a rogue Romulan scout ship crossing the Neutral Zone. Its pilot is a low-ranking Romulan officer with information on a secret military base being established to threaten the Federation. He wants to defect - but is he telling the truth?

I have a soft spot for "The Defector", because it was the first episode of The Next Generation I saw in a really long time. I was a fairly obsessive viewer of the old VHS rental releases of Seasons 1 and 2, but then those releases dried up somewhere towards the end of the second season. It was about two years later than I managed to see this episode at a friend's place - they had been getting episodes mailed to them on tape from a fan in the USA. The episode seemed pretty amazing at the time, because it was the first I'd seen of the improved Season 3. Coming back to it now it's not quite as impressive, but it is still a highly enjoyable episode.

Rebirth of Mothra (1996)

I do wonder what the producers at Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros must be making of Mothra. It was announced some time ago that their upcoming Godzilla sequel would likely feature the famous giant moth as a co-star, which does make me wonder somewhat if those producers have seen a Mothra movie in their lives. In the hands of director Gareth Edwards Godzilla was a deadly serious, some would say somewhat tedious, epic, with every effort made to make the inherent absurdity of a giant radioactive lizard believable and rational. Mothra doesn't fit any of those things.

Mothra, for those who aren't familiar with her, is a giant rainbow coloured moth. She's from another planet, but arrived on Earth in our prehistory. She lives in an island in the Pacific Ocean, where the local indigenous tribes worship her as a god. She is assisted by the Cosmos, two small alien fairies that sing to her when they require her assistance. She shoots laser beams from her antennae.

What I'm basically getting at is that Mothra is pretty much as knowingly and wilfully absurd as Japan's kaiju (giant monsters) get, and thus the worst possible fit for gravitas-addicted Hollywood blockbusters. Back home in Japan, however? She fits like a glove, as is evident in her 1996 reboot Rebirth of Mothra (just titled Mothra in Japan).

September 29, 2014

AKB0048: "Emotion Relation"

AKB0048 prepare to hold a concert on the snow planet of Thundristar. With Minami still injured, Kanata is appointed to take her place - much to Minami's dismay. Before the concert begins Nagisa and her friends sneak out of AKB's spaceship to explore a nearby town. They find a group of small girls - all fans of the band - who remind them of their old childhood.

This is pretty much exactly the kind of episode I want from AKB0048: a little bit of pop star soap opera, but mainly a bizarre combination of cheesy pop concert and sci-fi guerilla warfare. It also ties things back to the series' first episode with a strong focus on the four main leads. I think this is a good thing: I feel like between this episode and the last I'm finally getting the show that was initially promised.

September 28, 2014

Doctor Who: "The Caretaker"

Clara is having difficulty keeping her life with the Doctor separate from her budding romance with fellow teacher Danny Pink. This separation becomes impossible when the Doctor turns up at school as the new temporary caretaker, and an alien menace threatens the safety of the children.

Watching "The Caretaker" is kind of like having two different TV shows, one excellent and one awful, both playing different takes on the same story on separate channels, and then someone sitting next to you keeps changing from one to the other. Some of the scenes work brilliantly. Others are actively painful to sit through. There's no rhyme or reason to it, it's just extraordinarily inconsistent. I have liked some of co-writer Gareth Roberts' earlier work on Doctor Who. I adored his Season 5 episode "The Lodger", which demonstrated that an all-out comedy can work in Doctor Who, but was fairly lukewarm on his Season 6 follow-up "Closing Time" and really didn't like his Season 3 episode "The Shakespeare Code". I do adore his 1990s novels, published by Virgin Publishing Ltd, and keep wishing he'd bring the qualities he demonstrated back then to the scripts he's writing now. To be fair to him, he sometimes does - just not consistently enough for me to properly enjoy it.

1,000 minutes

Let's say you had 1,000 minutes that you wanted to spend watching movies. That's about 16.7 hours in total, so you could in theory wake up tomorrow, start watching at 9:00 am and be finished just before midnight. What would you watch with those 1,000 minutes? Which films would you choose? You could pick a movie franchise and run through it, I guess. In 1,000 minutes you could burn your way through the entire Friday the 13th saga, barring the last 10 minutes of the 2009 remake. On the other hand you could go for a wider variety of films - pick stuff from different directors, genres, countries of origin, and so on.

I was wondering what I would recommend. If I was to give someone 1,000 minutes' worth of feature films to watch, which movies would I choose? Under the cut you'll find what I selected. These are favourite films, but more than that they're favourite films that I really wish more people could see. They're films that have stuck with me for years, and which I'm always telling people they should check out. I don't need to list Blade Runner (my favourite film) or Singin' in the Rain (my standard pick when someone demands I name the best film), because they're famous all by themselves. I want to look at what I'd recommend from all of the other films I love.

September 27, 2014

The Monuments Men (2014)

In the latter half of World War II an international mission is sent into western Europe with the explicit task of saving Europe's master art works from being stolen or even destroyed by the retreating Nazis. This true story (sort of - they underplay Britain's involvement in a long-running tradition of American war films) forms the basis of The Monuments Men, the most recent film from actor, writer, director, producer and all-round multi-hyphenate George Clooney.

Saving art from the Nazis is certainly a fresh angle for a war movie, and one that allows for a whole new perspective on the usual World War II genre. In practice it's a leisurely excuse for Clooney and an exceptional ensemble cast to perform a variety of beautifully constructed little scenes. This is an overly long film, and its narrative is rather flabby, but each individual section is wonderfully staged and performed that it's difficult to mind too much. It makes The Monument Men that rare movie that's highly enjoyable, but in which the parts are better than the whole sum.

Doctor Who: "Rider from Shang-Tu"

It's 21 Match 1964, and the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan remain trapped at the hands of Venetian explorer Marco Polo. While the Doctor has repaired the TARDIS, Marco has both keys - and he refuses to give them back. When a rider arrives from Shang-Tu, Marco learns that Kublai Khan demands his presence at the summer palace in Cheng-Ting. While the caravan members move on by horseback, the TARDIS remains behind with the other cargo - unless Tegana's latest plan succeeds.

We're now five episodes into this serial, and for the first time it's beginning to drag. This episode is, in broad strokes, a replica of the one before it: the Doctor and his companions are Marco's prisoners, Tegana has another plan up his sleeve, and Marco refuses to listen to reason over whether or not his Mongol warrior companion is a traitor. At the episode's climax they're all set to finally escape, but something gets in their way. Lather, rinse, repeat.

It's a shame, because until now the serial has been damn-near faultless - yellowface casting not included. It's possible of course, as the caravan has moved from mountain to desert to forest, that the visuals would have made this episode a bit more distinctive. With the video missing, we'll probably never know.