August 31, 2015
Dracula Untold takes place in 14th century Transylvania, where the ruling Prince Vlad (Luke Evans) is forced to give annual tribute to the Ottoman Empire. When the imperial soldiers arrive to take not gold but Vlad's own son, he resists - and in a desperate attempt to stave off war he makes a pact with a vampire living in the mountains above his castle. He is given the power of a vampire for three days - so long as he can resist drinking human blood, otherwise he will be cursed with immortality forever.
This film took about seven years to make it out of development. It almost got produced with Alex Proyas (Dark City) directing, which could have been quite a thing to see. First-time feature director Gary Shore is no slouch, mind: for all its narrative issues Dracula Untold is a gorgeous movie to look at. It's kind of like Snow White and the Huntsman in many respect, albeit with much less rampant pomposity.
One hundred years after the Earth is decimated in a terrifying war, a lone survivor is revived from cryogenic suspension. He finds a world completely changed, and now filled with strange monsters, magic and small pockets of human civilization. Discovered what has happened to the world, and defeating the evil Draygonia Empire, forms the story of Crystalis - a 1990 action-RPG produced by Japanese publisher SNK.
The RPG genre only really took off in Japan towards the end of the NES/Famicom life-span, and flourished on their successor consoles. As a result solid RPG titles are often few and far between for the NES, particularly since most of the games that did get produced didn't get ported over from the Famicom. Crystalis is a rare and highly enjoyable exception. It's a game that feels a good three or four years ahead of its time, and still presents an enjoyable challenge today.
August 30, 2015
Of the four it's The Hunted that was the least successful. In Australia it didn't get a cinema release at all, instead getting shoved directly to home video. In the USA it flopped, pure and simple. It seems a shame; this is not a film classic by any stretch, but it does what it sets out to do and it achieves it in an efficient and entertaining manner.
Jones plays Bonham, a quiet tracker working in British Columbia. He gets dragged back to the USA when four deer hunters are found brutally murdered. The perpetrator is found: it's a deranged former marine named Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro), who Bonham once trained in survival skills and knife fighting as part of a US army program. When Hallam then escapes custody, Bonham doggedly chases after him.
Dr Mario exists because Tetris exists. So successful was Alexei Pajitnov's addictive falling block puzzle game that by 1990 pretty much every owner of a Nintendo console also owned a copy of it. With a huge number of gamers playing Tetris, Nintendo were understandably keen for them to buy another game. So intent were they on making their own puzzle game a smash hit they branded it with their flagship game franchise, Super Mario Bros. They assigned one of their top designers, Gunpei Yokoi, to oversee its development. The resulting game, Dr Mario, is not as good as Tetris - what puzzle game is? - but it is a wonderfully enjoyable puzzle game nonetheless.
August 29, 2015
Avon (Paul Darrow) has been captured and tortured by Federation security - but it's all a ruse to get close to the interrogator who murdered his lover. Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce) prepares to host the Federation council at her freshly built Presidential palace - unaware that a political coup d'etat is about to be launched.
"Rumours of Death" draws together three long-buried strands of series back story, and ties them together into a remarkable episode. We knew as far back as "Space Fall" that Avon had attempted to defraud the Federation banking system of millions of credits. In Season 2's "Countdown" we met Del Grant, brother to Avon's murdered lover Anna. Throughout Season 3 we've seen and heard references to the Federation's struggle to re-establish control in the wake of the intergalactic war. Now the Federation appears to have gone a long way to re-asserting its authority, and Avon is finally tracking down Anna's murderer.
Take The Bird People in China as an example: Miike directed in a year before Audition, in 1998. It's a slightly surreal drama based on a Makoto Shiina novel. It follows Wada (Masahiro Motoki), a young man sent by his employer to China's Yunnan province to assess a potential new jade mine. When he arrives in China he is apprehended by Ujiie (Renji Ishibashi), a yakuza who claims his associates are owed money by Wada's employer. Together they journey out into the Chinese wilderness in search of the mine, instead finding an isolated village with a peculiar secret.
August 28, 2015
Their latest effort seems a particularly unusual one: an adaptation of an adaptation, making a serialised comic book out of The Seven Per-Cent Solution, filmmaker Nicholas Meyer's cult classic tribute to Sherlock Holmes.
Ron Joseph's artwork is perfectly pitched for this sort of 19th century pastiche, and Jordi Escuin has coloured it with a lot of subtlety and richness. Where it perhaps stumbles is in the excessively wordy dialogue and text passages. It's always a challenge to take prose and strip it down to a highly visual form like a graphic narrative; in this case I'm not quite sure that David Tipton and Scott Tipton have entirely produced the best possible adaptation. Still, it's intriguing, and a good story, and Holmes enthusiasts will likely find much to enjoy. (3/5)
IDW. Written by David Tipton and Scott Tipton. Art by Ron Joseph. Colours by Jordi Escuin.
