November 30, 2016

Black Hawk Down (2001)

In October 1993 a United States military mission to enter a heavily defended part of the Somali city of Mogadishu and capture two senior lieutenants of the militia warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid went disastrously wrong. Two black hawk helicopters were downed by enemy fire, and the soldiers in the combat zone became pinned down by militia fire. By the next day, when the majority of the soldiers were successfully extracted, 18 American soldiers were dead, 78 were wounded and somewhere between 1,500 and 3,000 Somalis had been killed.

Black Hawk Down is a 2001 film produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Ridley Scott that replays those events out in a semi-fictionalised format. It is a tightly focused war movie, ignoring the political and moral debates of US and UN involvement in the Somali civil war and focusing instead on the capture attempt, its failure and the ultimate rescue mission. As far as war movies go, this is one of the noisiest and most chaotic-looking examples of which I can think. War, as they say, is hell, and it seems Scott was pretty intent on showing an audience what that is like.

Sting: "57th & 9th"

It has been 13 years since Sacred Love, the last fully original pop-rock album from Sting. In the mean-time he's openly struggled with writer's block, produced an album of medieval lute music and a winter-themed collection of old English folk songs. He wrote, staged and briefly co-starred in a Broadway musical, The Last Ship, and even recorded the musical's various songs on his own solo release of the same name.

Despite all of this other activity, it really has been a long time between drinks. That puts a huge amount of pressure on Sting's long-awaited new album 57th & 9th. Fans of Sting previously had to wait about three years between releases, so this kind of delay feels enormous.

I think the amount of change that can take place in 13 years is important, because while Sting has set out to return to his pop-rock roots it feels as if he has not acknowledged just how far his own career has moved on. This album feels largely mechanical: there is visible talent here, but it lacks enthusiasm. There is a strong sense that he reached a point where the album simply felt 'good enough' and stopped at that. Familiarity may improve its standing over time, but based on the first few listens this feels like the weakest album Sting has ever released.

November 29, 2016

The Stone Tape (1972)

It is 25 December 1972, and time to watch The Stone Tape.

A research project to discover a new recording medium relocates to a large English manor house. When the project leader Peter (Michael Bryant) looks into why a cellar room has not been converted for data storage as requested, he learns that the room is reportedly haunted with multiple people having heard cries and screams while inside. The research project is suspended so that the haunting may be scientifically investigated - an investigation with troubling consequences for the team's programmer Jill (Jane Asher).

I recently reviewed Lost Hearts, a BBC television play broadcast over Christmas, and noted the BBC's odd attitude to Christmas in scheduling ghost stories on Christmas night. It is a choice perhaps stemming from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, a ghost story which pretty much nailed the zeitgeist of the Victorian era's obsession with Christmas. That still does not quite explain why the BBC elected to broadcast The Stone Tape on Christmas night 1972. It has nothing to do with Christmas. It does not tap into an sense of winter of Victoriana. It is also possibly the most dark and effective horror story that the BBC has ever broadcast. I still can't work out if this scheduling decision was folly or genius.

The Pull List: 23 November 2016

I have not seen a lot of buzz online for The Black Monday Murders, a dark modern-day occult fantasy by writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Tomm Coker. That's a real shame, because it's probably one of the best series of the year.

The series posits that behind the scenes of the world's largest financial institutions there's a world of occult magic and ritual murder, with the world controlled by a small group of elite families via spells and incantations. One of these elites has been murdered, and while an unwitting police detective falls down the rabbit hole into a world he had never imagined the victim's sister is clearly plotting a terrible revenge.

Each issue is much longer and denser than your usual monthly comic book, because it's packed with strange additional content: newspaper clipping, redacted reports, diary entries and letters. It's a complex and initially overwhelming world that Hickman and Coker have created, and it's taken time for it all to settle down and become more understandable. This is definitely a book I would recommend picking up from issue #1, because to come in halfway through would likely be futile. Coker's art is sensational, and Hickman remains one of the best writers American comic books currently have. The book goes on a brief hiatus after this issue, with a collected edition of the first arc due in January. Now seems the perfect time to catch up. (5/5)

The Black Monday Murders #3. Image. Written by Jonathan Hickman. Art by Tomm Coker.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Batgirl, Detective Comics, Lake of Fire and Usagi Yojimbo.

November 28, 2016

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Realm of Fear"

It is 28 September 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

While the Enterprise investigates the death of the entire crew of an abandoned Starfleet vessel, Lieutenant Barclay's (Dwight Schultz) fear of transporters appears to be well founded when he witnesses worm-like aliens inside the matter stream.

Reg Barclay, as played by Dwight Schultz, was a great character when he debuted in "Hollow Pursuits". That was an episode that broke the rules of TV drama to focus on a guest character with a specific story to tell, and using the regular cast entirely in supporting roles. It was clearly a hit, because a year later Barclay was back again in the much less successful "The Nth Degree". Now we're two more seasons on, and the character has returned for a third time. There's a law of diminishing returns to Barclay, and it contributes to this episode pretty much failing entirely.

