September 30, 2016

Full Strike (2015)

Ng Kau-Sau (Josie Ho) was a champion badminton player, but her poor attitude and aggressive style saw her career shattered. Now she's overweight, depressed and working in her brother's restaurant - until a chance encounter involving a meteorite and a homeless man leads her to a run-down badminton academy run by three ex-criminals looking to make a change in their lives.

Back in 2010 I was a huge fan of Derek Kwok and Clement Cheng's kung fu sports comedy Gallants - so much so that it wound up being one of my favourite Hong Kong films of the past decade. Last year Kwok returned to the sports comedy genre with Full Strike, co-directed with Henri Wong. While it does not hit the incredible heights managed by Gallants, it is a hugely entertaining film. The cast are great, the jokes are great, and despite being a fairly stereotypical 'misfits win the championship against the odds' story it still manages to find plenty of places for originality and unexpected angles on the material.

Bodacious Space Pirates: "Pirate Hunting"

It is 2 June 2012, and time for another episode of Bodacious Space Pirates.

As Marika prepares for end-of-year exams, pirate ships are getting destroyed by mysterious pirate raiders. Marika comes up with a potential solution: pirates hiring one another for protection, both to shore up their defences and to satisfy the conditions of their letters of marque. She may, however, have underestimated the firepower of the raiders.

Bodacious Space Pirates enters its final story arc, and it looks set to be a pretty big one: after a gentle, character-focused first half, the episode's climax turns almost apocalyptic as a group of pirate ships get all but annihilated at the hands of a massive, technologically superior enemy vessel. The stakes immediately get about as high as they've been all series, and with only a few episodes to go there's every chance the series may end with a body count.

September 29, 2016

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Next Phase"

It is 18 May 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise comes to the aid of a crippled Romulan science vessel, but when transporting back to the Enterprise Lt La Forge (LeVar Burton) and Ensign Ro (Michelle Forbes) are seemingly killed. While the other officers mourn their deaths, La Forge and Ro are actually trapped out of phase with the rest of reality, and unable to communicate with their crewmates.

"The Next Phase" is a bottle episode that clearly got way, way out of hand, with a limited cast and setting - basically the Enterprise and one room on the Romulan ship - but a whole raft of expensive visual effects. It is effectively Ghost for Star Trek, with La Forge and Ro able to run through walls and solid objects, and listening helplessly as the other character fondly eulogise them. It has some nice action, a few clever ideas, and some moments of rather effective drama.

The Pull List: 28 September 2016, Part 1

Southern Cross is an exceptional science fiction horror series that I honestly thought was a six-issue miniseries with a bleak and abrupt ending, until an unexpected seventh issue popped onto my pull list. Those first six issues followed Alex Braithe, a woman onboard the spaceship Southern Cross on her way to Titan to investigate her sister's murder. Things did not go well, and the Southern Cross eventually vanished without a trace. Now one survivor has reached Titan in an escape pod, and the authorities there have questions for him.

There's a nice shift in this issue: new story arc, new location, and a new viewpoint character: Nathan Carter, a manager on a huge corporate mining operation on Titan. There was already a sense of the Alien franchise about the first six issues, and that sense doesn't dissipate here. Alien 3 seems an enormous influence on the aesthetic of the Romulus Rig, and artist Andy Belanger does a great job of reflecting its grimy aesthetic and its enormous scale.

I was slightly surprised to see Southern Cross continue but I am enormously happy that it has. This is smart, bleak, moody science fiction and boasts great characters, dialogue and brilliant visual storytelling. Writer Becky Cloonan is just getting better and better. In a growing range of Image science fiction books, Southern Cross remains one of the best. (5/5)

Southern Cross #7. Image. Written by Becky Cloonan. Art by Andy Belanger. Colours by Lee Loughridge.

Under the cut: reviews of Kim & Kim, Ms Marvel, and Star Trek: Waypoint.

