November 30, 2014

The Pull List: 26 November 2014

DC's excellent expansion and diversification of their Batman titles continues this month with the debut of Ray Fawkes and Ben Templesmith's Gotham by Midnight. We've had Catwoman shift to organised crime drama and Batgirl to hipster twentysomething shenanigans, not to mention Bruce gear up to punch New Gods in Batman and Robin. We've had Gotham Academy introduce boarding school hijinks and Arkham Manor transform Bruce Wayne's manor into a psychiatric hospital.

Gotham by Midnight is the third new title, and follows a group of Gotham City police detectives as they investigate supernatural horrors during the city's night shift. One of them is a young goth, another a moody forensic specialist. The third is a nun. They're led by Detective Jim Corrigan, a calm and driven officer who also happens to be the host for the Spectre.

This is a brilliant vehicle with which to properly re-introduce the Spectre to DC Comics. The character has always had promise, but has historically struggled to find a solid, long-term audience. I really think this might be his chance. The book boasts a strong, creepy script by Ray Fawkes, and that creepy tone is perfectly matched by Ben Templesmith's outstanding artwork.

I've been a fan of Templesmith for years, and while it's odd to see him working on a corporate-owned title he doesn't slack up in providing the artwork. His colours are always particularly impressive, and always give the impression his art is somehow illuminated from within. It really is the perfect match, and helps Gotham by Midnight be an exceptional first issue. There's no doubt what sort of book you're getting here, and personally it's a book I think I'm going to adore. (5/5)

Gotham by Midnight #1. DC Comics. Written by Ray Fawkes. Art by Ben Templesmith.

Under the cut: reviews of Aliens, Aquaman, Batman Eternal, Catwoman, Deathstroke, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Infinity Man and the Forever People, The Massive, ODY-C, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Umbral and Usagi Yojimbo.

November 29, 2014

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Second Skin"

Major Kira wakes up on Cardassia Prime. When she looks in the mirror, her face is that of a Cardassian woman. She is informed that she is a secret agent retrieved from deep cover, and was never a Bajoran named Kira Nerys at all.

It's a very provocative and bold premise for a Deep Space Nine episode: taking a hardened Bajoran freedom fighter who's haunted by her long fight against the Cardassians and telling her that she was actually a Cardassian all along. It generates drama from the get-go, and interrogates and changes character, and it would be one of the best ideas ever in the series were it not for one small problem. We know it's a lie.

November 28, 2014

Rocky (1976)

There are certain movies that have a large enough cultural footprint that it's difficult to separate them from their pop culture references. It can be a struggle to watch Casablanca without quoting its famous lines, for example, or to see Kane's death at the beginning of Citizen Kane without thinking of the numerous parodies of the scene. I think Rocky easily fits into this category of film: hugely popular at the time, its elements and tropes were repeated in five sequels and copied, referenced and parodied in countless subsequent films. TV shows and cartoons. How do we see through that? How can we strip everything away and just assess the film on its own merits?

Rocky was written by and stars Sylvester Stallone. He was an aspiring actor who was failing to get any work. This in itself isn't a surprise: a forceps injury during childbirth severed a key facial nerve, leaving him with dropping features and a tendency to slur his speech from one side of his mouth. Broke and desperate, Stallone wrote a screenplay purely so that he could have something in which to star. Once written, his Rocky screenplay was good enough that United Artists offered him $250,000 to buy the script and make it with Burt Reynolds or James Caan. Stallone held his ground, and with producers Irvin Winkler and Robert Chartoff and director John G. Avildsen, Rocky was finally made on a $1 million dollar budget with Stallone in the title role. It not only launched his successful movie career but it defined it as well. It's an amazing screenplay tailored perfectly to the skills set of its author.

November 27, 2014

PSX20 #1: Final Fantasy VII

In 2014 Sony's PlayStation turns 20 years old. It was a revolutionary console, exploding the Nintendo vs. Sega paradigm that had dominated videogaming for a decade and its effects can still be felt today. 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. Today we've reached #1, my all-time favourite PSX title: Squaresoft's 1997 role-playing game Final Fantasy VII.

It's a very predictable choice, I know. The thing is: it's predictable for a reason. Final Fantasy VII seems amusingly dated these days, with its numerous advances and innovations long-since superceded or improved upon. At the time it felt genuinely revolutionary.

Final Fantasy had kicked off as a last-ditch attempt by a failed production company to have a hit game: hence it's name, a bleak joke that it was in all likelihood Square's final shot at success. It was a breakout hit on the Nintendo Famicom, and two sequels on the Famicom and three on the Super Famicom helped cement Final Fantasy as one of the premier franchises in Nintendo's stable. Then the time came to make Final Fantasy VII. Square planned to take advantage of the CD-ROM technology promised by Nintendo's forthcoming disc-based SFC successor. It would enable better sound and in particular the use of pre-rendered video sequences. Then, quite suddenly, Nintendo parted ways with their CD-ROM partner Sony, to focus on a third cartridge-based console (ultimately released as the Nintendo 64). Nintendo assumed Square would revise their plans. Instead Square jumped ship to Sony's PlayStation and gave Sony their biggest weapon in the fight for the loyalty of Japanese gamers.

Tsuritama: "Horrified Splash"

With his grandmother about to be released from hospital, Yuki wants to surprise her with fresh tuna for his coming-home party. That means learning how to fish for tuna, and a secret trip to a forbidden part of the ocean - Akema, an artificial reef built out in the middle of nowhere.

For the bulk of this episode it seems like Tsuritama has slipped into a sort of comfortable formula: each episode Yuki will learn a little bit more about sea fishing, and progress to fishing for a slightly more difficult kind of fish. He will become a little more confident, and open up more to his eccentric friends. Then, during this episode's climax, we suddenly make an unexpected right turn and- what kind of an anime are we watching again?

November 26, 2014

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Equilibrium"

Jadzia Dax begins to act erratically and out of character. Then she starts to hallucinate a mysterious masked man. When Dr Bashir is unable to provide any answers he and Commander Sisko use the Defiant to take Jadzia back to the Trill homeworld and to the facility where Jadzia and the Dax symbiont were first joined.

The Trill homeworld: I love it. Sometimes Star Trek gets so creatively lazy that they can't even be bothered naming a planet. This is an odd episode really. It only exists because one of the executive producers saw a stage magician do a neat trick with face masks, and so ordered the writing room to come up with an episode that was based around it. It does give the series the opportunity to visit Dax's home planet for the first time and showcase the Trill a little more, but it by-and-large squanders that opportunity. Despite all of that it's still rather watchable, because Deep Space Nine has an advantage that other Star Trek series lack: it has depth of character.