Central Intelligence (2016)

In high school Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) was the most popular boy in class. By contrast Robbie Weirdicht (Dwayne Johnson) was an overweight bullied teen who got stripped naked and thrown in front of his classmates. Jumping forward 20 years and Calvin is a safely married accountant and Robbie - now using the name Bob Stone - is a muscle-bound secret agent working for the CIA.

Oh the things we will watch when bored and on an aeroplane. There's a problem with mainstream American movie comedies. The majority are, in my opinion, fairly poor and not particularly funny. To be fair that's a problem with almost all cinema, but in regards to this country and this genre it seems more pronounced than most. It is often difficult to tell which ones will be the diamonds in the rough, however, and eventually you have to wind up watching them to find out.

Central Intelligence has promise. Dwayne Johnson has a huge screen presence and a demonstrated ability to be funny on-screen, and the commercial success of Central Intelligence suggested that it might exploit his talents well and be rather funny. Unfortunately the film falls very flat. The jokes feel tired and it struggles to make an impact. What is worse, it is plagiarising - intentionally or more likely unintentionally - someone else's film.

November 27, 2016

AKB0048: "The Idol Who Sings of Love"

It is 15 July 2012 and time for episode 12 of AKB0048.

As the DES intensifies its attacks against AKB and the rebels of Lancastar, Nagisa convinces a team to help her enter a detention centre and rescue her imprisoned father. When he refuses to leave with her, she suffers a crisis of confidence right on the eve of the understudies' first public performance.

AKB0048 dives straight into the action with episode, not even bothering to include the usual opening title sequence. That momentum pretty much continues throughout. There is a sense of coming full circle with the series returning to the planet where it began, and the relevant characters recalling their origins. While there are occasional flashes of humour, this episode is wall-to-wall overwrought melodrama - whether for good or bad depends on the viewer's taste.

November 26, 2016

Lost Hearts (1973)

It is 25 December 1973, and time to watch Lost Hearts.

In the early 19th century, orphaned boy Stephen (Simon Gipps-Kent) is sent to the manor house of his eccentric old cousin Dr Abney (Joseph O'Connor). While exploring the grounds he thinks he can see two other children - a girl and a boy - but soon comes to discover that they are ghosts with a horrific secret to share.

The BBC sometimes has a weird attitude to Christmas. Their long-running soap opera EastEnders is a case in point: Christmas is most often a time for terrible calamity and character deaths. Then there was the time the BBC took the opportunity to broadcast the last-ever episode of Blake's 7 during Christmas week, or their choice to schedule Nigel Kneale's TV play The Stone Tape on Christmas Day. One of the more noted examples of the BBC eschewing warm festive fare for something weirdly dark and horrific is its series of ghost stories, broadcast late on Christmas night and based predominantly on the short stories of M.R. James.

November 25, 2016

The Pull List: 16 November 2016, Part 3

Investigator Simon Moore has been dispatched to the spaceship Hadrian's Wall following the death of one of its crew. It should have been a formality, save for a few details. Firstly, Moore quickly grows to believe that the dead man was murdered. Secondly, his ex-wife is one of the ship's crew. Thirdly, the man for whom she left Simon is the man who died.

Hadrian's Wall is a classic murder-mystery with a small list of suspects, a confined location that has prevented anyone from escaping, and a cat-and-mouse game between a detective and an anonymous murderer desperately attempting to cover their own tracks. Rod Reis' artwork is fantastic, giving the entire comic a great early 1980s aesthetic. The characters are visually distinctive and are realistically emotive. Kyle Higgins' script is doing a strong job of blending the necessary twists and turns of the mystery genre while peppering the whole issue with little touches of science fiction detail.

Simon Moore is a great protagonist. He's clearly holding his own secrets pretty close to his chest, and that is making him a fascinating sort of unreliable protagonist. He is addicted to painkillers, but someone has broken into his quarters and poured them down the sink, so in addition to investigating a murder against everybody's wishes he is also going through the early stages of drug withdrawal.

This is only the third issue out of eight in this miniseries, so the story is progressing in increments: some things get proven here, some secrets are revealed, and the issue ends with a nice complicating twist that seems set to make Moore's job even more difficult. This is another outstanding science fiction book from Image that is becoming more gripping with each issue. (5/5)

Hadrian's Wall #3. Image. Written by Kyle Higgins. Art by Rod Reis.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Doctor Strange, Green Arrow and Mechanism.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Time's Arrow, Part II"

It is 21 September 1992, and time for the sixth season premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Trapped in 19th century San Francisco, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his crew must defeat a pair of shape-shifting aliens that are murdering innocent people in the streets, as well as find a way back to the 24th century, with the help of a young Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) and author Samuel Clemens (Jerry Hardin).

