December 22, 2013

Star Trek Enterprise: "Twilight"

Twelve years after an accident stripped Captain Archer of his long-term memories, the 9,000 surviving members of the human race hide from the Xindi in the Ceti Alpha system. When Dr Phlox returns with a means of restoring Archer's memories, he discovers that it may in fact be possible to change the course of history and save the planet Earth after all.

"Twilight" is the sort of episode that Star Trek does all the time, in which characters get to experience an entire lifetime in the course of an episode before everything is reset in the final few minutes. How much you enjoy "Twilight" will depend to a large extent on how tired you are with this kind of story. The Next Generation did it with "The Inner Light", Deep Space Nine with "The Visitor" and Voyager with "The Year of Hell". It's about time Enterprise took its own bucket to that particular well.

December 21, 2013

The Cat Returns (2002)

The Cat Returns, like almost all Studio Ghibli animated productions, leaves you grinning from ear to ear. It fills you with warmth. It is one of these films that feels like a breath of fresh air, full of engaging characters, warm comedy and is an absolute delight from beginning to end. A shy, awkward high school student named Haru is walking home when she saves a cat from being hit by a truck. Much to her surprise, the cat stands on two legs, thanks her for saving it, and promises she will receive a reward. It isn’t long before Haru is being showered from all sides by catnip, boxes of live mice and – most unexpectedly of all – an expectation and demand that she marry the cat she rescued, actually the Crown Prince of a magical Cat Kingdom.

The Cat Returns is very obliquely spun out from an earlier Ghibli production, 1995’s Whisper of the Heart. Fans were clamouring to see more of that film’s internal fantasy sequences. A desire to accommodate those demands, coupled with an abortive plan to create a cat-oriented 20 minute short film for a Japanese theme park, led to the development of this film. Whisper of the Heart creator Aoi Hiragi had been commissioned to develop a manga based on the short, and when The Cat Returns mutated from a short into a feature it was Hiragi’s manga that was used as a starting point.

December 20, 2013

The Pull List: 18 December 2013

Daredevil #34 sees Matt Murdock reunite with his ex-girlfriend to save New York from the elusive Sons of the Serpent. The last two issues were a bit strange, with a segue to the southern USA and an encounter with a group of rogue monsters, but this issue snaps everything back into focus with the sort of faultless, immensely satisfying climax that you'd expect from Mark Waid. It has great, action-oriented artwork by Javier Rodriguez and more than one moment of perfect characterisation.

This volume of Daredevil has been one of the best things Marvel has published in years. It's got two issues to go, and this will leave it with a brilliant three-year arc that's hopefully going to be remembered as one of the character's all-time high water marks. It's genuinely been that good.

Sadly Daredevil relaunches early next year with a new issue #1 and a new- no, wait, actually the same creative team. Why relaunch it? This has been a consistently excellent seller for Marvel, with critical raves, and there is absolutely no reason to renumber the book than to sell a few extra copies of the first issue (which will, in all honesty, may as well be issue #35). While this issue is faultless, I am getting mightily bored of Marvel's constantly relaunches and renumberings. It gets even worse for a book like X-Men Legacy, which is getting relaunched and renumbered as well, only from issue #300 rather than #1. (5/5)
Marvel. Written by Mark Waid. Art by Javier Rodriguez.

Under the cut: reviews of All-New X-Men, Batman and Two-Face, Black Science, The Massive, Revival, Saga, Star Wars Legacy, Thor: God of Thunder, Umbral, Wonder Woman and Young Avengers.

December 19, 2013

Star Trek Enterprise: "The Shipment"

Armed with fresh intelligence, Captain Archer leads an away team to an isolated Xindi colony. There they find a manufacturing facility preparing the contents for the Xindi super-weapon - as well as face the revelation that not all Xindi are as evil as they had assumed.

"The Shipment" is a highly archetypal Star Trek episode, in which a group of Starfleet officers travel down to a planet and confront a moral quandary once there. Archer is driven to destroy the Xindi's new weapon before it can annihilate Earth, but he is not prepared for the discovery that the people manufacturing the weapon's fuel don't actually have a clue what their work is for. The core of the episode is a conversation between Archer and the facility supervisor, Gralik, where they learn about each other's cultures and come to a greater understanding. This sort of thing is what Star Trek does best, and as a result "The Shipment" is a pretty entertaining episode.

December 18, 2013

Five Films: Kevin Costner

Kevin Costner's had an odd sort of career. He took quite a few years before he hit the big time, and for a while in the early 1990s was one of America's most famous and commercially successful movie stars. Films such as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The Bodyguard were commercial hits while being perhaps less well received critically. In 1995 Costner starred in the sci-fi action film Waterworld, which got ridiculed in the press for its out-of-control budget before underperforming in cinemas. After that his career kind of went into a bit of a freefall: costly misfires like The Postman made him seem pretentious and arrogant, and while he's never stopped working it's been harder and harder for him to find a keen audience.

Thankfully he seems to be undergoing a bit of a resurgence in popularity. He had a showy supporting role in this year's Man of Steel, and his performance in the stellar 2012 miniseries Hatfields & McCoys earned him both an Emmy and a Golden Globe. Early next year he co-stars in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit before appearing in an additional four features films before the year is out.

I've always liked Costner as an actor and indeed as a producer and director: these are my five favourite performances by who I consider to be America's most underrated male actor.

December 17, 2013

Bodyguards and Assassins (2009)

In 1906 Hong Kong a team of pro-democracy revolutionaries secretly prepare for the arrival of their leader, Dr Sun Yat-sen. At the same time, a representative of the empire makes preparations of his own – not to greet or defend Dr Sun, but to assassinate him. When these two forces collide the result is a blistering gauntlet through the streets of Hong Kong, in an effort to keep the revolutionary leader alive.

Bodyguards and Assassins is without question a propaganda picture. Not only does it concern itself with the foundation of China as a democratic republic, its plot presents to us in detail the nobility of sacrificing one’s life for the ideals of such a republic. This makes it a ridiculously Chinese film, rich with Confucian ideals and pro-communist rhetoric. One’s enjoyment of the film is therefore conditional on how one responds to this sort of emphatic patriotism. If the overriding political intentions of Bodyguards and Assassins do make it difficult for some viewers to watch, this is a shame. Director Teddy Chen has created an exceptional motion picture. It is full of rich, engaging performances and wonderfully vivid photography.

December 16, 2013

Doctor Who: "The Survivors"

The Doctor, Ian and Susan continue their search for Barbara, only to be ambushed by the mysterious city's residents: mechanical robot-like creatures known as Daleks. After being taken prisoner, the Doctor surmises the reason that they are all feeling sick: they are suffering from radiation poisoning. With the Daleks' permission, Susan is sent back into the stone forest to retrieve medication from the TARDIS before it is too late.