Under the cut: reviews of Godzilla in Hell, Ragnarok and We Are Robin.
Star Trek: Renegades feels as if this phenomenon is crossing a bridge. Exactly where this bridge leads I have no idea. This isn't a fan production in the conventional sense. Its script was written by Ethan Calk, who has previously written two episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It is directed by Tim Russ, who also reprises his role of Tuvok from Star Trek: Voyager. The cast includes Walter Koenig as an improbably old Admiral Pavel Chekov, as well as a cameo by Robert Picardo as EMH creator Lewis Zimmerman. Even outside of nostalgic characters the cast includes professional actors like Sean Young (Blade Runner), Edward Furlong (Terminator 2), Adrienne Wilkinson (Xena: Warrior Princess) and Gary Graham (Enterprise, Alien Nation). Crowd-funding led to the film being produced for US$375,000.
This is absolutely not a fan film - yet the road from early home-made video productions to this semi-professional series pilot is about as clear a path as you can see.
August 27, 2015
That's really about as far as I can comfortably go with a synopsis before I start revealing major plot developments.
Gone Girl is a 2014 drama directed by David Fincher and written by Gillian Flynn - adapting her own bestselling 2012 novel. It's a measured, uncomfortable film that shifts its ground in relation to the characters several times. It regularly surprises, it has a deep threatening undercurrent to it, it's remarkably well shot and features outstanding performances.
So why did I find myself somehow so conflicted and ambivalent?
One of the things that really helps this book - and I'm pretty sure I've mentioned it before - is the relatively high panel count. It gives the stories a lot more room to tell a story, and as a result each individual issue feels much more satisfying than the average DC/Marvel comic. Babs Tarr's artwork is perfectly suited to this kind of dense layout as well, since she draws relatively sparsely with a bold cartoony aesthetic.
DC recently tried relaunching its main line with what was being internally referred to as 'Batgirling'. Taking this comic as the model, creators were encouraged to think outside the box and think of fresh setting and angles for their characters. I think they have completely tried to learn the wrong lesson. Batgirl is working because it's telling tightly constructed, upbeat and enjoyable superhero stories with clear, appealing artwork and likeable characters. That is it's achievement: not a hipster-style costume and a change of setting. (4/5)
DC Comics. Written by Brendan Fletcher and Cameron Stewart. Art by Babs Tarr and Juan Castro. Colours by Serge LaPointe.
Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Doctor Who and Justice League 3001.
August 26, 2015
I'm going to honest: my impression of DC Comics at the moment is of a company in a fairly shaky downward spiral. The story momentum across the line got stopped in its tracks with the two-month Convergence event, and they're all struggling to pick up the pace. Most titles had some kind of mini-relaunch in June, post-event, and in most cases those relaunches have had a negligible effect on sales. Aquaman got a 4 per cent bump in June compared to March. In July the book dropped more than 16 per cent to post its lowest single issue sales since this particular volume began (28,158).
It's not an isolated incident either. Wonder Woman dropped 11 per cent. Detective Comics and The Flash dropped 12 per cent. Harley Quinn dropped 13 per cent. Catwoman dropped a frightening 19 per cent. For whatever reason, the bottom dropped out of the DC Comics market in July, and the it cost the company a lot of revenue. Now we need to wait until after August to see if this is a momentary aberration or a serious problem. My gut tells me it's the latter.
As part of her latest scheme to capture the Liberator, Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce) unleashes a deadly virus on Cally's home planet of Auron. When the Liberator rushes to Auron's aid Servalan springs her trap - while simultaneously making use of the planet's cloning facilities.
So just to keep count: we're now seven episodes into Season 3 and four of those episodes have focused, in whole or in part, on a Federation attempt to capture the Liberator. It is getting just a little tiresome. Thankfully in this particular case taking the Liberator seems a secondary concern to Servalan's use of Auron's incubation chamber. Precisely why Servalan wants to populate the universe with several dozen genetically engineered clones is never really explained. There's quite a lot in this episode that goes unexplained, actually. It's a slightly frustrating combination of good scenes and bad. There's more good than bad, to be fair, but it's still a very shaky episode.
August 25, 2015
I swear that it's entirely a coincidence that I'm talking about two licensed titles in a row. Even more coincidentally, they're both adaptations of Lucasfilm titles. Star Wars came out for the NES in 1991, when there was suddenly a flurry of activity circling the property. In June 1991 Bantam Spectra published Heir to the Empire, the first original Star Wars novel in almost a decade. By December Dark Horse comics had published the first new Star Wars comic book in about as long. The following year the Super Nintendo would receive an immensely popular platform action game based on the film, but before that there was this half-forgotten dry run produced for the NES.