There is a trick to a good time travel story, and that is to establish your rules early and stick to them throughout. There are basically two kinds of time travel story along these lines. The first is one where travellers to the past can change the future, and eventually arrive home to find a transformed world. The second is one where travellers to the past change nothing at all - all of their actions in the past have simply formed part of a history that was always there. Hollywood tends to favour the former (think Back to the Future), but to be honest I am always a more enthused fan of the latter. "Time's Arrow, Part II" typifies this second approach.

November 24, 2016

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 5 in review

Before this rewatch of Star Trek: The Next Generation's fifth season I remembered it being the best season that the series ever had. Having now come out the other end with the episodes fresh in my mind, I am not entirely certain if that is entirely true. It has many of my favourites, certainly, and it begins and ends on a very strong note, but on this blog's binary "is it good or is it bad" scale I cannot help but notice the season is only 65 per cent compared to Season 4's 73; that is, Season 4 had 19 good episodes and Season 5 only 17.

Then it comes down to actually thinking about the best episodes. For Season 4 the best it got was with the likes of "Family", "The Drumhead" and "Redemption". For Season 5 those highlights include "Darmok" and "The Inner Light", both of which I'd consider to be among the very best episodes of any series of Star Trek. So while there is a slightly larger number of unsatisfying episodes here, the highlights honestly are so much brighter.

The Pull List: 16 November 2016, Part 2

A psychic Inhuman has predicted that Miles Morales will kill Captain America and Miles has subsequently vanished with SHIELD, his friends, and pretty much every superhero in America looking for him. As a result this issue is something like a Marvel Universe Waiting for Godot: everybody is looking for Miles, but he's hiding from his own comic book.

There is a lot of nice character work going on here, throwing combinations of people together and creating a lot of great dialogue as a result. Nico Leon's artwork is crisp and attractive, and wonderfully coloured by Marte Gracia. Unfortunately it is all tied into Civil War II, and that presents a huge hurdle to reader engagement if that reader is not also reading Bendis' much-delayed epic miniseries.

I feel like I'm writing this review of Spider-Man every month. The characters are great. The art is great. The dialogue is particularly marvellous (not pun intended). The book simply does not have any momentum. Every time a storyline begins to pick up speed it falls away and gets replaced by whatever multi-title crossover into which it has been pulled. I'd really love to see Marvel just let Miles be his own character for a while. At the moment he's not getting the opportunity to be the A-list character he deserves to be.

It's also worth noting that this issue's cover has nothing whatsoever to do with the storyline inside. Venom doesn't even show up, and Spider-Man only manages to be in one page.  (2/5)

Spider-Man #9. Marvel. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Nico Leon. Colours by Marte Gracia.

Under the cut: reviews of Doctor Who: Supremacy of the Cybermen, Joyride, and Southern Cross.

November 23, 2016

Resident Evil (2002)

Alice (Milla Jovovich) wakes in an empty manor house suffering from near-total amnesia. She is immediately captured by an armed strike team and dragged with them into a massive scientific complex buried beneath the manor. Inside a lethal virus has been released, turning the dead into shambling zombies and unleashing a range of mutated homicidal creatures.

It is a widely perceived wisdom that Hollywood can't adapt videogames into movies. It's an opinion that has been proven by a long string of films that are either outright disasters - see Super Mario Bros or Street Fighter - or fairly middling under-performers - see Tomb Raider, Mortal Kombat, Prince of Persia and others.

20th Century Fox are about to launch a film adaptation of Assassin's Creed, which might be the long-awaited breakthrough in the genre, but for now I really think the best attempt made so far within American cinema is Paul W.S. Anderson's Resident Evil franchise.

November 22, 2016

Star Trek: Voyager: "Cathexis"

It is 1 May 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

Tuvok (Tim Russ) and Chakotay (Robert Beltran) are recovered from a damaged shuttlecraft. Tuvok is unconscious, but Chakotay appears to be brain-dead. While tracking down the aliens that attacked the shuttle, the Voyager crew start becoming possessed by an unknown entity that is sabotaging their efforts.

"Cathexis" is a bad episode. There's no point beating about the bush on this. It is poorly written and based on a fairly silly premise: that Chakotay's 'neural energy' could be knocked out of his body, allowing him to roam Voyager in an incorporeal state possessing other members of the crew. On the other hand the episode's other half - an actual incorporeal alien possessing the crew one by one - has some genuine merit, but it's written in such a way that the concept is entirely wasted.

The Pull List: 16 November 2016, Part 1

Tom King has dangled one hell of a character hook over his readers. Catwoman, in her first appearance in the Rebirth era DC Universe, was imprisoned for murdering 237 people. We don't know the details, we just know she was in Arkham Asylum because of it, and she fears that sooner or later she may be executed for it. As I said, it's a hell of a hook.