Apart from a brief cameo by a single sucker arm in the previous week's cliffhanger, this episode features the first appearance in Doctor Who by the Daleks. They completely changed the series, became a national phenomenon over the following two years and even today are arguably more famous than the television series they came from. Once you get over the immensity of the moment, however, it turns out that the Daleks are a bit of a surprise.

December 15, 2013

The Pull List: 11 December 2013

As the Big Two rationalise and relaunch their comic book lines (Animal Man and Batman: The Dark Knight just got the axe, plus Marvel are relaunching pretty much everything in January), brand is becoming increasingly important. Why should Marvel launch a new and original team book when they can just launch a new variation of Avengers? (For the record, in December Marvel are releasing Avengers, Avengers AI, Avengers Assemble, Marvel Universe Avengers Assemble, Mighty Avengers, Secret Avengers, Young Avengers and New Avengers. In January they add Avengers World.) Why should DC try to rework Legion of Super-Heroes when they can replace it with Justice League 3000?

Yep, this is the Justice League of the 31st century, replacing the Legion with five genetically replicated clones of Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, Diana Prince, Hal Jordan and Barry Allen. Led by Teri and Terri, the "Wonder Twins", they're launched in a fight to save the galaxy from tyranny or somesuch.

This issue pretty much hinges on one clever concept, which is 'what would DC's greatest heroes be like if they didn't have the upbringings of their original versions?' Imagine a Superman who lacks the humility and humanity he learned via a childhood with the Kents. What is Batman like if he doesn't get motivated by the death of his parents? Think of a Wonder Woman who never lived among humans. It's a clever concept, but it's also a very stupid concept, because the answer to the question turns out to be 'well, DC, what you get is a comic book populated by complete assholes'. At one point the Flash asks "Am I the only one who thinks this is the stupidest idea ever?" No, Barry, no you are not.

This is early days, and certainly the book's saving grace is some stunning and quite different artwork by Howard Porter, but I'm not entirely certain this book is going to fly in the long-term. At a sensible US$2.99 per issue, however, I'm happy to wait for a few months to find out. (2/5)

DC Comics. Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis. Art by Howard Porter.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl, Batman, Cataclysm: Ultimate Spider-Man, FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics, Katana, Manifest Destiny, Star Trek, Star Wars, Three and Worlds' Finest.

December 12, 2013

The best comic book covers of 2013

There's a lot of pressure riding on a comic book cover. It's got to grab the attention of potential readers from the shelf while surrounded by hundreds of competing titles. It has to sell the tone of the book inside and entice the reader to pick it up. I've been picking out and posting my favourite comic book covers all year over on Pinterest, but with the year wrapping up in a few short weeks I figured it was time to pick out my 10 favourite covers for 2013.
 
These aren't necessarily from the best books of the year, and they may not even be from books that I've actually read (although a quick check just revealed that I did indeed buy nine of my top 10 covers this year). They are, however, my personal favourites.

December 11, 2013

Leaving Megalopolis (2013)

I'm a huge fan of Kickstarter, the crowd-sourcing service that enables artists and enterprising individuals to go directly to their audiences and hit them up for support. Thanks to Kickstarter and its fellow crowdsourcing sites I've purchased a truckload of plastic fantasy miniatures, a wordless pencil-sketched giant robot graphic novel, a Spanish comic book about dwarves, the complete history of Sensible Software and a card game based on Moby Dick.

Leaving Megalopolis is a graphic novel written by Gail Simone with art by Jim Calafiore. It follows a small group of survivors as they try to escape the fictional American city of Megalopolis. Something has happened, and the book gradually explains what, but basically all of its superheroes are now killing the population for fun. Structurally this is exactly like a zombie movie, with a disparate band struggling to escape monsters while collapsing from within. The difference is that you can run away from a zombie. You can't run away from a psychopathic version of the Flash. Or Wonder Woman. Or Superman.

December 10, 2013

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (2012)

I am a big fan of animation, and I'm particularly taken with stop-motion animation. There's something wonderfully tactile about using physical puppets and models and photographing them, frame by frame. It must take extraordinary patience to create these films, and the inventiveness of the designs and the characters always impresses me. Probably the gold standard in stop motion is Aardman Animations, whose directors have given the world Morph, Chicken Run and the rightfully famous Wallace and Gromit series.

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! is their most recent feature film, following an abortive shift into CGI with Flushed Away (2006). The film follows the Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) and his crew of ham-obsessed scoundrels as they encounter Charles Darwin (David Tennant), go on the run from Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) with a pet dodo, and do their best to win the Captain the coveted Pirate of the Year Award. It's tremendously British, and tremendously silly, and those two factors in tandom help to make it simply tremendous.

December 9, 2013

Babylon 5: "Severed Dreams"

With a military coup d'etat against President Clark ending in failure, two surviving military resistance cruisers arrive at Babylon 5. With senators getting arrested back home, ISN News violently taken off the air and several offworld colonies declaring independence, Captain Sheridan takes matters into his own hands and announces Babylon 5's secession from the Earth Alliance.

Pretty much everything I liked about "Messages from Earth" and "Point of no Return" I continued to like about "Severed Dreams". The President's violent takeover of Earth's government is portrayed in an absolutely stunning manner. I was particularly impressed with the shutdown of ISN News; with the broadcaster featuring fairly prominently throughout the past two-and-a-half seasons it was quite disturbing to see it violently taken off the air by the President's soldiers.

The episode's climax is Babylon 5 at its most cinematic: Earth military forces at odds with one another, engaging in a large-scale firefight around the station. Teams of security personnel and Narn fighting Earthforce commandos in the cargo bays. Exploding spaceships, the apparent certainty of defeat, and then the last-minute salvation in the form of a Minbari battle fleet. This isn't just good Babylon 5, but television space opera at its absolute finest.

December 6, 2013

The Pull List: 4 December 2013

I have always maintained that Superman is the hardest superhero for whom to write. He is almost impossibly over-powered: he can fly, he's super-strong, he's near-invulnerable, he can fly in space without needing to breath, he has x-ray and heat vision, super-speed, icy breath and any number of other less famous powers that have been added over the past 75 years. What challenges a character like that? What poses a genuine threat?

The best writers know that the secret to Superman lies in the 'man' half and not the 'Super' half. He may be super-everything, but he's also honourable, credulous to a fault, saddled with a strict sense of morality and almost perversely naive. It's a personality that Christopher Reeve nailed back in the late 1970s when he played the character for Warner Bros. It's a personality that Zack Snyder and David Goyer seemed to completely miscomprehend when they wrote this year's troublesome Man of Steel movie. It is, however, one that Greg Pak has absolutely nailed in Action Comics.