Ludroe's "Dagger Proof Mummy" continues from last issue. This second half is a lot more accomplished than the first. Perhaps Ludroe became more sure of himself as he went. At any rate it's a positive beginning to the book, combining cat people, near-future urban skateboarding and the undead.
The second half of Emma Rios' "I.D." feels a bit more assured and confident than the first, and it certainly packs a fairly emotional punch by the end. I particularly liked the essay at the end by Dr Miguel Woodward, who advised Rios on the science involved in her near-future body-swapping story.
The real star of the book for me, however, is the incomparable Simon Roy and the first part of his new story "Habitat". Anyone who read his work with Brandon Graham on Prophet will be right at home here, as will any fans of French writer/artist Jean "Moebius" Giraud. It's beautifully written and strange, and Roy's art is distinctive and showcases a wonderful visual imagination. The only drawback is that the next instalment is not due until issue #5.
Island is a fascinating experiment, and one that I really do hope succeeds. (4/5)
Under the cut: reviews of Black Canary, Book of Death and Robin: Son of Batman.
August 24, 2015
Vila (Michael Keating) is unwillingly dispatched to the planet Kezarn to provide his lock-picking talents to a peaceful civilization of nomads. In return the Liberator crew will be paid with valuable crystals necessary to power the ship's weaponry. When Vila teleports down, however, he discovers the invitation was a ruse and he is now the prisoner of the notorious criminal Bayban the Butcher (Colin Baker). Now he is forced to unlock an unlockable door simply in order to survive.
The origins of "City at the Edge of the World" are fairly well known to Blake's 7 fans. Michael Keating's daughter was being mildly bullied at school over her father's cowardly character, and so Keating asked script editor Chris Boucher to include a story in the third season that could showcase Vila being brave. Boucher complied, and the resulting episode is probably the best episode Blake's 7 produced up to that point.
Pretty much everything else that happens you'll likely guess before it happens: not because Pitch Perfect is a bad film, but because it's a film running to a well-rehearsed and enjoyable formula. I'm seeing a temptation to label Pitch Perfect an acapella group remake of Sumo Do, Sumo Don't, since the two films seem to share identical storylines based on different university hobby groups. The thing is that I'm pretty certain Sumo Do was not the first film in this specific sub-genre of movie comedy either. We don't watch these kinds of films expecting to be surprised or blind-sided. We watch them because we want to be entertained, and within the confines of its college setting, musical background and comedy genre, Pitch Perfect is really enjoyable.
August 23, 2015
Despite the bad word of mouth the completist in me compelled me to rent a DVD and watch the thing, and make up my own mind. I went in feeling positive. There have been plenty of occasions where a Hollywood film has been critically mauled, but I have found much in it to enjoy. I also maintain high hopes for the film's director Jonathan Liebesman, who seems to be making a career out of directing visually interesting films with really poor screenplays like Battle: Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans. He's surely one decent screenplay away from actually directing something decent.
Sadly in this case the film is exactly as bad as its critical reception suggests. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a loud, sloppy, incoherent mess. I went in hoping to at least find some enjoyment. I came out with a list of questions.
The storyline is essentially the same as the original film. Tsao Siu-yan (Donnie Yen) is a powerful eunuch in control of China's Eastern Depot security agency. He has a rival general killed, and uses the general's children as bait to lure in the general's allies. Those allies successfully rescue the children, but are forced to take shelter at the isolated Dragon Gate Inn before they can escape across the border, When the Eastern Depot forces arrive, a complicated game of deception begins between the two forces.
August 22, 2015
The book has had a bit of a struggle in the past year, with co-creator and artist Roc Upchurch retiring from the book after an arrest for domestic violence, and then replacement artist Stjepan Sejic jumped ship after only a handful of issues. With the beginning of the third story arc writer Kurtis J. Weibe is joined by Tess Fowler, who previously provided art for a one-off special some months back. While her art isn't quite as accomplished as Upchurch's, it does feel like a better fit than Sejic's. I'm looking forward to seeing how it develops as her run goes.
As for the plot, it's the usual combination of violence, comedy, snarky behaviour and inadvisable life choices. It's a beautiful set of characters, and it's great to see Weibe explore each of their backgrounds one at a time. In this case it's Hannah, the elven wizard with the awesome hairstyles, and her complicated relationship with her father. It's great stuff. (4/5)
Under the cut: reviews of Doctor Who: Four Doctors, Giant Days and Revival.
Tarrant (Steven Pacey) has planned a heist to rob the Federation of valuable kairopan crystals. At the same time Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce) impulsively nominates a sexist, blunt former labourer named Jarvik to mastermind another run at capturing the Liberator.
Okay so we're five episodes into the season and three of those five episodes have largely focused upon attempts by the Federation to capture the Liberator. Four of the five episodes have featured Servalan as a villain. I am sensing a significant lack of imagination and variety in this third season of Blake's 7. This is not the worst episode of the season so far - that's almost certainly "Volcano" - but make no mistake this is a terrible episode nonetheless.