This current Batman story arc, "I Am Suicide", has seen Batman assemble his own personal Suicide Squad to break into Bane's island fortress and retrieve the villainous Psycho Pirate. The team includes Catwoman, Bronze Tiger, Punch and Jewlee, and Arnold Wesker - aka the Ventriloquist. It's an intriguing mixture of characters, particularly Wesker. I am desperately waiting for the other show to drop as to why he's on Batman's team without his diabolical puppet Scarface.

The real question, however, hangs over Catwoman. What did she do? How did it happen? What lengths will she go to in order to avoid returning to prison. This is a great, wonderfully tense issue. Art by Mikel Janin and Hugo Petrus is excellent. Colours by June Chung are rich and evocative. I am enjoying the hell out of this arc. (4/5)

Batman #11. DC Comics. Written by Tom King. Art by Mikel Janin and Hugo Petrus. Colours by June Chung.

Under the cut: reviews of The Electric Sublime, Superman, and Yakuza Demon Killers.

November 21, 2016

Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015)

A prince is about to be crowned, but his enemies conspire against him and take him out of the picture. The prince's chief adviser desperately needs to stall for time, and keep the general public confident that their prince is alive and well and preparing for his coronation. To achieve this he takes an unwitting visitor who is a dead ringer for the prince, and has him perform the role until the prince can be returned to power.

That's the plot of Anthony Hope's 1894 novel The Prisoner of Zenda, a popular adventure novel that has been adapted many times for film and television over the years. It is a fairly versatile story, and that versatility has seen it transformed into contemporary political comedy in Dave (1993), South American intrigue in Moon Over Parador (1988), and even a four-part serial in Doctor Who ("The Androids of Tara" in 1978).

Now Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (literally, Found a Treasure Called Love), a 2015 Indian romantic comedy directed by Sooraj R. Barjatya, appears to follow the exact same storyline.

The Last Panthers: Episode 3

It is 9 November 2015, and time for another episode of The Last Panthers.

In London, Naomi (Samantha Morton) leads a surveillance team to track down and capture the stolen Marseilles diamonds. In Marseilles itself, the aftershock of Kahlil's (Tahar Rahim) police read lead him to reminisce on his troubled youth. In Belgium, Milan (Goran Bogdan) is faced with a choice of siding with the new or old order of his criminal gang. Back in Belgrade, Tom (John Hurt) challenges the Panthers' participation in the new international airport project.

The Last Panthers is a clever juggling act, with writer Jack Thorne balancing four simultaneous storylines with deftness and style. That said, with three episodes over the line and the series at its halfway point, there does seem to be a growing need to connect the disparate storylines a little more closely. They have all spun out from the one violent jewel robbery, but there is a need to tie them together as soon as possible - otherwise the audience is simply watching four simultaneous crime dramas.

November 20, 2016

The Iron Giant (1999)

I have always maintained that 1999 was one of the best years ever for American cinema. It was a year that saw the release of The Sixth Sense, Toy Story 2, The Matrix, Fight Club, The Blair Witch Project, American Beauty, The Insider, Office Space, Election, Ride with the Devil, Any Given Sunday, Man on the Moon, Galaxy Quest and a bunch of others. One of the very best films of that year was an animated feature produced by Warner Bros, which was released without much advertising or promotion and failed at the box office: Brad Bird's The Iron Giant.

At the height of the cold war, a boy named Hogarth Hughes stumbles upon a giant alien robot in the forest outside of town. While he initially relishes the chance to make friends with this unique creature, its arrival has already raised the suspicion of the United States Military and the authorities are closing in.

This is one of those rare perfect films: perfect in the sense that it has a clear creative objective and it fulfils that objective without any qualifications or visible flaws. There isn't a bad scene, nor one weak characters. It is entertaining from beginning to end, and hugely effective. I am a pretty easy cryer when watching movies; this film makes me bawl every time. It's an emotional masterpiece.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)

One year after they defeated Shredder and saved New York City, the Ninja Turtles are forced to defend the city again after Shredder escapes from custody and unites with the inter-dimensional alien Krang.

2014's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a visually and narratively incoherent mess, high on volume but low on logic, story, quality design and fidelity to the source. It was a moderate commercial hit, however, leading to this 2016 sequel. The director is new, with Dave Green stepping in to replace Brad Liebesman. At the same time it also draws a lot of material from the popular 1980s television cartoons, with prominent roles given to mutant henchmen Bebop and Rocksteady, the alien despot Krang and his giant 'technodrome', vigilante Casey Jones and mad scientist Baxter Stockman.

Sadly any hope that Out of the Shadows is an improvement upon its predecessor dies quickly: this is certainly a more coherently plotted film, but that is in large because it is so weakly plotted. Not a lot actually happens here, and what does happen is not original or even particularly interested. Unlike the first film, this sequel did not make its studio much money. This big-screen iteration of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles looks set to mercifully expire with this second film.

November 19, 2016

The Pull List: 9 November 2016, Part 2

Casey Brinke's strange entry into the world of the Doom Patrol continues, in this case with the return of fan favourite Danny the Street.