The Blade of the Rose (2004)

Released in English language markets as The Twins Effect 2, Blade of the Rose seems an odd sequel in that - cast aside - it has no relation to the original film whatsoever. The original was produced to cash in on the popularity of singers Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung, who performed as "The Twins". The Twins Effect was a fairly mediocre sort of action comedy involving vampires. The Blade of the Rose is instead a fairly mediocre sort of action comedy involving the creaky old cliché of an female empire where men are enslaved.

It’s a messy film. For the most part it acts like a sort of gregarious high school production – everyone has this sort of amiable “let’s put on the show ourselves” vibe to them. It feels less like a Hong Kong fantasy film so much as a student film made by fans of Hong Kong fantasy. Amateurish to be certain, but also very high on charm and enthusiasm. It’s deliberately silly and over-the-top, as Hong Kong comedies are often wont to be. The costumes and sets are colourful enough to potentially induce seizures.

November 25, 2014

Following Desire (1972)

Following Desire. That's a fairly unassuming, generic sort of a title, you think. It suggests all manner of films. Then you pass your eye over it's lengthy list of alternative English language titles. Drenched Passion. Sayuri Ichijo: Wet Lust. Ichijo's Wet Desire. Ichijo's Wet Lust. What the hell movie are you watching? It is a proper movie at all? Is it porn?

Well, yes and no. Mainly yes to both. When Japanese audiences migrated en masse from cinemas to television sets, the film industry was left with a near-insurmountable crisis. It's a crisis that film studios endured across the world, of course, with different countries' studios developing different responses. In the USA the main response was to make films bigger and more expansive than what could be seen on television: grand visual spectacle, shot in Cinemascope, with an impact you could only get by sitting in a movie theatre. In Japan it was not that easy. For one thing, the overwhelming majority of Japanese films had been shot in Cinemascope (or, at least, one of its handy local equivalents) since the early 1950s. At the same time budgets were never really big enough for a Japanese studio to afford grand visual spectacle. The giant monster action Toho could produce for cinema was not that far removed, as far as audiences were concerned, from the stuff Toei was making for television.

So what do you make that people can't see at home? In the days before home video, the answer for Japan's studios was obvious: you made sex and violence.

Tekkonkinkreet (2006)

Tekkonkinkreet is a marvellously executed anime, full of unique character designs and innovative animation. Based on the three-volume manga by Taiyo Matsumoto, it tells the story of White and Black, two young brothers living in a run-down inner-city suburb of Treasure Town that comes under threat of the Yakuza – and something more dangerous, and seemingly unnatural. The film won the 2008 Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year – and deservedly so. The film tells an odd story, one that initially seems easy to get a handle on but rapidly spirals into something nearly inexplicable. Elements that at first seem to be suggestive of the supernatural wind up seeming directly unearthy and alien.

It begins with the Yakuza making a move on the run-down suburb of Treasure Town, but about 30 minutes in their plans are transformed by Snake – a pointy-haired pale-skinned stranger who dresses in red and has a trio of blue-skinned 14 foot tall bodyguards backing him up. Snake’s plan is to construct a Yakuza-backed amusement park at the centre of Treasure Town, for reasons while are never made clear. At no point does the film explicitly tell us he’s the devil, but they certainly indicate very closely in that direction.

November 24, 2014

The Pull List: 19 November 2014

For decades now there's been a simmering hatred between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. It all basically boils down to Moore firmly believing that Morrison keeps plagiarising his work and stealing his ideas, and Morrison basically wanting the angry old man of comic books to back off and leave him alone. One can only imagine the blind rage Moore will reach if he gets word of Pax Americana, the latest one-shot in Morrison's ambitious Multiversity maxi-series.

Each issue of Multiversity has focused on a different parallel DC Universe. This issue focuses on the Charlton Comics characters that DC purchased in 1983: the Question, the Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, and others. When DC originally picked up these characters, they hired Alan Moore to re-introduce them in a 12-issue comic series. As he developed it, however, DC elected to remove the Charlton identities and allow Moore to develop his own pastiche of them (Rorschach instead of the Question, Nite Owl instead of Blue Beetle, and so on). The result was Watchmen, pretty much the most widely acclaimed superhero comic of all time.

Multiversity is in itself a pastiche, and if Morrison is going to use the Charlton characters what better source text to reference and riff upon than Watchmen? It's a stunning post-modern piece of comics writing, and Frank Quitely illustrates it in his typically awesome style. At the same time I spent the whole book thinking "Moore's going to be so pissed". Like a lot of Morrison's work, each issue of Multiversity is leaving a lot of the narrative hanging. I'm assuming it's all going to tie together in the end - it usually does with Morrison. Even on its own, however, Pax Americana is a stunning and bold re-invention of past writers and characters. (5/5)

Under the cut: reviews of Annihilator, Batman and Robin, Batman Eternal, Batwoman, Daredevil, The Last Broadcast, Lumberjanes and Predator: Fire and Stone.

Survive Style 5+ (2004)

It’s always a bit of a struggle to fully comprehend Survive Style 5+. It’s a deliberately weird, off-kilter movie: the kind that you simply watch and enjoy on its own merits rather than waste time attempting to make sense of it all. And good luck defining its genre. It’s ostensibly a comedy, but it reaches that genre via action, horror, drama, and pretty much every other type of film you can think up.

Tadanobu Asano plays a man who keeps murdering his wife (Reika Hashimoto), and burying her in the woods nearby, only to come home and find her still alive and angrily waiting for him. A suburban father (Ittoku Kishibe) is hypnotised into thinking he is a bird, with frustrating consequences for his family. A trio of bored teenagers pass their time breaking into houses. An advertising executive (Kyoko Koizumi) struggles to think up the perfect advertising campaign.

So far, so good. What tips the movie over from generally weird to outright surreality is the addition of English footballer-turned-actor Vinnie Jones as a furiously angry professional killer, accompanied at all times by an incongruously polite Japanese translator (Yoshiyoshi Arakawa). ‘What is your function in life?’ screams Jones, in pretty much the only aspect of the film that actually unites these disparate storylines.

