July 31, 2015

One Wonderful Sunday (1947)

Yuzo (Isao Numasaki) and Masako (Chieko Nakakita) meet in Tokyo one Sunday morning for a date. They have only 35 yen between them. Over the course of a single day they face numerous challenges as they wander the streets of post-war Tokyo.

One Wonderful Sunday is Akira Kurosawa's sixth feature film as director, and marks another sharp change in style. His previous film, No Regrets For Our Youth (1946), was a serious melodrama set over a period of years. One Wonderful Sunday is a much brighter picture. It is still at its heart a drama, but it's filled with brightness and humour and takes place over the course of a single day.

It's a highly episodic affair, as Yuzo and Masako bum around Tokyo looking for inexpensive - or preferably free - things to do. They browse through a display home, play baseball with a group of children, go to the zoo, try and fail to buy cheap tickets for a symphony concert, attempt to meet up with one of Yuzo's war buddies, have a quiet cup of tea, and take a stroll through the park. They also struggle with self-doubt, get treated like second-class citizens by more monied Tokyo residents, also break off their engagement, and generally get depressed about life in the ruins of the Pacific War.

The Pull List: 29 July 2015, Part II

Barbara Gordon seems to be in a little bit of a quandary at present. Her father, former police commissioner Jim Gordon, has confided in her that he's the new Batman, but she - for complicated and angst-ridden plot reasons - has not confided in him that she's Batgirl. As a result encounters between the two are more than a little fraught, including in the new issue #42, where Batman has orders to arrest Batgirl on sight - but needs her help at the same time. Awkward.

Of course given that Barbara only wears a mask over half of her head, and her own father can see her eyes, mouth, chin and hair, not to mention hear her voice, and the idea that he's the new "world's greatest detective" seems a little farcical. Unless of course he knows, and isn't letting on to make his daughter feel special. Actually I like that as an explanation. It's rather sweet.

Batgirl #42 is a fast, densely packed little story in which Batgirl and Batman team up to take down Livewire, while the various supporting characters in Barbara's civilian life all move on and develop in interesting little ways. It's a great issue. This is just generally a great comic. (5/5)

DC Comics. Written by Brendan Fletcher and Cameron Stewart. Art by Babs Tarr. Layouts by Jake Wyatt and Malcolm LaCombe. Colours by Serge LaPointe.

Under the cut: reviews of Black Widow, Copperhead, and Daredevil.

July 30, 2015

Blake's 7: "Hostage"

It's 27 February 1979, and time for more Blake's 7.

After barely surviving an encounter with a Federation pursuit flotilla, Blake receives a message from the planet Exbar: Travis has kidnapped his cousin, and will kill her unless Blake comes to negotiate. Despite knowing it is almost certainly a trap, Blake decides to teleport down to meet with Travis - only to discover to nobody's surprise that it was a trap.

Writer Allan Prior returns to Blake's 7 for his second episode, and sadly it's not much better than his first attempt. "Hostage" is a remarkably weak episode on a number of levels. The key one, and ultimately the only one that matters, is that it's pretty boring. The script is messy and unfocused, and Vere Lorrimer's direction makes it all feel rather sedate and uninvolved. I don't think anyone was particularly enthusiastic when they made this one.

The Pull List: 29 July 2015, Part I

Ninjak is two steps from the Weaponeer, the illegal arms trader he's been sent to assassinate. Sadly one of those steps is the Weaponeer's martial artist bodyguard: the mysterious Roku. The other is the Weaponeer himself, who may not be as defenseless as Ninjak thought.

Ninjak is a flat-out fun read. The premise - James Bond meets ninjas - is ridiculous, but writer Matt Kindt goes all out with it. It's not self-aware, it simply takes a silly concept and commits to it one hundred per cent. This is a marvellous comic book for fans of action and espionage. Kindt even throws in some cleverly placed flashbacks to flesh out Ninjak's character via his childhood.

Clay and Seth Mann's artwork is finely detailed and beautifully drawn. Characters are drawn in an idealised fashion, but never a sexualised one. There's often a fine line with this kind of superhero art, but the Manns handle it perfectly.

Like most Valiant titles, Ninjak is simply wonderful action-oriented entertainment. It does what it wants to do, and it does it remarkably well. A few more Marvel and DC fans should consider expanding their interest and accommodating a few of Valiant's titles. (4/5)

IDW. Written by Matt Kindt. Art by Clay Mann and Seth Mann. Colours by Ulises Arreola.

Under the cut: reviews of Jem and the Holograms, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye.

July 29, 2015

Blake's 7: "Killer"

It's 20 February 1979, and time for more Blake's 7.