It's clear that in Gerard Way's able hands, Doom Patrol is not a new take or angle on the intermittent but long-running title but effectively one fan's tribute to the Grant Morrison era of the title back when it was one of DC Vertigo's original titles. The classic Morrison characters are getting re-introduced one by one, while weird stuff is happening pretty much for its own sake. There is a beautiful comic-within-a-comic sequence halfway through that is absolutely brilliant.

It's all very entertaining stuff, and a real nostalgia trip for fans of Morrison's run, but it's open to debate whether or not this is a book that we actually need to see. Morrison's take worked because he actively went out of his way to change Doom Patrol and provide it with a new angle. Way isn't doing that - or, at least, he isn't doing it yet - and instead gives us a copy of something that's already still out there in print. He has done a brilliant job of recreating something great. Now I want to see him take it somewhere new and great. (4/5)

Doom Patrol #3. Written by Gerard Way. Art by Nick Derington. Colours by Tamra Bonvillain.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Daredevil, The Fuse, and Poe Dameron.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Time's Arrow"

It is 15 June 1992 and time for the Season 5 finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise is urgently recalled to Earth, where an excavation has uncovered an abandoned mine not entered since the 19th century. The cavern walls are soaked with alien radiation. A small number of artefacts litter the floor, including a pocket watch and a revolver. In the corner of the room there is also the severed head of Commander Data (Brent Spiner), sealed away and abandoned for 500 years.

As far as cold opens go, "Time's Arrow" has one of Star Trek's all-time best. It is a delicious premise, since you immediately know that Picard (Patrick Stewart) leading the investigation into how Data's head came to be left in 19th century San Francisco is going to inevitably lead the story back in time and cause the fatal decapitation to occur. From this smart opening gambit the episode develops with a combination of great ideas, an entertaining period setting and some solid time travel-based science fiction. While it does not quite match the apocalyptic brilliance of "The Best of Both Worlds", "Time's Arrow" stands as a solid second-best season cliffhanger for The Next Generation.

November 18, 2016

The Pull List: 9 November 2016, Part 1

The fourth title in Gerard Way's new Young Animals imprint is Mother Panic, a new Gotham City-based vigilante series by writer Jody Houser and artist Tommy Lee Edwards. Unlike the other three - Doom Patrol, Shade the Changing Girl, and Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye, Mother Panic is an entirely new property. The setting may be familiar, and Batman even makes a brief cameo here, but it focuses on an all-new heroine with a fresh perspective.

It's obviously a bit early to tell with just one issue out, but I am honestly unsure if Mother Panic has legs to run for very long. It is by far the most conventional of the Young Animals line, and essentially tells the story of yet another Gotham City vigilante. There simply isn't enough here to distinguish it enough. Tommy Lee Edwards' rough, sketchy artwork feels like a ill match for the story material as well - a rich socialite who secrets works as a masked hero by night. This is not a bad comic, but I really do not know if it is good enough to recommend. Better titles are out there, and you should probably read them first. (2/5)

Mother Panic #1. DC Young Animals. Written by Jody Houser. Art by Tommy Lee Edwards.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Detective Comics, and Star Trek: Boldly Go.

November 13, 2016

We Lost the Sea: Departure Songs (2015)

We Lost the Sea are an instrumental prog-rock band based in Sydney. Departure Songs is their most recent album, released in 2015, and I have to say from the outset that this is the single-best album I have heard for the first time this year. I purchased the CD at a concert when they were supported Finnish metal band Apocalyptica, and I've had the disc on pretty constant rotation ever since. This is an epic recording, dealing with grand themes in a huge, near-overwhelming fashion.

Upon first inspection it seems like Departure Songs is more of an EP than a full album, since it only lists five tracks. What the sleeve doesn't tell you is just how long these tracks are. The album as a whole is more than an hour long. The central track, "Challenger - Flight", is 23 minutes or more on its own. That might sound pretentious, but the truth is every track on this album earns its length. There's a level of intensity and emotion that you can only reach with a slow, measured build and a grand, extended climax.

The Pull List: 2 November 2016, Part 2

Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray did outstanding things during their lengthy Batman & Robin run, really fleshing out and emphasising the father-son relationship between Bruce and Damian Wayne. With the launch of the DC Rebirth initiative, the team came back together to pretty much do the same thing in Superman: develop the relationship between Clark and Jon Kent as Jon's fledgling super-powers begin to take hold.

It was probably a foregone conclusion that at some point Jon Kent and Damian Wayne were going to cross paths, and it happens in this excellent first part of a new storyline. Damian kidnaps Jon after school and takes him back to the Batcave to run tests. It isn't long before he's rumbled by Bruce, and it's only moments after that when a furious Clark arrives.

