October 31, 2013

World War Z (2013)

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

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

October 30, 2013

The Pull List: 23 October 2013

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

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

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

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

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

October 28, 2013

Who50 #1: "The Power of the Daleks"

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

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

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

October 23, 2013

The Pull List: 16 October 2013

Batwoman was a monthly comic book that was a long time coming: after her debut in 52 it was a few years before the character got a high profile storyline in Detective Comics, and it took until the New 52 for her to finally get a book of her own. J.H. Williams III provided the artwork throughout, and with co-writer W. Haden Blackman and co-artist Trevor McCarthy he's chronicled a full two years' worth of adventures for Kate Kane and her circle of supporting characters.

Williams and Blackman have resigned from the book, however, citing constant laste-minute interference at the editorial level, including several changes of storylines already partially published. They were initially going to bow out with December's issue #26, but instead their final issue is now:  Batwoman #24 sees the long-brewing showdown between Kate Kane and Batman reach a head. They finally come to blows and-

And that's it. This is an issue that doesn't end so much as stop in mid-sentence. If you're anything like me you'll turn the page expecting to find a cliffhanger and instead it's house ads for other DC books. I've never seen a comic book end so abruptly. Given that Trevor McCarthy's art has been 'finished' (whatever that means) by Sandu Florea and Derek Fridolfs, I can't help but feel that the entire creative team either walked away or got kicked off with this issue half-cooked, and rather than delay or replace it DC simply neatened it up where they could and released a half-complete comic book to market. If true, that's tremendously unprofessional: I'm a paying customer, and expect an actual finished comic book when I purchase one. (1/5)

DC Comics. Written by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman. Art by Trevor McCarthy, Sandu Florea and Derek Fridolfs.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman and Two-Face, Hawkeye, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Uncanny X-Men, Wonder Woman and X-Men Legacy.

October 21, 2013

Who50 #2: "Genesis of the Daleks"

Who50 counts down to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who by reviewing my favourite episodes and serials over the history of the programme, counting down from #50 to #1. Today, #2: "Genesis of the Daleks", a 1975 serial written by Terry Nation and directed by David Maloney.

If there's a moment in Doctor Who that encapsulates why the character of the Doctor is such a special one, it's to be found in "Genesis of the Daleks": the Doctor (Tom Baker) holding two wires that, if touched together, will spark an explosion and erase the Daleks from history. If this was an American hero, let's say Star Trek's James T. Kirk, he'd whack the wires together, kill all the Daleks and beam back up to Enterprise. If this was a traditional hero, doubt would not enter the picture. This, however, is the Doctor. He's different. He agonizes over the decision, and abhors the responsibility and - ultimately - can't bring himself to do it. They may be the Daleks - the most destructive species in the history of the universe - but they're also a species. The Doctor can't commit genocide without making himself as callous a killer as the Daleks are.

Of course later iterations of Doctor Who do muddy the waters a bit: by "Remembrance of the Daleks" in 1988 Sylvester McCoy answers Tom Baker's "do I have the right?" with a resounding "yes", tricking Davros into using the Hand of Omega and destroying the entire planet Skaro. By the new series the Doctor is a PTSD-afflicted survivor haunted by murdering not only all of the Daleks but all of the Time Lords as well. What's important, however, is not whether or not the Doctor commits genocide - it's that he has the moral indecision about it at all.

October 17, 2013

Black Rain (1989)

Two New York City police detectives (Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia) capture Sato (Yasaku Matsuda), a member of the Japanese yakuza, and must escort him back to Osaka. When Sato escapes at the airport they are thrown into an unfamiliar world of tradition and honour as they struggle to track him down again.

Oh yeah, Black Rain. It's a very 1980s movie, replete with rebel cop on the edge, shootouts and over-the-top murders, and a healthy disrespect for Japanese culture and tradition. It's actually quite an uncomfortable watch from time to time: the Japanese are portrayed as rules-obsessed, repressed and stuffy, and their by-the-book policing is explicitly portrayed as unhelpful and futile. There are about half a dozen conversations throughout the film about honour: who has it, who doesn't, who's lost it and who's taking it away from someone else. Every time Hans Zimmer's score kicks it a combination of twinky-twanky cod-Asian sounds persist in letting you know that this film is set in Japan.

So why watch it? Well, there are a bunch of reasons.

