July 7, 2015

Babylon 5: "Whatever Happened to Mr Garibaldi?"

It's 11 November 1996, and time for more Babylon 5.

Captain Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) remains lost somewhere beneath Z'ha'dum. Back on the station Ambassador Delenn (Mira Furlan) struggles to move on without him. G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas) sets off on his mission to find the whereabouts of Michael Garibaldi - with Marcus Cole (Jason Carter) by his side, and with disastrous results.

The serialisation effect of Babylon 5 is in full force with this episode. It's not in any real fashion self-contained. It doesn't introduce any significant new plot threads, and it certainly doesn't close any off. It simply keeps things developing for 40 minutes, chaining the story from "The Hour of the Wolf" to "The Summoning" the following week. That's a difficult act for any TV episode to achieve. The middle part of a trilogy is always difficult, since you lack both beginnings and endings, and have to find something dramatic and engaging to do with a handful of middles.

July 6, 2015

Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)

1999 was a year so ridiculously packed with great American films that it's easy to overlook the minor ones in favour of the big leagues. To an extent Drop Dead Gorgeous slipped through the cracks at the time, which is a pity. It's a pitch-perfect satire of a certain breed of American culture, played out by a great cast of actors and a nicely sharp edge to it. To date it's the only feature film directed by Michael Patrick Jann, and that seems like a shame. This one was so good I would really have liked to have seen more.

The film is a mockumentary following the small town heat of a popular beauty pageant. We follow the efforts of 17 year-old Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst), a tap dancer who works after school as a mortuary beautician and who has dreams of becoming America's next Diane Sawyer. In her way is Becky Leeman (Denise Richards), the too-perfect daughter of the richest man in town, whose mother Gladys (Kirstie Alley) is also in charge of running the pageant. The stakes are, let's be fair, extremely low - it's a beauty pageant - but they're treated by all involved as if they're ridiculous high, so much so that contestants start getting murdered to take them out of contention.

Babylon 5: "The Hour of the Wolf"

It's 4 November 1996, and time for the Season 4 premiere of Babylon 5.

Captain Sheridan is missing, presumed dead, after travelling to Z'ha'dum and destroying the Shadows' largest city with two nuclear bombs. Commander Garibaldi is also missing, sending G'Kar on a mission to find him. With the Shadows temporarily in retreat, the assembled civilizations of the galaxy are abandoning Babylon 5 to shore up their own defences back home. Londo Mollari commences his new position in the court of the Centauri Emperor Cartagia - only to discover the situation is far worse than he could possibly have imagined.

The Season 3 finale of Babylon 5 threw a lot of game pieces up into the air. "The Hour of the Wolf" is, in effect, about that terrifying moment of suspension before they all fall crashing back onto the board. We don't learn what happened to Garibaldi. We don't learn what happened to Sheridan - although he does appear to be alive. The Shadow War appears to be momentarily on hold, with every party taking the chance to just breathe deeply and wait for the next round.

July 5, 2015

The Pull List: 1 July 2015, Part III

Graphic India is Singapore-based publisher that aims to create popular mainstream comic book and animation works based on Indian culture and mythology. They're clearly out to make American readers sit up and take notice with their new monthly series 18 Days, because they've hired comic book mega-star Grant Morrison to write it.

18 Days basically adapts the Mahabharata, re-imagining some of the details more in the vein of an epic Hollywood blockbuster. It's difficult to gauge precisely how successful it will be at that goal from the first issue, which essentially acts as a bit of a prologue: big panels, multiple splash pages, and lofty narration all combining to build interest but not really tell much of a story. Jeevan J. Kang's artwork is bold and simply drawn, allowing for the colours to really stand out. It's a rather pretty book, all things considered. I just wish there was a little more story.

It's also a remarkably cheap book. Graphic India are doing their best to entice new readers by pricing this issue at just US$1.00. It's a good ploy, and certainly got me sampling the issue. Will I be back for another issue in a month's time? To be honest I haven't yet made up my mind. It's an admirable thing they're trying to do, I'm just entirely convinced it's good enough to warrant buying it every month. One to keep an eye on, I suspect, just in case. (2/5)

Under the cut: reviews of Broken World, He-Man: The Eternity War, The Wicked + the Divine and The Woods.