November 23, 2014

Stormy Night (2005)

Stormy Night (Arashi no Yoru Ni) is a Japanese animated feature based on a successful childrens book. A young goat named Mei takes shelter from a storm in a pitch-black barn, not realising that a wolf named Gabu is doing exactly the same thing. In the darkness, unable to see or smell each other, Mei and Gabu strike up an immediate friendship, and promise to meet up again for a picnic the next day. And, as they say, ‘hijinks ensue’.

It is usually really difficult to track down childrens-oriented anime outside of Japan, unless it is either produced by Studio Ghibli or is based on a successful toy or videogame. Even the latter is no guarantee – I am still waiting for an English subtitled edition of Animal Crossing to become available. I picked up Stormy Night in Hong Kong because it had English subtitles, without having heard of the film before or knowing anything beyond what was on the cover. I’m extremely glad I did. Stormy Night is a really distinctive and pleasant film.

The Omega Factor: "Visitations"

It's 20 June 1979, and time for BBC Scotland's The Omega Factor.

I reviewed the first episode of The Omega Factor about 18 months ago, but the recent announcement by Big Finish Productions of a sequel audio drama starring Louise Jameson led me to finally jump back and continue rewatching the series. This is one of my favourite BBC science fiction series: cleverly written, well acted and quite far ahead of its time. It follows journalist Tom Crane (James Hazeldine), a powerful latent psychic who is drawn into the affairs of Department 7, a government agency assigned to investigate the paranormal. He assists Dr Anne Reynolds (Louise Jameson), under the watch of her boss: psychiatrist Roy Martindale (John Carlyle). The series ran for 10 episodes before controversy and public complaints saw it summarily cancelled before a second season could be produced.

"Visitations" sees Crane continue to come to terms with his wife's death, and re-connecting with his brother - both of whom already seemed to have some contact, both personal and professional, with Department 7. He and Anne are dispatched to an old manor house when it shows signs of being haunted by spirits - or something even worse.

November 22, 2014

The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)

I think there’s an argument to be made that there are two types of samurai movie. There is the kind that is all about the samurai, ronin and various swordspeople slashing each other to death with swords. There is also the other kind, which is all about the moment of zen-like stillness before the samurai et al start slashing each other to death with swords.

The Tale of Zatoichi definitely falls into the latter category. This is a historically significant film, as it is the first in a long-running series of movie featuring Zatoichi, a master samurai turned blind masseuse. Played by Shintaro Katsu, the character featured in a run of twenty-six feature films and 100 television episodes between 1962 and 1989. He has subsequently been re-cast and re-made, notably by actor/director Takeshi Kitano in his internationally successful remake Zatoichi (2003). That was a great film; as is often the case, however, the original is better.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "The House of Quark"

A drunk Klingon warrior assaults Quark in his bar, stumbles to the floor and accidentally impales himself on his own dagger. When Quark attempts to leverage the incident to improve his bar's popularity, he finds himself in the middle of a war between rival Klingon houses, married off to the dead warrior's widow, and face to face with the Chancellor of the Klingon Empire.

After the dramatic events of "The Search", it's actually a well-timed relief to see Deep Space Nine have some fun with a comedic episode. "The House of Quark" is a brilliant episode, combined well-timed humour with some genuinely strong character work. The Ferengi were previously treated as villains, and one-note comic stereotypes. With episodes like this they get fleshed out and redeemed as a species and a culture: they're still the same profit-oriented Ferengi, but they're written and performed in a much more realistic and more importantly sympathetic fashion.

November 21, 2014

Accident (2009)

The Brain (Louis Koo) is an anonymous assassin who leads a team of operatives. Together they develop and enact elaborate murder schemes for hire: schemes that are carefully constructed so as to appear like freakish but readily explained accidents. When one of the Brain’s team is unexpectedly killed, and the police begin investigating his apartment, he becomes paranoid that he has become a target for murder himself.

Accident is a short, sharp, and immensely stylish thriller. It is directed by Soi Cheang (Motorway) and produced by Johnnie To via the latter’s Milkyway Image production company. There is a particular aesthetic to Milkyway films. They have a certain stylistic sheen and slow, methodical pace. Accident is no different, and slots in seamlessly among To’s own directorial works.

Blackfish (2013)

Gabriela Cowperthwaite's 2013 documentary Blackfish focuses on Tilikum, a captive killer whale that lives in a Seaworld theme park in the USA. He's male, large, intelligent and emotional. He has also killed three people. His story is a window into two realisations: firstly, that killer whales are truly extraordinary animals; secondly, that in capturing them and forcing them to perform for our amusement in theme parks and water attractions, we are torturing and killing them. This is not an easy documentary to sit through. I cried several times. I'm almost profoundly grateful for having seen it.

The events that led to this documentary being produced - the violent death of a Seaworld trainer - could easily inspire something quite sensationalistic and tacky. It is testament to Cowperthwaite's skills as a filmmaker that it never takes this route. It is oftentimes confronting, and in some scenes quite violent and brutal, but it never loses sight of what it is aimed to do, and it succeeds admirably in its goals. This is not simply a worthwhile and informative documentary - it is a necessary one.

November 20, 2014

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "The Search, part 2"

It's 3 October 1994, and time for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Odo has been reunited with his own people, the Changelings. While he attempts to learn their ways and re-integrate into their society, Kira begins to have some questions about what the Changelings' motives really are. Meanwhile Sisko and his crew return to Deep Space Nine to discover the Dominion have made contact with the Federation in their absence, and that a peace treaty is being negotiated. How much is the Federation willing to sacrifice to keep the peace?

"The Search, part 2" is a rare phenomenon in Star Trek: the second part of a two-part story that's actually better than the first. Usually it goes the other way around: part 1 is able to set up all manner of shock climaxes and cliffhangers, and it's up to part 2 to stagger around picking up the pieces and making sense of it all. Instead "The Search" moves quite smoothly from one installment to the other, and its cleverest ideas and most surprising moments are all actually here in the second half.

Clue (1985)

I remember everybody leaping onto the bandwagon in 2012 to mock Peter Berg's sci-fi action flick Battleship for actually attempting to adapt a board game into a motion picture. This wasn't Hollywood's first attempt to turn a board game into a movie of course; back in 1985 Paramount Pictures released Clue, aka Cluedo, based on the popular murder mystery game. It's an odd little film which broadly succeeds by refusing to take itself seriously. Is it a good film? I'm honestly not sure. I laughed, just probably not quite enough for me to give it an enthused recommendation.

