August 30, 2014

Babylon 5: "And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place"

Lord Refa returns to Babylon 5 to continue his political game against Londo Mollari. Mollari meanwhile has his own plans to gain status within the Centauri court, involving Vir Cotto and his arch-enemy G'Kar. While that goes on Captain Sheridan focuses on the Shadows' next move from the war room, desperately looking for a pattern among their seemingly random attacks.

This episode is blessed with what is perhaps the longest and most elaborate titles of any Babylon 5 episode - and the series has had a few. Whether it's "And the Sky Full of Stars", or "The Geometry of Shadows", or even this season's Passing Through Gethsemane", Straczynski has never been afraid to be bold when titling his episodes. It makes other episodes like "Convinctions", "Knives" and "Infection" seem rather dull by comparison.

The title is from an old spiritual song, which forms a critical part of the episode's climax. It's rather cleverly used - but is the episode clever as a whole?

August 29, 2014

Over on FictionMachine...

This is just a reminder that The Angriest is not my only blog. Over on FictionMachine I engage in longer-form critical writing about films, researching the origin and production of interesting movies and trying to work out what makes them tick. Since June this year I've added more than 27,000 words of critical writing on seven different films.

My most recent piece is on Michael Clayton (2007), Dan Gilroy's exceptional legal drama starring George Clooney and Tilda Swinton. You can head to that particular piece by following this link. Other recent pieces focus on Dominion: The Prequel to the Exorcist (2005, link here), Unbreakable (2000, link here) and Danny Boyle's Sunshine (2007, link here). If you're keen to read some free filmmaking stories and criticism, head on over and check it out.

FictionMachine is also the subject of an ongoing Patreon campaign. Patreon is a crowd-funding website that allows you to pledge regular micro-payments to artistic pursuits, so for as little as one dollar a month via Paypal you can support the writing of the FictionMachine essays into the future. Check it out and pledge a buck if you want to see me continue blogging. The Angriest will continue in its present form alongside FictionMachine regardless.

Doctor Who: "The Rescue"

With the Doctor and Susan still captive, the Daleks prepare to launch their neutron bomb and destroy the Thals once and for all. Meanwhile Ian, Barbara and a small group of Thals work their way through the caverns in a desperate attempt to reach the Dalek city in time.

Just to clarify I'm talking here about "The Rescue", the seventh and final part of Terry Nation's original Dalek serial, and not "The Rescue", a two-part serial aired in Doctor Who's second season about a year later. Using correct terminology in early Doctor Who episodes can be tricky, since internal documentation at the BBC referred to this Dalek serial as "The Mutants", which is of course the name of a six-part Doctor Who serial made a decade later that starred Jon Pertwee. So just to confirm: we're talking Daleks, and not Koquillion or Solonians.

To be honest there's very little you can do wrong with this kind of an episode. It's the last part of an adventure serial, so the difficult is never in ending it but in keeping the story interesting on the way there. Now that they are there, there's little else to do but defeat the Daleks, save the Doctor and Susan and move on to the next adventure.

August 28, 2014

Wolverine: Old Man Logan (2009)

"Old Man Logan" was a story arc that ran in Marvel's monthly Wolverine comic for seven months in 2008 before being concluded - somewhat tardily I recall - in a giant-sized final issue about a year later. It was written by Mark Millar with art by Steve McNiven. I never read it at the time, mainly because I've traditionally been more of a DC fan than a Marvel fan, and certainly never read Wolverine. I have, however, now read it in a collected edition, as part of the fortnightly Marvel Graphic Novel Collection to which I have been subscribed these past few years.

The first thing I wanted to note is that McNiven's artwork is great. He's a stunning comic book artist and packs an extraordinary amount of realistic detail into each panel. I'm not surprised there were delays in completing this arc: McNiven's work must take him an absolute age to finish.

That out of the way, it has to be said that this is an appallingly poor comic book. It is pretty much a poster child for Mark Millar's writing in general: great high concepts saddled by adolescent execution.

Star Trek: Enterprise: "Damage"

The Enterprise is all-but crippled after its devastating encounter with the Xindi. While Captain Archer may have forged the beginnings of a peace deal with members of the Xindi Council, the Enterprise needs to get to a secret rendezvous as soon as possible. The warp drive is beyond repair, however, unless Archer can convince a passing starship captain to trade one. The problem is that the alien captain isn't willing to trade.

"Damages" is an episode that would have had Gene Roddenberry rolling in his grave. I say that in a good way: it pushes the overall ethical framework of the franchise to breaking point, and then sails right through the wreckage at warp speed. If Archer is going to save the Earth, he's going to have to undertake a violent raid on an innocent third party, steal their warp core and leave them stranded at impulse speed in the middle of deep space. It's the sort of challenge other Star Trek captains never faced, because they were never written into an ethical corner like this.

August 27, 2014

Mary Poppins: 50 years on

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Mary Poppins. Not the character, you understand, nor the novel by Australian author P.L. Travers. Today is the 50th anniversary of the feature film adaptation, produced by Walt Disney, directed by Robert Stevenson and starring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and David Tomlinson.

It was a contentious film at the time, since it took fairly serious liberties with Travers' novel, and generally against her wishes and better judgement. The historical setting was changed. Mary herself was made a much less authoritarian character. On the other hand, Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi took a beloved but rather simplistic children's book and transformed it into a heartfelt story about a father who properly discovers his children for the first time.

This, to me, is the genius of Mary Poppins. It's pretty much the most nuanced and melancholic of all the classic Walt Disney productions. Sure it has cartoon penguins, rousing musical numbers and comedy chimney sweeps, but Mr Banks' slow night walk to the bank in order to be fired - his ordered life in utter disarray - is one of the most emotionally effective scenes to ever come out of the company.

Babylon 5: "Grey 17 is Missing"

A missing maintenance worker leads Garibaldi to discover an entire secret level buried within Babylon 5's Grey sector. Delenn is invited to lead the Rangers, sparking a fresh conflict with her former Grey Council rival Neroon.

"Grey 17 is Missing" does not have the best of reputations. Like a lot of Babylon 5 episodes it is a story with two halves, one of which is broadly satisfactory, the other of which is tedious in the extreme. The better half focuses on Neroon's veiled threats towards Delenn: Minbari have a very strict moral code about murdering each other, and this code has been well emphasised through earlier seasons. As a result Neroon's murderous plot brings a lot of dramatic weight. It seems that Minbari society may be hovering on the edge of collapse. This is a revelation that the series fully earns, because it's been simmering away in the background for some time.

