March 4, 2015

D.A.R.Y.L. (1985)

An amnesiac ten year-old boy named Daryl (Barrett Oliver) is found alone in the woods. While the authorities look for his parents, Daryl is housed with a foster family: Joyce (Mary Beth Hurt) and Andy Richardson (Michael McKean). Despite his amnesia Daryl shows unexpected intelligence, physical skill and maturity. It is rapidly revealed that Daryl is not a boy at all, but rather an experiment in artificial intelligence: a data-analysing robot youth lifeform, or D.A.R.Y.L.

D.A.R.Y.L. is not a good film. Its story feels reheated and perfunctory. Its pace is slow and lethargic. Its performances are broadly telegraphed and flat. Visually it is competent but ordinary. I re-watched it as part of an extended 1980s movie kick that has thus far also included The Karate Kid (reviewed here) and WarGames (soon to be featured over on FictionMachine). Nostalgia for the films of my childhood led me back to it. A disappointing viewing experience will now hopefully keep me away.

March 3, 2015

Blake's 7: "Cygnus Alpha"

It's 16 January 1978, and time for the third episode of Blake's 7.

While Blake, Avon and Jenna explore their newly-captured alien spacecraft - which Jenna has christened "the Liberator" - Gan, Vila and the other prisoners are deposited onto the penal colony world of Cygnus Alpha. Once there they find a community ruled by a religious cult leader named Varga (Brian Blessed), and become infected by a disease that may prevent them from ever escaping.

Brian Blessed has weird shoes. They're really jarring when they appear during the climax of "Cygnus Alpha". He's wearing a sort of tatty purple sarong and has these oddly white slip-on loafers.  They don't look like the shoes of a medieval-era cult leader, which is what his character has styled himself as, and they don't look like shoes from our far future. Instead they look like what I suspect they are: the result of a cash-strapped BBC costume designer throwing any old shoes onto Blessed's feat in the mistaken impression that nobody will see them. I saw them when I was a young child, and remember thinking they were a bit weird. They have grabbed my attention every time I've seen this episode in the decades since. They really jump out at you: Brian Blessed's weird shoes.

March 2, 2015

February film reviews

I reviewed a higher-than-average number of films in February, so I figured it might be worth linking them all here in case you missed any of them.

The Karate Kid (1984)

The Karate Kid is one of the touchstones of 1980s American pop culture, as significant to the cultural narrative as Ghostbusters, E.T. or The Breakfast Club. It's a film whose most iconic elements are now better known than the film itself, and which continues to get referenced and name-checked in all manner of parodies and popular comedies.

The plot, in case you've been living in a cave: teenager Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) moves with his mother from New Jersey to California's San Fernando Valley. He is soon targeted by high school bullies, all of whom have learned karate at a local "cobra kai" dojo. When he's targeted for a particularly brutal beating, Daniel is rescued and defended by his apartment block's maintenance supervisor - the Japanese Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita). Miyagi agrees to personally teach Daniel karate so that he can defeat the bullies in the local karate tournament.

February 27, 2015

Blake's 7: "Space Fall"

It's 9 January 1978 and time for the second episode of Blake's 7.
While en route to the penal colony Cygnus Alpha, political rebel Roj Blake (Gareth Thomas) gets to know some of his fellow prisoners: the smuggler Jenna Stannis (Sally Knyvette), the thief Vila Restall (Michael Keating), the hulking and muscular Olag Gan (David Jackson), and the acerbic, self-interested computer hacker Kerr Avon (Paul Darrow). When the chance to overthrow their captors arrives, Blake and his companions are quick to grab it - but events do not quite transpire as they have planned.

Watching "Space Fall" immediately after "The Way Back" causes some mild confusion. That was a largely self-contained political thriller based around a single character. "Space Fall" is more like the Blake's 7 I remember. Firstly it's much cheaper looking. Secondly it has a wider spread of characters and a sudden and very strong line in biting wit. This is critical to the series' success. You don't watch Blake's 7 for the visual effects or the sets; the series had a lower budget per minute than even Doctor Who. You also don't often watch it for the plots; they're often rather generic and stereotypical, as they are in this episode. You watch it for the distinctive characters and the sharply written dialogue.

Okay, so you watch it for Avon and Vila.

The Dynamiter (2011)

Robbie Hendrick (William Patrick Ruffin) is a 14 year-old boy living in Mississippi. He's dirt-poor, and lives in an isolated run-down house with his senile grandmother and his young half-brother Fess (John Alex Nunnery). Caught stealing at school, he is tasked by his teacher with writing an essay over the summer - and it is through the drafting of this essay that we get an insight into Robbie's troubled life.

This is a 2011 drama directed by Matthew Gordon. It has 'indie' cred all over it: low budget, a lot of handheld camera work, a cast of non-professional actors, and a story that simmers with day-to-day activity rather than build towards an explosive climax. In the end the film is probably a little too low-key for its own good - particularly considering its title. There are several points where it seems events are about spill out of control, but each time Gordon carefully dials the action back and re-positions it back to centre. Alfred Hitchcock once said that 'movies are life with the boring parts cut out'. The Dynamiter, for better or worse, simply shows us life.

February 26, 2015

The Pull List: 18 February 2015

Last week's comic book reviews are late because a dog ate my homework, also my local comic shop only opened on Friday in their sensational and roomy new location. If you're in Melbourne, or are visiting some time, you should absolutely check out All Star Comics. They've even got this fabulous nook with child-appropriate comics and graphic novels, which something I often see people asking about.

Let's have a look at what I purchased last week, starting with the first issue of an all-new miniseries titled Plunder. Plunder follows a group of Somali pirates as they board a seemingly abandoned tanker ship and find unimaginable horrors onboard. It's pretty great. Our viewpoint character is Bahdoon, a teenager in way over his head. He doesn't know how to use a gun, he's surrounded by murderous bandits who aren't particularly warming to him, and the only reason he's been brought along at all is because he can translate with the foreign crews on any ships they hijack. As you might imagine, once they board their latest target the find its crew apparently missing - although there's certainly a lot of blood and weird goo on the deck.

This comic presents body horror of a style most popularly typified by John Carpenter's 1982 film The Thing, and if that is up your alley then this book will almost certainly appeal as well. I like that it features African protagonists, and the use of Somali pirates gives it a nice contemporary edge that helps it to stand out from the crowd. Skuds McKinley's artwork is a little cartoony but effective, and certainly he does a good job with this issue's moments of graphic gore and horror (of which there is quite a bit). (4/5)

Boom Studios/Archaia. Written by Swifty Lang. Art by Skuds McKinley.

Under the cut: reviews of The Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw, Batgirl, Batman and Robin, Batman Eternal, Batwoman, Black Widow, The Fuse, Lumberjanes, Miles Morales, Ms Marvel, Multiversity, She-Hulk and Silver Surfer.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Family Business"

It's 15 May 1995, and time for more Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

When a representative of the Ferengi Commerce Authority shuts down Quark's bar, he is forced to return home to Ferenginar to face accusations that his mother has been wearing clothes and earning profit. While Quark (Armin Shimerman) attempts to force his mother to confess and return the money, his brother Rom (Max Grodenchik) just wants his family to get along.

While I expect one or two light-hearted Quark-centric comedies per season on Deep Space Nine, I'm not sure I was expecting to find a third. It made me immediately apprehensive, because these episodes tread such a fine line between being amusing and being slightly irritating. This episode also sets off alarm bells with its premise: one of the hardest parts of the Ferengi to tolerate is their misogyny towards women, so the idea of an episode where Quark's goal is to get his mother back in enslavement where he thinks she belongs is a pretty appalling one.