The film was written and directed by Jonathan Lynn, best known for co-writing the excellent BBC comedy Yes Minister. This was Lynn's first feature film, but not his last: he went on direct My Cousin Vinny, The Whole Nine Yards, The Distinguished Gentleman and The Fighting Temptations.

It has a strong cast of comic actors, including Tim Curry, Lesley Ann Warren, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd and Michael McKean. It's essentially a farce: people running in and out of rooms, comical misunderstandings, mannered performances. How much you enjoy the film does, in part, depend on what you think of farces.

November 19, 2014

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "The Search, part 1"

It's 26 September 1994, and time to begin watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's third season.

With Starfleet reeling from the destruction of the USS Odyssey, Commander Sisko is given command over the Defiant: a small over-powered battleship originally developed to fight the Borg. He takes the Deep Space Nine command crew with him on an urgent mission to the Gamma Quadrant to find the mysterious Founders of the Dominion, and to avert a galactic war before it can begin.

Season 3 kicks off with "The Search", a two-part story that introduces a lot of changes to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The obvious addition is the USS Defiant, basically giving the series a more iconic means of flying away from the station when certain episodes (like this one) require it. It's a nicely designed ship, sitting somewhere between the pre-existing Runabouts and a starship proper. It's also a ship built for war, which leads nearly into the second big change.

Star Trek: Enterprise: Season 3 in review

Season 3 was the year that Enterprise got put on notice, and the production team started scrabbling around in a desperate hunt to save the series. It had all started so swimmingly: Season 1 premiered with almost 12 million viewers. By the end of Season 2 those viewers had mostly wandered off to watch other things, and Enterprise struggled to hit four million viewers a week. UPN demanded a shake-up, and so in the Season 2 finale the writers had Earth hit by a devastating attack: a prototype super-weapon built and launched by the mysterious Xindi to wipe out the human race. The Enterprise was dispatched to meet and negotiate with the Xindi, and to prevent their main super-weapon from being unleashed. It was basically Space Battleship Yamato: one ship on a year-long quest to save the planet Earth from destruction.

Now clearly this wasn't the first time Star Trek had attempted a story arc: the back-end of Deep Space Nine's final season was almost entirely one big storyline, culminating in an epic ten-part finale. This was a whole season, however, and represented a pretty big leap of faith by producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga. High risks, but potentially a big reward.

November 18, 2014

The Pull List: 12 November 2014

A pilot crashes his spacecraft onto a frontier planet. He wakes some days later in a frontier colony town, where he seems set to make violent first contact with the locals. That's basically the premise for the first issue of Drifter, a new monthly comic from Image written by Ivan Brandon with art by Nic Klein. Brandon's writing is solid but doesn't really do anything that grabbed my attention. Klein's artwork is absolutely stunning, and joins a recent spate of really beautiful Image books. So far so good.

My big question is: does Image need a book like Drifter? If there's one genre that's been in plentiful supply over there it's been science fiction. Prophet just wound up a run monthly run of Rene Laloux-style weirdness. Copperhead kicked off three months ago, with a very similar western frontier vibe (albeit much more on the nose). We only recently had Planetoid, Storm Dogs, and Debris. Saga is still selling like gangbusters. I'm not suggesting there isn't room for more sci-fi in comics - how many superhero books get published a month? - but based on this issue I don't see any way in which Drifter differentiates itself from the crowd. It's coming in too late to the party, and runs the risk of being an also-ran. How many more comics do we need to read about gun-toting gritty heroes on western-inspired frontier worlds? Clearly Brandon and Klein feel there's room for one more, but I'm not entirely convinced. (3/5)

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl, Batman, Batman Eternal, Copperhead, FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics, Klarion, Prometheus, She-Hulk, Silver Surfer, Thor, Wild's End and Wytches.

Star Trek: Enterprise: "Zero Hour"

It's 26 May 2004, and time for the Season 3 finale of Star Trek: Enterprise.

Captain Archer rides a Xindi ship at breakneck speed down a subspace corridor, in a desperate race to reach and destroy the super weapon before it reaches and annihilates the Earth. Back in the Expanse, T'Pol commands the Enterprise in a risky mission to destroy the Guardians' sphere network once and for all.

This episode boasts the most archetypal 'old-school' Star Trek climax imaginable: the Enterprise's captain beams aboard the alien death machine to blow it up, and winds up having a brutal fistfight with the alien leader. It's a climax so archetypal that J.J. Abrams duplicates it in his 2009 reboot movie. Then it will be Chris Pine as Kirk trading blows with the Romulan terrorist Nero (Eric Bana) over a network of precarious walkways. Here it's Scott Bakula as Archer trading blows with the Reptilian Xindi terrorist Dolim (Scott MacDonald). Apart from the change in characters, it's basically the same scene - just five years apart.

November 17, 2014

The Little Mermaid: 25 years on

25 years ago today Walt Disney Pictures released The Little Mermaid. It was the company's 28th full-length animated feature, but also one of their most important. Disney had struggled to make the leap from the 1960s to the 1980s. During the 1970s the company relied on inexpensive family films and comparatively cheap animated features. By the end of the decade, however, that strategy seemed dead in the water. Star Wars had radically changed the film landscape, and while the other studios jumped at the chance to make more sophisticated and mature feature films Disney found itself stuck in a rut with rapidly declining box office.

Attempts to cash in on the new Hollywood aesthetic failed entirely, with The Black Hole, Tron, Return to Oz and several other live-action films all flopping to one degree or another. Attempts to revolutionise the studio's animated offerings resulted in the disastrously unsuccessful The Black Cauldron, which took years to make and was entirely dismissed by audiences worldwide. Two young animators, Ron Clements and John Musker, developed a much cheaper animated feature titled The Great Mouse Detective. When it turned a small profit Disney assigned them to a slightly more ambitious feature: The Little Mermaid.

Star Trek: Enterprise: "Countdown"

It's 19 May 2004, and time for more Star Trek: Enterprise.

Ensign Sato has been kidnapped by the Reptilian Xindi and forced to work on decrypting the codes they need to launch the super-weapon. Archer finally convinces the Aquatics to side with him, the Arboreals and the Humanoid Xindi in a last-chance attack on the Reptilian fleet.

"Countdown", the penultimate episode of Enterprise's third season, is basically 40 minutes of wall-to-wall fighting: gunfights, fistfights, space battles, you name it, they seem to do it. One of the benefits of writing a season-long story arc is that by the time you get to episode 23 you've got pretty much nothing else to do than run one hundred per cent climax. As a result this episode is made up almost entirely of emotional pay-offs and satisfying action beats. It's certainly not the most intellectual Star Trek episode ever made, but it's certainly one of the more enjoyable.