The storyline allows the series to showcase Delenn's faithful aide Lennier, who is a badly underused and underrated character, as well as Ranger Marcus Cole. I'm not a very big fan of Marcus. He hasn't really been used that much in the series, and when he has he's been saddled with some fairly excruciating self-aware dialogue. I've spoken in the past about Babylon 5 characters speaking dramatic dialogue rather than simply speaking - Marcus is one of the worst culprits. It's not helped by Jason Carter being a relatively limited actor; if he were more accomplished, like Peter Jurasik or Andreas Katsulas, he'd probably be able to draw mileage out what he was given on the page.

The other half, however, with Garibaldi becoming trapped within the previously undiscovered Grey 17, leaves a lot to be desired. He is ambushed, shot by a dart from a ventriloquist's dummy, lectured to about religious by a scatty madman (Robert Englund) with some vacant-faced henchmen, and then defeats a giant monster using some old-school bullets he happened to have been playing with that morning. This is dreadful writing. This is absolute ham-fisted amateur hour stuff.

Star Trek: Enterprise: "Azati Prime"

The Enterprise finally reaches Azati Prime. While Archer heads off on a one-way mission to destroy the Xindi weapon, the Enterprise - under T'Pol's increasingly erratic command - is attacked by a group of Xindi starships.

Wow. It's taken Enterprise an interminable number of episodes to reach Azati Prime, the home of the planet-killing Xindi weapon that's about to destroy Earth, but once they reach the Azati system it's a non-stop explosive drama every step of the way. This is season finale-level drama and peril, and it's only two-thirds of the way through the season. To say I was enormously impressed with this episode would be to understate my response. This is a stunning hour of SF television.

August 26, 2014

Babylon 5: "Walkabout"

Dr Franklin wanders the corridors of Babylon 5 on a spiritual journey. The new Vorlon ambassador arrives to replace Kosh. Sheridan decides to test the Shadows' vulnerability to telepaths first-hand.

I honestly don't know what has made Franklin such a dull character to watch. Is it just Richard Biggs' performance? He certainly has a very limited range. Is it the dialogue that J. Michael Straczynski gives him? In most episodes he works like a bizarre form of cliché magnet, dragging in and grabbing onto the most tedious of plot threads and the the most trite and obvious dialogue. In this episode he goes wandering in "Down Below", meets a sultry African-American lounge singer, with whom he falls in love, has sex and then discovers she only really wants him for his prescription pad. No, wait! She's not a drug addict - it turns out she's actually terminally ill and has months to life. It's all so ridiculously banal and predictable. There's a galactic war going on, alien conspiracies coming from all directions, countless lives in the balance but by all means let's suspend all of that because Franklin needs to learn to embrace life again via a bundle of stereotypes. It's all just utterly dreadful.

The Black Beetle: No Way Out (2013)

Francesco Francavilla is a stunning comic book artist, whose work I've been admiring for some time. He's completely in his element with Black Beetle, a deliberately old-fashioned pulp adventure about a 1940s masked American crime fighter. "No Way Out" is the first four-issue arc for this ongoing series of comic book miniseries, and it's been collected into a handsome hardcover edition by Dark Horse Comics.

The Black Beetle is a caped vigilante with a string of gadgets who fights crime in the north-eastern American metropolis Colt City. When an explosion takes out the key members of a local crime dynasty, the Beetle is hot on the case to find the culprit.

In terms of plot there is nothing particularly original going on here. It is, however, an extremely solid pastiche of pulp crime stories. It immediately brings to mind The Shadow, Batman and even other pastiches of this genre, notably Dave Stevens' The Rocketeer. Sometimes, if the script is tight and entertaining enough, you don't need too much in the way of original ideas. This is one of those comics: well-written, fast-paced and very entertaining.

August 25, 2014

Babylon 5: "War Without End, Part 2"

While Delenn's team work to send Babylon 4 back in time to the last Shadow War, Sheridan is lost in time - and gaining unwanted insights into his own future.

Part of the pleasure of "War Without End" is seeing how the mysteries of the Season 1 episode "Babylon Squared" are resolved and what was actually going on. I can't think of another TV series where a writer deliberately set up a mystery and then waited two years to resolve it. The match-up between the two episodes may not be entirely precise - Zathras' capture in one contradicts events in the other, and his definition of "the One" feels awfully tacked-on to accommodate the series' change in lead actor - but all in all it's a mightily impressive achievement.

There is some remarkably bold storytelling going on in this episode. It isn't content to wrap up a two-and-a-half year-old mystery, it also showcases future events and pushes the series forward. That's pretty impressive for an episode that's all about sending people back in time. We now have several major plot developments on the horizon, with no real idea of what they mean and how they get there: Sheridan and Delenn have a child, Londo and G'Kar are close friends, and the future Delenn has urged Sheridan not to visit Z'ha'dum. We've heard of that planet before of course, and its return here is an ominous piece of foreshadowing.

Babylon 5: "War Without End, Part 1"

Former station commander Jeffrey Sinclair returns to Babylon 5, setting off a mission that will take the White Star through a temporal rift and six years into the past. There a special team comprising Sinclair, Delenn, Sheridan, Marcus, Ivanova and the idiosyncratic alien Zathras must prepare to steal the earlier space station Babylon 4 and sent it 1,000 years into the past.

Time travel can give you such a headache when you start thinking about it. The two-part "War Without End" kicks off with a bundle of revelations and plot twists, and in the process sets itself up as a masterwork in forward planning. Two seasons earlier Sinclair and Garibaldi travelled to Babylon 4 when it mysteriously popped back into existence four years after vanishing without a trace. That episode, "Babylon Squared", left an enormous number of questions unanswered, and it's a genuine pleasure to see Straczynski revisit that storyline two seasons down the track to replay the events from the other side.

August 24, 2014

Doctor Who: "Deep Breath"

Doctor Who is back, for its eighth season since 2005, with an all-new lead actor in the shape of Peter Capaldi. There's a Tyrannosaurus Rex loose in 19th century London, and it's just coughed up the TARDIS, with a new and disorientated Doctor inside. Shenanigans ensue. Dark forces are at work. Clara doesn't know if she can trust the Doctor any more. And so on.