August 21, 2015
As John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) prepares to be inaugurated as the President of the new Interstellar Alliance, a disgruntled Earth Force veteran is planning his assassination. Captain Elizabeth Lochley (Tracy Scoggins) begins her first day as Babylon 5's commanding officer, and promptly encounters a group of rogue telepaths seeking refuge on the station.
Season 5 begins in the weirdest place. It feels strikingly different to Season 4. It's not the execrable new opening titles and theme - although it must be said that this season has the worst opening titles Babylon 5 ever had - it's basically the fact that everybody is happy. There's a jaunty little tone to the episode. The series did such a good job of tying up all of its plot threads by the end of "Rising Star" that there's simply no ongoing crises left to care about. This doesn't feel like the beginning of a climactic final season. It feels, both tonally and in terms of quality, as if we're back near the beginning of Season 1.
There are some phenomena in videogames that can result in pretty awful stuff. One of those is clones: take a previously existing game, change the graphics and little and maybe tinker with the gameplay around the edges, and release your own successful title by effectively riding the coat-tails of someone else's. Another is licensed titles: base your game on a movie, or a TV series, or a cartoon. Brand recognition will lead enough people to buy your title that you don't need to bother enticing them with good graphics and sound or quality gameplay. It's a general rule that licensed games aren't worth playing, because those that are worth playing (like Rare's GoldenEye 007, for example) are so far and few between that it's not worth the time hunting them down.
Willow, a Capcom game released in 1989, is both a licensed title - it adapts the Ron Howard fantasy film - and a clone - it mercilessly rips off Nintendo's own The Legend of Zelda.
August 20, 2015
Jumping into any comic book at the ninth issue is usually a challenge, but in their typically useful fashion Valiant have provided a summary of the story so far on the first page. Matt Kindt's script is also very clear and enjoyable, so even when the finer details are a bit difficult to follow there's still plenty of material to enjoy.
Clayton Crain's painterly artwork provides an enormous enhancement to the story. It gives it all a very French feel; this issue wouldn't be out of place in a 48-page bande-dessinee in some Parisian bookstore. Certainly it's the kind of high-end, beautiful artwork that you rarely get to see in a monthly comic book. Most artists simply aren't fast enough to produce art this good on so tight a schedule.
This is a great science fiction book that is, like much of Valiant's output, getting overlooked by many comic book readers. Check it out. (4/5)
Valiant. Written by Matt Kindt. Art by Clayton Crain.
Under the cut: reviews of The Infinite Loop, Invader Zim and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Amazing Adventures.
When viewed strictly as a horror film, Ann Hui's Visible Secret is a disappointment. The bottom line is that it is simply not particularly frightening or creepy. The scenes of foggy back alleys, harsh downlights and moaning sound effects have been done to death in so many other films, and Hui brings little fresh to the genre to make her film stand out or break from the pack. At the same time the film is curiously watchable. There's a really nice romance at its centre between a woman with too many secrets and a young man too well-intentioned to leave her.
August 19, 2015
Orac (Peter Tuddenham) manipulates the Liberator to fly through a black hole. When the ship miraculously survives the journey, Avon (Paul Darrow) and his crew find themselves trapped in the world of the Thaarn, a legendary figure from Auron's mythology.
Some episodes of Blake's 7 are pretty great. Some are pretty awful. Occasionally one comes along that just raises your eyebrow, as you struggle to work out whether it's egregiously awful or actually a weird kind of brilliant. I think "Dawn of the Gods" certainly qualifies. The previous record-holder for weirdest Blake's 7 episode ever was Season 2's "Gambit", but I think that record has been easily broken by this episode, which assembles together board gaming, black holes, pocket universes, alien gods, the Mad Hatter, and maths. It all adds up to some kind of hypnotically awful nonsense - I wanted to hate it, yet I couldn't bring myself to look away.
Mention Metal Gear these days and people will understandably leap to Hideo Kojima's widely celebrated - and regularly mocked - series of Metal Gear Solid games that have been a mainstay of the PlayStation since the late 1990s. Metal Gear Solid itself (reviewed here) was of course a sequel - the third in the series - and the half-forgotten Metal Gear was the first.
Kojima originally developed Metal Gear for the MSX2 home computer. It was his publisher Konami that, with his knowledge or consent, quietly passed the source code to a separate development team to have them re-develop the game for the Famicom - and, subsequently, for the NES. Due to the unapproved changes made to the storyline and the gameplay, Kojima has understandably disowned the NES iteration. Full disclosure: I've never managed to play the MSX2 original, but the NES version is pretty great.