September 28, 2016

The Dark Knight (2008)

As Batman, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has been fighting a non-stop war against Gotham City's criminal underworld, but his battle is catastrophically interrupted by the arrival of the Joker (Heath Ledger), an unhinged and unpredictable criminal mastermind who throws the entire city into chaos, with terrible consequences for Bruce, ex-girlfriend Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman).

I realised while recently watching The Dark Knight that I have never reviewed it before. I have watched it many times over the past eight years. Not only is it my favourite film from 2008 it is also one of my favourite films of all time. It is a remarkable, quite masterful work of movie-making and for me a career high-point for its director Christopher Nolan. The bulk of the film alone would make it a genre masterpiece. At its centre, however, stands the late Heath Ledger in his most iconic, entertaining and skillful performance. We honestly had no idea his talent had developed so much and become so finely mastered until he had already passed away. It's an absolute tragedy.

Top Knot Detective (2016)

Remember Ronin Suirui Tantei? It was known as Top Knot Detective here in Australia, when it had a brief TV run in the early 1990s. Today it's one of those weird cult phenomenons: unknown by the majority, but loved perhaps a little too much by a small but ridiculously dedicated audience. The series kicked off as a samurai drama - known in Japan as a 'jidai-geki' - before expanding into one of the weirdest science fiction shows every made.

Still not ringing a bell? That's probably because Top Knot Detective isn't real. That hasn't stopped it from being the subject of a feature-length documentary of the same name by Western Australian filmmakers Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce. For Australian audiences it airs on SBS2 tonight. For international readers, I can only implore you to check out this outstanding comedy as soon as you are legally able. This is a stunning - not to mention stunningly original - piece of Australian filmmaking.

September 27, 2016

Star Trek: Voyager: "State of Flux"

It is 10 April 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

After an altercation with the Kazon Nistrim, it becomes clear that someone onboard Voyager has been secretly passing Federation technology to the Kazon. Ensign Seska (Martha Hackett) immediately comes under suspicion, and no matter how much she protests her innocence the guiltier she appears.

"State of Flux" is one of those frustrating episodes of Star Trek where you can sort of enjoy what's been produced, but your enjoyment keeps getting interrupted by realising all of the alternative creative choices that could have made it all so much better. Its biggest problem is that it spends 40 minutes pushing us to believe that Seska is actually a traitor to the Voyager crew, and then reveals that she is indeed a traitor to the Voyager crew. There is simply no suspense. It's a shame as well, because Martha Hackett was developing Seska into a much more interesting character than half of the regular cast.

September 26, 2016

The Pull List: 21 September 2016, Part 3

One of the best things about DC's New 52 was Francis Manapul. In The Flash and then Detective Comics he presented a solid knack for writing with an exceptional talent for art. His books looked absolutely glorious, boasting sharp design work with outstanding panel layouts and vivid colours. One of the worst things about DC's New 52 was the way it seemed to lose the overall sense of a united DC Universe. There was continuity between books, but the tone felt wrong: it was too dark and bleak for my tastes, and seemed to throw out the close familial aspect of the original DC Universe.

The new ongoing monthly Trinity is, then, a tremendous next step. Manapul writes and illustrates this new book, and his artistic talents have only grown stronger since he dropped off Detective Comics. It is a wonderful character-centric title, uniting Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman and showcasing their friendship. Not a lot happens in this issue - basically Diana and Bruce come to Lois and Clark's house for dinner - but there is more warmth and friendship on display than DC has allowed for some time.

The book also acknowledges and works with the current situation. The Superman that Wonder Woman and Batman knew is dead, and they're only just getting to know his pre-Flashpoint replacement. It has not thrown out the good parts of the New 52, it has simply replaced the bits that didn't work with a tone that does. I'm really enjoying DC's Rebirth titles, and this looks set to be another great addition to the line. (4/5)

Trinity #1. DC Comics. Story and art by Francis Manapul.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batman, Green Arrow, Nightwing, and Superman.