August 24, 2016

Dragonheart (1996)

Bowen (Dennis Quaid) is an English knight tasked with educating and training Prince Einon, the son of a cruel Saxon king. When a peasant uprising kills the king and mortally wounds Einon, it is only the intervention of a local dragon that saves the boy's life. 12 years later Einon (David Thewlis) has grown up to become more of a tyrant that his father was, and Bowen has become a bounty hunter tracking down the very dragon whose spell corrupted Einon's heart. When he fails to kill one dragon, named Draco (voiced by Sean Connery), Bowen and the dragon team up on a scam to defraud the local peasantry of their money.

Dragonheart was released in 1996, with its publicity pretty much entirely riding on the sight of a computer-generated dragon flying around and speaking with Sean Connery's voice. The explosion of CGI in Hollywood following the release of Jurassic Park led to a bunch of these sorts of effects-driven, high concept films. Some were hits, some were flops. Most of them have, over the last twenty years, fallen by the wayside. Dragonheart feels like a sort of middle ground film. It has its fans for sure, and was successful enough for Universal Pictures to develop at least two direct-to-video sequels, but it never quite managed to grab the public imagination in any sort of long-term fashion. These days it seems half-forgotten.

Roadies: "The All-Night Bus Ride"

It is 14 August 2016, and time for another episode of Roadies.

The road crew spend the night awake and talking during an all-night bus trip. Phil reminisces about his first days as a roadie. Milo (Peter Cambor) regrets not expressing his feelings to Kelly-Ann (Imogen Poots) earlier. Reg (Rafe Spall) makes an unpleasant discovery about why he was hired to join the crew in the first place.

The calibre of talent involved in Roadies means that sooner or later the law of averages is going to result in a half-decent episode. It had happened once already earlier in the season, and it is a huge relief to see it happen again: "The All-Night Bus Ride" is an oddly strong episode whose only significant flaw is that it does not link up so well to the rest of the season. In some respects it is a glimpse into an alternate universe where Roadies does not suck.

August 23, 2016

Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers: "To Live and Die by Starlight"

It is 19 January 2002, and time for the first (and only) episode of Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers.

Human Ranger David Martell (Dylan Neal) orders a retreat during a pitched space battle, breaking a cardinal rule of the Rangers - to never retreat in the face of the enemy. Rather than get exiled from the order entirely, he is assigned the command of a decrepit and potentially haunted starship and give escort duty for a group of ambassadors on their way to a conference. The convoy is attacked, putting the lives of all the ambassadors in Martell's hands and revealing a new alien menace that threatens the entire galaxy.

Babylon 5 ran for five years 110 episodes. Its follow-up, Crusade, lasted only one season of 13 episodes. J. Michael Straczynski's third attempt for a Babylon 5 series lasted just under 90 minutes. I feel there is a law of diminishing returns to this franchise. The Legend of the Rangers was a 2002 TV movie produced as a pilot to an intended ongoing series for the Sci-Fi Channel, but of course no such series ultimately eventuated. Having watched its sole episode, I am not entirely surprised.

The Pull List: 17 August 2016, Part 3

When DC Comics published Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Rebirth, I was relatively unconvinced by it and suspected I would not bother picking up the series proper. I am glad that I did: this proper issue #1 is a much better and more tightly written affair, with good art and a really nice sense of humour to it. The premise is pretty simple: someone is masquerading as Batgirl's former identity Oracle and selling information to the highest bidder. Batgirl wants her shut down and has roped in best friend Black Canary to help. Their paths have now crossed with the Huntress, a vigilante on a crusade to rid Gotham City of its gangsters.

I couldn't tell you why the last issue fell slightly flat and this issue worked so well. Claire Roe's artwork for one feels a lot more accomplished. The script, by Julie and Shawna Benson, is much stronger and packed with a lot more story. If you are an old-school fan of Birds of Prey, I suspect this book will satisfy your nostalgia. If you're new to the team, this issue works as a perfect new origin.