October 16, 2013

Who50 #3: "The Curse of Fenric"

Who50 counts down to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who by reviewing my favourite episodes and serials over the history of the programme, counting down from #50 to #1. Today, #3: "The Curse of Fenric", a 1989 serial written by Ian Briggs and directed by Nicholas Mallet.

The Doctor and Ace arrive at a British naval base during World War II - on precisely the same day that a secret Russian mission has commenced to infiltrate the base and steal a vital code-breaking machine. At the same time something ancient and evil is stirring in the ocean off nearby Maiden's Point - and the Doctor may know a lot more about what's going on than he's letting on.

Okay, we're getting to the point in this countdown that I feel pretty comfortable describing these serials as masterpieces. "The Curse of Fenric" is a stunning work of televisual science fiction, rich in plot and character, filled with moments of horror and tension and soaked in theme and tone. It is a near-faultless serial, giving Doctor Who its best four episodes since the mid-1970s and promising a bold new direction for the series going forward. It is, of course, a cruel irony that by the time this serial went to air on BBC1 Doctor Who had been cancelled. All of the promise of "The Curse of Fenric" would have to wait 16 years to be fulfilled by Russell T Davies in the new series.

October 15, 2013

The Pull List: 9 October 2013

I'm not a big believer in the idea of 'guilty pleasures'. Seems to me if you enjoy something, and reading or watching it gives you pleasure, then why on Earth would you feel guilty about it? I am aware, however, that there are plenty of things out there that other people consider guilty pleasures: Twilight novels, The OC, movies starring Zac Efron, Japanese boy bands, what-have-you.

I wonder how many people will be proudly purchasing the new Star Wars graphic novel, Ewoks: Shadows of Endor. It's a compact, digest-sized comic book that combines elements of Return of the Jedi, the 1985 Ewoks Saturday morning cartoon and the 1980s TV movies Caravan of Courage and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor. It's the first time elements of all three have been mixed in together, creating - for the first time - a cohesive whole. If you're a fan of Ewoks, and there have to be more Ewok fans out there than me, then this graphic novel is a gift from the gods.

It's aimed at a family audience, so the story's not too sophisticated and the panel layout isn't too dense. As a result you'll whip through this book pretty fast, but it's a fun, light-hearted ride while you do. Kudos to Dark Horse for publishing this. I had a lot of fun reading it. (4/5)

Dark Horse. Story and art by Zack Giallongo.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl, Batman, Coffin Hill, FBP, Katana, Manhattan Projects, Multiple Warheads, Rocket Girl, Star Wars, Stormwatch, Thor: God of Thunder, Three, Worlds' Finest and X-Men.

October 12, 2013

Kidnapped (1960)

Kidnapped is a historical novel by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, in which a young 18th century Scot named David Balfour receives an inheritance, is betrayed by his uncle (who wants that inheritance for himself) and subsequently escapes slavery with the assistance of the Jacobite rebel Alan Breck Stewart. It was a big success for Stevenson back in 1886 and inspired not only an 1893 sequel (Catriona) but also seven feature film adaptations from 1917 to 1995. I recently watched the fourth of the seven films: the 1960 version, directed by Robert Stevenson (no relation) and produced by Walt Disney.

This is definitely "Walt Disney's Kidnapped". As a producer Disney kept a very firm creative hand on his films. He was often quite heavily involved in the story and scripting process, and was particularly keen on dictating how the films be edited during post-production. The actual shoot in between he left largely to his directors, whom he selected based on their ability to give him enough coverage (different takes and camera angles of each scene) to determine much of the film's content and tone in the editing room. Stevenson was one of his more prominent directors: he directed a string of Disney pictures between 1957 and 1976, including Old Yeller, Mary Poppins, The Shaggy Dog, The Absent-Minded Professor, The Love Bug, Blackbeard's Ghost and Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

October 11, 2013

Monsters University (2013)

It used to be that Pixar Animation Studios was the safest bet in Hollywood for seeing a good movie. From 1995 to 2010 they enjoyed an uninterrupted run of critically acclaimed and commercially successful hits. They were all based on such great ideas, and featured distinctive and appealing characters. It's an outstanding run: Toy Story and its two sequels, A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Wall-E and Up.