There's always a huge amount of pressure on Doctor Who when change comes. People who liked the old Doctor didn't want him to leave. People who hated the old Doctor are desperately hoping the new one will be better. Everything the series has been and is doing gets shoved under a microscope by the series' fans: what's changed, what's working, what's not working. Doctor Who fans can be incredibly loyal, but they can also be savagely critical at the same time. Expectations can be an absolute killer.

So what did I expect?

August 22, 2014

The Pull List: 20 August 2014

Since 1997 Grant Morrison has been on a slow-boiling gradual journey through the DC Universe. While he obviously wrote a bunch of stuff for DC prior to 1997 it was then that he and Howard Porter launched JLA, a high-profile and bestselling all-star version of the Justice League of America. Since then he's written for The Flash and Batman, as well as 52 and his massively hyped, somewhat divisive miniseries Final Crisis. Multiversity is pretty much his follow-up to that miniseries, since it prominently re-introduces Nix Uotan - the final surviving monitor of the DC Universe - and once again explores the 52 parallel universes that form DC's self-described "Multiverse".

Despite the extra length of this first issue, it's actually quite difficult to take a proper step back and assess what's going on. Some horrible Lovecraftian creatures - one of them's basically a giant bat-winged eyeball - are eating their way through the multiple realities of the DCU, and so Uotan pledges to assemble heroes from all 52 Earths to save the day.

Readers of Morrison's earlier DC work will be on familiar territory here, with a combination of weird ideas, characters that challenge the confines of the comic book medium, callbacks to obscure characters or points of continuity, and a blind assumption that the reader will either keep up or be patient enough to see it all made clear by the series' final issue. Reis and Prado do a great job illustrating it, so all in all this is a dense but entertaining package. Our star, for this issue at least, is actually Calvis Ellis, the Obama-inspired African-American Superman of Earth-23. He's great: I'd happily read a monthly comic with him as the star.

One idea that crops up here that I absolutely adore is that the superheroes of one reality bleed into the other via their pop culture, so the Superman of Earth-23 might be able to pick up and read a comic book that's actually relating events in the life of the Batman of Earth-5, or what-have-you. It's bonkers, but it's brilliant.

The bottom line is that if you appreciate Morrison's dense, "everything thrown at the wall" superhero events, then you're going to most likely enjoy Multiversity. If his work leaves you cold or annoys you, there's not a moment here that's going to change your mind. Personally I liked it. (4/5)

DC Comics. Written by Grant Morrison. Art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado.

Under the cut: a big week, with reviews of Batman and Robin, Batman Eternal, Batwoman, Daredevil, Eye of Newt, Infinity Man and the Forever People, The Last Broadcast, Ms Marvel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Umbral and The Wicked + the Divine.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Season 1 in review

When I look back on Deep Space Nine's first season, I see a remarkable achievement. Some will point to The Next Generation as the most difficult of the Star Trek spin-offs to produce, since it followed from the original series. I've never quite bought that argument, because The Next Generation started life as a mildly adjusted copy. It took half of its cues from a long-developed earlier attempt at a sequel series, the abortive Star Trek: Phase II, and the other half from a by-then well-oiled production line of Star Trek motion pictures. It also got a boost from pent-up public demand. Everybody wanted a new Star Trek TV series. They had been clamouring for it since the early 1970s.

Not so with Deep Space Nine. This series was created by studio mandate to expand the earning power of the franchise. If audiences would watch one TV show, why not two? This already put an enormous challenge before DS9. Audiences that were desperate for a new Star Trek already had one. Did they want or need a second series while The Next Generation was on the air? Creators Rick Berman and Michael Piller wisely realised that a third series in a row set on a starship would probably stretch the audience's patience, but of course setting their series on a space station instead simply made it a riskier proposition. The whole raison d'etre of Star Trek to this point was exploration - could you stretch the format enough to make a stationary setting work?

August 21, 2014

Babylon 5: "Interludes and Examinations"

Londo Mollari encounters the elusive Mr Morden once again. The Shadows begin large-scale assaults on the non-aligned worlds. Sheridan challenges Ambassador Kosh to step up and force the Vorlons to enter the conflict. Garibaldi confronts Franklin about his stim abuse.

What's weird about "Interludes and Examinations" is that there is a huge amount of really significant stuff going on - plot developments, character revelations, the outbreak of full-blown galactic war, and two character deaths - yet the whole piece feels bizarrely inert. It's like watching someone moving chess pieces: there's a game going on, and it's possibly a quite intriguing one, but it's not a game we're being allowed to play. It lacks the emotion that made "Ship of Tears" so enjoyable, and in a few places feels actively stereotypical.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

It's always a challenge coming to a hit movie late in the game. Everybody else seems to have already seen it, and so it's impossible - unless you're some kind of hermit - to go into the film with open expectations. This is pretty much my situation with James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy, which opened in cinemas while I was attending the Melbourne International Film Festival, and which has already grossed more than half a billion dollars worldwide. Every person I know who has seen it bar one has liked it. It is currently scoring 76% on Metacritic and 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. I've heard it compared to Star Wars, and in a few cases cited as considerably better than Star Wars. So when you go into a film as I now have, well conditioned into expecting a masterpiece, it's actually quite difficult to take a step back and appreciate Guardians of the Galaxy on its own merits.

Nonetheless I shall do my best. Guardians of the Galaxy is a wonderfully entertaining science fiction adventure film with enormous helpings of humour and energy, but also quite a few flaws. None of them are critical but they are sufficient to leave me feeling like a bit of a party pooper, waving my hands around in front of a crowd swept up by hyperbole, saying tediously un-fun things like 'steady on' and 'it's not that good.'

Is it the best movie of all time? Definitely not. Is it better than Star Wars? Well, certainly the prequels but I wouldn't go further than that myself. The best of the Marvel Studios features? I wouldn't say so , but I also wouldn't strenuously argue the point if it was your personal favourite. All in all, Guardians of the Galaxy has to make do with merely being brilliant.

