September 30, 2016

Full Strike (2015)

Ng Kau-Sau (Josie Ho) was a champion badminton player, but her poor attitude and aggressive style saw her career shattered. Now she's overweight, depressed and working in her brother's restaurant - until a chance encounter involving a meteorite and a homeless man leads her to a run-down badminton academy run by three ex-criminals looking to make a change in their lives.

Back in 2010 I was a huge fan of Derek Kwok and Clement Cheng's kung fu sports comedy Gallants - so much so that it wound up being one of my favourite Hong Kong films of the past decade. Last year Kwok returned to the sports comedy genre with Full Strike, co-directed with Henri Wong. While it does not hit the incredible heights managed by Gallants, it is a hugely entertaining film. The cast are great, the jokes are great, and despite being a fairly stereotypical 'misfits win the championship against the odds' story it still manages to find plenty of places for originality and unexpected angles on the material.

Bodacious Space Pirates: "Pirate Hunting"

It is 2 June 2012, and time for another episode of Bodacious Space Pirates.

As Marika prepares for end-of-year exams, pirate ships are getting destroyed by mysterious pirate raiders. Marika comes up with a potential solution: pirates hiring one another for protection, both to shore up their defences and to satisfy the conditions of their letters of marque. She may, however, have underestimated the firepower of the raiders.

Bodacious Space Pirates enters its final story arc, and it looks set to be a pretty big one: after a gentle, character-focused first half, the episode's climax turns almost apocalyptic as a group of pirate ships get all but annihilated at the hands of a massive, technologically superior enemy vessel. The stakes immediately get about as high as they've been all series, and with only a few episodes to go there's every chance the series may end with a body count.

September 29, 2016

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Next Phase"

It is 18 May 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise comes to the aid of a crippled Romulan science vessel, but when transporting back to the Enterprise Lt La Forge (LeVar Burton) and Ensign Ro (Michelle Forbes) are seemingly killed. While the other officers mourn their deaths, La Forge and Ro are actually trapped out of phase with the rest of reality, and unable to communicate with their crewmates.

"The Next Phase" is a bottle episode that clearly got way, way out of hand, with a limited cast and setting - basically the Enterprise and one room on the Romulan ship - but a whole raft of expensive visual effects. It is effectively Ghost for Star Trek, with La Forge and Ro able to run through walls and solid objects, and listening helplessly as the other character fondly eulogise them. It has some nice action, a few clever ideas, and some moments of rather effective drama.

The Pull List: 28 September 2016, Part 1

Southern Cross is an exceptional science fiction horror series that I honestly thought was a six-issue miniseries with a bleak and abrupt ending, until an unexpected seventh issue popped onto my pull list. Those first six issues followed Alex Braithe, a woman onboard the spaceship Southern Cross on her way to Titan to investigate her sister's murder. Things did not go well, and the Southern Cross eventually vanished without a trace. Now one survivor has reached Titan in an escape pod, and the authorities there have questions for him.

There's a nice shift in this issue: new story arc, new location, and a new viewpoint character: Nathan Carter, a manager on a huge corporate mining operation on Titan. There was already a sense of the Alien franchise about the first six issues, and that sense doesn't dissipate here. Alien 3 seems an enormous influence on the aesthetic of the Romulus Rig, and artist Andy Belanger does a great job of reflecting its grimy aesthetic and its enormous scale.

I was slightly surprised to see Southern Cross continue but I am enormously happy that it has. This is smart, bleak, moody science fiction and boasts great characters, dialogue and brilliant visual storytelling. Writer Becky Cloonan is just getting better and better. In a growing range of Image science fiction books, Southern Cross remains one of the best. (5/5)

Southern Cross #7. Image. Written by Becky Cloonan. Art by Andy Belanger. Colours by Lee Loughridge.

Under the cut: reviews of Kim & Kim, Ms Marvel, and Star Trek: Waypoint.

September 28, 2016

The Dark Knight (2008)

As Batman, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has been fighting a non-stop war against Gotham City's criminal underworld, but his battle is catastrophically interrupted by the arrival of the Joker (Heath Ledger), an unhinged and unpredictable criminal mastermind who throws the entire city into chaos, with terrible consequences for Bruce, ex-girlfriend Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman).

I realised while recently watching The Dark Knight that I have never reviewed it before. I have watched it many times over the past eight years. Not only is it my favourite film from 2008 it is also one of my favourite films of all time. It is a remarkable, quite masterful work of movie-making and for me a career high-point for its director Christopher Nolan. The bulk of the film alone would make it a genre masterpiece. At its centre, however, stands the late Heath Ledger in his most iconic, entertaining and skillful performance. We honestly had no idea his talent had developed so much and become so finely mastered until he had already passed away. It's an absolute tragedy.

Top Knot Detective (2016)

Remember Ronin Suirui Tantei? It was known as Top Knot Detective here in Australia, when it had a brief TV run in the early 1990s. Today it's one of those weird cult phenomenons: unknown by the majority, but loved perhaps a little too much by a small but ridiculously dedicated audience. The series kicked off as a samurai drama - known in Japan as a 'jidai-geki' - before expanding into one of the weirdest science fiction shows every made.

Still not ringing a bell? That's probably because Top Knot Detective isn't real. That hasn't stopped it from being the subject of a feature-length documentary of the same name by Western Australian filmmakers Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce. For Australian audiences it airs on SBS2 tonight. For international readers, I can only implore you to check out this outstanding comedy as soon as you are legally able. This is a stunning - not to mention stunningly original - piece of Australian filmmaking.

September 27, 2016

Star Trek: Voyager: "State of Flux"

It is 10 April 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

After an altercation with the Kazon Nistrim, it becomes clear that someone onboard Voyager has been secretly passing Federation technology to the Kazon. Ensign Seska (Martha Hackett) immediately comes under suspicion, and no matter how much she protests her innocence the guiltier she appears.

