December 20, 2014

300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

There is enormous potential for a Hollywood studio to develop a feature film about Queen Artemisia of Caria. Were Hollywood to make such a film it would be a perfectly good choice to cast Eva Green (Casino Royale) in the role. Sadly while 300: Rise of an Empire focuses on one version of Artemisia, and that version is played capably by Eva Green, it's not the adaptation the real Artemisia warrants nor the feature film that audiences deserve.

The original 300 opened in cinemas in 2007. It was a gaudy, over-stylised abomination, not only warping history but actively reversing it. It was a pretty dead-on adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel of the same name, but since that novel was a spiteful and racist diatribe by a writer and artist long past his sell-by date, that accuracy didn't work in its favour. I had hoped that, perhaps, Rise of an Empire might be different. It's not directed by Zack Snyder for one thing, since he had since moved on to direct Warner Bros' Superman movies. It seemed to be about more than Frank Miller's curiously twisted vision of what Sparta was like, as well. I figured I'd give it a chance: I've seen plenty of cases where the first film has been awful and its sequel has been reasonably enjoyable.

December 19, 2014

Tsuritama: "Our Tackle"

Yuki, Natsuke and Akira all return to Enoshima to reunite with Haru. With the help of their family and friends they develop a plan to fish JFX out of the ocean to stop it from controlling the minds of everyone in town - and potentially the whole planet. Time, however, is not on their side.

The dramatic race to Tsuritama's finale continues. This episode is 50 per cent set-up and 50 per cent back story, as we get a lot more information on JFX's history filled out, and the four lead characters are smoothly reunited and positioned for their final fishing expedition. As much as I really liked the last episode I think this one is better: it has a much stronger drive behind it, and it manages to be laugh-out-loud funny as well. It's a great combination.

December 18, 2014

Pompeii (2014)

Pompeii, from writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil, Event Horizon) is the sort of well-intended, amiable B-movie where criticising it too harshly would feel like kicking a puppy. It does what it does, it means well, and it doesn't actively trip over itself in the attempt. Is it historically accurate? Not really. Is it scientifically accurate? Well, no, but if it was then it would have made for one fabulously abrupt climax. It is what it is: a competently directed and immensely derivative riff on Ridley Scott's Gladiator using cheaper actors, significantly less pretense and a bucket-load of naive enthusiasm. Despite looking like a mid-budget Hollywood blockbuster it's actually a German-Canadian co-production. I'm not sure what that demonstrates: that everyone can make generic and dumb disaster movies?

Celtic slave Milo (Kit Harington from Game of Thrones) is transported from Londinium to Pompeii to be a gladiator in that growing city's games. He meets and falls in love with  Cassia (Emily Browning from Suckerpunch), the daughter of the city's ruler (a slumming Jared Harris) who is also the romantic target of the cruel Roman senator Corvus (Keifer Sutherland, also slumming it). As this romantic triangle threatens to reach a climax the nearby volcano Vesuvius erupts, putting everyone in danger.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Meridian"

It's 14 November 1994 and time for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

On the station, Quark tries to get a holographic picture of Major Kira so that he can include her in one of his clients' masturbatory holosuite fantasies. Meanwhile the Defiant is patrolling a star system where a planet suddenly materialises out of nowhere. The planet, named Meridian, only shifts into our dimension once every 60 years. When Lieutenant Dax falls in love with one of its residents, she has to make a choice whether to stay on Meridian with him or return to her friends on Deep Space Nine.

So basically this is Brigadoon in space. And it's awful. No, more than that. It's irredeemable, eye-gougingly, please-God-please-make-it-stop, ruinous, appalling shit; television so inexplicably incompetent and embarrassing to watch that if there was any justice in the world its writers and producers would be sent to their offices to tighten up their resumes. Even when the episode drags itself away from the tripe that is Jadzia Dax's Brigadoon fanfic booty call, it's just to return to a comedy bit about Quark trying to invade Kira's privacy and co-opt her image for a sex simulation. This is the worst episode of Deep Space Nine so far.