It's a brilliant comic book, not just because it duplicates the Superman-Batman friendship in child form but because after decades of team-ups it has actually given Batman and Superman something new over which they can bond: fatherhood. The artwork is, as always, fantastic. The dialogue shines. Batcow cameos. It read it from beginning to end with a smile the whole time. (5/5)

Superman #10. DC Comics. Written by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason. Art by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray. Colours by John Kalisz.

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

November 12, 2016

Sleaze: A Glass of What Reminds Me of Lovesick Potions (2012)

Sleaze is a five-piece independent rock band from Taipei. Their debut album was released in September 2012, with a title that translates from Chinese into English as A Glass of What Reminds Me of Lovesick Potions. I assume that the band is now defunct: their Facebook page has not been updated in more than two years, and there doesn't seem to be any sign of a follow-up album or recent tours online.

If true, it's a real shame. This is a hugely enjoyable and inventive rock album that weaves together a broad range of styles and influences. It's certainly on the heavier side of rock music and regularly edges towards classic metal forerunners from the early 1970s, but then it also regularly throws in surprising elements including reggae and psychedelic rock. It throws all of these elements in together, sort of roughly blends them, and winds up with a distinctive tone of its own.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Inner Light"

It is 1 June 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise discovers a mysterious alien probe in deep space. It spontaneously scans the ship, latching an energy beam onto Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and forcing him into a coma. When he wakes he discovers he is living the life of a married metalsmith named Kamin, on a planet named Kataan.

It's kind of nice that, season finale and premiere aside, Star Trek: The Next Generation's fifth season is book-ended with two of the best episodes the series ever produced. At one end, "Darmok": a clever conceptual story and first contact and communication. At the other, "The Inner Light": a deeply emotional and heartfelt story about life, loss, and - in its odd way - more first contact. Many fans cite "The Inner Light" as their all-time favourite episode. While I wouldn't go that far - I think "Darmok" just pips it to the post - there is no denying that this is a sensational episode, not just for Star Trek: The Next Generation but for American television drama in general.

November 11, 2016

The Pull List: 2 November 2016, Part 1

The Sheriff of Babylon comes to an end, and it's a short, blunt and thematically perfect conclusion. One of the real achievements of this 12-issue series has been how it started off feeling like a big political storyline about the United States military in occupied Iraq, but ultimately became a very personal story about three characters. The personal is always a more interesting angle to take, and writer Tom King based his well-plotted and intelligent story around three very interesting and realistic characters. It's interesting that, while Hollywood has struggled for some years to pin down a properly entertaining and dramatic story about post-war Iraq, King has perfected one right here in comic book form. I do wonder how long it will be before one of the studios comes knocking.

Mitch Gerads' art and colours have been a consistently perfect match throughout. They're starkly realistic, with beautifully under-saturated colours that make each scene feel as if it's been left out in the sun for too long and faded as a result. It looks sweaty and miserable. The panel layouts are wonderful as well, using clean geometric set-ups. Gerads' now iconic understated sound effect captions help to seal the deal. This book looks realistic and bleak. As I said: a perfect match.

Volume 1 of The Sheriff of Babylon is already out in trade paperback. Volume 2 drops early next year. If you like reading good comics, you need to grab a copy of this one. Now that it's complete, it really is the best American comic book of the year. (5/5)

Sheriff of Babylon #12. DC Vertigo. Written by Tom King. Art and colours by Mitch Gerads.

Under the cut: reviews of Animosity, Giant Days, Revival, and The Wicked + the Divine.

November 10, 2016

The BFG (2016)

Orphaned girl Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is at the window of the orphanage in the early hours of the morning, and finds herself kidnapped by a mysterious giant (Mark Rylance) and taken far away to the elusive Giant Country. Fearing she will tell others of his existence, the giant refuses to return her to London. Together they slowly form a friendship, and Sophie discovers his fantastical life of catching dreams and giving them to sleeping children.

The BFG is a 1982 novel by the legendary children's novelist Roald Dahl, and 34 years later it comes to the screen as a big-budget feature film from director Steven Spielberg. What's more, the film's screenplay comes from the late Melissa Matheson, writer of the films The Black Stallion, The Indian in the Cupboard and E.T. the Extra-terrestrial. A beloved children's classic adapted to the screen by the writer/director team behind one of the greatest children's films of all time? Talk about pressure to succeed: based on its pedigree The BFG should be remarkable.

The Pull List: 26 October 2016, Part 3

A violent and gory gender-twisted science fiction adaptation of classical myth told in semi-serious and dark limerick form: what else could it be but ODY-C?

I adore this comic. I love how boldly it is written and illustrated. It takes no prisoners. It does not pander to market demand. It's smart, imaginative, challenging and regularly mystifying. The colours are rich and absolutely beautiful to look at. Matt Fraction has done a masterful job here, adapting Agamemnon with intelligence and wit. So effective is the writing and the detail of Christian Ward's art that it took me half the issue to realise there was only one panel per page. It is so well crafted that I almost didn't notice.