August 20, 2014

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "In the Hands of the Prophets"

An orthodox Bajoran cleric named Vedek Wynn (Louise Fletcher) launches a campaign to have Keiko's station-based school shut down. A missing Starfleet engineer leads Miles O'Brien and Odo into a murder investigation.

Deep Space Nine ends its freshman year with an episode that lacks the emotional intensity of its predecessor, but still manages to present a provocative take on the balance between science and religion in the classroom. This episode is more than 20 years old yet it still hits hut social buttons for America today: the debate over evolution versus intelligent design continues to be held in many parts of the USA, making "In the Hands of the Prophets" still unfortunately relevant.

It's an interesting debate to hold in Deep Space Nine, because the standard rules for this kind of Star Trek story - science versus religion - don't necessarily apply. This is a series that straddles an impressive but uncomfortable line. There is a scientific explanation for the wormhole and the aliens inside it, but there's still a religion based around them. Major Kira still devoutly believes that religion, as do most of her Bajoran co-workers. Sisko remains, albeit unwillingly, a significant spiritual figure within it. He may be a Starfleet officer first and foremost, but like it or not he is also the Emissary of the Prophets. The tension there generates incredible drama, and with this episode Robert Hewitt Wolfe draws it out brilliantly. There's a beautiful little scene between Sisko and his son Jake, with the father gently urging the son to show more respect for other people's beliefs. It's impressive that Wolfe can skirt the line so deftly: there's no doubting the scientific explanation for the Prophets, but Sisko makes it eminently clear that science or not they're still the Prophets.

Babylon 5: "Ship of Tears"

Jumping back to Babylon 5 after about 70 episodes in a row of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine gives you a real feeling of creative whiplash. I'm not saying that one franchise is brilliant and the other awful, but it has made it profoundly clear where Babylon 5's strengths and weaknesses actually are. It gets the big things brilliantly right, because it's the self-described "novel for television", and characters are able to change, develop or even die. This allows writer/producer J., Michael Straczynski numerous opportunities to showcase big changes, great speeches and beautifully composed one-on-one dialogues between characters.

Take "Ship of Tears". The time has come for G'Kar to be admitted into Sheridan's secret war council, and that means Delenn has to confess to him that she and others knew all about the Shadows and their covert support of the Centauri invasion of Narn. Millions have died in unknowing sacrifice to keep Delenn and Sheridan's plans a secret. It's a heartbreaking scene, played beautifully by Mira Furlan and Andreas Katsulas, and it's only possible because G'Kar in particular has changed so much since the series began.

August 19, 2014

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Duet"

A Cardassian arrives on the station and is immediately taken into custody on suspicion he may be a war criminal for a notorious occupation labour camp. While Major Kira fights Sisko to have him extradited from the station to Bajor, the Cardassian's account simply doesn't add up - and he may be a more dangerous enemy than Kira first suspected.

"Duet" is one of those rare hours of television that prompt me to call it "a masterpiece". It's simply a beautiful piece of fiction. It is well written, well directed and performed brilliantly by both the regular and guest cast. It uses science fiction to ask questions of the real world, and presents a valuable and provocative allegory. It develops Major Kira as a character in a profound way, and stands heads and shoulders above every other episode of Deep Space Nine's first year. Throughout this Season 1 rewatch I've been eagerly anticipating rewatching "Duet"; it's always been one of my favourites, and it didn't disappoint.

I Am Big Bird: The Carroll Spinney Story (2014)

Three years back I was really taken by Constance A. Marks' Being Elmo, a great documentary about Sesame Street performer Kevin Clash. This year the Melbourne International Film Festival screened its spiritual cousin: I Am Big Bird, a new Kickstarter-backed documentary that focuses on Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch puppeteer Caroll Spinney.

It's impossible not to compare the two, since they cover very similar grounds: both men started puppeteering at a very early age, both were picked up by Jim Henson to join the Muppet team on Sesame Street, and both performed characters that became international sensations. Of the two it's Being Elmo that is the superior movie: better paced, more engagingly presented and with a more carefully crafted narrative. This isn't to say I Am Big Bird is not worth watching: it remains a loving insight into a very intriguing and talented figure in American pop culture.

August 18, 2014

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Dramatis Personae"

A Klingon starship returns through the wormhole months ahead of schedule, only to promptly explode. Its one survivor dies soon afterwards, claiming 'victory'. As the Deep Space Nine command crew go back to their regular duties, a rift starts to grow with Major Kira on one side and an increasingly paranoid Commander Sisko on the other. What is driving the crew to conflict, and why is no one but Odo acting normally?

There's a neat conceit at the heart of "Dramatis Personae": a sort of psychic virus, picked up by Klingons on a faraway, long dead plant, taken back to DS9 in their minds and then transferred to everyone in ops at the moment of the last Klingon's death. Infected by this alien energy, the command team all start replaying an ancient alien conflict - rationalising their feelings to however their present situation accommodates them. It's not perfectly executed, but it is intriguing enough to pull through.

Tsuritama: "Angry Landing"

So while I've quite enjoyed Tsuritama for the first three episodes, one thing that keeps jarring me is Haru. He's a blonde, purple-eyed, highly excitable alien with a mind-controlling water pistol. That in itself would be fine, except in the English language dub at least he has the most high-pitched, shrieking voice. It jars badly and makes him a very difficult character to like.

That in mind, it's pretty awesome that the fourth episode, "Angry Casting", devotes quite a bit of its running time to how Yuki finds Haru to be as irritating as I do, and then on giving Yuki a chance to warm to Haru over time. As Yuki begins to warm to him and accept his irritating quirks, I found myself doing the same thing. He's still irritating as all hell, but by addressing this head-on the series has allowed itself - and me - to accept him and move on.

August 17, 2014

The Pull List: 13 August 2014

Dan Abnett should probably be getting a lot more attention by comic book fans than he is, since it was his and Andy Lanning's run writing Guardians of the Galaxy that led to that title becoming Hollywood's latest movie blockbuster. He had a new book out this week, the first issue of a four-part miniseries titled Dark Ages.

In the 14th century a group of English mercenaries fall prey to an unknown and terrifying monstrous force from the stars. The seek sanctuary at a local monastery - but there seems to be more evil shenanigans going on inside than out.