"State of Flux" is one of those frustrating episodes of Star Trek where you can sort of enjoy what's been produced, but your enjoyment keeps getting interrupted by realising all of the alternative creative choices that could have made it all so much better. Its biggest problem is that it spends 40 minutes pushing us to believe that Seska is actually a traitor to the Voyager crew, and then reveals that she is indeed a traitor to the Voyager crew. There is simply no suspense. It's a shame as well, because Martha Hackett was developing Seska into a much more interesting character than half of the regular cast.

September 26, 2016

The Pull List: 21 September 2016, Part 3

One of the best things about DC's New 52 was Francis Manapul. In The Flash and then Detective Comics he presented a solid knack for writing with an exceptional talent for art. His books looked absolutely glorious, boasting sharp design work with outstanding panel layouts and vivid colours. One of the worst things about DC's New 52 was the way it seemed to lose the overall sense of a united DC Universe. There was continuity between books, but the tone felt wrong: it was too dark and bleak for my tastes, and seemed to throw out the close familial aspect of the original DC Universe.

The new ongoing monthly Trinity is, then, a tremendous next step. Manapul writes and illustrates this new book, and his artistic talents have only grown stronger since he dropped off Detective Comics. It is a wonderful character-centric title, uniting Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman and showcasing their friendship. Not a lot happens in this issue - basically Diana and Bruce come to Lois and Clark's house for dinner - but there is more warmth and friendship on display than DC has allowed for some time.

The book also acknowledges and works with the current situation. The Superman that Wonder Woman and Batman knew is dead, and they're only just getting to know his pre-Flashpoint replacement. It has not thrown out the good parts of the New 52, it has simply replaced the bits that didn't work with a tone that does. I'm really enjoying DC's Rebirth titles, and this looks set to be another great addition to the line. (4/5)

Trinity #1. DC Comics. Story and art by Francis Manapul.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batman, Green Arrow, Nightwing, and Superman.

September 25, 2016

Fantastic Four (2015)

A group of smart young scientists collaborate to build an inter-dimensional transport that links the Earth to a mysterious alien planet bubbling with green energy. When they travel across to explore this strange world, an unexpected and terrible disaster transforms them all, giving each of them super-human powers. For Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) it means turning into an enormous rock monster. For Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) it means the ability to fly and burst into flames. For his sister Sue Storm (Kate Mara) it means turning invisible and generating force fields. For young scientist Reed Richards (Miles Teller) it means the ability to stretch his limbs to ridiculous lengths - and a world of guilt.

I'm of the pretty firm opinion that the Fantastic Four are, as a pop culture property, pretty much unsuitable for live action cinema. Hollywood has tried four times now, and on a creative level at least pretty much all four attempts have been unmitigated failures. With the clock ticking down for 20th Century Fox to further exercise their options on the characters, we are facing a pretty much inevitable case of either yet another franchise reboot at Fox or the introduction of the Fantastic Four to the Marvel Cinematic Universe over at Disney. Both options are, to me, fairly bad ideas.

September 23, 2016

The Pull List: 21 September 2016, Part 2

Antonius Axia is a Roman Centurion who rescues a vestal virgin from cultists and is subsequently allowed to read their mysterious Codex. Six years later Antonius works as Rome's best private investigator - at which point he is unwillingly dispatched by the Emperor to investigate reports of massacres and monsters in far-off Britannia.

Britannia is an unexpected new miniseries from Valiant. It's unexpected because unlike their usual run of loosely connected superhero and science fiction titles, this is a horror comic set in the Roman Empire in the year 66 AD. It is also most welcome as it brings into the Valiant fold the widely regarded British comic book writer Peter Milligan. He provides a great story here: well researched and intelligent, with a nice blending of Roman history and nightmarish horror imagery. Juan Jose Ryp's artwork is striking and distinctive, and beautifully expresses the combination of ancient world settings and horrible, violent imagery.

It's great to see Valiant stretching itself in this fashion. With any luck this is the first of many such stretches, taking the high level of quality for which the publisher is known and directing it towards all new genres of graphic fiction. (4/5)

Britannia #1. Valiant. Written by Peter Milligan. Art by Juan Jose Ryp. Colours by Jordie Bellaire.

Under the cut: reviews of Jackboot & Ironheel, Mechanism, and Ringside.

September 22, 2016

Samurai Flamenco: "Predetermined Quota"

It is 4 December 2013, and time for the ninth episode of Samurai Flamenco.

It is three months after King Torture's attacks on Japan began, and interest is waning among both the Japanese public and Samurai Flamenco's allies. Tensions are rising between Masayoshi and Mari, with the latter getting pretty dissatisfied with what she thought was going to be an exciting and varied vigilante life. Even Hidenori is getting tired of the situation, eventually losing his temper with both Masayoshi and Mari, and quitting helping them altogether.

There is a growing and ridiculous self-awareness in Samurai Flamenco. After staggering through an awkward transition stage over the last two episodes, the show about an obsessed tokusatsu fan has transformed into a tokusatsu parody. Masayoshi is fighting near-daily battles with mutated villains with names like Branding Piranha (pictured) and Whipping Walrus. While the tone is a little uneven, particularly in its final minutes - and we'll get to that, it is feeling like it has regained a lot of confidence after shifting the tone and context so significantly.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

The crew of the newly anointed USS Enterprise-A are dragged out of shore leave when terrorists take hostages on the half-forgotten diplomatic post of Nimbus III. The leader of the terrorists? Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill), Spock's half-brother and a religious zealot who hijacks the Enterprise to reach the centre of the galaxy and meet his god face-to-face. As the Enterprise crew fall one by one under Sybok's spell, the only hope of defeating him lies in Captain Kirk (William Shatner).

I've previously seen Star Trek V referred to as "Shatner's folly". Since co-star Leonard Nimoy was granted permission from Paramount to direct the previous two Star Trek films, it was understandable that William Shatner might put up his hand and demand the same privilege. It is also understandable that, as a creative individual with more than 20 years of experience playing Star Trek's lead character, Shatner might also have some ideas on what kind of story to tell in a fifth feature. The end result is pretty notorious among Star Trek fans, with The Final Frontier regularly cited as the worst Trek film of the set. So dismissively slated is it that I figured, after rewatching the three films before it, it was worth coming back to the film with fresh eyes and seeing just how fair that assessment really is.