This marks the end of the first phase of ODY-C. When it returns we are back with Odyssia's voyage home, and won't be back among Clytaemnestra's family until issue #23. It's a long wait, but it's going to be worth it. (5/5)

ODY-C #12. Image. Written by Matt Fraction. Art and colours by Christian Ward.

Under the cut: reviews of Doctor Who, Lake of Fire, and Saga.

November 9, 2016

Class: "For Tonight We Might Die"

Given its age and enormous cultural impact it continues to surprise me how rarely Doctor Who generates a spin-off series. K9 got a belated Australian children's drama, and Russell T Davies' Torchwood managed to run for four extraordinarily variable seasons. To my mind the best spin-off was The Sarah-Jane Adventures, which ran five years before Elizabeth Sladen's untimely death closed it down. That's pretty much it, save for an abortive K9 pilot in the early 1980s. Three series and a pilot in more than five decades.

Now they are joined by a new series: Class, created by author Patrick Ness and based around a group of sixth-form students in Shoreditch's Coal Hill Academy. It is a high school with a long heritage in Doctor Who, appearing in its first-ever episode "An Unearthly Child" and most recently acting as the workplace of Doctor Who companion Clara Oswald. All of the Doctor's previous visits there have soaked the site in 'artron energy', turning the school into a magnet for aliens and monsters from across space and time.

It is a pretty generic set-up for a series, but with strong characters and inventive scripts it has the potential to develop into something really entertaining. That potential is definitely there, although the first episode completely fails to realise it.

The Pull List: 26 October 2016, Part 2

John Allison's Giant Days is a regular delight, showcasing the humorous adventures of three university students. The tone is great, the jokes stem naturally from the characters, and many of the events and crises are all-too-familiar to anybody who has ever gone to university.

This special-length holiday special provides Allison with the chance to tell out-of-continuity stories, primarily with a 'what if our heroes never became friends' storyline. It's reasonably funny stuff, although to be honest the novelty value is not quite enough to sustain it compared to regular issues. A back-up story based around a fish monster coming to stay for the holidays has a nice touch of whimsy.

The back-up strip features art by Caanan Grail, but the main strip features the return of original Giant Days artist Lissa Tremain. While I have really enjoyed the work of her replacement Max Sarin, Tremain's work retains a lot of sentimental appeal because she was the first artist that the characters had.

This is, like most annuals and specials, a non-essential purchase, but if you're a fan of the series there is certainly enough here to make it worth your money and time. (3/5)

Giant Days 2016 Holiday Special #1. Boom Studios. Written by John Allison. Art by Lissa Tremain and Caanan Grail. Colours by Sarah Stern and Jeremy Lawson.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Detective Comics, and Descender.

November 8, 2016

Burying the Ex (2014)

Horror movie fanatic Max (Anton Yelchin) finally decides to break out with his aggressive vegan girlfriend Evelyn (Ashley Greene), however moments before telling her he sees her fatally struck by a bus. Moving on with his life, Max grows attracted to fellow horror fan Olivia (Alexandra Daddario). Then Evelyn rises from the grave, intent on continuing her relationship with Max over Olivia's dead body.

Burying the Ex is a 2014 horror comedy directed by genre stalwart Joe Dante. I really wanted to like it. I like Dante as a director more often than I do not, and with this low-budget production he has assembled a very strong and likeable cast - particularly the late Anton Yelchin, whose work was always impeccable no matter the quality of the film. Unfortunately the film is saddled with a particularly weak screenplay, that mixes elements that are predictable and tiresome, and in one or two places a little bit repellent. By all indications the film should be a fun 90 minutes. Instead it's an active chore to sit through, and potentially the worst film Dante has ever made.

The Pull List: 26 October 2016, Part 1

Ms Marvel has consistently been one of Marvel's strongest regular titles, thanks to a strong and immensely likeable protagonist, distinctive artwork by the tag team of Adrian Alphona and Takeshi Miyazawa, and particularly G. Willow Wilson's warm, well-informed and emotive script-writing. She is essentially the most Marvel-esque character that Marvel currently publishes. With Peter Parker now a rich, successful thirty-something, the mantle of Marvel's down-on-their-luck, can't-cut-a-break young superhero has absolutely fallen onto Kamala Khan. She is pretty much the character find of the decade.

In classic Parker fashion Kamala has been through a real wringer of late. Via the event series Civil War II she picked a side in a fight and saw Bruce Banner die as a result. She was forced to turn against her idol and mentor Captain Marvel. Her best friend was critically injured and now doesn't want to ever see her again. Hurting and devastated, she leaves New York for Pakistan - and gets sucked into a short little superhero adventure of her own.

The writing and art (in this instance by guest artist Mirka Andolfo) are predictably excellent. Where the issue really excels is in dislocating Kamala from her New Jersey setting and throwing her deep into her own family's culture in a different country. It feels sharp and original, and while it appears to be done and dusted in the space of one issue it's clear there are some intriguing seeds being set up for the future. I love it when superheroes travel abroad, because it's usually par for the course for both DC and Marvel to stick to the USA's east coast. Seeing a world of culturally diverse heroes is always a welcome development. (5/5)

Ms Marvel #12. Marvel. Written by G. Willow Wilson. Art by Mirka Andolfo. Colours by Ian Herring.