It's a promising first issue that sets up the protagonists, establishes the story and setting, and throws in more than a few hooks for future issues. The book is illustrated by I.N.J. Culbard in a very neat, fairly simple style that tells the story without excessive flourishes or unnecessary detail. The last page is an absolute doozy, and pretty much guaranteed I would be coming back in September for issue #2. (4/5)

Dark Horse. Written by Dan Abnett. Art by I.N.J. Culbard.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl, Batman, Batman Eternal, FBP, Star Wars and Worlds' Finest.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "The Forsaken"

Dr Bashir is stuck escorting three Federation ambassadors around the station, while Odo avoids the amorous attentions of Lwaxana Troi who-

No, sorry. I don't care. I tried. I gave it my best shot. I went in with as open a mind as I could manage, and I completely failed to engage. I don't think there's a single character in the entire 728 episodes and 12 feature films of Star Trek who irritates me as much as Lwaxana Troi. She was introduced in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation as the grand, overly dramatic mother of Enterprise counselor Deanna Troi, and I hated her. She returned multiple times to The Next Generation and I hated her then. Now she crops up, rather ridiculously, for the first of three appearances of Deep Space Nine, and I simply can't bring myself to give a damn.

August 16, 2014

Jimi: All Is By My Side (2013)

Musical biopics are always a risky proposition: while audiences might love a particular band or artist's works, said bands and artists might not actually have personal stories worth telling in a motion picture. If they do, there's always the question of what to put into the narrative and what to leave out, who to cast as the artists themselves, what approach to take, how much of their music to put in and how that music is incorporated in general. There's also the issue of fidelity. How far do you extend dramatic license when purporting to tell a true story? Can you rearrange events? Amalgamate characters?

When this sort of film is done right, you get something like James Mangold's Walk the Line, which beautifully presented the life story of Johnny Cash. You get something like Iain Softley's Backbeat, which explored the choice made by Stuart Sutcliffe over whether to be a fine artist or a Beatle. You get Taylor Hackford's Ray, which was centred on a beautiful performance by Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles.

When this sort of film is done wrong, you get something a a bit like John Ridley's Jimi: All is by my Side.

August 15, 2014

Buckaroo Banzai: 30 years on

No matter where you go, there you are. And no matter where you go, if you've ever seen W.D. Richter's 1984 film The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension you're unlikely to ever forget it. I think this film ranks alongside the likes of The Blues Brothers and The Rocky Horror Picture Show as one of the ultimate cult movies ever made. Sadly the world doesn't completely agree with me, because while there continue to be regular cinema screenings of the other two films you never see Buckaroo Banzai getting big-screen revivals with attendees dressed as Emilio Lizardo or Sidney "New Jersey" Zweibel. You should. We deserve it. It would be awesome.

There are a lot of reasons why Buckaroo Banzai deserves to be a cult favourite. For one thing it sits at a weird genre crossroads: it's a science fiction film, but it's also a comedy - both generally funny and satirical - and a romance too. It has a peculiar tone to it, as if you're not always sure if the filmmakers are in on their own joke or not. It has an extensive cast of actors both famous and with significant cult appeal: Peter Weller, Jeff Goldblum, Ellen Barkin, John Lithgow, Clancy Brown, Christopher Lloyd, Dan Hedaya, Vincent Schiavelli, Carl Lumbly and Ronald Lacey. It is also eminently quotable.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "If Wishes Were Horses"

Chief O'Brien suddenly has the fairy tale villain Rumpelstiltskin in his quarters. Benjamin Sisko is having conversations with 21st century baseball hero Buck Bokai. Julian Bashir encounters a duplicate Jadzia Dax - only this one reciprocates his amorous advances and then some. Some unknown force is causing the imaginations of those of Deep Space Nine to emerge in the real world, while an unexplained vortex outside threatens to destroy the station entirely.

"If Wishes Were Horses" is one of those weird Star Trek episodes where you read the premise, are convinced it's going to be an irritation from beginning to end, and then discover that - by some creative miracle - it actually works. I went in dreading the episode, and remembering hating it back when I first watched it, but this time found myself being won over by its idiosyncratic charms.

August 14, 2014

Judging the New 52: July 2014

July saw DC Comics debut a couple of new monthlies. The one that leaps out immediately is Star-Spangled War Stories by Palmiotti and Gray, which with just 18,762 copies sold makes it the lowest-selling debut of a DC ongoing since the New 52 started. The question now is whether DC will kill it in the usual eight issues, or if they'll cut their losses and end it at four. To be honest, with sales that disastrous I'd expect the latter.

Much more successful was the relaunch of Nightwing as Grayson #1, which managed to ship 81,433 units - almost doubling the sales of the last issue of Nightwing and reaching #8 on the Diamond charts. Nightwing #1 only reached 63,000 units in September 2011, so this is a really impressive achievement.

Other relaunches didn't go quite as well. Teen Titans #1 sold an estimated 52,358 units; while more than double the sales for Teen Titans #30 back in April it's still well below the sales of the last Teen Titans launch in September 2011 (89,000 units). New Suicide Squad #1 shifted 49,260 units; again more than double the last issue of Suicide Squad but below Suicide Squad #1 in September 2011 (56,817).

Dinosaur 13 (2014)

Bear with me on this. A few years ago I was playing a board game with a group of friends. Another friend pops in a little late, and asks what we're up to. 'We're playing this fantastic board game,' I tell him. 'It's called Agricola. It's about late medieval farming practice. It's great!'

'It would have to be great,' replies the friend, 'you're playing a board game about late medieval farming practice.'

That conversation came to mind while watching Dinosaur 13, an American documentary directed by Todd Douglas Miller. It's about a complicated legal dispute arising from the excavation of a near-intact fossilized Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton in South Dakota. It's great, and going in I knew it was going to be great, because why else would the Melbourne International Film Festival program a documentary about a complicated legal dispute over a dinosaur skeleton?

August 13, 2014

Patema Inverted (2013)

Patema is an adventurous teenage girl living in an underground city. One day, while exploring, she finds herself falling down to an incredible upside-down world below. If she lets go, she'll fall into the sky forever. Thankfully she's just met upside-down local Age to hold her to the ground - but the oppressive authorities of his world are desperate to ensure Patema isn't around long enough to cause any trouble.