August 18, 2015
Watching the season the second time was a lot easier, since I knew the disappointment was coming and wasn't so blind-sided by it. I also had the added attraction of entirely new episodes to watch after it. I was slightly surprised at how strong many of those later episodes were. I do still think there are serious structural problems with Season 4 - the Shadow War does end in both an abrupt and unsatisfactory manner, the Minbari civil war is oddly truncated, and the Earth civil war feels as if it would have been better suited to being resolved before the Shadow War concluded.
Even with all of that in mind, I think it might now be my favourite season of Babylon 5.
Pretty much everybody watched the TV series when it was on - it was pretty much the most popular television series on the planet for a year or two. While many retain a nostalgic affection for The A-Team it must be said that it's a dreadful series: witless, repetitive, unremittingly macho, and corny as all hell. It is not simply a case of the series dating badly over time. I have no doubt it was as awful a confection in 1983 as it is on re-runs today.
Good or bad it was still popular, and popularity means there's a brand-name recognition, and if there's a recognised brand then there is an audience potentially willing to return to that brand. As a result five years ago 20th Century Fox produced a feature film adaptation starring Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper.
August 17, 2015
It's a gender-swapped science fiction retelling of The Odyssey, and that was a concept that allowed it to run brilliantly for its first five issues. For the sixth, Matt Fraction begins to weave in other elements as well including the Hercules myth and The Thousand and One Nights, and in the book's back matter he's promising Moby Dick as well. He's basically taking old stories, remixing them and making them new again.
While the source material has expanded, the free verse narration remains. I imagine some readers might find this comic a maddening read, told as it is in a semi-detached lyrical fashion, but I'm finding it wonderfully addictive. Of course it wouldn't be half as successful without Christian Ward's beautiful, grotesque designs and artwork. There's a creepy sexual vibe to everything in ODY-C, all developed with suggestive curves and rich colours. The panel layouts are stunning.
So: not for everyone, but for the audience looking for a challenging and beautiful science fiction comic, it's a must-read. (5/5)
Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Catwoman and Lando.
Tarrant (Steven Pacey) and Dayna (Josette Simon) teleport down to the planet Obsidian, where a former colleague of Dayna's father now rules over a peaceful independent civilization. Tarrant and Dayna are not alone, however: President Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce) has also travelled to Obsidian with a fresh plan to capture the Liberator.
So we're three for three so far this season for plots involving Servalan randomly turning up to make trouble for Avon and his crew. For the President of a galaxy-wide Federation she really does seem to spend a lot of her time chasing down the Liberator and trying - and failing - to capture or kill its crew. It's a shame: she was such a powerful character in the earlier seasons, whereas now she's a rather predictable and boring villain.
August 16, 2015
Well, that was certainly a thing. There was a season finale written and produced for Season 4, titled "Sleeping in Light", but when a last-minute deal saw TNT pick Babylon 5 up for a fifth season that finale was held back for a year. In its place, the production team hurriedly assembled this: almost certainly the weirdest episode of Babylon 5 thus far.
"The Deconstruction of Falling Stars" explores the future of the Babylon 5 universe, jumping 100 years ahead, then 500, then 1,000, and finally a million years beyond the lives of Sheridan, Delenn and the gang. The regular cast don't get too much of a look-in. Instead we've got a lot of people talking about them in rooms. It's a very cheap-looking episode, not to mention awkwardly written, slightly dull and generally pretty disappointing.
Last year Dark Horse published The Eltingville Club #1, in which the four members trashed and burned a comic book shop to the ground, swearing never to speak to one another again. The much-delayed The Eltingville Club #2 was published this week, in which the boys - now in their mid-20s - meet one another again for the first time in a decade at Comic-Con.
It's easy to see why this second and final issue took Dorkin so long. There's a detail and intricacy to the artwork that I've never seen him do before. His iconic cartoonish style remains, but here it's drawn out in a much more accomplished fashion than ever before. It's also packed with lengthy dialogue - mostly rants and diatribes - which combine with the artwork to create a very dense comic book indeed. This isn't something you're going to flip through within three minutes.
It's a savage, twisted, repellent finale to the characters, showing that some people - while growing older - don't necessarily ever grow up. As the conclusion of the story and a farewell to the characters, it's pretty much as great as you could want it to be. (5/5)
Under the cut: reviews of Empire Uprising, Star Trek/Green Lantern and String Divers.
August 15, 2015
With Earth's legitimate government restored, Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) must face the consequences of his actions. While en route from Babylon 5, Delenn (Mira Furlan), Londo (Peter Jurasik) and G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas) finalise negotiations for a new Interstellar Alliance. Ivanova (Claudia Christian) is restored to full health, but is left to mourn Marcus' sacrifice.
If "Endgame" was all climax, then "Rising Star" is - not unsurprisingly - all epilogue. There's no strong narrative drive to what happens, just a series of scenes showcasing character and resolving old conflicts. It's the episode that ties up loose ends, points to the future, and generally wraps things up with a bow. It does it very well. In fact, it does it so exceptionally well that it's difficult to see where the series is going to go for another 23 episodes.