September 21, 2016

The Pull List: 21 September 2016, Part 1

Adam Osidis lives among the mountains with his family, led by his exiled father - the one man who dared to stand up against the powerful Mud King's offers. When the Mud King's magically powered servants come to the farm and kill Adam's father, he finally rides down to the city and face the Mud King for himself.

Seven for Eternity is a new fantasy comic from Rick Remender (Black Science, Low) and artist Jerome Opena (Fear Agent, Infinity). It presents an immediately intriguing fantasy world, one that only really gets touched upon with this first issue. There are broadly traditional high fantasy elements here: kingdoms, wars and magical creatures abound, but at least on an aesthetic level Adam Osidis is clearly a cowboy. It feels as if something quite distinctive and visually arresting is going to be developed here, and I'm keen to see how Remender and Opena develop it.

Opena's artwork is simply beautiful and intricately detailed. It strikes me as unlikely that this book is going to stick to a monthly schedule, but to be honest if the art quality holds up to the standard this first issue has set, I'm happy with any delays. It is one of the best-looking comics I've seen this year. Matt Hollingsworth's colours make it all look ever better. (4/5)

Seven to Eternity #1. Image. Written by Rick Remender. Art by Jerome Opena. Colours by Matt Hollingsworth.

Under the cut: reviews of Joyride and The Wicked + the Divine, plus bonus delayed reviews of Spider-Man from last week, and Giant Days from two weeks ago.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "I, Borg"

It is 11 May 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise responds to what appears to be an automated distress call. An away team discovers the wreckage of a Borg scout ship with one survivor. Dr Crusher (Gates McFadden) insists on bringing the injured Borg onto the Enterprise to heal its injuries, at which point a plan is put into motion to infect it with a viral attack that may damage or even destroy the entire Borg Collective.

The Borg are simultaneously one of the most effective and one of the most difficult elements ever created for Star Trek. They made an enormous impact in their first appearance, back in Season 2's "Q Who": an inhuman civilization so technologically powerful that the Enterprise was match for it whatsoever. They returned in the Season 3 finale "The Best of Both Worlds", kicking off a two-part epic storyline in which they kidnapped and violated Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and destroyed almost 30 Starfleet vessels in a single devastating attack. It actually stretched credulity slightly in that the Enterprise crew somehow managed to defeat the Borg in that storyline, and therein lies the Borg's problem: every time they arrive they must somehow be defeated, yet they are presented as so powerful from the outset that every victory against them makes them a little less effective

September 20, 2016

Bodacious Space Pirates: "The Final Battle at the Nebula Cup"

It is 26 May 2012, and time for another episode of Bodacious Space Pirates.

The Hakouh Academy's yacht club arrives at the planet Calmwind to participate in the prestigious Nebula Cap. Tensions are high, since the last time the Academy entered the race they nearly destroyed it entirely. As the race begins, Marika finds herself under attack - first from the race's paranoid chair, and secondly from a Bisque Company gunship desperate to take her out.

"The Final Battle at the Nebula Cup" is basically pitch-perfect Bodacious Space Pirates, combining comic dialogue with space pirate action, and peppered with nice moments of character for its extended cast. It is not particularly deep, but neither is it intended to be. This is bright, breezy entertainment with nice design work and plenty of energy. It has been a few months since the last time I watched an episode, and this was a wonderful way to pop back in.

The Last Panthers: Episode 2

It is 2 November 2015, and time for the second episode of The Last Panthers.

Insurance investigator Naomi (Samantha Morton) pressures an imprisoned robber to give up information on the Marsielles jewellery heist. In Marsielles itself, police detective Kahlil (Tahar Rahim) leads a raid in a crime-ridden housing estate to track down the supplier of the heist's guns. In Belgrade, the last surviving robber Milan (Goran Bogdan) slowly works his way back into his former criminal organisation.

It is enormously impressive to see how the second episode of The Last Panthers juggles three storylines, all of which are narratively related but none of which ever actually intersect. In effect it is like watching three episodes of three different TV dramas at the same time. In the hands of lesser creative talents it could all fall flat. In the hands of writer Jack Thorne and director Johan Renck, however, it is some of the best crime drama I have seen in a while.

September 19, 2016

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Imaginary Friend"

It is 4 May 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

As the Enterprise charts a mysterious red nebula, a young girl's imaginary friend suddenly becomes terrifyingly real. With no one seeing the invisible friend but the girl, time is running out to discover its presence and purpose before the lives on everybody onboard are put at risk.

I have a general dislike of Star Trek episodes that begin with some unseen glowing entity arriving on a starship. It is not a problem with the narrative technique so much that it never seems to herald a worthwhile story. Whether it's "Lonely Among Us", or "The Child", or even Season 5's own "Power Play", stories about invisible alien presences stalking people or taking them over don't seem to have much strength in the Star Trek franchise. "Imaginary Friend" cribs quite a bit from John Wyndham's novel Chocky - either intentionally or by accident - but fails to develop any angle worth watching.

Electric Dreams (1984)

Miles (Lenny Van Dohlen) is a nervous young architect hoping to make the big time with a new earthquake-proof brick design. He is persuaded to buy a personal computer to help with his work, and after an unintended accident involving a bottle of champagne his computer becomes self-aware. What's more, it begins competing with him for the affections of his neighbour: a cellist named Madeline (Virginia Madsen).

Electric Dreams - a romantic comedy directed by Steve Barron - is one of those films that is so completely influenced by the culture of its time that it now stands as a sort of time capsule of the year in which it is made. It is packed with the pop music of the time, and boasts a wonderfully naive idea of what computers are and what they are capable of doing.

It is a pretty terrible movie in many respects, but in others it is rather sweet. Its most interesting moments are actually the ones where it unintentionally gets a little creepy.