December 17, 2014

Tsuritama: "Striking Underwater"

What an astonishing difference one episode makes. After eight amiable episodes of teenage friendship and sea bass fishing, with a vague background about mind-controlling aliens in the ocean and secret government organisations, everything in the background suddenly explodes to the front. This is the series-changing episode I was expecting last time, building on the firm foundation of characters it's developed for the first two-thirds of the series and setting up a wonderfully dramatic climax.

I had this series pegged as a comedy in my head, because the science fiction elements seemed inconsequential and the character work didn't seem particularly dramatic. This episode isn't very funny at all, but is packed with little moments of drama, action and growing suspense. The government agency DUCK has taken over the town of Enoshima and forced its residents indoors. Coco and Haru head out into the open ocean to shut their fellow alien JFX down, with terrible consequences. Haru ultimately takes over Enoshima, using his mind-controlling water pistol to force all of the residents out of town.

Judging the New 52: November 2014

At the same time that sales figures for November 2014 were announced, DC Comics confirmed a whole raft of cancellations in March 2015. Prepare to say goodbye to Aquaman and the Others, Infinity Man and the Forever People, Klarion, Secret Origins, Star Spangled War Stories, Trinity of Sin, Worlds' Finest, Arkham Manor, Batwoman, Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians, Red Lanterns and Swamp Thing. That's thirteen cancellations in one hit, suggesting that once DC's two-month Convergence event is over we're going to see a hell of a lot of issue ones come June 2015. (I told you DC would cancel the Lantern spin-offs in 2015.)

The cancellation of Arkham Manor is particularly odd, given that its first issue only came out in October. Its second issue, released in November, saw a 33% drop to 30,907 units - that's actually really respectable, and suggests a book that could run for at least 12-18 issues. Instead it's going to close at just six. It makes me wonder if it was intended as a six-part miniseries all along, but was simply promoted as an ongoing in order to boost its sales (miniseries do not sell well in this day and age). Either that or writer Gerry Duggan's exclusive contract with Marvel doesn't include exceptions for Arkham.

December 16, 2014

Non-Stop (2014)

Liam Neeson has become such an integral part of the American action movie landscape in recent years that it's almost worth considering him a cottage industry all on his own. Whether it's in his Taken movies, or The Grey, or Unknown, he has fashioned a lucrative brand for himself as a tall, gruff, brutally violent action star: the 21st century's Arnold Schwarzenegger. Non-Stop is the latest in this seemingly endless conveyor line of interchangeable action movies - and it does genuinely seem endless, with Taken 3 and Run All Night both due before the end of 2015.

Non-Stop sees Neeson play Bill Marks, a tall, gruff and brutally violent United States air marshal who finds himself at the centre of an apparent hostage situation over the mid-Atlantic. The extortionist is somewhere on the plane, threatening to kill a passenger every 20 minutes unless he or she is paid $150 million dollars. On the ground, the authorities mistakenly believe Bill himself is the hostage-taker. As the body count rises and the tension increases, Bill must blah, blah, and so on and so forth.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Civil Defense"

It's 7 November 1994 and time for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

While examining the station's old ore processing facility, Sisko, O'Brien and Jake accientally trigger a Cardassian security system. With the station in lockdown and hurtling towards self-destruct, the DS9 crew race against the clock to shut the system down before it kills them all.

"Civil Defense" (American spelling noted) is a neat little "bottle" episode, using only one extra set and two guest stars. Given those constraints it's a remarkably effective little thriller, as every attempt by Sisko and his officers to improve the situation sets off another layer of Cardassian security. The end is never in doubt, but it's an enjoyable sort of by-the-numbers ride as it goes. It would be almost entirely forgettable, in fact, were it not for its two guest stars: Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo) and Garak (Andrew Robinson), who pretty much steal the show.