Avon and Vila teleport down to the planet Fosforon, where a Federation communications base holds a vital crystal needed to translate newly encrypted security transmissions. While they conspire with the base's corrupt commander, Blake is more concerned with a 700 year-old derelict spacecraft that's just entered Fosforon's orbit - and the possibility that there might be something alive inside.

Blake's 7 gets another new writer - its fourth - and thankfully it's of a much higher calibre than Allan Prior. Instead it's Robert Holmes, former Doctor Who script editor and one of the finest television script writers in the history of British television. He brings all of his talents to bear on the series, providing a well-constructed thriller that showcases one of the best combinations of characters the series will ever have.

July 28, 2015

The Book of the Dead (2005)

Nara, Japan: 750 CE. Iratsume, a young noblewoman, becomes obsessed with the Chinese religion of Buddhism that is spreading across Japan. When she transcribes one thousand copies of a particular sutra she has a vision of the Buddha between the peaks of a nearby mountain. When she follows the vision she discovers a mountain temple - and learns that her vision may not be divine at all, but instead is the apparition of a long-dead Prince whose soul cannot rest.

The Book of the Dead is an animated feature film directed by Kihachiro Kawamoto. I suppose it could be described as an anime, being as it's both Japanese and animated, however it's not like any other Japanese animation I've seen. This film employs not hand-drawn animation but rather stop motion. Its story plays out via elegant theatricalised puppets against miniature sets.

I have no idea whether Japan has a particularly rich history of stop motion animation or not. I know Europe does, starting with Ladislaw Starewicz and running through the past hundred years. Kawamoto even went to Europe to train in the field, working underneath the Czech master Jiří Trnka in Prague.

Bosch: "'Tis the Season"

Police detective Harry Bosch (Titus Welliver) is supposed to be sitting at home waiting for the verdict in a civil lawsuit laid against him for shooting a murder suspect. Instead he's up in the Los Angeles hills investigating a grisly discovery: a child's skeleton.

The police drama is a very crowded marketplace in television. It's been one of the most popular genres for TV drama for about 60 years. Bosch's production arrangement - it's been produced directly for Amazon in the USA - may be reasonably new, but its heritage is very, very old. Titus Welliver plays Bosch: a weary loner working the streets of Los Angeles. He's a maverick, prone to rushing off and investigating things on his own rather than playing by the book. He's constantly circumventing authority in an attempt to crack his latest case. He's troubled by his own personal traumas: a murdered mother, a childhood of abuse, and several years' experience as an army ranger in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. This is to an extent less of a TV pilot and more of an extended series of stereotypes and clichés.

And yet to a certain degree it all works.

July 27, 2015

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

Generally speaking I am not hugely fond of DreamWorks Animation. I liked them at first, with their excellent cel-animated features The Prince of Egypt and The Road to El Dorado demonstrating some willingness to push beyond their Disney origins. Their hugely successful CGI-animated Shrek, however, seemed to overthrow that particular apple-cart, leading to a long-running series of bland, weakly designed films packed with celebrity voice casts and unnecessary pop culture references. Films like Bee Movie, Shark Tale, and The Croods seemed to be about the most boring animated films coming out of America in the past 20 years.

The one massive exception to this trend seemed to be Chris Sanders and De DeBlois' 2010 fantasy film How to Train Your Dragon. Here was a film with strong design, beautiful animation and a well-considered, very well-crafted storyline. It wasn't perfect - there never was a satisfactory explanation for why all of the adults in the film sounded Scottish and their children like Californian teenagers - but it really did stand out as something really special.

Last year DreamWorks released a sequel, because if nothing else sequels appears to be the company's raison d'être. I initially resisted watching it, since the risk seemed pretty high that the studio would ruin what made the original so effective. Thankfully they've avoided that risk, and presented an excellent film. It is not quite a solid as the original for a number of reasons, but does a fairly strong job of expanding the self-contained first film into an ongoing franchise.

Blake's 7: "Trial"

It's 13 February 1979, and time for more Blake's 7.

Emotionally shattered by the death of Gan, Blake (Gareth Thomas) abandons his crew to an apparently desolate planet. Once there, he discovers it is not as uninhabited as he had been led to believe. Over at Space Command, Travis (Brian Croucher) faces trial for a civilian massacre - although everyone knows he's simply a victim of power games between Supreme Commander Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce) and the Federation President.

"Trial" is an episode of two largely unconnected halves, as both Blake and Travis face up to some kind of justice. Both men undergo a transition during the episode, although by the end it's largely business as usual. Blake is back fighting the Federation, and Travis - while now a runaway criminal - continues to hunt down Blake. One storyline - Blake's experiences on the alien planet - is fairly dull and tedious. The other - Travis' trial - is a wonderfully written and performed little political drama.