Multi-Doctor adventures have been used as anniversary celebrations ever since 1973, and of course superhero comics have been doing big crossover event series since the mid-1980s at least. It feels fairly appropriate then, as a mid-summer event, for Titan to launch a series where the 10th through 12th Doctors have an adventure together - one apparently kicked off by the War Doctor (played by John Hurt back in 2013) during the Time War. It's written by TV series writer Paul Cornell and illustrated by Neil Edwards.
This is highly indulgent fan service of the geekiest kind, with past Doctors, the Time War, the Voord and the Daleks all thrown in good measure. It's also an excuse for Cornell to write three bickering Doctors, which fans always seem to find fairly entertaining. He's also careful to note a potential elephant in the room: the Doctor was supposed to die at the end of his 13th life, and that was Matt Smith's 11th Doctor. Finding themselves in conversation with a 14th is obviously pretty unsettling for the two younger incarnations.
It's a fast, nicely illustrated first issue that sets the series up. It's now down to next week's issue #2 to actually form a strong storyline to go with it. Anyone but the hard-core probably need not look into in, but if you read this review and knew what a Voord was, you'll probably have a lot of fun (4/5)
Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor and X-O Manowar.
August 14, 2015
Sheridan's fleet advances on Mars and Earth for the final battle with President Clark's forces. On Mars, Franklin and Lyta put Sheridan's secret weapon into effect. As Ivanova slips away, Marcus takes her survival into his own hands.
"Endgame" is all climax, and as a result it rattles along at a pretty incredible pace. Going in I had expected it to maybe cover the defeat of Clark's forces around Mars, but as it progresses Sheridan all but leapfrogs Mars altogether, hits Earth's orbit and overthrows a government in 40 minutes. Such a sudden advance in the story could be disastrous if not written well, but to his credit J. Michael Straczynski has done a sensational job of setting up and plotting this episode. A key part of his strategy has been the set-up: it's been mildly frustrating in earlier episodes waiting to find out what Sheridan's plan was to use the Shadow-enhanced telepaths on Babylon 5. That frustration pays off here, allowing the story to jump about a full episode's worth of plot and reach an immensely satisfying conclusion.
Taito released their original arcade game Bubble Bobble in 1986. It was a huge commercial hit, and was quickly ported to pretty much every home computer and console platform imaginable. Taito handled the NES port themselves, which probably explains why it felt like such a faithful and enjoyable adaptation. The game is a single-screen platformer, in which two players can simultaneously jump from platform to platform as they clear each level of monsters. They do this by shooting bubbles that can incapacitate a foe, allowing the players' characters to run into them and destroy them. There are 100 levels in all.
August 13, 2015
Avon (Paul Darrow) and Dayna (Josette Simon) have teleported onto the Liberator, only to find it occupied by a squad of Federation troopers. On the planet Chenga, an injured Vila (Michael Keating) finds himself on the run from the mysterious "hi-techs".
"Power Play" is, in effect, the second half of a two-part story. By its conclusion the Liberator is fully restored, and it has a crew again. Avon, Cally and Vila have returned, and they are joined by two new recruits: Dayna Mellanby, introduced last episode, and now Del Tarrant (Steven Pacey). Both Blake and Jenna are referenced in dialogue - both are alive and en route to safe planets - but the series doesn't really make it clear that they're never returning to the ship. To an extent I think the audience is expected to work that out for themselves.
"Power Play" is divided into two quite separate storylines, and to an extent shoving them into the episode together winds up half-strangling the potential of both.
Akira Kurosawa's seventh film is a wonderfully atmospheric film noir. It also marks the first collaboration between the director and the actor Toshiro Mifune. A mass walk-out of talent from Toho in 1947 left its directors scrambling to find new talent. A fellow director told Kurosawa about an impressively talented 28 year-old actor, Mifune, and Kurosawa sneaked into an audition session to see him perform. So impressed was he with Mifune that he cast the charismatic, highly physical actor in Drunken Angel, and subsequently cast him in a leading role in another 15 features. Their 16-film collaboration is one of the most exception actor-director partnerships in movie-making history.
August 12, 2015
Ivanova (Claudia Christian) continues to lead the united rebel fleet towards Mars and Earth. Back on Babylon 5, Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) calls a secret meeting of the council without Delenn's knowledge. On Mars, Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) is captured by the resistance - who refuse to believe his betrayal of Sheridan was caused by Bester's mind control.
Okay so that last bit of the plot summary is a cheat, since Garibaldi's troubles last all of two minutes before Lyta does a mind scan and confirms his personality was telepathically transformed by the Psi Corps. I'm in two minds about this development, which happens very early in the episode. On the one hand it's entirely logical: Lyta is there, she's an immensely powerful telepath, and if she hadn't immediately scanned him to prove his story we would all be sitting around criticising the episode for not doing the obvious and logical thing. So, in story terms, it's perfectly fair and sensible to wrap up Garibaldi's betrayal storyline in such a sudden manner. In narrative terms, it really sucks.