November 16, 2014

Conspiracy Theory (1997)

Jerry Fletcher (Mel Gibson) is a paranoid taxi driver who writes his own crackpot newsletter while obsessing over attorney Alice Sutton (Julia Roberts). When he's suddenly abducted off the street by mysterious government agents, he escapes in a mad panic to find out what he knows and why he's been targeted.

Sort of. It's difficult to write a solid synopsis of Conspiracy Theory because it twists around at least twice to change what story it's actually telling. It starts off rather disturbingly, presenting Gibson as an obsessive and slightly frightening stalker, but not necessarily in a way that invites the audience to acknowledge the criminality and gross distastefulness of what he's doing. Thankfully by the time the film's climax comes around things look a little different, and its moral compass is more assured and understandable.

Other than that, is the film any good? Well...

Interstellar (2014)

There seems to come a time in every artist's life when their success grows a little too much, and the people who would have previously warned them off excess suddenly evaporate. After all, if the artist's last work was a resounding success, and you then start telling them to cut or edit their next work, and that new work isn't as successful? Who's going to take the blame? The immensely popular artist, or the producer/editor who told them to change or streamline their next work?

Basically there's a point in a successful artist's career when the people who should be giving them reality checks stop speaking out, and you suddenly find yourself swimming in two-inch thick J.K. Rowling novels, or ponderous electronica excursions by Radiohead, or Lord of the Rings movies were the credits start rolling 45 minutes after the plot ended.

I worry that Christopher Nolan's hit that point now. I am an enormous fan of his work. I think some of his films - Memento, The Prestige, Inception and The Dark Knight - are full-blown masterpieces. Then there was The Dark Knight Rises, which was unusually portentous and flabby, which ended his Batman trilogy less with a bang and more with a shuddering miasma of disinterest. Now we've got Interstellar, which appears to be a pretty even mixture of good elements and bad, strung together into a film that outstays its welcome by a solid 30 minutes. I think Nolan has crossed the bridge that all successful Hollywood directors seem to cross, where running times become secondary to squeezing in just one more scene, and tight narrative structures are just things that happen to other movies.

November 15, 2014

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 3 in review

Traditional wisdom has always been that Season 3 was the year when Star Trek: The Next Generation 'became good'. Looking back with nearly 25 years of hindsight, and I've discovered that the perceived wisdom is mostly true. The series certainly gets a lot better in Season 3, but it takes the better part of the season to shake out the kinks and really set the series up to succeed. It ends in much better shape that where it began, so I'm actually quite keen to see how Season 4 goes.

One thing that particularly struck me was that this was the season where The Next Generation stopped trying to ape the original Star Trek and instead went forward on its own merits: it's a softer, more ensemble-based dynamic: much as the fans liked the entire crew of the original series, the focus in terms of screen time and character development was almost entirely on Kirk and Spock - and to a lesser extent McCoy. Here everyone gets plenty of time to shine and develop (unless your surname is Crusher, then you're likely to still be a little short-changed).

Star Trek: Enterprise: "The Council"

It's 12 May 2004 and time for more Star Trek: Enterprise.

With his arrival at the Xindi Council planet, Captain Archer finally has his chance to plead humanity's case and avert disaster. While at first it appears that the Xindi will postpone the release of their superweapon, it soon becomes apparent that the Council is about to split - the Arboreals and Humanoids on one side, the Reptilians and Insectoids on the other, and the Aquatics in the middle. Meanwhile the Guardians continue to manipulate events from the future.

Last episode's time travel shenanigans out of the way, Enterprise is now free to return to the season's ongoing story arc. This is a critical episode, and thankfully it feels like one. It begins with tense political posturing and ends with the outbreak of civil war among the Xindi. Meanwhile T'Pol leads a mission into one of the Guardians' spheres to retrieve badly needed evidence of their true plans.

November 14, 2014

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Best of Both Worlds"

It's 18 June 1990 and time for Star Trek: The Next Generation's third season finale: "The Best of Both Worlds". When the Enterprise responds to a distress signal from a Federation deep space colony, they find that the outpost has been entirely destroyed - scooped up and consumed right out of the planet's surface. Such devastation has been seen before: the Borg have finally returned, and Starfleet isn't ready.

"The Best of Both Worlds" is possibly the most famous episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation ever made. Certainly it boasts Star Trek's most famous cliffhanger. No, more than that: this episode ends on one of the most famous cliffhangers in the history of American television. I don't say that lightly: this ranks up close to J.R. Ewing getting shot in Dallas. The image of Captain Picard, taken over and augmented by the Borg, ordering Riker to surrender - and Riker ordering the Enterprise to open fire on its own captain, was jaw-dropping back in 1990. It seemed impossible to work out how the characters could all possibly survive.

It's a cliffhanger that deserves its fame, but it's also one so famous that it seems to overshadow the rest of the episode. This is one of the best instalments of The Next Generation I've rewatched so far, but the episode's extensive merits are constantly overlooked in favour of its climax.

November 13, 2014

Judging the New 52: October 2014

DC Comics launched five new monthly titles in October, as well as soft relaunches of two others - Batgirl and Catwoman. Altogether it marked the biggest push of new titles they've done in a long time, all of them promoted with a lot of in-house print advertisements and Internet hype in all the standard comic book websites. How did they go?
  • Arkham Manor: I can't quite get my head around this one, which is all about a repossessed Wayne Manor being adapted to use as the new Arkham Asylum (since the original building just collapsed over in Batman Eternal). It's not a concept I'd have thought had much appeal, but 35,922 readers disagreed with me. Talon launched somewhere similar in September 2012, and ran for 17 issues.
  • Gotham Academy: This immensely cute all-ages book is basically Hogwarts School adapted into the Batman universe. It launched at 43,338 units; other books that launched around this number ran for about a year before burning out. Hopefully this one will last longer - it deserves to.
  • Klarion: Dead on arrival, with just 20,870 units shipped. Only one other book (Star-Spangled War Stories) launched with less. It was a weirdly unfocused, difficult first issue too, so I'd expect a pretty harsh drop in November to about 15,000 units or less. This one will run the length of a trade paperback and quietly die.
  • Lobo: This is the new 'sexy' Lobo, and launched with 39,047 units. That suggests about a one-year run, much like Gotham Academy.
  • Trinity of Sin: Another book that's dead on arrival. This combined the two cancelled titles Phantom Stranger and Pandora into one, and sold 22,683 units - roughly what those two books sold together back in August. I give it six months, presumably to tie up their storylines, and then it's done.