September 18, 2016

The Pull List: 14 September 2016, Part 3

An astronaut has been murdered on Hadrian's Wall, a deep space exploratory vessel. A detective named Simon Moore is dispatched to investigate, although he has a personal connection to the victim - a man who shot Moore four times and then married his ex-wife.

There is a very retro vibe to Hadrian's Wall, one emphasised by Rod Reis' realistic, painterly artwork. It feels like a feature film from the 1970s or early 1980s. The character designs and hairstyles seem to emphasise it. It's a visually beautiful book, with a nice sense of pace and strong panel layouts. It's a tremendously easy read. Storywise it does seem to rely on genre conventions and stereotypes to an extent, but it seems like that is to give it structure. There is already some interesting character development going on, and some nice science fiction detail and world-building going on in the background.

I have been enthusing for a couple of years now about all of the great science fiction Image has been publishing - particularly science fiction crime stories - and Hadrian's Wall is yet another feather in the publisher's cap. As a science fiction enthusiast it pleases me immensely that American comics are embracing the genre so enthusiastically. The next step is to get science fiction fans to actually read them all: there's some great stuff here, and it often gets overlooked. (4/5)

Hadrian's Wall #1. Image. Written by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel. Art by Rod Reis.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Doctor Who: Supremacy of the Cybermen, and Gotham Academy: Second Semester.

September 16, 2016

The Pull List: 14 September 2016, Part 2

I remarked last month that the first issue of Animosity was a little too short and abrupt to really sell what the series was about. The second issue proves it: while the first saw animals suddenly and inexplicably gain human-level intelligence and the ability to speak, it felt like a sort of zombie thriller variant. This second issue presents a much more original story, with humans and animals negotiating in vain to gain some kind of peace and civilization sliding off the rails in the face of over-population and widespread food shortages. The issue's final pages suggest another kind of comic again: at least writer Marguerite Bennett is keeping her readers on their toes.

Rafael De Latorre's artwork is a little sketchy but broadly effective. The low panel count on each page continues to be an issue, as it restricts the amount of story the comic can get through each month - I feel we need a little more to really make it a satisfying read. It is looking solid, however, and the next few issues will determine just how strong a book it really is. Certainly the ingredients are all there. (3/5)

Animosity #2. Aftershock Comics. Written by Marguerite Bennett. Art by Rafael De Latorre.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, All-Star Batman and Detective Comics.

The Rambling Guitarist (1959)

Young street musician Shinji Taki (Akira Kobayashi) wanders into the northern Japanese city Hakodate and straight into the affairs of local mob boss Akitsu (Nobuo Kaneko). Taki gets assigned to force a nearby family to vacate their house so that Akitsu can demolish it for a new amusement park - not realising that the woman he is trying to force out is Akitsu's own sister. Matters are complicated when a rival gangster, George (Jo Shishido), arrives on the scene - and believes Taki is an undercover police officer.

In the 1950s and 1960s Japan's Nikkatsu studio was churning out an astonishing number of cheaply made, fast-paced pulp crime and youth movies. The Rambling Guitarist, directed by Buichi Saito and released in 1959, delivers both at the same time. It stars a rockabilly young rebel with a Brando-style leather jacket and a guitar slung over his shoulder, and throws him into a stereotypical world of cigar-smoking gangsters, night clubs, and back alley shoot-outs. It is pulp entertainment through and through, but like a lot of Nikkatsu's output from this period it's immensely enjoyable to watch.

September 15, 2016

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Perfect Mate"

It is 27 April 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The neighbouring planets of Krios and Valt Minor are declaring peace after a long period of conflict, with the Enterprise to act as the site for the treaty signing. One ambassador has arrived on the Enterprise already, bringing with him a precious cargo as a gift for his counterpart: a genetically-engineered woman named Kamala (Famke Janssen) whose empathic powers allow her to bond to whatever man to whom she is presented, and to alter her personality to become his perfect romantic partner.

"The Perfect Mate" is a dreadful episode, and there's no point pretending otherwise. For one thing its background is a dreadfully weak peace negotiation between two interchangeable civilizations. For another, the Ferengi turn up in a poorly shoe-horned subplot and get to be treated with active racism by all of the Federation personnel around them. Most importantly, it is an episode that bases its plot around a woman raised into sexual slavery and then has the gall to make a romance about it.

September 14, 2016

The Pull List: 14 September 2016, Part 1

'Our hero goes to Comic-Con' is a pretty great pitch for a superhero comic, and it's one that Faith #3 uses to tremendously entertaining effect. Faith has decided to take time out from fighting crime and takes her naive boyfriend Archer to a comic convention. They're in cosplay, they're trawling Artist's Alley for autographs, and they're buying pop culture memorabilia in the Trader's Hall. Of course crime is not far away, and before long they're chasing a guy dressed as Danger Mouse (sorry, Murder Mouse, but copyright evasion aside he's dressed like Danger Mouse) through the convention on the trail of stolen good.

The tone is just a delight. Faith is a superhero aware on a pop culture level of superheroes, and that opens up a whole range of possibilities for how she interacts with her adventures. Archer of course is a sheltered young man without a solid handle on any culture, which makes him pretty much the perfect counterpart. Throughout the issue a series of small text boxes offer hints and tips on how best to enjoy a comic convention, as well as how to sensible behave at one. It is really well pitched and funny to read - as are all the little pop culture references and comic creator cameos throughout.

Faith is a great comic book with a unique angle on a well-worn genre. It focuses more on the character than on her superhero adventures. After all, her superhero identity is Zephyr, but the book is called Faith. It's like DC published a Superman book called Clark. I am somewhat surprised Faith isn't more popular than it is - I know a lot of people who would probably really like this. (4/5)

Faith #3. Valiant. Written by Jody Hauser. Art by Pere Perez. Colours by Andrew Dalhouse.

Under the cut: reviews of Briggs Land, Doctor Who and Doom Patrol.

Suicide Squad (2016)

Following the death of Superman, government operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) uses her leverage in Washington to establish Task Force X: a top secret team of imprisoned super-criminals intended to head into certain-death crises and resolve them on the promise of having their prison sentences reduced. When the first of her metahuman operatives breaks free - the mysterious Enchantress (Carla Delevingne) - Waller sends in the rest of the team to take her down.