This is a relief: Action Comics is DC's oldest title still in publication. This issue is the 936th since Superman made his debut in June 1938. If there's any title the company publishes that should be as good as it can possibly be, it's this one. The New 52 relaunch started promisingly with Grant Morrison at the helm, but rapidly declined into a confusing story of alternate dimensions and time travel. An abortive attempt to replace him with Andy Diggle ended before his first issue had even been published. In recent months the title has been acting as a sort of sideline to Scott Lobdell's Superman, with Lobdell writing both titles - that was actively wretched, and saw me drop the title completely until Pak came on board.

This issue is great, reuniting Superman with teenage sweetheart Lana Lang - who's something of a kickass professional in the New 52. There's a fight with a giant monster, another fight with a mysterious government assassin, and a final page hook that has me keen to find out what happens next. Aaron Kuder's artwork is distinctive and quite unusual given the usual over-muscled depictions of Superman we usually see. In short: this is exactly what I want from a Superman comic. This is why he's one of my favourite superheroes. (5/5)

DC Comics. Written by Greg Pak. Art by Aaron Kuder.

Under the cut: reviews of Batwing, Daredevil: Dark Nights, Detective Comics, The Movement, Trillium, X-Men Legacy and Young Avengers. Also released this week was Stormwatch #26, but I've finally dropped this book - there's only so many months of Jim Starlin's godawful rubbish I can take before enough is enough.

December 5, 2013

Babylon 5: "Point of No Return"

Babylon 5's pivotal three-parter continues in "Point of No Return", the episode that just happens to share a title with Season 3 overall. The command crew struggle with an order from Earthforce to hand over control of station security to the Nightwatch, President Clark's insidious and McCarthyesque vigilante organisation. Back on Earth, the senate is dissolved and its senators arrested. Under the command of General Hague sections of the Earthforce military are splintering off and preparing a coup d'etat.

In the middle of all this chaos, Londo Mollari hosts a visit to the station by the late Emperor's third wife Lady Morella (Majel Barrett). Morella is a powerful seer, and her readings of Londo and Vir's future hold surprises for them both.

This is, in many respects, the difficult middle third of a trilogy. Events begins very much up in the air, and while they progress extensively through the episode, things end still very much in an unresolved fashion. It is, however, packed with great performances and very satisfying moments.

The world's longest-running movie franchises

Ask the average movie geek what the world's longest-running movie franchise is, or consult most websites on the topic, and you'll generally get one of two answers: James Bond, or Godzilla. This post is my little contribution to the topic to say that both answers are wrong. A few really ambitious websites appear to suggest that Wong Fei Hung tops the list with a staggering 88 movies as of 2012, however these were most disparate films based on the same character and rarely sequels to one another (Once Upon a Time in China being an obvious exception). If we're playing that game, we'd need to count up all the films adapted from Dracula, Sherlock Holmes and Hamlet as well.

For the purposes of my list I've included reboots as part of the same franchise, because they're generally made by the same producers. I haven't included direct-to-DVD sequels, which puts stalwarts like Hellraiser and The Land Before Time out of the running. So, before going ahead: do you know the answer? What is the world's longest-running movie franchise? Here's what I think are the top 10 (or 11, really, since there are ties):

December 4, 2013

The Wolverine (2013)

Ever since the character was introduced to comics in 1974 Wolverine has been one of Marvel's most popular superheroes. He's an angry Canadian mutant with a metal skeleton, rapid healing powers, apparent immortality and a pair of retractable metal claws that shoot out from his fists when he's really upset. When 20th Century Fox brought the Marvel comic X-Men to the big screen in 2000, it rather predictably put Wolverine - played by Australian actor Hugh Jackman - front and centre. The character continued on screen in X-Men 2 (2003), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and even made a short cameo in X-Men: First Class (2011). In between those last two Fox even launched Wolverine into his own solo franchise with the prequel X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). That was an unremittingly dreadful movie, plagued by a confusing plot that contradicted much of the content of the films it purported to precede, and cursed by silly dialogue and unengaging characters.

Despite its visible, and often risible, faults, X-Men Origins: Wolverine made a fairly decent profit: $373 million worldwide on a $150 million budget. As a result Wolverine returned to the big screen this year with a second solo outing. This time, perhaps in an attempt to separate itself from its poorly reviewed predecessor, the film is simply titled The Wolverine. It boasts a new director in the shape of James Mangold (Copland, Walk the Line) and new writers in the shape of Mark Bomback (Live Free or Die Hard) and Scott Frank (Out of Sight, Minority Report). It is also, I think crucially, not another prequel. The Wolverine is the first film to be set after X-Men: The Last Stand, and finally deals with some of the emotional repercussions of that movie.

December 3, 2013

Babylon 5: "Messages from Earth"

A runaway archaeologist arrives in secret on Babylon 5 with urgent news for Captain Sheridan. She recounts how, several years ago, the Earth government uncovered a Shadow vessel buried under the surface of Mars - and how elements within Earth's government colluded with the Shadows to have it recovered. What's more, a second buried ship has now been buried on the moon Io, and this time Earth's President Clark has no intention of giving it back.

Within the traditional three-act narrative, there's what you call a 'midpoint'. It's the turning point for a story that occurs halfway through, where the protagonist will usually make a decision and their ultimate mission becomes clear. "Messages from Earth" is the first part of a marathon three-part story that together form the midpoint of Babylon 5. That makes sense: it's a five-season series and we're pretty much at the mid-point of the third season. These three episodes are entirely about the long-term narrative. Major changes take place. Stakes are raised. Things, as they often say when hyping serialised storytelling, will never be the same again.

December 2, 2013

Babylon 5: "Exogenesis"

One of Marcus Cole's contacts down below goes missing. When Garibaldi refuses to investigate, Marcus applies a little deception to get Dr Franklin to come along on an undercover mission. They uncover a species of strange alien insect that borrow into the spines of human beings and apparently controlling them in an attempt to take over the station. Meanwhile Commander Ivanova meets with a newly promoted lieutenant to see if he's fit to join Sheridan's growing 'army of light'.

This is an unexpectedly good episode of Babylon 5. It begins with a worrying number of science fiction stereotypes and cliches, but then spends a lot of its second half actively inverting and transforming those stereotypes. The result is an episode that feels comfortingly familiar yet also oddly refreshing. It's not going to win any awards, but it's a pleasantly enjoyable hour of science fiction drama.

December 1, 2013

The Pull List: 27 November 2013

It's probably preaching to the choir to say that Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples' Saga is one of the best monthly comics in the market right now. That in mind, I still feel obliged to remind everybody from time to time that this really is one of the closest things to a sure bet in comics today. Every issue is enjoyable, and every issue pushes the narrative forward. The series is regularly filled with inventive ideas, interesting art and wonderfully realised characters. Oh the characters: every time someone new joins the cast they become another one of my favourites.

This weeks issue is particularly good, and very rewarding to the long-term readers, because it does a brilliant job of slotting jigsaw pieces into the overall story precisely when you're not expecting it. It makes sensational use of non-linear storytelling, and brings multiple plot strands together in a way I did not expect. So brilliantly written, brilliantly illustrated and brilliantly surprising.