Star Trek: Enterprise: "E²"

It's 5 May 2004, and time for Star Trek: Enterprise.

Before the Enterprise has time to head for the subspace corridor that will take them to the Xindi Council, it is intercepted by another Enterprise. This future alternate vessel is commanded by Lorian, son of T'Pol and Trip, and has arrived to prevent the present-day Enterprise from attempting to enter the corridor. If it does, it will be thrown more than a century into the past and lead to the battered generation ship now attempting to stop its journey.

Oh Star Trek: you and your wacky time travel alternative timeline stories. You really do love them. How do we know you love them so much? Not only have you interrupted the momentum you finally built up with the Xindi story arc, this is the second such alternate future storyline you've produced this season. "Twilight", featuring a future Captain Archer attempting to change the past, only aired back in November 2003. That's six months ago. Was this series really so short of storylines in Season 3 that it needed to return to the same well so soon?

November 12, 2014

Tsuritama: "Discouraged Jerking"

"Discouraged Jerking" sounds like a really dodgy title. It immediately brings to mind the sort of Japanese animation I don't want to have brought to mind. Sorry. It's probably a translation issue. Let's move on.

This is the fifth episode of Tsuritama, a 2012 anime series in which a stifled, awkward teenager named Yuki is taught to fish at the behest of a gregarious blonde alien boy named Haru so that he can go on to save the world. They hang out with a third teenager, the more skilled and laconic Natsuki. They also seem to be constantly crossing paths with Akira, an Indian boy in a turban who is constantly talking to his duck. Oh Japan. Never change.

"Discouraged Jerking" sees Haru decide to commit properly to the fishing hobby. He wants to buy his own rod and reel, and to get the money to do so he signs up to help on a game fishing boat during their school holidays.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Transfigurations"

It's 4 June 1990, and time for Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise recovers a badly injured alien from a crashed spaceship. While his body heals with alarming speed, he has no memory of who he is or where he is going - or running from. His powers, however, have an unexpected effect on Lieutenant La Forge.

"Transfigurations" is the sort of episode that's the bane of all review writers: the average episode. There's honestly not a huge amount here that feels like it's worth writing about. It's a competent but unexceptional hour of television that doesn't trip over its own feet but doesn't excel at the same time. It actually feels a little out of place in Season 3, as if it's been held over from one of the first two seasons and is coming to the party a little late and out of fashion. Oddly enough, however, it's not a holdover at all but rather the second script for Rene Echevarria, who kicked things off with "The Offspring" and will go to shape a lot of Star Trek in the future.

November 11, 2014

PSX20 #2: Metal Gear Solid

In 2014 Sony's PlayStation turns 20 years old. It was a revolutionary console, exploding the Nintendo vs. Sega paradigm that had dominated videogaming for a decade and its effects can still be felt today. 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. Today we've reached #2, Konami's Metal Gear Solid.

Metal Gear Solid (1998) is a stealth-based action game in which the player controls secret operative Solid Snake as he infiltrates a nuclear weapons facility to disable or kill a group of super-powered terrorists. It always struck me as an odd game. Odd because it combines elements that are startlingly realistic for a late 1990s videogame with elements that are deliberately weird, silly or self-referential. Odd because it's characters are so bizarrely drawn and named. Most of all it's odd because when the story and the characters are taken all together it's pretty much the most tortured and ridiculous narrative imaginable, and yet its characters treat it all with a deadly seriousness.

Star Trek: Enterprise: "The Forgotten"

It's 28 April 2004, and time for Star Trek: Enterprise.

Repairs continue onboard the Enterprise, which remains critically damaged from the Xindi attacks. Archer invites two of the Xindi council to meet him on Enterprise, in an attempt to convince them that humanity is not their enemy. T'Pol continues to suffer the withdrawal symptoms from her trellium use, while a sleep-deprived Tucker struggles to write a condolence letter to the parents of a dead crew member.

It might have taken them most of a season to get to this stage, but with "The Forgotten" Enterprise really seems to have settled into its new serialised formula. This is an episode almost entirely about the after-effects of other episodes, giving the series a rare chance to relax a little and let a number of emotional trajectories flow to their natural conclusions. It's boosted by series-best performances. It's a pity that Enterprise got so widely disregarded by fans and critics because the acting of its three leads - Scott Bakula, Connor Trinneer and Jolene Blalock - is about as good as acting on Star Trek gets.

November 10, 2014

Doctor Who: Season 8 in review

With all 12 episodes now broadcast, it's time to look back and reflect on Doctor Who's much-anticipated eighth season. It featured a new Doctor in the shape of Peter Capaldi, and several new writers and directors, but by and large was a stable continuation of the series that's been running on the BBC in one form or another since 2005.

Each time I review a science fiction TV series I use a very simple 'quality ratio', where each episode is given a very simple score of either 'good' or 'bad'. The quality ratio reflects the percentage of good episodes in the season; in the case of Season 8 that ratio was ultimately 67%. Eight good episodes and four bad ones. That hardly paints a detailed picture, however, so it's worth looking back and re-assessing the season as a whole to see what worked and what didn't.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Menage a Troi"

The Enterprise has returned to the planet Betazed for an important trade conference. One of the delegates, the Ferengi Daimon Tog, becomes besotted with Deanna Troi's mother Lwaxana - so much so that he promptly kidnaps her, along with Deanna and Commander Riker. While the three captives do their best to escape Tog's clutches, the Enterprise crew are not even aware they've been kidnapped.

Pretty much my two least favourite things in Star Trek: The Next Generation are pre-Deep Space Nine Ferengi and Lwaxana Troi. "Menage a Troi" combines both of them into one genuinely awful, deeply unfunny hour of television. I honestly thought about skipping it entirely, since I remembered hating it so much the first time around, but then I figured it might not be as bad as I recalled. Certainly there have been other episodes I've re-assessed over the course of this rewatch. Sadly this episode is exactly how I remembered it, with the added bonus of feeling even more dated that the other episodes of Season 3. This is really creaky and unenjoyable television.