Warner Bros' haphazard attempt to replicate the Marvel Studios formula with the DC Comics suite of characters continues in Suicide Squad. It is a colourful mess of a film. Some parts work remarkably well, but there is a sense they were only found by accident after writer/director David Ayer and the studio simultaneously threw literally every available situation, tone, character and plot beat at the problem. It would be ridiculous to attempt to claim that it is a good film, but much like its immediate DC predecessor Batman v Superman it is at times a relatively enjoyable one. They have picked some very high quality ingredients, but they have tossed them all in a blender.

September 13, 2016

The Idiot (1951)

Kameda (Masayuki Mori) is a naive man who suffers from epilepsy. He returns home to Hokkaido after almost being shot by the firing squad in Okinawa. There he meets Taeko (Setsuko Hara), a former mistress to a rich business man, who is now so unpopular in town that her former lover has offered a 600,000 yen dowry to anyone willing to marry her. Kameda's growing relationship with Taeko puts him at odds with Adama (Toshiro Mifune) a passionate and brooding man he met on the train to Hokkaido.

Following the local popularity of Stray Dog and the international success of Rashomon, Akira Kurosawa partnered with the Shochiku movie studio - who had funded his earlier film Scandal - on his dream project. He had been a fan of Russian literature for some time, particularly Fyodor Dostoevsky, and thus embarked on a lengthy adaptation of Dostoevsky's The Idiot. In adapting the novel he relocated the action from 19th century St Petersburg to contemporary Hokkaido.

Unfortunately the end result is probably one of the weakest of Kurosawa's films thus far: it is slightly confusing, it regularly drags to interminable lengths, and the melodramatic antics of its characters lead to an egregious amount of bad over-acting. The more interesting question than whether or not The Idiot is any good is actually why it wound up so mediocre.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Cost of Living"

It is 20 April 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

After the Enterprise destroys an asteroid about to collide with a populated planet, a strange residue covers the ship - and ultimate begins to damage its systems. Meanwhile Lwaxana Troi (Majel Barrett-Roddenberry) returns, intent on marrying a man she has never met, and immediately forms an unlikely friendship with Worf's son Alexander (Brian Bonsall).

This is ultimately a bad episode, but I think it is important to note from the outset that its poor quality is the result of a weak science fiction sub-plot and a very messy narrative structure. It is not because it pairs up Lwaxana Troi and Alexander Roschenko, two generally disliked characters whose team-up likely elicited shudders in many fans when this episode was first announced. Against all of my expectations, their friendship turns out to be the episode's strongest part.

September 12, 2016

The Flash: "Plastique"

Another metahuman arrives in Central City: Bette Sans Souci (Kelly Frye), an army veteran with the unwanted power of turning anything she touches into an explosive. She is on the run from the US military under the command of General Wade Eiling (Clancy Brown). When she encounters the Flash (Grant Gustin), he thinks he and the team at STAR Labs might be able to help her. Meanwhile Iris (Candice Patton) continues to blog about the Flash, potentially putting her life at risk.

The problem with a 'bright and breezy' series like The Flash is that there can often be a very narrow line between what makes an episode enjoyable and what makes one grating. It comes down to the acting and the specific dialogue: the storylines are generally quite formulaic and simple, so it is really up to how the story is told to actually make a difference. In this case I think the series fails. The dialogue feels particularly forced, and the performances simply aren't very interesting. Certainly there is much worse television drama produced in America pretty much every week, but critically there is also much better stuff being made as well. In the context of those series, "Plastique" is a difficult episode to recommend.

September 11, 2016

The Big Short (2015)

When a hedge fund manager named Michael Burry (Christian Bale) discovers that the USA's housing market is perilously unstable, he sets off a chain reaction of similar managers and entrepreneurs (played by Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, and others) all taking advantage of a never-before-developed credit-default swap market. If their investments pay off, they will be rich - but the American economy will collapse.

This is such an improbably brilliant film. It is an ensemble drama about the American financial crisis that started in 2007 and spurred on the global financial crisis (GFC) of the following year. It takes often-times confusing and complicated issues and financial terms and lays them out to its audience in a manner that is not only intelligible but hugely entertaining. Most improbably of all, what is one of the best American dramas of 2015 has been directed by Adam McKay - a hugely talented director, but one whose most famous films prior to this one are the comedies Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) and Talladega Nights (2006).

The Pull List: 7 September 2016, Part 3

The Sheriff of Babylon nears it climax as Sofia and Nassir come face to face with the terrorist Abu Rahim. It is another issue dominated by conversation, yet not only is it great conversation it is told it spectacular visual terms. Tom King and Mitch Gerads are to my mind America's comic book team of the year: no one else is telling graphic narratives this effectively.

The thing that really impresses me with this book is how it handles the US invasion and occupation of Iraq in such a fashion that it gives the Iraqi people a voice. You could perhaps argue that it is co-opting someone else's story - a tale of Iraq should perhaps by told by an Iraqi writer - but it feels like a lot of the comic has been pulled from King's own experience in Iraq before making his unusual career shift from the CIA to DC Comics. There is a sense of authenticity here, and complexity: the people of Iraq are not a monoculture. The actions of Saddam Hussein and the USA had a terrible effect on nearly everyone.

The characters are pitch-perfect. The story is intelligent, complex and gripping. The politics are smart and provocative. The artwork is gritty and realistic, and those panel layout and transitions really are masterful. This really is the best comic book of 2016. (5/5)

The Sheriff of Babylon #10. DC Comics. Written by Tom King. Art by Mitch Gerads.

Under the cut: reviews of Daredevil, Doctor Strange, and Poe Dameron.

September 10, 2016

Star Trek: Voyager: "Prime Factors"

It is 20 March 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

The crew of Voyager are invited to take shore leave on Sikaris, a planet whose people seem entirely devoted to the pursuit of enjoyment and pleasure. When Ensign Kim (Garrett Wang) discovers the Sikarians have advanced transporter technology that could teleport Voyager 40,000 light years closer to Earth, Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) requests access to the technology. When that access is refused, Janeway and her crew face a moral quandary: stand by their principles and lose the chance to cut their journey home in half, or steal the technology and abandon what Starfleet is supposed to represent.