It's a tough time for original anime features. Each year it seems like more and more theatrical releases are adaptations of videogames or toys, or expansions of pre-existing television series. With the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli's suspension of new productions, the horizon for original anime seems particularly bleak. Thank goodness there are still new directors like Yasuhiro Yoshiura to create beautiful, emotionally stirring productions like Patema Inverted.

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2013)

This past weekend I had my own little two-day Studio Ghibli film festival, first catching Isao Takahata's The Tale of Princess Kaguya on Saturday and then seeing the documentary The Kingdom of Dream and Madness on Sunday. The documentary, by Japanese filmmaker Mami Sunada, follows director Hayao Miyazaki around for a period of months as he works on his final feature animation The Wind Rises.

This is a beautifully constructed film. Rather than directly interview Miyazaki and his workmates, talking heads-style, Sunada purposefully allows the personalities and opinions to flow organically over the course of the film. We meet and observe Studio Ghibli's harried producer Toshio Suzuki, who is handling The Wind Rises while simultaneously trying to coax Takahata to finally complete Princess Kaguya so he can release it into cinemas. We meet former Ghibli employee turned successful Evangelion director Hideaki Anno as he's unexpectedly coaxed back into the fold to voice the lead character of The Wind Rises. And of course we meet Hayao Miyazaki himself, a smiling, wry, chain-smoking bundle of contradictions as he supervises work on the final feature film of his career.

August 12, 2014

Five Films: Robin Williams

I started my day with the news that American actor and comedian Robin Williams had been found dead in his home, apparently the result of suicide. He had openly faced clinical depression and drug addiction for pretty much his entire adult life. I had always had the best of respect for how he discussed his disease so openly and with such candour. It seems today that he lost that fight, which is a tragedy, but it was a fight he engaged with successfully for decades. I can't help but think that his very public life helped countless others who suffered depression or addiction around the world.

I will miss his presence on screen greatly. As it was with the death of Rik Mayall earlier this year, this one cuts deeply: Obviously I never met Robin Williams. I don't know what he was like in person, but he was a constant presence on TV and cinema screens for my entire life.

What I wanted to highlight here, in his honour, were his more dramatic works. Williams may have started as a comedian, and made it big starring in a sitcom, but I honestly believe he was one of the strongest and most fascinating dramatic actors Hollywood ever had. Here are my five favourite performances.

Run (2014)

Run (Abdoul Karim Konate) is a young Ivorian man who has just shot the Prime Minister of the Ivory Coast. As he hides from the authorities hell-bent on hunting him down, a series of flashbacks show how he made the journey from abandoned orphan to rainmaker-in-training to patriotic militiaman and, finally, to political assassin.

I don't think I've seen a movie from the Ivory Coast before. It's not exactly a country known for its cinema. Africa in general isn't a hotbed of internationally distributed and feted motion pictures. Run appears to be the Ivory Coast's biggest-ever motion picture achievement. It was the first film from that country to play at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, and now it's enjoying a well-deserved run of the festival circuit. This isn't just a case of condescending cineastes indulging in a little bit of cultural tourism: Run is an absolutely stunning achievement in filmmaking.

August 11, 2014

A Nightmare on Elm Street: 30 years on

On this day in 1984 Wes Craven's horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street was released into American cinemas. It featured a group of high schoolers getting killed one by one in their sleep by the murderous spirit of Freddy Krueger, a child molester and murderer who used - in life and death - a hand-crafted glove with blades attached to each finger. That was a powerful and frightening visual motif, that glove. The surreal dream imagery resonated with audiences as well, so much so that Freddy managed to return for another six sequels, a short-lived television series, a crossover with the Friday the 13th movie franchise and, in 2010, an abortive remake.

The slasher movie was a hugely popular form of horror in the 1980s, and of the various competing franchises - Halloween, Friday the 13th, et al - it was A Nightmare on Elm Street that was by far my favourite. It had two things that the other franchises lacked. Firstly, it's dream setting allowed for wonderfully imaginative horror sequences. Secondly, its antagonist got to speak, gloat and laugh at his victims' expense. Freddy wasn't just scary, he was funny as well.

The Pull List: 6 August 2014

I come not to praise Batwing, but to bury it. It was a book that I honestly expected to be cancelled within eight months, and instead it last three whole years. It probably needed to be cancelled after less than two, to be honest, but for some reason DC refused to let go of the property until the bitter, poorly selling, underwhelming end.

I remain a big fan of the original Batwing, African police officer turned vigilante David Zavimbe, who received a super-powered suit from Bruce Wayne and fought crime, war and corruption in the dangerous world of west and central Africa. I liked the intention behind Batwing in those early days. I liked that there was a monthly comic from DC set in Africa with an African lead, more often than not fighting African supervillains. It felt like a positive step for diversity.

When sales struggled, DC had Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray rework the title with a new setting - Gotham City - and a new lead - MMA champion Luke Fox, son of Waynecorp COO Lucius Fox. So basically they took something distinctive and progressive and turned it into a Batman clone only with an Iron Man-style suit and an angry, unlikeable man at its centre. I never warmed to Luke Fox. I never warmed to the Gotham setting (how many vigilantes does one city need?). While I love much of their superhero work, I did not warm to Palmiotti and Gray's work on this title.

I'm assuming from this final issue (okay, second-to-last - I believe there's a Futures End one-shot shipping next month) that DC didn't give Gray and Palmiotti much notice, since it doesn't really wrap anything up. It just kind of stops in an awkward fashion. The bulk of the issue is quite depressing: Luke's family is broken, save for his ridiculously intelligent and verbose six year-old sister (terrible writing), he's angry and moody and is ready to quit superheroics forever. Then in the final page he saves a family of four and a final panel narration lets us know that he's happy now and is going to keep being a superhero. Ok. Whatever. Out of nowhere, and not remotely well characterised.

The beauty of DC is that they never throw characters out. They inevitably come back: sometimes repurposed, often reimagined. David Zavimbe won't be gone forever, and I can't wait to see another writer pick him up and push him forward. Luke Fox? I kind of hope we don't see him, or his Batwing alter ego, for a long time. (1/5)

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Aquaman and the Others, Batman Eternal, Black Widow, Detective Comics, Justice League 3000, Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man, The Punisher, She-Hulk, Usagi Yojimbo and The Woods.