November 9, 2014

Doctor Who: "Death in Heaven"

Peter Capaldi's first season as the Doctor comes to a rousing conclusion - or, at least, producer Steven Moffat and his production team hope it does. In truth, "Death in Heaven" is a staggeringly uneven affair. Every element or scene that works well is matched by one that doesn't and, like most season finales for the series, leaves the viewer in a wreckage of overwrought set pieces and irritatingly unanswered questions. I swear there's still a great series in Doctor Who, but episodes like this make it rather hard to make that claim to non-fans without looking delusional.

The episode actually begins very promisingly, with the Doctor and the Master ambushed by UNIT, drugged and taken aboard an executive airliner. There the Master is chained up in the cargo bay while the Doctor is appointed President of the planet Earth. That's a bit of a silly twist, really, but nothing worse that the silliness Russell T Davies used to throw at the series every finale. This one's not just silly though, it's also fairly redundant; after the Doctor's new position is made clear, it's not actually used or has any effect on the plot bar one well-placed sentence the Doctor says to the Master.

Meanwhile Clara is trapped inside the W3 Corporation, attempting to fool three Cybermen that she's actually the Doctor in disguise. It's a funny gambit, made even funnier by the episode's opening credits, but like the Doctor's Presidency it's abandoned as soon as it begins.

The Matrix Revolutions (2003)

The Matrix trilogy wound up with The Matrix Revolutions, released simultaneously around the world in the widest motion picture release of its kind. The Matrix Reloaded had managed to become one of the highest-grossing films of all time, so studio expectations were high. Reloaded had divided viewers, however, so it's safe to say that audience expectations were more ambivalent. I remember that back in 2003 I was personally enormously excited, having found the ideas and the foreshadowing in Reloaded to be brilliant stuff - and I couldn't want to see how it would all be resolved.

I honestly don't think I've been more disappointed with a film in my life. I absolutely loathed Revolutions, and while I've rewatched the other two films several times in the past decade or so I've only rewatched the third film maybe once or twice. Given the space of years I still think it's a terrible movie, but I now find it a lot easier to pinpoint exactly why it doesn't work.

November 8, 2014

The Pull List: 5 November 2014

Pretty much my favourite new comic book this year is Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood's science fiction police procedural The Fuse. It follows two police detectives assigned to a large orbiting space station above the Earth. The first six issues, "The Russia Shift", are available in trade paperback already and I strongly recommend you pick it up and give it a read - assuming you haven't already. This is the sort of book that deserves to be on the Hugo ballot. It's smart, engaging, and uses science fiction trappings and concepts to give a fresh lease of life to the procedural genre. Plus I really like the two lead characters: Ristovych and Dietrich.

After a short hiatus the book returned this week with issue #7, and the beginning of the second story arc: "Gridlock". It turns out there's a highly dangerous and illegal sport known as 'gridlocking', in which young spacesiders drag-race along the surface of the station using magnetic bikes. When the body of the most popular racer is found outside the station, riddled with holes from a meteoroid burst, Ristovych and Dietrich are called in to investigate.

This is a faultless comic book. The characters are cleanly drawn. Information is provided in a contextual manner, so the story is never slowed down for unnecessary info-dumps. Greenwood's artwork is distinctive and likeably angular. On top of all of that, there's a genuinely good police mystery to be solved. Trust me: give this book a chance. I honestly think it's the comic of the year, (5/5)

Image. Written by Antony Johnston. Art by Justin Greenwood. Colours by Shari Chankhamma.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Batman Eternal, Cloaks, Detective Comics, Doctor Who, Gotham Academy, Justice League 3000, Lobo, Tooth and Claw, Usagi Yojimbo and The Woods.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Sarek"

It's 14 May 1990, and time for Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise is to play host to the alien Legarans. The Federation Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan, arrives to lead the negotiations, but something is amiss. His staff keep him in seclusion. He does attend a Mozart recital in his honour, but leaves halfway through when he begins to cry. Meanwhile Sarek's own psychic powers are causing the Enterprise's crew to turn on one another in uncharacteristic fits of rage. With the summit with the Legarans growing ever closer, Captain Picard must confront Sarek to prevent the situation from deteriorating any further.

An uncredited cameo by Dr McCoy aside, it took almost three whole years for The Next Generation to finally re-introduce a character from the original series. This was a huge step forward: for the first two seasons it was Gene Roddenberry himself who fiercely refused to allow pre-existing characters to appear, or even be name-checked, in case it held the new series back from creating its own identity. Even when McCoy cameoed in "Encounter at Farpoint", he was never actually named on-screen. In the case of "Sarek", a pre-existing script saw a character develop who was a venerated and elderly ambassador and an icon of the Federation. By turning that character into Sarek the production team effectively jump-started the episode: seeing a character you've never met before suffer from developing dementia is sad, sure, but seeing Spock's father succumb to senility is absolutely heartbreaking.

November 7, 2014

The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Anticipation was extremely high in 2003 for The Matrix Reloaded. After its successful cinema release in 1999, The Matrix had only become more popular as growing numbers of viewers caught up with the film on home video. Anticipation was met with hype from Warner Bros, who - with the addition of The Animatrix and the videogame Enter the Matrix - turned Reloaded into a media phenomenon. Everybody wanted to see this film. I accompanied many of my friends to a midnight screening, so keen were we to see what happened next.

Reloaded opens some undetermined time after The Matrix. The machines have located the human refuge of Zion, and massive engines are burrowing through four kilometres of rock to reach the city and kill everyone inside. In a last-ditch mission to stop the human-machine war, Morpheus, Trinity and Neo re-enter the Matrix to meet with the Oracle and find a way to shut down the system once and for all.

This is a fairly contentious movie. Critical reviews were mixed, although they tended towards the positive. Today Metacritic gives the film a weighted score of 62%, which is positive but unexceptional, and certainly isn't as strong as the 73% scored by the original Matrix. Rotten Tomatoes scores the film more generously, with a weighted average of 73% - although again, not as strong as the original's 87%. An awful lot of vocal science fiction fans actively loathed the film - and continue to express their disdain for it whenever it comes up in conversation. I loved the film at the time, and honestly couldn't understand some fans' hostility towards it. It's been quite a few years, however, so I was keen to see it with a fresh perspective.

Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1972)

By the early 1970s the UK's horror movie stalwart Hammer Film Productions was struggling to retain its market share. Faced with increased competition from overseas and a growing sophistication among competiting horror movies, the company was forced to think out of the box and experiment with its long-tested formulas. One of these more experimental productions was Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter.