If you're not reading Saga, either every month, or every few months in trade paperback, I really don't know how to help you. (5/5)

Image Comics. Written by Brian K. Vaughn. Art by Fiona Staples.

Under the cut: reviews of All-New X-Men, All-Star Western, Aquaman, Bedlam, Black Science, The Flash, The Green Team: Teen Trillionaires, Hawkeye, The Massive, Revival and Star Wars Legacy.

Popular Posts: November 2013

More people read something on this blog in November 2013 than in any previous month, so thank you for continuing to read The Angriest. What were people reading? Well, the most popular posts this month were:
  • Game of Thrones: "The Ghost of Harrenhal" (link)
  • Doctor Who: "The Day of the Doctor" (link)
  • Warm Bodies (2013) (link)
  • The Pull List: 23 October 2013 (link)
  • Fun with Stats: Doctor Who viewing figures (link)
As for the most popular posts written in November 2013, it's:
  •  Doctor Who: "The Day of the Doctor" (link)
  • Warm Bodies (2013) (link)
  • An Adventure in Space and Time (2013) (link)
  • Babylon 5: "Dust to Dust" (link)
  • Silent Hill: Revelations (2012) (link)

November 29, 2013

Make Mine Music (1946)

In 1946 Walt Disney released its eighth full-length animated feature, the portanteau film (portmanteau meaning it's assembled from a group of short films rather than comprising a single narrative all of its own) Make Mine Music. It followed in the footsteps of Fantasia in that, for the most part, it comprises musical sequences with animation. In the case of Make Mine Music, however, the musical segments were contemporary in nature. A string of popular singers and performers contributed to the soundtrack, including Nelson Eddy, the Andrews Sisters, Benny Goodman and Dinah Shore.

These kinds of portmanteau pictures were very popular within the Walt Disney Company: many of the studio's best animators and artists were fighting in World War II, and to keep the business ticking over it was easy to task the remaining talent with creating several short pieces than having them collaborate on a single feature-length film. The last proper animated feature released had been Bambi in 1942. The studio had already received federal funding to produce Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, and Make Mine Music would be followed by Fun and Fancy Free, Melody Time and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad. It wouldn't be until 1950 that Disney would produce another full feature: Cinderella. Until then, portmanteau films was all audiences would get.

Make Mine Music has the odd distinction of being the only one out of 52 Walt Disney animated films to never receive a home video release in Australia. As a result, this is the first time I've seen the whole movie. I was very keen to find out what it was like.

November 28, 2013

Doctor Who: "The Dead Planet"

The TARDIS materialises in a massive petrified forest, where some cataclysmic event has turned all of the plants to stone. The Doctor and his companions also spot a deserted alien city in the difference: the Doctor wants to explore, but Ian and Barbara insist he returns with them to the TARDIS and take them back to 1963. The Doctor, however, is not beyond a bit of deception to get what he wants - a decision he may come to regret.

"The Dead Planet" is, of course, almost as famous an episode of Doctor Who as "An Unearthly Child", because it's the first episode of the first Dalek serial. Truth be told the only thing we see of the Daleks in this episode is a rubber plunger on a stick during the cliffhanger. This is still the beginning of Doctor Who's first great change though: the BBC's Head of Drama Sydney Newman was very specific when he devised the series that it wouldn't contain 'robots' or 'bug-eyed monsters'. The Daleks are, of course, a cross between the two: bug-eyed monsters hiding inside robots. Whatever series was supposed to be created, those plans pretty much got radically altered from here-on-in.

Babylon 5: "Dust to Dust"

Bester, everybody's favourite Psicop, returns to Babylon 5 to put a stop to the trade in "dust", a dangerous and illegal narcotic that boosts the latent telepathic powers of ordinary humans. Some of the dust has found its way into the hands of G'Kar, who uses it to enact revenge on Londo Mollari.

Alfred Bester, played by Star Trek veteran Walter Koenig, has made quite a few trips to Babylon 5 now. This episode features Koenig's best performance yet, and also I think the best material he's been given. He's funny, deliberately provocative and wonderfully entertaining. It would be easy to consider him a straight-up bad guy, but this episode demonstrates that he's not quite as clear-cut as that. It's not that he's evil, or amoral - he basically works along a different type of morality to the station's primary crew. So first and foremost I liked this episode because Bester was written and performed in such an entertaining fashion.

November 27, 2013

An Adventure in Space and Time (2013)

While the majority of Doctor Who fans eagerly awaited the broadcast of "The Day of the Doctor", some of us were actually anticipating a very different production. An Adventure in Space and Time, written by Mark Gatiss, recounts the origins of Doctor Who itself. It is a biopic, or a docudrama, whatever term you prefer I suppose, and tells the story of several disparate creatives coming together in 1963 to make a science fiction serial for the BBC.

I've always felt that the early days of Doctor Who would make great material for a film of some kind, mainly because the key players were such interesting people. You had Sydney Newman, an abrasive Canadian recently installed as Head of Drama for the BBC and upsetting the establishment with his brash North American ways (not to mention he'd just finished up at ITV - commercial television). Newman has a basic idea for a time-travelling science fiction series, and to bring it to fruition he hires his former production assistant Verity Lambert as producer. This act made Lambert the first female television producer in history, and she in turn hired Waris Hussein as director - the BBC's first Indian director - and character actor William Hartnell as the star.

November 26, 2013

Doctor Who: "The Day of the Doctor"

Underneath London's National Portrait Gallery the Doctor and Clara investigate a mystery by the invitation of Elizabeth I. More than 400 years ago another Doctor fights to defend the same Elizabeth I from an alien invasion. And on the final day of the Time War, yet another Doctor prepares to active the ultimate weapon and wipe out the Daleks and the Time Lords forever.

"The Day of the Doctor" is the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special. For the 10th anniversary (well, actually the ninth, but that's complicated) the production team produced "The Three Doctors", bringing back William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton alongside Jon Pertwee to fight Omega - an ancient Gallifreyan menace. For the 20th anniversary they produced "The Five Doctors", a special 90 minute special bringing back five Doctors (sort of - again, it's complicated) in an adventure against more evil Gallifreyans. The series was off the air for the 30th and 40th anniversaries, so "The Day of the Doctor" is the series' first proper anniversary special in 30 years. No pressure.

November 24, 2013

The Pull List: 20 November 2013

It's been the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who this week (more on that in the next few posts), and that makes it the perfect time for IDW to publish the final instalment of their 12-issue maxi-series Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time. It's time for celebrations, and as they've lost the license to produce Doctor Who comic books, it acts very much as the climax of their six-year run as well.

Sadly...