Now I personally didn't warm to Cars but appreciate that many did. Sadly its 2011 sequel Cars 2 broke the winning streak: it might have made money, but critics hated it and from my experience audiences weren't particularly impressed either. Brave might have suggested a return to form, but sadly that return was short-lived: Monsters University is a disappointing prequel, showing promise in fits and starts but never achieving anything close to the originality, energy and heart that I've come to expect from Pixar. It's not a bad film, but it is a very disappointing one, and whacks another dent into Pixar's previously impeccable body of work.

October 10, 2013

Game of Thrones: "The Ghost of Harrenhal"

One of the things I do like about Game of Thrones is that they do keep things moving. Not necessarily quickly, but you're pretty much guaranteed a major progression of the narrative in each episode. Within minutes of this episode starting King Renly Baratheon is dead, murdered by Melisandre's terrifying shadow monster. Falsely assumed to be Renly's murderer, Brienne is forced to flee in the company of Catelyn Stark. I have fallen utterly in love with Brienne: she's an extremely strong, nuanced, awkward character, and Gwendoline Christie plays her extremely well. This Stormlands sequence neatly cuts out one of the claimants to the Iron Throne, with older brother Stannis assuming control of Renly's army.

Back at King's Landing, Tyrion uncovers one of his sister's secret plans to defend the city from Stannis' army: eight thousand pots of "wildfire" to be catapulted onto the Baratheon forces. These scenes between Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) are the absolute highlights of the series this season: wry, funny, cutting and just all-round entertaining. This episode's scenes are no different. (There's also a cameo for George R. R. Martin's pal Roy Dotrice, who previously acted in Martin's ace 1980s TV drama Beauty and the Beast.)

October 9, 2013

The Lone Ranger (2013)

In 1869, attorney John Reid is caught with his brother and a group of Texas Rangers in a fatal ambush. Left for dead, he is nursed back to health by Comanche Native American Tonto and persuaded to don a mask and seek revenge as the anonymous "Lone Ranger".

Disney's The Lone Ranger is a difficult film to review because it's not a great movie and it's not a bad one, yet certain aspects are brilliant and certain aspects are tedious in the extreme. One thing the film certainly represents is a textbook instruction manual for a Hollywood studio to lose money. It's impossible to look at the film and not think of how grossly unsuitable for mainstream success it is. The studio heads at Disney must have been asleep at the wheel. Or drunk. Possibly even on drugs.

The company must be happy to have such strong merchandising, animation and theme park revenues, because of course they've bet the farm on live-action cinema and lost, not once but twice in a row. 2012's John Carter was a costly commercial misfire, and The Lone Ranger is shaping up to be even worse. The combined budget and advertising costs of the two films must be somewhere in the region of $700 million dollars. Their combined gross revenue is about $500 million. All up, industry pundits estimate their combined total loss at about $300 million dollars. In effect, Walt Disney Pictures could have made the profit of a new Pirates of the Caribbean picture by sitting still and doing nothing.

Who50 #4: "The Aztecs"

Who50 counts down to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who by reviewing my favourite episodes and serials over the history of the programme, counting down from #50 to #1. Today, #4: "The Aztecs", a 1964 serial written by John Lucarotti and directed by John Crockett.

The TARDIS arrives in ancient Mexico, where the Doctor and his companions encounter the legendary Aztecs and Barbara is mistaken for an incarnation of the goddess Yetaxa. When she sees this as an opportunity to turn the Aztecs away from human sacrifice it puts her on a collision course with the Doctor, who refuses to allow her to divert the course of history.

If there's a single line of dialogue that echoes throughout Doctor Who's first three years, it's this: 'you cannot rewrite history - not one line!' Contemporary viewers of Doctor Who expect a free-wheeling mucking about with history in the series, however during William Hartnell's tenure as the Doctor it was a very different state of affairs. The Doctor could interfere with the future, but never the past. His goal in these early historical serials was to escape, and never to change events. It's what drove "Marco Polo", which I discussed some time ago, and it's what gave "The Time Meddler" and "The Massacre of St Bartholemew's Eve" such frission. It's in "The Aztecs" that this stance of non-interference is tackled head-on: Barbara wants to change the Aztecs to save their civilization, and the Doctor is intent upon stopping her from succeeding.

October 3, 2013

The Pull List: 2 October 2013

This week, with the Villains Month promotion thankfully behind them, DC Comics returned to service-as-usual with the 24th numbered issues of their regular titles.