"Prime Factors" is a bit of a mixed bag. The central dilemma is a good one, and plays out in surprising ways, but it is the background of the pleasure-seeking Sikarians that actually lets things down. The result is a good episode, but one that frustrates a bit along the way.

The Pull List: 7 September 2016, Part 2

There is a beautiful touch made in the first two pages of Revival #42. They deliberately echo the first two pages of Revival #1. It's the same town, the same signs, the same forest path - only in the first issue they were charming small-town Americana and in the forty-second they are an apocalyptic nightmare. Building boarded up, the burning wreckage of a helicopter, and spectral creatures marauding the first path.

We are now well into the final act of Tim Seeley and Mike Norton's self-proclaimed 'rural noir', which means that everything has effectively gone to hell and all hope seems lost. The military seems set to simply execute an entire quarantined town full of people rather than risk letting the revived and the ghosts escape to the rest of the country. The atmosphere is palpable, and thanks to the long burn of this series it is emotionally well earned. As a special bonus this issue, one of the longest-running questions hanging over the series finally gets partly answered: we now know who murdered Em Cypress, now all that's left is the why.

Revival is a great series, and has been an absolute highlight of the Image Comics roster over the past four years. It's going to leave quite a hole in the schedule when it's gone. (5/5)

Revival #42. Image. Written by Tim Seeley. Art by Mike Norton.

Under the cut: reviews of Bounty, The Fuse, and Kim & Kim.

September 9, 2016

Peter Pan (2003)

It is actually slightly ridiculous, given the popularity of the original work, to discover that Peter Pan has been adapted to live action cinema precisely twice. There have been animated films, notably Walt Disney's 1953 version that remains the most famous Peter Pan movie, and there has been a sequel and prequel, but as far as direct live-action adaptations go the filmgoer's choices are Herbert Brenon's 1924 silent film starring Betty Bronson and this: a 2003 film directed by P.J. Hogan.

Being the first Peter Pan film to feature colour and sound puts a pretty staggering amount of pressure on Hogan. At the time of writing it has been 13 years without a third film coming along, so for viewers looking for a straightforward adaptation of Barrie's work this is for all intents and purposes still the only game in town.

For those who never had a childhood in the English-speaking world: in Peter Pan Wendy Darling (Rachel Hurd-Wood) and her brothers are spirited away by the ever-youthful boy Peter Pan (Jeremy Sumpter) from London to Neverland, a fantasy island populated by fairies, Native Americans, and the pirate crew of the fearsome Captain James Hook (Jason Isaacs).

Now You See Me (2013)

Four stage magicians (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco) unite as the Four Horsemen. At the climax of their Las Vegas show they appear to actually use magic to rob a bank vault in Paris. From there they engage in a mystifying crime spree, all the while pursued by an ill-tempered Federal agent (Mark Ruffalo) and a professional skeptic (Morgan Freeman).

I have a pretty firm rule when it comes to films about magic: it has to be possible. Christopher Nolan's The Prestige is a knock-out example: it presents an assortment of magical illusions and tricks, but displays them in realistic ways and explains how they are done. I remember around the same time that The Prestige came out there was a similar magic-themed thriller starring Edward Norton titled The Illusionist. It simply didn't work, and one of the key reasons it didn't was because its magical illusions were created using computer-generated effects. They weren't actually possible to perform, and that just made the whole film collapse in on itself. It could not be trusted.

That is basically the core problem with Now You See Me. If you are going to present your audience with a movie about stage magicians using their craft to steal huge piles of money, you need to make that magic understandable, practical, and believable. Once you cut corner and simply use CGI and hand-wave your explanations, the reality of your story has been broken. It simply doesn't matter any more.

September 8, 2016

The Pull List: 7 September 2016, Part 1

"I Am Gotham" gets a heartfelt and quite sad epilogue this week. Gotham Girl started out in this series as a bright new superhero in Gotham City. Now her brother is dead, her mind has been damaged by the villainous Psycho Pirate, and it has been revealed that her super-powers are a finite resource: once she uses them up, she is going to die.

Part of this mostly self-contained issue focuses on Gotham Girl fighting crimes around the city while talking to the imaginary idea of her dead brother. The other half focuses on Batman, once again watching an orphan vigilante suffering and desperately wanting to fix them properly for once. It's nice in that it taps into very strong, perennial themes for the Batman comics, and certainly Tom King writes it all quite well. A final page cliffhanger sets the book towards its next major arc, but all in all this is just a rather sad, rather sweet story about grieving a loved love.

It isn't perfect. I question whether or not, as part of his attempt to connect with Gotham Girl, Batman would take off his cowl and reveal his true identity and tragic past. On an emotional level it works, but it seems weirdly out of character. It makes this an imperfect issue: generally very good, but just flawed enough to irritate now and then. (3/5)

Batman #6. DC Comics. Written by Tom King. Art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Oclair Albert and Scott Hanna. Colours by Marcelo Maiolo.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Green Arrow and Superman.

Star Trek: "The Man Trap"

It is 8 September 1966, exactly 50 years ago, and time for the first-ever episode of Star Trek.

The Enterprise travels to the long-dead planet of M-113 to deliver supplies to the archaeologist Robert Crater (Alfred Ryder) and his wife Nancy (Jeanne Bal) - who is a former lover of Dr McCoy (DeForest Kelley). When a string of Enterprise crew members die, the salt drained from their bodies, it becomes clear that there is something else living on M-113.

"The Man Trap" was the fifth episode of Star Trek to be filmed, but the first-ever to be broadcast. In the fashion of 1960s television drama it does not act as an 'opening episode' in any real fashion: the Enterprise is already well into its five-year mission, and we meet the regular characters purely through the undertaking their day-to-day duties onboard the ship. It is a fairly mediocre episode, all things considered, but it does contain the elements and the characters that will go on to make Star Trek a 50 year-old hugely successful television and film franchise. Everything has to start somewhere, after all.