Sabotage (2014)

Something very unfortunate has happened to the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger. A decade ago he took a break from his highly successful Hollywood career to become Governor of California. That side-job done (if being head if the world's 10th largest economy can be called a side-job) he returned to full-time acting with The Last Stand, a funny action comedy that promptly flopped at the box office. He followed that up with Escape Plan, a 1980s action throwback with Sylvester Stallone that arguably did the job of The Expendables better than that film ever did. It too flopped, in this case so heavily that it didn't even receive a mainstream cinema release in Australia. Australians didn't get his latest film in cinemas either, although it was advertised for a while. This film, Sabotage, is a much darker and more cynical picture than The Last Stand or Escape Plan, but it's about as good.

I honestly don't understand why audiences have abandoned Arnold Schwarzenegger. These films are as good or better than other action films at the multiplex. Schwarzenegger's own performances are the best they have ever been. He's simply been abandoned; yesterday's news, basically this generation's Charles Bronson. He doesn't deserve this. This film doesn't deserve this. Sabotage is bleak, violent and oftentimes close to actively unlikeable, but it is absolutely worth your time. Here's why.

August 10, 2014

Young and Dangerous 2 (1996)

Less than three months after Young and Dangerous took the Hong Kong box office by storm, Young and Dangerous 2 was out in cinemas, offering fans of the first film a hasty second instalment of the youthful, energetic Triad soap opera. The ridiculously short span between the original film and its sequel suggests either the production team shot both films at once or, strangely more likely, an incredibly rushed sequel shot and edited at breakneck pace to get onto screens while audiences were still raving about the first film. To be honest, knowing the Hong Kong film industry, either possibility could be true.

Very little has changed from the first film to the second. Most of the original cast returns, including Jason Chu in a new role. The visual look and tone of the film is identical. Both films even share key plot points – notably a twist mid-film where members of the Hung Hing gang are framed for a crime they didn’t commit. Audiences seeking more of the same will likely be satisfied with this. Audiences wanting to see the story taken in a new direction, or significantly expanded, will not find a lot to enjoy.

Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014)

A police officer in a northern Chinese city is the sole survivor of a horrifying shoot-out that leaves both criminals and his fellow officers dead. Five years later, he is an alcoholic security guard. A former colleague drags him back into the fold when his last police case, long thought closed, suddenly swings open with a fresh string of murders.

Black Coal, Thin Ice, directed by Diao Yinan, takes a well-worn film noir narrative: the beaten-down detective falls for the femme fatale who may have murdered several men. It then re-tells that narrative in a bluntly realistic fashion. The characters act like real, three-dimensional people. The violence, when it occurs, is confronting in its matter-of-fact bluntness. The surroundings, a Chinese coal mining town, give it all a highly distinctive edge. It might be an overly familiar story, but it's a striking execution of it.

August 9, 2014

The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013)

Studio Ghibli has been in the news quite a bit in the past week, with rumours - for now unfounded - that the company was going to close up shop altogether with the retirement of its co-founder and lead director Hayao Miyazaki. The news of Miyazaki's retirement gave a particular weight to his final film, the biographical anime The Wind Rises. Less high-profile has been the final film for his directing partner Isao Takahata, The Tale of Princess Kaguya. It was released in Japan last year and is now running the festival circuit internationally.

The film adapts the Japanese folk tale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. A woodcutter in the forest finds a tiny fairy princess inside a length of bamboo. He takes her home, where she transforms into a baby. The baby grows rapidly, and during her truncated childhood the woodcutter keeps finding gold and fine cloth inside the bamboo forest. He takes it as a sign, and with his newly found wealth takes the now-teenage girl to the capital to become a princess and find a proper suitor. The girl, Kaguya, would be happier if she stayed in the forest.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Progress"

This is a weird one. The last episode of Deep Space Nine saw O'Brien and Bashir beaming down to Bajor for a charged encounter with the local residents, while Jake and Nog engaged in hijinks back on the station. This episode of Deep Space Nine sees Kira beaming down to a Bajoran moon for a charged encounter with the local residents, while Jake and Nog engage in hijinks back on the station. I can understand broadly similar episodes making it into the same reason, but one directly after the other? Someone was clearly asleep at the wheel.

Thankfully this is a much, much better episode. One of Bajor's moons is to be repurposed to provide energy for the entire planet, but the explosive gases that will spill out once the core is mined will kill anything living on it. All of the residents farming on the moon have been relocated bar one, so Major Kira beams down to persuade him to leave. Back on the station Jack and Nog try their hand at private enterprise.

August 8, 2014

PSX20 #8: Wild Arms

PSX20 celebrates the 20th anniversary of Sony's Playstation videogames console by counting down my 20 favourite videogames for that platform. These aren't necessarily the best PSX games ever made, but they are the ones I liked and played the most.

By the time Wild Arms was released in Australia in 1998, it was already somewhat out of date. Its SNES-era charms, while sufficient to get it fairly positive reviews, left it a little bit redundant in a post-Final Fantasy VII market. I didn't care. I still don't. Wild Arms is a superb Japanese role-playing game that's rich in design and personality, and wonderfully enjoyable to play.

It lures you in at first, perhaps under false pretences, with a beautiful anime opening complete with beautiful orchestral score and hand-drawn animation (produced by Madhouse, for those familiar with that particular production studio). The game itself is all two-dimensional sprites running around two-dimensional maps, although the menu-based battle sequences are rendered in a rather primitive polygon-based fashion. The character design is one of the game's strengths, though, as is its balance between three protagonists.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Battle Lines"

An oversight on my part saw me miss reviewing this episode, and posting a review of the next episode instead. So let's quickly jump back. This shouldn't take long, because I think there's a reason I forgot I had watched it.

Kai Opaka, spiritual leader of the Bajorans, makes her first-ever voyage offworld to visit Deep Space Nine and travel through the wormhole. When the runabout carrying her, Sisko, Kira and Bashir crash lands in the Gamma Quadrant, Opaka is killed - and the Starfleet team encounter a war that's been going on for a very long time.

I spoil Opaka's death because (a) it happens very early into the episode, (b) she's alive again by the second or third ad break, and (c) this is a really dull episode. You don't need to watch it. You can freely miss it. I almost did by mistake. All you need to take away from this episode is that Opaka is no longer Bajor's Kai - it's very relevant for the season finale.