This issue, I swear - it's like a how-to manual on writing the most trite and unreadable Doctor Who 50th anniversary story you'll ever read. Squeezed into 20-odd pages are 11 Doctors, all of their companions, an army of Autons, the Anthony Ainley Master and a middle-aged Adam Mitchell from "Dalek" and "The Long Game". Quite why the Tiptons thought that Doctor Who needed to be celebrated by 11 character actors having a mass fistfight with some Autons is beyond me - all I know is that this is very possibly the worst single issue of a comic I've read this year. In case anyone from IDW is reading this: this sort of comic is why you're not allowed to publish Doctor Who any more. (0/5)
IDW. Written by Scott and David Tipton. Art by Kelly Yates.
Under the cut: reviews of Batman and Two-Face, Batwing, Daredevil, Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, The Wake, Wonder Woman, Worlds' Finest, X-Men Legacy and Young Avengers.

November 22, 2013

Doctor Who: "The Firemaker"

Things reach their violent conclusion in "The Firemaker" as the Doctor and his companions are returned to the Cave of Skulls to make fire, and Kal and Za have their final showdown for the leadership of the tribe.

To be honest it's all a little underwhelming. There's something very off about the pacing of this episode, and it's interfering with the dramatic tension. I think part of the problem is the tribe: for the first three episodes of the series the focus has entirely been on the experience of the four TARDIS travellers. Now that we're getting a resolution to Kal and Za's power games, it becomes suddenly apparent that Kal, Za and Hur are the only actual characters in the tribe; we did also have Old Mother, but she died last week. The rest of the tribe are extras, and to be honest they act like it: a lot of them look quite bored. Kal and Za have a well choreographed final battle (including the second on-screen death, if we're keeping count), but it's in the Cave of Skulls and the only witnesses are the Doctor and his companions - and bizarrely they just stand there and watch when it would have been a lot more sensible to just leg it and get back to the TARDIS.

November 21, 2013

Doctor Who: "The Forest of Fear"

In "The Forest of Fear", the Doctor and his companions are freed from the Cave of Skulls by Old Mother - who fears the violence that will result when the tribe rediscovers how to make fire. They are pursued into the nearby forest by Za and Hur, who hope to force the Doctor to reveal the secret of fire to them. Meanwhile Kal continues to harden his support within the tribe.

There's a greater sense of urgency about "The Forest of Fear" that pushes it beyond the level that "The Cave of Skulls" had reached. The TARDIS team all get the opportunity to show their characters a bit more broadly, and certainly this episode ups the conflict between them. The Doctor wants nothing more than to escape to his TARDIS, and when Za is badly wounded in the forest it's Barbara who acts as the team's moral centre and insists they abandon escape to administer first aid to him.

Babylon 5: "Voices of Authority"

Ivanova is dispatched on the White Star to make contact with one of the galaxy's oldest and most powerful species, in order to get their assistance before the Shadow War begins. The Earthforce government dispatches a new political officer to advise an unwilling Captain Sheridan. Security officer Zack Allen faces a crisis of loyalty when he's caught between his superior officers and the demands of the Night Watch.

I really don't know what to make of "Voices of Authority". Bits of the episode work very well. Other bits work very badly. It certainly has some cringe-inducing attempts at comedy that are well out of date - even for a series that's 20 years old. In the end it feels like an episode that I simply found annoying, but which I somehow wanted to enjoy.

November 20, 2013

Doctor Who: "The Cave of Skulls"

The TARDIS has materialised in prehistoric Earth. While Ian and Barbara struggle to come to terms with the journey they have undertaken, the Doctor heads off on his own to take rock samples and measure the surrounding radioactivity. He is soon kidnapped by the caveman Kal, who aims to force the Doctor to create fire and grant him supremacy over his tribal leader Za.

In retrospect it seems an odd choice to make the first adventure of Doctor Who about cavemen trying to make fire, when it could easily have been an adventure on another planet or a fight with the Daleks or somesuch. To think this, however, is to forget that this is not Doctor Who as we know it yet. The rules are still being made up as the series goes along. Instead we get something much starker and more adult. Ian and Barbara don't take TARDIS travel in their stride: they are overwhelmed, confused and visibly terrified. When the Doctor is kidnapped and threatened by a tribe of cavemen, he doesn't fob them off with a trick or a witty line of dialogue: instead he's a terrified old man who visibly believes he's about to get murdered by a screaming pack of savages wielding stone axes. When Susan realises the Doctor has gone missing she goes into a full-blown screaming panic. This is early Doctor Who. There are no rules, and we - and the Doctor - must slowly find the series together.

Dredd (2012)

In Gareth Huw Evans' 2011 action film The Raid, a rookie SWAT officer joins a police team on a dawn raid on a decrepit Jakarta apartment block. The entire block is controlled by a drug kingpin and filled with his mercenaries, dealers and criminal associates. A few stories up and the SWAT team is rumbled, leading to an action-packed journey to the top of the building, to eliminate the crime boss and get out alive.

Now in Pete Travis' 2012 science fiction film Dredd, a rookie "Judge" (basically a police officer who also sentences criminals at their point of arrest) joins the legendary Judge Dredd in investigating a triple homicide in a decrepit Megacity One apartment block. The entire block is controlled by a drug kingpin and filled with her mercenaries, dealers and criminal associates. A few stories up and the Judges are rumbled, leading to an action-packed journey to the top of the building, to eliminate the crime boss and get out alive.

Pete Travis and DNA films must have been horrified when they saw or heard about The Raid. Both films were developed independently, each without knowledge of the other, and shot at opposite ends of the planet (The Raid in Indonesia, Dredd in South Africa). Of course Dredd had the higher budget, and some pretty extensive visual effects work required, so The Raid managed to sneak in, get all the attention and critical acclaim, and leave Dredd looking like a slightly less edgy, slightly less interesting version of the same story.

November 19, 2013

Doctor Who: "An Unearthly Child"

I spend about half my time on this blog reviewing individual episodes of science fiction TV, and this week it's the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, so I figured it might be appropriate to review the very first Doctor Who serial ever made. Internal BBC documents from 1963 suggest the serial was titled "100,000 BC", but pretty much everybody refers to it by the title of its first episode: "An Unearthly Child".

In an inner city London school, two teachers - science teacher Ian Chesterton and history teacher Barbara Wright - are concerned about one of their pupils, the mysterious Susan Foreman. She appears to be a mathematical genius, but then struggles with the simplest of problems. Her understanding of history appears to be skewed and bizarre. When they follow her home, they stumble into what seems to be an ordinary police box. Inside it turns out to be a massive alien time-space vehicle, owned and operated by Susan's equally mysterious grandfather: the Doctor.

November 18, 2013

Star Trek Enterprise: "Exile"

T'Pol works out that there is another alien sphere nearby, contributing to further spacial distortions in the expanse. While the Enterprise amends its course to investigate the new sphere, Hoshi begins to receive psychic messages from a mysterious intelligence on a nearby planet. The alien claims that he can help the Enterprise find the Xindi - but the information will come at a price.