Under the cut: reviews of Poe Dameron, Seven to Eternity, and Silver Surfer.

November 7, 2016

World's End Girlfriend: Seven Idiots (2010)

Seven Idiots is an instrumental rock/pop album by solo artist World's End Girlfriend, aka Japanese musician and composer Katsuhiko Maeda. Released in 2010 it fast became one of the more acclaimed albums of its year among enthusiasts for the avant-garde and Japanese popular music.

Maeda composes music with a huge variety of elements and instruments, ranging from orchestral-style pieces to rough electric rock to electronica and even 8-bit style bleeps and bops. It's a deliberately messy sound, creating a sort of loose, out of control sound that is both distinctive and oddly addictive. Listeners seeking bubbly Japanese pop will probably be disappointed, but anyone with an ear for the esoteric will find a huge amount to enjoy here.

Shin Godzilla (2016)

In many respects my standard review opening paragraph, which relates a film's basic storyline, is unnecessary here. Shin Godzilla is the latest feature film in Toho's long-running Godzilla franchise, and the general destructive formula of the series remains largely unchanged. The continuity may be completely rebooted, and some new ideas thrown in around the titular monster's design and abilities, but the standard narrative remains. Godzilla comes to Tokyo and destroys a lot of expensive real estate, and the Japanese government and military scramble to stop him from doing it.

Shin Godzilla is Toho's first new Godzilla movie in 12 years, following the rather over-the-top and deliberately silly Godzilla: Final Wars. While both films are clearly works of the same franchise, they could hardly be more different. While Final Wars presented a string of wrestling-style fights between Godzilla and a host of rival giant monsters, Shin Godzilla is a slightly odd political satire with no rival monsters in sight but a seemingly endless string of meetings, briefings, press conferences and diplomatic negotiations. It is a film less about giant monsters and a lot more about the inefficiencies of bureaucracy and the obfuscation of politics. I loved it. I strongly suspect most international viewers are going to hate it.

November 6, 2016

The Pull List: 19 October 2016, Part 3

Superman, Superboy and Krypto team up with a World War II-era cyborg to fight a giant white ape and a horde of mutant dinosaurs. If this isn't what a comic like Superman is for, I'm not sure what is.

The real star of this two-parter has been Doug Mahnke, whose detailed pencils contain some absolutely beautiful panels and layouts. The splash page on page 12 is particularly gorgeous, and collectively it all makes this issue an absolute joy to read. Throw in some typically strong interplay between Clark and Jon and you've got a pretty much faultless issue.

Perhaps the most intriguing element, however, is the final page. The villainous ape has the same cybernetic implants seen back in a giant monster in issue #2, and the issue's final panel heavily implies it is of the implants' creator - and presumably an over-arching villain. They're silhouetted here, but they're looking at a giant purple octopus - and the only place I remember seeing such a creature before is in the final issues of Moore and Gibbons' Watchmen. It looks like Rebirth's extended narrative just took a quiet step forward. (5/5)

Superman #9. Written by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason. Art by Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza and Trevor Scott. Colours by Wil Quintana.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Black Widow, Mechanism, and Usagi Yojimbo.

November 5, 2016

The Nice Guys (2016)

Los Angeles, 1977: Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is an alcoholic single parent and private detective that has taken to exploiting clients with no-hope cases. When his latest case gets him too close to a very real crime, he is violently warned off by muscle-for-hire Jackson Healey (Russell Crowe). When Healey finds himself targeted by men looking for the same woman he was hired to protect, he persuades March to team up and track her down before she gets killed.

While not quite hitting the creative heights of his 2005 classic Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Shane Black's rambling 1970s action comedy The Nice Guys throws together enough humour, character, plot twists and gunfights to be one of the moat entertaining pictures Hollywood has offered this year. The pace is strong, the storyline is solid, and Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe make for a surprisingly brilliant double-act. It is a film that actually feels slightly old-fashioned: not in an 'out of date' sense, but more 'why doesn't Hollywood make these kinds of movies any more?'

November 1, 2016

The Angriest: October 2016 in review

October 2016 was a particularly busy month outside of The Angriest, including an international education conference and a holiday in Taiwan, so there were far fewer posts uploading than usual: eight film reviews, one Star Trek review, and a look at a manga, an anime episode, two videogames, and 40 comic books.

My review of Rob Cohen's 1996 disaster flick Daylight was the month's most-read post; who knew you were all such fans of B-grade 1990s Stallone films? Other popular reviews included A Fish Called Wanda, Cliffhanger, and the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Heroes and Demons". As always, a full list of the month's posts is available below the cut. Thanks for reading.