July 4, 2015

The End (2012)

It seems that in recent years we've been awash with films about the end of the world. Lars von Trier's Melancholia, Zak Hilditch's These Final Hours and Lorene Scafaria's Seeking a Friend for the End of the World all represented the lives of random, ordinary people in the final days and hours of human life on Earth. You can add to that list The End (aka Fin), a 2012 Spanish thriller by first-time director Jorge Terregrossa.

The film focuses on a group of friends. Two decades ago they were a close-knit group of university students. Now they all have their separate lives and families, and by coming together in an isolated rural cottage old wounds and conflicts rapidly rise to the surface. One night there's a spectacular flash in the sky, and all power is cut. The telephone line is dead, their cars won't start, and their only option is to walk to the nearest town for help. On the way they begin to see ominous signs that something has gone terribly wrong: abandoned houses, crashed cars, and packs of hungry dogs running through empty camp sites. It is as if the entire human race has vanished, leaving only these friends alone in the world.

Star Trek: Enterprise: "These Are the Voyages"

It's 13 May 2005, and time for the series finale of Star Trek: Enterprise.

Ten years after their mission of exploration commenced, the crew of the Enterprise are on their way back to Earth for the signing of the Federation Charter - except they're not. We're actually in the late 24th century, where Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) struggles through a personal crisis by visiting holographic reproductions of the original 22nd century Enterprise using the USS Enterprise's holodeck.

This is indeed the final episode of Star Trek: Enterprise. It's also the final episode of any Star Trek TV series to date. Between 1987 and 2005 Paramount produced 622 separate episodes across four separate series. Over-exposure and a lack of any real changes or shake-ups in the final few years pretty much guaranteed that a mainstream audience effectively abandoned the franchise. Enterprise's planned seven-year run was cut short at the four-year mark, and audiences didn't get any new Star Trek until J.J. Abrams rebooted it with an all-new film in 2009.

July 3, 2015

The Pull List: 1 July 2015, Part II

Back when Superman was first created in 1938, he was very much the working class hero. His powers were more limited, and he fought for the common citizen against criminals, corrupt business executives and the like. That's all pretty far removed from Superman today, which is why this current arc by Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder feels so refreshing. Superman has lost most of his powers. His secret identity Clark Kent has been outed to the public via the Daily Planet. Now a rogue police squad is out to take him down, and raze to the ground the inner-city suburb of Metropolis where he's been living.

This is a Superman for the common citizen again. He's not saving the planet from aliens in a blue and red caped battle-suit. He's in jeans and a t-shirt, doing is best with vastly reduced powers to stop the police from crashing into a peaceful protest and send half of his neighbours to the hospital. The story feels more relevant and real as a result. The stakes feel as if they matter more. The nobility of Clark Kent - his simple honour and good nature, his resolute defiance in the face of injustice - is front and centre and fully believable.

I know this is only a temporary arc. I know that within a few months the status quo will inevitably return. For now, however, this feels like a Superman comic that matters again. (5/5)

DC Comics. Written by Greg Pak. Art by Aaron Kuder. Colours by Tomeu Moray and Hi-Fi Design.

Under the cut: reviews of Darth Vader, Detective Comics, The Omega Men and Ultimate End.

July 2, 2015

Godzilla vs King Ghidorah (1991)

I usually start reviewing a film by providing a short synopsis. There is not short synopsis I can write for Godzilla vs King Ghidorah. It begins with Japan being visited by time travellers from the 23rd century. By the end history has been changed, then changed again, then changed for a third time, and in between several Japanese cities get crushed by Godzilla, the three-headed flying dragon King Ghidorah, and as collateral damage during fights between Godzilla and King Ghidorah.

It's all a charming nonsense, but then charming nonsense is often the raison d'etre of the Godzilla movies. This was the 18th film in the series, and the third in the Heisei period following 1984's The Return of Godzilla and 1989's excellent Godzilla vs Biollante. After Biollante under-performed, the decision was made to abandon new giant monsters (or "kaiju") in favour of old favourites. As a result King Ghidorah, last seen in 1972's Godzilla vs Gigan, makes his return. The character was originally an alien, but for this film he is a mutant created by nuclear radiation on three genetically engineered pets from the 23rd century.