DC Comics have really made this Rebirth scheme work. The New 52 was nowhere near this accomplished or of such a consistent quality. I figured I'd be sticking to a small number of titles going through this initiative, but instead I'm reading more DC titles than I was a year ago. It looks like I'll be reading this one too. (5/5)

DC Comics. Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #1. Written by Julie Benson and Shawna Benson. Art by Claire Roe. Colours by Allen Passalaqua.

Under the cut: reviews of Black Widow, Descender, Invader Zim, Poe Dameron, and The Wicked + the Divine.

August 22, 2016

Colditz: "Gone Away Part II: With the Wild Geese"

It is 25 January 1973, and time for the first season finale of Colditz.

With careful planning and plenty of luck, four British officers have successfully escaped the walls of Colditz Castle. Now for Captain Pat Grant (Edward Hardwicke) and Flight Lieutenant Phil Carrington (Robert Wagner) the real challenge begins: crossing Germany to reach Switzerland before the Nazis find them.

Colditz effectively comes full circle: it started outside of the castle, with officers sneaking their way desperately across enemy territory. This first season finishes that way too, with Grant and Carrington doing their best to masquerade as Flemish construction workers as they edge ever-closer to the Swiss border. It is a tense, wonderfully dramatic and hugely entertaining finale.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Power Play"

It is 22 February 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise investigates unusual life signs on a deserted, storm-wracked planet. When the away team returns to the ship, three of them - Data (Brent Spiner), Troi (Marina Sirtis) and O'Brien (Colm Meaney) have been taken over by alien entities intent upon taking over the ship.

"Power Play" is essentially Star Trek: The Next Generation as an action thriller: high on plot and tension but low on actual depth and character. It is also a 'bottle show', using only one set that isn't on the Enterprise and keeping the number of guest performers to a minimum. Within those two restraints it is a pretty entertaining hour of television.

August 21, 2016

The Pull List: 17 August 2016, Part 2

Grace Briggs is the middle-aged mother of three sons, and the wife of a racist, anti-government secessionist leader currently serving a life sentence in prison - and she has just told her husband that she is taking over his family business.

Briggs Land is the latest comic series from writer Brian Wood. It retains the very high quality of mature, intelligent writing I have come to expect from his work, which has included some great ongoing books including Rebels, Northlanders, Black Road and The Massive. If the quality of this book continues in the same way it goes with this first issue, I think Wood has another great book in the making.

It is provocative stuff in some ways, since he is basing his story around an extended family of anti-government isolationists, many of whom are openly racist and at least one of whom is a self-proclaimed and proud Nazi. Despite the challenge, he manages to isolate the more likeable characters within the group and make the story about them. Mack Chater's artwork is excellent and adds to the grounded, realistic tone. Lee Loughridge's colours are, as always, excellent. I'll be keeping up with this book as it goes: it has huge potential. (4/5)

Briggs Land #1. Dark Horse. Written by Brian Wood. Art by Mack Chater. Colours by Lee Loughridge.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Doctor Who, and Green Arrow.

August 20, 2016

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

With Spock (Leonard Nimoy) restored to life, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and his crew prepare to return to Earth and face the consequences of their actions. Their return coincides with the arrival in Earth's orbit of a mysterious alien probe, one whose signals are destroying the Earth's atmosphere. It is seeking to communicate with humpback whales - a species that has been extinct for centuries. In a last-ditch attempt to save the planet, the former Enterprise crew travel back in time to retrieve two whales and bring them back to the 23rd century.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home effectively rounds off a trilogy of films that started with The Wrath of Khan and continued with The Search for Spock. It is easily the most distinctive and unusual of all the Star Trek films produced to date, as it deliberately sets itself to be as mainstream a crowd pleaser as possible, pushes for comedy ahead of drama, and - in something that always impresses me when a filmmaker pulls it off - lacks any kind of villain or antagonist. There is a probe threatening to destroy the Earth, certainly, but it is seemingly doing it out of ignorance rather than malice. The enemy of the film is instead simply the task at hand: travelling back to 1986, finding two humpbacks whales, and getting them transported back to the 23rd century in one piece. At the time of its release The Voyage Home was an unexpected smash hit, becoming the highest-grossing Star Trek film since the original in 1979. Its box office gross was not beaten until J.J. Abrams' Star Trek in 2009.