Wait, did I write service-as-usual? Actually it wasn't. In a sneaky manoeuvre DC have quietly cut the back-up strips from their $3.99 titles (Action Comics, Detective Comics) and instead given them better quality covers on a thick glossy stock and 22 pages of story. In a diminishing marketplace I don't begrudge DC charging what they think the market will accept, and to be honest the bulk of the back-ups were never that interesting, but that extra dollar for what is essentially two pages of art and a nicer cover is a bit of an unpleasant hit.

I enjoy Detective Comics and All-Star Western, but do I enjoy them enough to pay $3.99 for a shorter issue? Books such as Sword of Sorcery and Threshold were hobbled from the start thanks to the higher price point. How much more badly would they fare with six pages less content?

Most important of all, how far down the line are the $4.99 monthly comic books? 

Under the cut: reviews of All-New X-Men, Batwing, Bedlam, Daredevil: Dark Nights, Detective Comics, Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, Forever Evil, Green Lantern, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Hinterkind, The Movement and Trillium.

Star Trek Enterprise: "Extinction"

Pretty much my least favourite episode in the Star Trek franchise is the one where members of the crew evolve into alien creatures. There was "Identity Crisis", the Next Generation episode where Geordi was turned into a rave-party blue alien. There was "Genesis", where the entire Enterprise crew devolved into bug monsters and lizards. I think my least favourite was "Threshold", a Voyager episode in which Paris and Janeway mutate into space newts and have several space newt babies.

In "Extinction" an away mission to a jungle planet goes terribly wrong when the crew are infected by a mutagenic virus that transforms them into primitive ape-like creatures. While T'Pol attempts to convince them to return to Enterprise, they are hunted by another group of aliens desperate to eliminate the spread of the virus by any means necessary.

October 2, 2013

Popular Posts: September 2013

The 10 most popular articles on The Angriest this month were:
  • Who50 #6: "Blink" (link)
  • The Pull List: 11 September 2013 (link)
  • Babylon 5: "Midnight on the Firing Line" (link)
  • Enterprise: "The Expanse" (link)
  • Babylon 5: "Deathwalker" (link)
  • Bad Girls (2012) (link)
  • Kindle Worlds, and why it may be bad for fandom (link)
  • Enterprise: Season 2 in review (link)
  • Who50 #9: "Full Circle" (link)
  • Fun with Stats: Doctor Who viewing figures (link)
I'm still not certain why the reviews of "Midnight on the Firing Line" and "Deathwalker":  continue to be so popular. It's weird.

A Woman of Paris (1923)

Mention Charlie Chaplin's name and the image immediately comes to mind of his internationally renowned tramp character. Of course Chaplin's career extended far beyond his early comedic short films, and one of the best examples of that broader work is A Woman of Paris (1923). It is a dramatic feature film, written and directed by Chaplin, in which his famous tramp does not appear. Nor does he, beyond a one-shot cameo. While it has comedic elements, the humour comes from the recognition of ordinary human behaviour rather than the broad slapstick one might expect. Audiences of the time hated it, and stayed well away. Viewed 90 years later it turns out to be a remarkably sophisticated and effective drama, and very much a groundbreaking film.

Regular Chaplin collaborator (and one-time girlfriend) Edna Purviance pays Marie St Clair, an unhappy young woman living in rural France. She arranges to elope to Paris with the artist Jean (Carl Miller), but unexpected circumstances result in them separating. A year later, she reunited with Jean - only by now she is the girlfriend of the rich, cynical bachelor Pierre Revel (Adolphe Menjou), and is forced to choose between true love and the comforts of Pierre's affection (and financial support).

October 1, 2013

Arjun: The Warrior Prince (2012)

There are a lot of people who, for one reason or another, dislike Walt Disney. They dislike the man, they dislike the studio he founded, they dislike the animated product, the aesthetic, the merchandising, and so on. Slap a Disney logo on an otherwise amiable cartoon and it's likely to be ignored or, even worse, to be slated blindly through association. If it's got a Disney logo on it, some people simply won't give it a second look.

I wonder, then, what such naysayers would make of Arjun: The Warrior Prince. It's a Walt Disney Pictures animated film, but unless you're particularly geeky about the House of Mouse you probably haven't heard of it. It was paid for and distributed by Disney, but it was made in India. It is a Hindi language animated adventure film based in part of the Mahabharata, aimed at a family audience in India with no consideration given to whether or not audiences outside of the subcontinent will ever see it.