Last week Enterprise adapted a zombie movie to science fiction; this week it adapts Beauty and the Beast, stranding Hoshi on a desolate planet with an alien desperate to make her his permanent companion. They don't try to mask the influence: the alien is visually grotesque, and he lives in an honest-to-god castle. It's a very old-fashioned kind of Star Trek episode. It wouldn't feel out of place if it was The Next Generation's Deanna Troi in the castle. Hell, it wouldn't feel out of place if it was Kirk and Spock down there.

November 16, 2013

The Pull List: 13 November 2013

Marvel have released their solicitations for February 2014, and it reveals a bunch of surprising relaunches. They're not surprising in the sense of "series X is ending?", more a surprise that "series X is ending already?". The month sees the publication of Wolverine #1 (the previous volume, ending in January, ran for only 13 issues), Fantastic Four #1 (last volume? 16 issues), The Punisher #1 (it previously ran for 16 issues), X-Force (17 issues), She-Hulk #1 (38 issues, but to be fair that was back in 2009) plus a miniseries for The Winter Soldier (last monthly series ended in August after 19 issues), and fresh launches of New Warriors, Ms Marvel and Loki: Agent of Asgard.

It used to be that the longevity of a comic series was a badge of honour, and a sign of a long-running and healthy title. In today's comics market it's a significant drag, as books launch huge and then haemorrhage readers for the next 12-24 months. Five years ago the three highest-numbered titles were Action Comics #871, Detective Comics #850 and Superman #268. By October 2013, the three highest-numbered issues were Archie #649, Betty and Veronica #268 and Sonic the Hedgehog #254. Marvel and DC have abandoned long runs in favour of short-term gains.

Considering the gains, it's difficult to fault them for this decision: it does lead me to one conclusion, though. Is there actually a market for ongoing titles any more? What we're probably looking at in the next few years is less regular series and more miniseries masquerading as monthlies. There's no reason in the current context for a superhero book to run more than 12 issues before it gets relaunched and renumbered. We might miss the high numbers on some of our favourite books, but I'm not sure there's a compelling reason for them to ever come back.

Under the cut: a big week, with reviews of All-New X-Men, Batgirl, Batman, Cataclysm: Ultimate Spider-Man, Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics, Katana, Manhattan Projects, Manifest Destiny, Star Wars, Three and Umbral. I still don't have copies of Worlds' Finest, Thor: God of Thunder or last week's Batwing, but will endeavour to review them at some point soon.

November 15, 2013

Quick (2011)

Former bike gang leader Han Ki-Su (Lee Min-ki) works as a motorcycle courier. One day, when unwillingly hired to escort his ex-girlfriend Chun-shim (Kang Ye-won) to a pop concert in which she is performing, he finds himself the unwilling accomplice of a mysterious figure who forces Ki-Su to deliver one bomb after another with the police in hot pursuit.

Quick was a smash hit in South Korea back in 2011, and thanks to Madman Entertainment it is now available on DVD in Australia. It's a very silly film: high on melodrama, over-the-top explosions and exaggerated performances. How much you enjoy the film likely depends on how you enjoy this sort of South Korean entertainment. It's a film culture that's very distinct, and often difficult for uninitiated viewers to digest.

For my part the film doesn't succeed. This is largely because it's just a bit too silly for me to take seriously, it's more than a little unfocused, and it has some fairly dubious gender politics at work.

November 14, 2013

Babylon 5: "Passing Through Gethsemane"

In "Passing Through Gethsemane", Lyta Alexander returns from Vorlon space to work for Ambassador Kosh, sparking suspicions among the station staff. Meanwhile one of Brother Theo's monks struggles with hallucinations and forgotten memories, leading him to discover a shocking secret about his life before the brotherhood.

J. Michael Straczynski has referred to this episode as his "Twilight Zone" script, and it's not difficult to see why: like a good episode of The Twilight Zone, "Passing Through Gethsemane" presents us with a simple but effective core concept and a very neat little kicker at the end. The episode is also notable for its relatively high profile guest star (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest's Brad Dourif), and for reintroducing Lyta Alexander (Patricia Tallman) to the series. This is an episode with good elements and bad, so let's talk about one and then the other.

November 13, 2013

Star Trek Enterprise: "Impulse"

While the Enterprise continues to search the Delphic Expanse for the Xindi, the crew receive an automated distress call from a lost Vulcan science ship. Archer leads an away mission into a hazardous asteroid belt to search for survivors - only to find himself trapped on the decaying Vulcan ship and on the run from it's insane and murderous crew. Time is running out, because whatever is affected the Vulcans has started to affect T'Pol as well.

At last a half-decent episode. "Impulse" is a zombie thriller masquerading as an episode of Star Trek, with the requisite small band of survivors fighting their way out of a lurching mob of rotting, mindlessly angry enemies. Of course in this case the survivors are Captain Archer and his away team, and the zombies are the insane crew of a Vulcan exploratory vessel, but basically the same tropes work regardless.

Silent Hill: Revelations (2012)

Silent Hill was an inventive and engaging horror videogame released for the Sony PlayStation in 1999. It was a commercial hit, and led to eight sequels (to date). It also led to Silent Hill, a 2006 feature film helmed by French director Cristophe Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf). The film did a fantastic job of replicating the game's iconic creepy visuals, but struggled somewhat in terms of its screenplay. It worked, but only partially, and wound up suggesting a great movie rather than actually being one.

Silent Hill the film was not a massive hit in cinemas, so it was quite surprising to see a sequel turn up last year: Silent Hill: Revelations. It included some of the cast of the first film, including Sean Bean, but had a new writer/director named Michael J. Bassett. I quite liked some of Bassett's earlier work, including the low-budget horror Deathwatch (2002) and his underrated Robert E. Howard adaptation Solomon Kane (2009). He seemed a reasonable fit for the material, and I found myself quite eager to check the film out whenever I got the chance.

November 12, 2013

Star Trek Enterprise: "Rajin"

Captain Archer heads to an alien marketplace in an attempt to uncover more knowledge about the elusive Xindi. There he rescues a runaway slave girl - only to discover that she may be more of a danger to his crew than he thought.

I honestly don't know what happened in the three month break between Enterprise's second and third seasons. For the first two seasons I was quite surprised at how entertaining the series was, and was reevaluating my harsh criticisms of it when it first aired on television. Now I'm up to Season 3, and its year-long story arc of hunting down the Xindi before they destroy the Earth, and the script quality has gone out of the window. The heart is gone, and it's really becoming a chore to watch.

Warm Bodies (2013)

R hangs out at the airport. He doesn't do too much, and just wanders around the terminal each day. He does have a friend, but they don't talk much. He doesn't wash, he doesn't really change his clothes, and his hair is a mess. He can't even remember his own name. This is because R is a zombie, and he's the star of a fairly unexpected teenage romance.