September 7, 2016

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The First Duty"

It is 30 March 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise returns to Earth, where Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) has been invited to give the commencement address at Starfleet Academy. Shortly before his arrival there is an accident in a fighter exercise: one cadet is dead, and Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) has been injured. As the investigation into the accident proceeds, it becomes clear that Wesley and his fellow cadets are hiding the truth.

Star Trek gives the military legal drama a run around the block in "The First Duty", which brings back former regular cast member Wil Wheaton for the second of two Season 5 appearances. While Wheaton did not leave the series on the best of terms, it is good to see that he was prepared to make occasional guest appearances - and it's even more encouraging to see the Next Generation writers room make proper use of him when he does come back. "The First Duty" is arguably the best single episode he ever got.

Belladonna of Sadness (1973)

In medieval France, a young couple approach the local lord to request permission to marry. Rather than receive permission, the bride-to-be - Jeanne - is violently raped by members of the court. Abandoning her broken fiancee, Jeanne makes a pact with the devil. Living in the forest, she manifests magical powers and becomes a dangerous threat to the lord's rule.

Belladonna of Sadness is a 1973 Japanese animated film. In English-speaking countries it has languished in comparative obscurity - I had heard of it but had never seen it - but thanks to an excellent remastered and subtitled blu-ray from Cinelicius Pics it now has the opportunity to be seen by a whole new audience. It is a strikingly original anime, one that will easily divide its audience. It is a challenging, provocative work, told via extremely limited animation. It straddles a deeply uncomfortable line, because while it tells a fiercely feminist story it tells it through a sometimes quite repugnant sexualised male gaze. It is a great movie and an awful one: it challenges the patriarchy while using some of its more sordid cinematic tools. What is a viewer to do?

September 6, 2016

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

The Avengers have a fatal showdown in Lagos that sees a building severely damaged with civilian casualties. Tired of the rising death toll from superhero incursions, the United Nations spearheads a set of accords to bring the Avengers under government control. When the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) appears to stage a terrorist bombing of a UN summit, killing the king of the African nation of Wakanda, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) leads the charge to sign up to the accords and bring him to justice. When Captain America (Chris Evans) refuses to sign, and sets out to apprehend the Winter Soldier - former best friend Bucky Barnes - for himself, the stage is set for a super-heroic 'civil war'.

Or thereabouts. Captain America: Civil War is arguably the most ambitious and complex Marvel Studios picture yet. Ambitious because it pulls in a huge quantity of pre-existing characters while still finding time to introduce a few new ones. Complex because it is a combined sequel to both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron, and failing to see both of those films in advance will likely render half of this film somewhat confusing and nonsensical. It is also complex because of how one reviews it. If you're a Marvel fan, a lot of scenes in here are going to be an absolute delight. If you're simply looking for an entertaining action blockbuster, it's a little more difficult.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Cause and Effect"

It is 23 March 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise goes out of control and explodes. Events jump back several hours. Crew members are getting a sense of deja vu. There are strange energy fluctuations. Eventually a portal opens in front of the Enterprise, another starship flies out, they collide, and the Enterprise goes out of control and explodes. Events jump back several hours. Crew members are getting a sense of deja vu.

"Cause and Effect" sees the Enterprise caught in a time loop for an entire episode, with each day inevitably ending with the ship's destruction and the death of its entire crew. The episode is often referred to the Groundhog Day episode of The Next Generation, except that isn't really true apart from the very basic similarity in set-ups. That film was all about Bill Murray knowingly manipulating the same day over and over to try and create the perfect day. "Cause and Effect" is all about the viewer waiting to see how long it takes for the Enterprise crew to even realise the time loop is in effect.

September 5, 2016

Pixels (2015)

Pixels is a very bad movie, and you should probably avoid ever watching it. Really: despite a funny premise, and despite being based on a pretty great short film, it is a dreadful waste of your time and money. I watch these things because if they're good I can enjoy them, and if they're bad I can get a review out of them. Unless you're looking for a terrible movie to review as well, you really can pass Pixels by.

The film follows child videogame champion turned electronics installation technician Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), whose childhood friend Will (Kevin James) grew up to become President of the United States. When aliens arrive on Earth and challenge the planet to a war based around 1980s videogames, Will enlists Sam and some other videogame enthusiasts to help save the day and protect the human race.

Or something like that. To be honest the plot is irrelevant, because there's a good chance that by the time it develops you will have lost the will to live.

The Pull List: 31 August 2016, Part 2

The fate of the Earth hangs in the balance as Rai challenges Father for the future of New Japan. It's the fourth and final issue of Valiant's excellent miniseries 4001 AD, by writer Matt Kindt and artist Clayton Crain.

What is perhaps most surprising about this issue is just how little of it is dedicated to the climax, and correspondingly just how much is devoted to its epilogue. I actually think Kindt has it the right way around. Action is just action: we don't need to see a blow-by-blow account of the climactic battle, but we do need to see what happens to those who survive the final battle of New Japan. What we are left with is something grounded and quite uplifting, and more importantly something that lays the groundwork for future storylines - either in Rai or in new Valiant titles to come.

Clayton Crain's work is mostly exceptional, although there is a small sense that some of the later pages may have been rushed a little. It's all solid work, but for some reason the first half feels visually stronger than the second. Altogether it has been an absolutely gorgeous series, and I strongly recommend people check it out when the collected edition gets published. (4/5)

4001 AD #4. Valiant. Written by Matt Kindt. Art by Clayton Crain.

Under the cut: reviews of Ms Marvel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe, and X-Files Origins.

September 4, 2016

Crimson Peak (2015)

Bookish heiress Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is swept off her feet by the suave English Baronet Thomas Sharp (Tom Hiddleston) when he arrives in America seeking investors for his clay mining operation. After the sudden and violent death of her father, Edith marries Sharp and accompanies him and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) to their crumbling estate Allerdale Hall. There Edith begins to witness supernatural apparitions, and grows to suspect her new husband and his sister's motives.