Hammer reached out to television writer/producer Brian Clemens, who had found enormous success writing and producing ITC's The Avengers. He wrote, produced and directed Captain Kronos as a new kind of Hammer film, less concerned with the horror elements and more with action and adventure.

It was intended to be the first film in a whole franchise of Captain Kronos movies, but poor box office and Hammer's continued financial struggles stopped those plans in its tracks. It now sits as a bit of an oddity, similar enough to Hammer's other films to form part of the overall range but still distinctive enough to stand out from the crowd.

November 6, 2014

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Most Toys"

It's 7 May 1990, and time for more Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise has met with a rogue trader to collect a badly needed supply of hytritium, a volatile substance that can cure a deadly contamination on a nearby Federation colony. When Commander Data's shuttle containing the last of the hytritium explodes, the Enterprise crew are forced to proceed with their missing while mourning their dead colleague - not realising that the real Data has been kidnapped by the same trader, Kivas Fajo (Saul Rubinek) - who plans to make Data the centrepiece of his collection of rare treasures.

Saul Rubinek was a last-minute replacement for David Rappaport, who attempted to commit suicide a few days into the original shoot. Once the role of Fajo was re-cast, the relevant scenes were re-shot and production continued as normal. Sadly Rappaport's second suicide attempt was successful; he died on 2 May 1990, just before "The Most Toys" was broadcast. It's important to note the last-minute nature of Rubinek's casting - he was available, he was a Star Trek fan keen to appear in the series, and he was a personal friend of the episode's director Timothy Bond. It's important, because what happens next is arguably all just a horrible mistake: they make Fajo into a Jewish stereotype.

The Animatrix (2003)

When The Matrix became a global box office smash, and Warner Bros approached the Wachowskis about writing and directing a sequel, they didn't just make the one film. Instead they engaged in perhaps the most ridiculously ambitious plan for a sequel ever. It's not that they produced more than one sequel at once: Back to the Future did that in 1989, shooting Part II and Part III in one big protracted shoot. They also added a videogame and an anime: to get the story of what happened next Matrix fans weren't just required to watch a film, but rather watch three films and also play the game. It was a remarkable achievement in cross-media storytelling - and their story actually continued in another game a few years later. It wasn't necessarily the smoothest way to tell a sequel, though. After enjoying a rewatch of The Matrix after a couple of years, I figured I'd keep going and review the whole ensuing franchise - for better or for worse.

So The Animatrix is a portmanteau film, consisting of nine animated short films set in the fictional universe of The Matrix. Four of the shorts were released online in the lead-up to The Matrix Reloaded's release; all nine were shown in cinemas in Australia a week before Reloaded came out. It made for a rather effective teaser at the time, and helped to hype up the hardcore fans to an exceptional degree - myself included. 11 years later and it's actually a little hard for me to sit through in one sitting. In the end I had to take a break after the first six shorts, and come back a few days later to rewatch the final three.

November 5, 2014

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Hollow Pursuits"

It's 30 April 1990, and time for Star Trek: The Next Generation.

In "Hollow Pursuits", the Enterprise is beginning to suffer systemic failures across the ship. One of the engineers tasked with locating the cause of the problems is Lieutenant Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz), an introverted and awkward technician who is secretly meting out his frustrations with the command crew inside the ship's holodeck.

This is an unusual episode, because it breaks one of the key demands of television drama: it's not about the leads. Any given TV drama will generally have a regular cast, and it's a given that each episode will be focused on one or more of those characters. That isn't the case here. While several members of the regular cast get solid amounts of screen time - La Forge, Troi, Riker and Wesley, for example - the focus is distinctly on Lt Barclay. He's a guest character, played  by Dwight Schultz (The A Team). We've never seen him before, and he'll made sporadic appearances in The Next Generation and Voyager over the coming years.

The Matrix (1999)

I remember back in 1999 everybody was growing increasingly hyped by George Lucas' Star Wars Episode I - so hyped, in fact, that most science fiction enthusiasts didn't even seem that aware of The Matrix until it was suddenly out in front of them in cinemas. It has an intriguing but deliberately cagey trailer, a brilliant electronic/rock soundtrack CD and a slow-growing buzz that suggested it was going to be the film to watch.

Post-1999, of course, and we're all very aware of just how disappointing Episode I was and just how overwhelmingly popular The Matrix was. It might not have been the biggest hit of its year (that was, rather hilariously, Star Wars Episode I) but it was the film that most pushed the zeitgeist. Everyone talked about The Matrix in 1999. Filmmakers copied it. Audiences warmed to new filming and effects techniques - it's difficult to imagine American audiences accepting Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon so readily had they not been warmed up by The Matrix's wire-work kung-fu first. Warner Bros immediately commissioned two sequels to form a Matrix trilogy. In all the hype, the nostalgia (it's been 15 years, after all), and with the film's numerous visual iconic moments, it's actually quite difficult to take a step back and re-assess The Matrix on its own merits.

I figured I'd have a go.

November 4, 2014

PSX20 #3: Silent Hill

In 2014 Sony's PlayStation turns 20 years old. It was a revolutionary console, exploding the Nintendo vs. Sega paradigm that had dominated videogaming for a decade and its effects can still be felt today. 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. Today I take a look at #3: the 1999 horror game Silent Hill.

For most videogame enthusiasts it was Capcom's Resident Evil franchise that become the poster child for horror in console games. The PlayStation hosted three instalments, each of which sold millions of copies and collectively spawned their own multi-media empire of movies, comic books, toys and spin-offs. For my money, however, none of the Resident Evil games came close to Silent Hill. This was a genuinely scary game: not only peppered with 'jump' moments designed to startle the player, but soaked with a genuinely disturbing sense of unease throughout. Silent Hill generated a little empire of its own, with numerous sequels, two feature films and a string of comic books, and it all started with this first game in 1999.

November 3, 2014

Godzilla: 60 years on

Godzilla, the king of giant monsters, turns 60 years old today. It was on 3 November 1954 that Godzilla was released across Japan in all Toho cinemas. It was released, with some additional footage, in the USA two years later, and has since spawned numerous Japanese sequels and two American remakes.

The original Godzilla (or Gojira, to use its actual name) was inspired by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 as well as the accidental irradiation of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru fishing boat during a US nuclear weapons test on Bikini Atoll on 1 March 1954. The horror of the atomic bomb understandably carried much weight in Japanese culture, and writer/director Ishiro Honda personified that horror in the shape of a giant mutated lizard.