Warm Bodies is the latest addition to one of cinema's more unusual genres, the zombie comedy. Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland were both fantastic films, depicting romantic comedy within the framework of a zombie-infested apocalypse. Warm Bodies takes the idea one step further by making one of the two romantic partners a zombie. It's one of those ideas that sounds like it's either going to be really, really stupid, or really, really gross. Instead it winds up being only moderately stupid, but also incredibly funny, and it manages to be mildly gross, but also incredibly funny. I really enjoyed this film. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but what I got entertained the hell out of me.

November 11, 2013

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

I absolutely loved Thor, Kenneth Branagh's 2011 fantasy adventure film that introduced the Marvel Universe's heroic God of Thunder to the big screen. While the film wasn't to everybody's tastes, I adored the rich theatrical tone, the larger-than-life characters and the wonderful seam of humour laced through it. The film was also a crucial step in developing Marvel's massive 2012 hit The Avengers, since it also introduced that film's immensely popular villain Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

This sequel, directed by Game of Thrones' Alan Taylor and reuniting Hiddleston's Loki with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Odin (Anthony Hopkins), Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Jane (Natalie Portman) and Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), is a slightly different take on the franchise, but it's still over-the-top, rich in colour and enthusiasm and retains that essential element of fun that made the original work for me so well.

The Dark World sees the Dark Elves, led by the villainous Malekith the Accursed (Christopher Eccleston), lay siege to Asgard as a conjunction of the 'nine realms' allows them to enact a plan to destroy the universe and replace it with their own. Nothing like aiming big for your sequels. Thor saw the titular god fighting to save Asgard. The Avengers had him help save the Earth. Now he's tasked with saving the universe. No pressure.

The Pull List: 6 November 2013

This month a number of DC titles are tying into the Batman "Zero Year" arc, showing what their title characters were doing when the Riddler shut down Gotham's power on the eve of a massive hurricane hitting the Eastern Seaboard. It's an odd choice of crossover, I think mainly because we're only 14 months past all of the zero issues where this sort of thing was already done. It's also odd because, on the basis of this week's issues, they're doing a much better job of it this time around.

This issue sees a young, brash Superman trying to use his powers to stop the hurricane, and learning a valuable lesson in humility in the process. I love the t-shirt-wearing young Superman developed by Grant Morrison and quite frankly I'd read an entire monthly series out of his adventures. Greg Pak has written a sensational script here (he's the new regular writer), and after dropping this book for the past few months I think it's safe to say I'm firmly on board again. (5/5)

DC Comics. Written by Greg Pak. Art by Aaron Kuder and Scott McDaniel.

Under the cut: reviews of Daredevil: Dark Nights, Detective Comics, Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, Drumhellar, Forever Evil, The Movement, Stormwatch, Trillium and X-Men Legacy.

November 7, 2013

Babylon 5: "A Day in the Strife"

In the third episode of Babylon 5's third season: an alien probe threatens to destroy the station, G'Kar struggles to control the Narn community when his Centauri-appointed replacement arrives, Londo finds Vir a new role to perform, and Garibaldi challenges Dr Franklin about his growing stim addiction. Before anything else, it's important to mention that this episode has a horrible pun in its title.

It's easy to notice a general trend in Babylon 5: the storylines based around the humans are generally trite and unconvincing, while the storylines based around the non-humans are generally intriguing and dramatic. I'm trying to work out why that is. Are the actors (Mira Furlan, Peter Jurasik, Andreas Katsulas, et al) simply better performers? Does Straczynski simply write them more effectively? Or is it something so simple as the weird alien makeup making simplistic characterisation and stereotypical plots seem fresher and more interesting? I'm not certain of the reason, but what I do know is that in this episode - as in many others - the episode drags when it's focused on the humans and it sings when it's focused on the alien ambassadors.

The Last Exorcism: Part II (2013)

I should probably admit from the outset that I am an absolute sucker for movies about demonic possession and exorcists. Whether it's The Exorcist, or The Exorcist of Emily Rose, or indeed The Last Exorcism, there's something about the blend of drama, horror and Christian theology that is very addictive. It seems to generate atmosphere, tension and drama.

I really enjoyed The Last Exorcism, a faux documentary-come-found footage thriller in which a disillusioned Catholic priest brings a camera crew along to expose the rites of exorcism as fake - only to find himself having to conduct a real one. Some of the film didn't work, particularly in its conclusion, but overall it was a nicely entertaining and regularly scary little horror movie. It was also a pretty healthy box office hit, leading inevitably to a sequel: The Last Exorcism: Part II.

Of course that's a hilariously stupid title, but then it probably sits quite well in a genre where Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter was the fourth of ten films. As for the film itself? It's probably not a surprise to say that it's nowhere near as good as The Last Exorcism. I'm not sure it's even as good as Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.

November 6, 2013

The Pull List: 30 October 2013

American comic books work to a four-week schedule. This means that any month that has five Wednesdays will inevitably wind up without the usual pile of regular superhero comics flooding the shelves. The highest-profile release this was almost certainly Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III's The Sandman Overture, the first of six issues telling the back story that leads up to The Sandman's debut issue way back in January 1989.

I didn't wind up buying The Sandman Overture: a combination of a higher cover price (US$4.99) and an unconvincing quick flick through scared me away. It certainly looks gorgeous, but it also looks uncharacteristically wordy - as if Gaiman has forgotten how to writer comic books and instead delivered a sort of illustrated novel with occasional bits of dialogue. I also dislike prequels on principle. I read The Sandman's original storyline, and never once felt a burning need to know what happened to its titular immortal to place him the unfortunate position in which we first meet him. Some stories are better left unknown: a fact Star Wars fans learned to their despair in 1999.

Even with the reduced number of books, there were still quite a few things I found to purchase. Under the cut: reviews of Saga, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Thor: Crown of Fools, True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, Wild Blue Yonder and X-Men: Battle of the Atom. Apologies for the delay in posting this edition of the Pull List: a statewide delay saw all of Melbourne's comics arrive two days later than expected.

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Five American college students drive out to an isolated forest cabin for the weekend - only to find themselves hunted down by the undead family that lived in the cabin a century earlier. As they run for their lives, they begin to realise something more disturbing is at work: the entire situation has been artificially stage-managed by a team of technicians from an underground facility beneath them.

The Cabin in the Woods was, by their own admission, written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard in three days. It shows. It's a film with a fairly neat central concept, and a bug-eyed over-the-top climax, but which flounders for more than an hour before reaching the fun bits. It's a dreadful case of a nice idea being ruined by a sloppy execution. Elements that should be jaw-dropping twists are openly revealed much too early, and weak characterisation makes key plot developments murky and ineffective. The writers are clearly more in love with some of the characters than they are with a tight narrative, which is pretty much the kiss of death for a horror movie.