Back in 1984 Elite was a jaw-dropping achievement in computer game design. It was a science fiction flight simulator, in which the player pilot a starship from one planetary system to the next, either trading in cargo - both legal and contraband - or working as a bounty hunter. It didn't really have an end goal beyond getting one's character's fighting ability listed as "elite", and thanks to some clever coding provided a staggeringly large play area. The game was developed by Ian Bell and David Braben, originally for the BBC Micro but subsequently for the Acorn Electron, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, PC, ZX Spectrum and Atari ST.
A few years after that, it rather bizarrely received a port to the Nintendo Entertainment System. Published in Europe and Australia in 1991 (it never received an American release), it was the final version of the original game to hit the market.
August 11, 2015
Right from the first shot, which tracks towards John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) low to a prison floor, it's clear that "Intersections in Real Time" is not going to be a normal episode of Babylon 5. It pretty much only features two actors and one room, and one prolonged interrogation. I've been saying since I started reviewing this series that I thought J. Michael Straczynski is a writer better suited to theatre than to television, and this is positive proof. It is essentially a play that's been nicely photographed and edited down to 40 minutes.
The Earth Alliance have captured Sheridan, and a man (Raye Birk) has been assigned to interrogate him. He's calm, detached and almost disinterested, but over the course of the episode he needles away at Sheridan's resolve in an attempt to get what he needs - Sheridan psychologically broken, and willing to recant in public his rebellion against President Clark.
At the height of the Ming Dynasty, the emperor's eunuch Tsao (Pai Ying) has executed his political rival General Yu, and exiled Yu's children from China. He then has second thoughts and, fearing a future reprisal from the children, sends a large contingent of his secret police to assassinate them. Tsao's men wait at the isolated Dragon Gate Inn, where their arrival coincides with that of three itinerant master warriors.
Dragon Inn is a 1967 Taiwanese wuxia film directed by King Hu. It remains quite a difficult film to find on home video, although Eureka Video in the UK is thankfully releasing a bluray edition this September. For many viewers it's sadly less well known than its two remakes: New Dragon Gate Inn (1992) and Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (2011). This is a deep shame, as Dragon Inn is not only a satisfying wuxia picture in its own right but also one of the most influential films ever made in the genre. If you have ever seen a Chinese period film with a master swordswoman, a fight in a roadside tea house, or a powerful and manipulative eunuch villain, then you pretty much have Dragon Inn to thank for it.
August 10, 2015
An Andromedan invasion of the Milky Way has been averted. The Liberator has sustained heavy damage, forcing its crew to abandon ship. Avon (Paul Darrow) wakes as his escape pod crashes onto the planet Sarran. There he meet weapons specialist Dayna Mellanby (Josette Simon) and her father Hal, and in unwillingly reunited with the similarly stranded Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce) - now President of a severely damaged and chaotic Federation.
TV dramas often have to adjust to changes in cast. If an actor leaves the series, it's usually a simple matter of writing them and perhaps replacing them with a similar character - or in some cases of keeping the character and having another actor play the part. It's a trickier proposition when the actor choosing to leave is your main character, and trickier still if - as was the case here - that it's the title character tendering their resignation. After two years of playing rebel leader Roj Blake, Gareth Thomas quit to return to the theatre. Blake's 7 producer David Maloney and script editor Chris Boucher considered numerous tactics to replace him, but settled on perhaps the most unusual option available. Why introduce a new rebel leader when you can segue Avon into the position instead?
Unforgiven was a critical phenomenon back in 1992, receiving widespread and enthused acclaim and ultimately winning four Academy Awards including Best Picture. It's not difficult to see why. It's not that it's simply an outstanding film - and it truly is - it's also Clint Eastwood's final word on the western genre. He was arguably the last great western star Hollywood ever had, starring in numerous classics including A Fistful of Dollars, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Hang 'Em High, High Plains Drifter, Joe Kidd and Pale Rider. Unforgiven came seven years after Pale Rider, which had at the time seemed like it was Eastwood's final word on the genre.
August 9, 2015
Tom King is telling an intriguing story, in which a group of renegades appear to be launching a terrorist attack on an alien empire. They've already kidnapped and faked the death of former Green Lantern Kyle Rayner. Here they launch a kidnapping attempt on a princess named Kallista, with unexpected results. One of the strengths of this series is the lack of an explanation. Each of the first three issues has loaded intrigue on top of intrigue, to the point where it's all set up for an outstanding revelation. Of course that also adds another layer of pressure: the more the mystery is developed, the more critical it is that it adds up to a thrilling explanation.