August 7, 2014

The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji (2013)

Japanese director Takashi Miike is one of the world's most versatile filmmakers, working at a furious pace across a broad range of genres and subject matters. His directing schedule has slowed down somewhat in recent years: between 2001 and 2002 he directed 15 feature films, TV specials and direct-to-video productions, whereas in 2013 he directed just two. The first, the police thriller Shield of Straw, I reviewed some months ago. Last night I watched the second, the manga adaptation The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji, which is playing as part of this year's Melbourne International Film Festival.

The new film follows Reiji (Toma Ikuta), pretty much the worst junior police officer in Tokyo, who gets conscripted into a top secret mission to infiltrate a major yakuza clan and gather evidence on its drug distribution operations. It begins with Reiji tied stark naked to the front of a car that's been driven at 80 miles per hour around central Tokyo, and works its mad, frantic way from there.

Young and Dangerous (1996)

Young and Dangerous was released at the beginning of 1996: a collaboration between director and cinematographer Andrew Lau, screenwriter and producer Manfred Wong and executive producer Wong Jing. The film adapted the popular comic Teddy Boy by Cow Man, starred a group of up-and-coming Hong Kong stars such as Ekin Cheng and Jordan Chan, and successfully took Hong Kong by storm. The film was more than a success. It became a phenomenon, spawning five sequels, a prequel and four spin-offs between 1996 and 2000. Fourteen years later the film was still casting a shadow over Hong Kong cinema, with Ekin Cheng and Jordan Chan reuniting for the 2010 triad comedy Once a Gangster.

Young and Dangerous follows a group of five young men, friends since childhood, who work together for a local triad boss Brother Bee (Frankie Ng). When the power-hungry rival Ugly Kwan (Francis Ng) makes a play for the leadership of the entire triad, the five friends find themselves on the run and out for justice.

August 6, 2014

Tsuritama: "Lonely Casting"

There's a very standard trope to a lot of anime: the protagonist needs to 'level up', basically learn a new skill that will somehow help them on their quest. This is very much one of those 'level up' episodes, since the entire half hour is pretty much dedicated to Yuki learning how to successfully cast a fishing line properly. I've seen many conversations over the years about whether anime is a medium or a genre: if it is a medium, it's certainly one that comes with an awful lot of standard techniques and conventions into which its various series, OVAs and movies slip.

Natsuki refuses to let Yuki go fishing in the ocean until he can master Natsuki's patent "Enoshima Bowl" technique. If this was a swimming anime, it'd be all about how to execute a perfect dive. If it was a Macross-style dog-fighting anime, it'd be all about how to execute the perfect barrel roll. This is, for better or worse, a fishing anime, so we get half an hour of trying to cast the perfect line.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "The Storyteller"

On their first away mission together, O'Brien and Bashir discover a Bajoran village where every night a storyteller recites a magical litany to dispel a terrifying monster. When the storyteller dies, O'Brien finds himself as the unwilling replacement - and the monster's due to return that night. Meanwhile, Jake and Nog compete for the affections of a teenage faction leader from Bajor.

First and foremost it's worth noting there's a lot in this episode that's right: it pairs up Miles O'Brien (Colm Meaney) and Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig) for the first time, and it's a pairing that will come to in part define Deep Space Nine over the coming six and a half seasons. It also further cements the friendship between Jake and Nog in ways that are at least a little different and progressive (example: romantically she prefers the Ferengi to the human).

It's worth noting all the good, because in terms of execution and the central plot, "The Storyteller" simply doesn't work.

August 5, 2014

Tsuritama: "The Frustrating Uni Knot"

Yuki is confronted by Haru's sister Coco, who tells him he must learn fishing to help save the world. He agrees to fish for a sea bass to prove his loyalty (at the end of a mind-controlling water pistol), only to fail at the first step because he can't tie an uni knot to keep his lure secure. Meanwhile Haru decides to give Yuki the space he needs to actually became his friend - at least he hopes that's what will happen.

So I'm two episodes into Tsuritama, a series that I deliberately went into cold and which turns out to be an anime about saving the planet by going fishing. It's got a lot going for it: weird characters, a humorous script, plenty of imagination and a bright, summery use of colour. That said, it's currently being crippled by two problems.

The Distance (2014)

Okay, let's see if you can wrap your head around this: from a warehouse next to an old power station in Siberia an Austrian performance artist hires three psychic Russian dwarves to undertake a heist: steal the mysterious device known as "the Distance" from under the nose of the Russian security guard, who is being distracted by a Japanese-speaking haiku-obsessed bucket of smoke that has amorous intentions towards the chimney of his nearby hut.

The Distance is a new film by Spanish director Sergio Caballero, whose 2010 film Finesterrae won a few awards and made quite an impact on the festival circuit. This Russian-German-Japanese language follow-up is going to delight some viewers and frustrate quite a few more with its deliberately odd blend of science fiction, observational drama, surrealist pretension and Russian art film pastiche. At the end of last night's screening the audience split two ways: one half laughing uproariously at the unexpected climax, and the other audibly groaning and muttering bitter resentment all the way out of the theatre.

August 4, 2014

Probably not the end of Studio Ghibli

Signals have come out today, widely repeated by the international entertainment press, that Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli is to close its doors as a production house. It's recently released children's fantasy When Marnie Was There would act as the studio's final feature film. Subsequent reporting has already indicated that this is a false alarm: Ghibli might shut down production on future films. They're openly not certain where or how to proceed now that their founders are retiring.

Should a closure happen, it would be a sad day for animation, since over the past 29 years Ghibli has produced some of the world's most enchanting and accomplished animated features. The idea that a company with such a beautiful legacy of filmmaking would close up shop seems incomprehensible. On the other hand, its founder and chief director Hayao Miyazaki has announced his retirement at 73, as has Studio president Toshio Suzuki. The company has also consistently refused to outsource any of its animation process to smaller firms or to move offshore. This has created spiralling production costs that often are not being matched by box office. Miyazaki's own The Wind Rises earned US$134m from a budget of about US$30m. Isao Takahata's The Tale of Princess Kaguya, on the other hand, only earned US$23.5m from a budget of roughly US$49m. It's too early to judge the performance of this year's Ghibli feature, When Marmie Was There, but opening numbers were anemic to say the least.