There are no huge surprises in Crimson Peak, but then with a film like this that is hardly the point. It is a lush and colourful gothic romance. It ascribes to a series of well-worn genre conventions, and plays them out in exactly the manner in which it expected. As a result I suspect any viewer coming to the film expecting or desiring a twisting narrative with surprises and shock reveals is going to walk away disappointed. The destination is almost irrelevant with a film like Crimson Peak: instead it is all about how stylish a ride it is along the way.

September 3, 2016

The Witch (2015)

New England, 1630. A puritan farmer named William (Ralph Ineson) and his family are banished from their village and build a new home on the edge of the forest. That winter, their infant son Samuel is snatched from in front of their eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). Her younger twin siblings begin to talk with the farm's black goat. Her brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) goes missing in the woods. As the paranoia rises, the family begins to turn on one another.

The Witch landed at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival with an explosion of critical acclaim and gaining a lucrative international distribution deal. That early success may hamper it with audiences, since it is far from the edge-of-your-seat period horror that its marketing actively suggested. Instead this is a slow, oddly sedate film that sits rather uncomfortably between supernatural horror, period drama and paranoid thriller. Very patient viewers may find it to be exceptional stuff. Personally I found it too frustrating to sufficiently work.

Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above (2013)

There seems to be a specific sub-genre of documentary film dedicated to rolling aerial vistas of landscapes. Slow drifting shots of mountains and fields, crashing oceans, lush forests, and so on. They are usually edited together with rich musical scores, often-times ones based around world music. These films can be quite pretty to watch, but also relatively hollow and vacuous.

In a few months I am travelling on a holiday to Taiwan, and seeing there was a documentary feature titled Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above I figured I could get a head start in seeing what parts of the Taiwanese landscape would be worth visiting myself. The film opens pretty much exactly how one would expect it to: beautiful vistas of Taiwan's mountain ranges and thick forests. Lakes, rivers and waterfalls. Soporific orchestral music backs it as the helicopter-mounted camera captures the idyllic landscape, and a soothing voiceover waxing lyrical about the beauty of the natural world. Yes?


September 2, 2016

Hook (1991)

Corporate lawyer Peter Banning (Robin Williams) flies with his family to London for an event honouring Wendy Darling (Maggie Smith), the woman whose orphanage sheltered Peter as a child. When his children are kidnapped Peter learns that he is actually the grown-up Peter Pan, and that they are now prisoners in Neverland of the pirate Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman).

Hook is a film that was a long time coming; so long, in fact, that by the time it had arrived it was too late to function. Director Steven Spielberg first discussed the idea of a Peter Pan live-action film back in the early 1980s, when he had just directed E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and was looking for a family film to produce with Walt Disney Pictures. By the time he finally made the film, it had transformed from an adaptation to a sequel, moved from Disney to Tristar Pictures, and Spielberg had directed the likes of The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun. Put simply: he had progressed too far as a filmmaker to comfortably direct an all-ages whimsical fantasy. I think you can see that in the film production, which is handsomely framed and costumed, but narratively a bit weak. You can sense a sort of bored cynicism behind every scene.

Roadies: "The Load Out"

It is 28 August 2016, and time for the season finale of Roadies.

At a memorial concert for Phil (Ron White), the Staton-House Band road crew take stock of their lives and make decisions for the future. Shelli (Carla Gugino) is surprised by the arrival of her long-absent husband Sean (Michael Passmore). The cast learns of the impending break-up of the band. Reg (Rafe Spall) prepares to return to England. Kelly-Ann (Imogen Poots) struggles to comprehend Phil's dying words.

"The Load Out" finishes off Roadies with a combination of plot resolutions, musical performances, and one massively stupid climactic scene. It is certainly an above-average episode for the series, but in many ways it showcases all of the ways in which the series has struggled over the past ten weeks. It is, in effect, Roadies in microcosm: good actors reciting bad scripts, and a lot of potential squandered.

September 1, 2016

The Pull List: 31 August 2016, Part 1

Another hiatus has passed, and Saga returns for its seventh six-issue story arc. Recent arcs have seemed to take a few issues to build momentum and get up to speed, and this looks to follow in the same vein. It's solidly entertaining science fiction drama, but there is a lack of urgency about things. It is all set-up without any real explosive moments in it.

To be honest there's an awful lot of formula to Saga these days. The scathing, verbally abusive dialogue. The growing raft of characters chasing circles around each other across the galaxy. The sniggering moments of frontal nudity or sex. The entirely untrustworthy narration by the book's ultimate protagonist Hazel. It is all nicely presented, and enjoyable to read, but the urgency that led me to read the comic's earlier issues has pretty much gone. The spark feels very distant now. This is not a case of criticising a book for being bad; it's more a case of of criticising a good book for not being brilliant any more.

Hopefully this arc will pick up as it goes. Certainly the last two did. I'm figuring that's part of the formula now too. (3/5)

Saga #37. Image. Written by Brian K. Vaughn. Art by Fiona Staples.

Under the cut: reviews of Doctor Who, Silver Surfer, and Spider-Man.

The Angriest: August 2016 in review

Thanks to the Melbourne International Film Festival, I got to see a whole pile of new and recent feature films in August, and my review of Olivier Assayas' Personal Shopper was the most-read post for the month. This surprised me; not because Personal Shopper is not worth reading about (it is outstanding) but because generally speaking reviews of foreign and arthouse films have never been that popular on this blog. Not as popular as reviews of comic books or old TV episodes at any rate.

Speaking of old TV, August saw me conclude my reviews for Crusade and Penance, as well as the first series of Colditz - I will get to the second season sooner or later. Beyond Personal Shopper, the most popular posts last month included reviews of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Beware the Slenderman, and the excellent zombie thriller Train to Busan.

Altogether last month The Angriest featured reviews of seven 2016 films, 17 older films, 22 TV episodes, and 44 comic books, as well as one opinion piece about Doctor Who. The full list of August posts is included below the cut.