It's nice to see DC publishing something that looks great, has a great sci-fi setting, and gives another outing for the vastly underrated Kyle Rayner. Sales of the first issue were a bit on the low side - I really hope a solid, regular audience finds this book and gives it the longevity it deserves. (4/5)
DC Comics. Written by Tom King. Art by Barnaby Bagenda. Colours by Romulo Fajargo Jr.
Under the cut: reviews of Detective Comics, Ms Marvel and The Wicked + the Divine.
August 8, 2015
Here's a hell of a line for a character: 'As far as I am concerned you can destroy whatever you like. You can stir up a thousand revolutions, you can wade in blood up to your armpits. Oh, and you can lead the rabble to victory, whatever that might mean. Just so long as there is an end to it. When Star One is gone it is finished, Blake. And I want it finished. I want it over and done with. I want to be free.'
Blake (Gareth Thomas) finally reaches Star One, the Federation's top secret control centre, with a plan to destroy it and throw the whole of human civilization into chaos. The problem is that Star One is already going horribly wrong. Climate control is failing on dozens of worlds. Orbital traffic control is throwing starships into each other's flight paths. Communications are disrupted across the galaxy. As Supreme Commander Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce) leads a coup d'etat of the Federation, Blake finds himself fending off an alien invasion alongside one final confrontation with Space Commander Travis (Brian Croucher).
"Star One" is, within the fairly tight limits of the Blake's 7 production budget, just about the perfect season finale. It ties up long-running story arcs from both Season 2 and the whole series to date, it progresses the characters into a new dynamic, and it ends on the mother of all cliffhangers. While it's let down on the edges by some very cheap model work and one or two weak performances, it's nonetheless the best episode of the series so far.
It's a busy episode. Franklin (Richard Biggs) and Lyta (Patricia Tallman) arrive on Mars to continue preparations for Sheridan's offensive. The Agamemnon joins Sheridan's fleet. Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) lures Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) to Mars with news that his father has been captured by Clark's force - only to have his world turned upside down by Mr Bester (Walter Koenig).
Garibaldi's season arc hits its crisis point at this episode. Not only does he finally make his choice between serving Sheridan or serving Edgars - something which he immediately regrets - the answers behind his mysterious disappearance at the end of Season 3 are finally revealed. That alone makes this a satisfying episode, and that satisfaction only grows thanks to some slick direction and progression of a future storyline on the side.
August 7, 2015
Wizards & Warriors was a fantasy platforming franchise, originally developed by Rare in 1987 for the NES. It was a sufficient hit to warrant a 1989 sequel, Ironsword, which was developed on Rare's behalf by Zippo Games. That game led to a third and final game, Wizards & Warriors III: Kuros: Visions of Power, which was released in 1992 in the USA and 1993 in the UK. As is often the case, I think the final iteration of the franchise was its best: videogames often benefit from constant improvements in coding and technology, and the ability to see how previous games went with players and adjust accordingly.
In the game players control the amnesiac knight Malkil, who has woken up in an unfamiliar city without his armour or memory. This handy tactic, similar to one used in Metroid sequels (Metroid's sprawling non-linear game maps are a clear influence here), allows the player to slowly level up without questioning why their character isn't as powerful as they were when they finished off the last game in the series.
Here's the thing: we're through four issues of five now, and I still have not got the foggiest clue of what is going on. There are multiple versions of all of the characters running around, but little to directly show which one is which, or how they got thrown together, or what's going to happen. It's an absolute mess of confused story fragments and over-written and highly over-indulgent dialogue. It is, in my opinion, the hands-down worst thing Brian Michael Bendis has written.
Mark Bagley's artwork doesn't seem much better - it feels very rushed, and lacks the careful compositions and attractive design work that he brought to Ultimate Spider-Man.
Some might argue that Ultimate End makes more sense if one is also reading Secret Wars - which I am not reading. To that I would argue that every comic book should stand on its own. I shouldn't have to read Secret Wars. If this is the grand finale of the Ultimate Universe, then things are definitely going out with a disgracefully sloppy whimper. (1/5)
Under the cut: reviews of three much better comics that are more deserving of your money: Broken World, Darth Vader, and The Fly: Outbreak.
August 6, 2015
Blake's wild goose chase leads him to the planet Goth, where a Federation cyber surgeon once went underground - leaving behind the coordinates of Star One behind. Blake, Jenna and Vila teleport down to investigate, only to discover that Servalan and Travis are already there.
It's very difficult to pin down Servalan's relationship with Travis this season. First he's working for her, then he's being put on a show trail so she can save face, then he's a runaway from the Federation, then he's captured by Servalan and let go, then he's captured by Federation troopers, then he's living rogue in Freedom City before being captured by Servalan and rigged with an explosive booby-trap in his mechanical arm, and now he's working with Servalan again. It's been so inconsistent that it's difficult to take seriously.