November 4, 2013

AKB0048 #4: "Your Efforts Aren't in Vain"

It's been quite a while since my last review of this anime, so let's briefly recap: AKB0048 is a Japanese animated series based on the hugely popular and massive commercial pop outfit AKB48. I watched the first episode anticipated (indeed somewhat desiring) an enormous train wreck, and instead discovering a ridiculously silly and charming science fiction drama about pop music, interplanetary rebellions, alien creatures, ancient prophecies, lightsabers, robot suits and dance. Episode #4, "Your Efforts Aren't in Vain", settles down a lot from the crazier first three episodes, but it's still unexpectedly enjoyable stuff.

Now that they have arrived on the planet Akibastar, the new AKB0048 recruits settle into their new accommodation and begin training as singers and dancers. For young Sonata it's a chance to reunite with her older sister Kanata, although her joy at seeing her is not reciprocated.

Star Trek Voyager: "The 37s"

When the Voyager investigates an automatic distress beacon, they discover an early 20th century truck floating in space - and a nearby planet where a group of abducted humans have been cryogenically frozen for several hundred years. For Captain Janeway it's an opportunity to meet one of her idols face-to-face, but for these abducted and displaced humans there's a bigger problem. Do they stay in the Delta Quadrant or join the Voyager on its journey back to Earth?

I've been reviewing episodes of Enterprise and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and the other night - pretty much on a whim - I watched an episode of the series that came between them: Star Trek: Voyager. I'm actually pretty fond of Voyager. It's probably the most superficial and breezy Star Trek series, but it's amiable fun and when it works well it's pretty entertaining stuff. "The 37s", the first episode of Voyager's second season, does not work well. It does not work well at all.

November 1, 2013

Popular Posts: October 2013

Illness along with interstate travel saw the number of new posts on The Angriest decline a bit in October, so it's no surprise that three of the five most popular posts this month were from earlier times. It's also not a surprise, given the impending anniversary, that three of the five most popular posts were about Doctor Who.
  • Fun with Stats: Who's the longest-running Doctor? (link)
  • Fun with Stats: Doctor Who viewing figures (link)
  • The Lone Ranger (2013) (link)
  • Animated women: Frozen in context (link)
  • Who50 #3: "The Curse of Fenric" (link)
As for the most popular posts published in October, the top five are:
  • The Lone Ranger (2013) (link)
  • Who50 #3: "The Curse of Fenric" (link)
  • The Pull List: 16 October 2013 (link)
  • Who50 #4: "The Aztecs" (link)
  • Game of Thrones: "The Ghost of Harrenhal" (link)

Ghostbusters (1984)

For a while now I've been toying with the idea of the "perfect" film. There are films that I like, but which I will also openly admit are not actually very good on a semi-objective level. There are other films that I really like, but which are critically flawed and suffer problems that the better aspects manage to overcome. Then I've been thinking about the "perfect" films: they are structurally and technically flawless, and run across the screen like a well-oiled machine. An example of the first kind of film might be, say, Masters of the Universe, which I've loved since childhood but which is a messy live-action adaptation of a toy-based cartoon. An example of the second kind of film might be Alien 3, which is a glorious and mournful masterpiece almost crippled by studio interference. A good example of the third kind, the "perfect" kind, is Ghostbusters.

This comedy horror film, released in 1984 to great commercial success, simply doesn't put a foot wrong. The funny bits are funny. Every character is distinctive and entertaining. The horror elements provide a good number of high-quality scares. Most importantly the narrative is whip-smart and cleanly structured. There may be better films in existence, but I have no problem describing Ghostbusters as perfect: perfect in construction, and perfect in execution.

October 31, 2013

World War Z (2013)

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a former UN investigator now living in Philadelphia, is caught with his family in a worldwide zombie outbreak. As civilization collapses around him, Gerry reluctantly agrees to join a virologist on a mission into South Korea to find the source of the infection.

World War Z has been one of 2013's more contentious summer blockbusters. It first gained notoriety for the free way in which it adapted Max Brooks' popular novel, putting fans of the book offside. Then word spread that the entire climax of the film had been re-written and re-shot, driving the budget towards $200 million dollars and giving the entire production a familiar stink of death about it. Critics and pundits were predicting a commercial and critical disaster, and the general audience seemed pretty ambivalent.

October 30, 2013

The Pull List: 23 October 2013

This week saw the final issue of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man hit the shelves. For almost 30 issues young Miles Morales has struggled with the mantle of the Spider-Man. It's been a brilliant comic, centred on a great character, but like all superhero comics the status quo has to change sooner or later.

I do question the necessity of Marvel's Ultimate imprint these days: when it was launched it was to give readers a new, fresh take on old characters that was unsaddled by decades of continuity. Of course that was 13 years ago, and while I've adored Ultimate Comics Spider-Man it is definitely now saddled with the same sort of continuity it was launched to avoid. The entire line now segues to a set of four miniseries based around Galactus eating the Ultimate Earth; after that I'm not sure what Marvel's plans are. My recommendation is to kill the line and replace it with something fresh.

As for Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #28? It's a great, action-packed climax filled with nice character moments and satisfying resolutions. Beautiful art and layouts, appealing superheroes and some of the best scripting Brian Michael Bendis has written in a while. It may be going out, but it's going out on a high. (5/5)

Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by David Marquez.

Under the cut: reviews of All-Star Western, Aquaman, Daredevil, The Flash, Green Team: Teen Trillionaires, The Massive, Star Wars Legacy, Wolverine and the X-Men and Young Avengers. 

October 28, 2013

Who50 #1: "The Power of the Daleks"

Who50 counts down to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who by reviewing my favourite episodes and serials over the history of the programme, counting down from #50 to #1. Today, #1, my favourite Doctor Who adventure of all time: "The Power of the Daleks", a 1966 six-part serial written by David Whitaker and Dennis Spooner and directed by Christopher Barry.

On the human colony of Vulcan, an ancient spacecraft has been recovered. Inside the colony's lead scientist discovers three inactive Daleks. He wants to reactivate them and use them to improve the colony's manufacturing capacity. Only the Doctor may be able to stop the Daleks from taking over the colony - but the Doctor isn't quite himself. In fact, his travelling companions Ben and Polly aren't one hundred per cent certain that he's the Doctor at all...

"The Power of the Daleks" isn't just a brilliant Doctor Who story - and trust me, if you've never listened to the audio recordings of it, it's absolutely fantastic - it's also pretty much the most significant serial in Who history. For just over three seasons viewers had watched William Hartnell's Doctor travel time and space, fighting evil and exploring human history. At the conclusion of "The Tenth Planet" the Doctor collapsed to the floor, and when he sits up in "The Power of the Daleks" episode 1, the character is played by a different actor: Patrick Troughton. The series have have already been running for three years to popular acclaim, but it's with "The Power of the Daleks" that Doctor Who - the Doctor Who with which we as fans are familiar - actually begins.