July 26, 2015

The Pull List: 22 July 2015, Part II

Kudos to Boom Studios for pushing such an aggressive schedule of intriguing non-traditional comic books as part of its schedule. They've had some great success with it as well, with both Lumberjanes and Giant Days finding solid readerships and an awful lot of critical acclaim. They're likely hoping for something similar from Power Up, their latest all-ages comic series. Sadly I'm not sure they're going to get it.

The concept is great: some cosmic force basically turns four individuals into a super-powered monster-fighting team. Instead of picking, as the genre would indicate, four Japanese high schoolers, magical powers are granted to a suburban mother of two, a construction worker, a disaffected shop assistant, and a goldfish. Matt Cumming's artwork is also great for the most part. There's a section towards the end of the first issue where things get very muddy and it becomes difficult to clearly follow what's going on.

It's at the scripting level where things seem to fall down. Kate Leth has written the book is a two-by-three layout of six panels per page, and that doesn't leave the book much room for things to actually happen. By the time I had finished the first issue the story had hit the point I would have expected it to reach by page 10. This is very decompressed stuff, and with such a silly and whimsical premise that kind of slow storytelling could be the kiss of death. (2/5)

Boom Studios. Written by Kate Leth. Art by Matt Cummings.

Under the cut: reviews of The Book of Death: The Fall of Bloodshot, Justice League 3001 and We Are Robin.

Blake's 7: "Pressure Point"

It's 6 February 1979, and time for more Blake's 7.

An over-confident Blake (Gareth Thomas) launches a covert attack on Control, the Federation's central computer network located on Earth. With the Federation secretly aware of the attack, and with a traitor in his midst, Blake may have over-extended himself too far.

"Pressure Point" is a more significant episode of Blake's 7 than most, and we'll get to why in a paragraph or two (in order to spare anybody planning on watching this for the first time from discovering it's fairly shocking conclusion). Even from the outset, however, it's clear that Blake's plan is a big deal. For a season and a half he's been running, and launching odd little strikes against outlying garrisons and communication centres. Now he's charging headlong into the very centre of the Federation's power, whether his crew are behind him or not.

July 25, 2015

Babylon 5: "Conflicts of Interest"

It's 5 May 1997, and time for more Babylon 5.

Garibaldi is on the receiving end of Sheridan's wrath, but finds himself a new employer. Ivanova is tasked with setting up the station's "Voice of the Resistance" broadcasts, but struggles to find sufficient power to send a signal all the way to Earth.

"Conflicts of Interest" is a reasonably enjoyable episode, although it does suffer somewhat from an excess of clichés and stereotypes. It focuses in the main on Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle), in his new job as private investigator on the station. It also seems to be introducing further set-up for storylines down the way. Is it great television? No, but it is sufficiently entertaining television - and sometimes that's enough.

July 24, 2015

Blake's 7: "Horizon"

It's 30 January 1979, and time for more Blake's 7.

After weeks of fleeing from Federation pursuit ships, the Liberator crew find themselves over-stressed, over-tired, and badly in need of relaxation. When they spot a Federation cargo ship travelling beyond the edge of the galaxy, Blake can't resist following it: he discovers a hidden planet, Horizon, whose indigenous people are enslaved in Federation mines, and a reluctant leader who's been fooled into betraying his own planet.

This is one of those weird episodes of television where no matter how many times I see it I simply forget about it entirely, and struggle on each series rewatch to recall what it is about. Having just given it yet another go, I'm not surprised: "Horizon" is a deeply dull and underwhelming story, and honestly doesn't have much to recommend it.

Babylon 5: "Lines of Communication"

It's 28 April 1997, and time for more Babylon 5.

Marcus and Franklin attempt to persuade the Mars resistance to align with Babylon 5 against President Clark. When a string of convoys are destroyed by alien aggressors, Delenn takes command of a group of White Star ships and heads into deep space to investigate.

After some fairly poor episodes of late, Babylon 5 bounces back with a decent story that pushes the series forward a little and helps to build some interesting narratives that will hopefully keep the series heading with proper momentum for a while. It's also fairly well tied together in thematic terms: like the title suggests, it's all about attempts at communication. Marcus and Franklin struggle to win the Mars resistance over. Sheridan struggles over how to fight against ISN's propaganda war. Delenn investigates the raids, and encounters an entirely new - and wholly disturbing - species.

July 23, 2015

Golden Swallow (1968)

Golden Swallow (Cheng Pei-Pei), a talented martial artist who wields a pair of daggers, is badly injured when defending a farm from bandits. She is nursed back to health by Golden Whip (Lo Leih), and a romance begins to blossom between them. That romance is disrupted when it becomes apparent that someone is murdering thieves and gangsters across the province and framing Golden Swallow for the killings. That person is Silver Roc (Jimmy Wang), a former boyfriend of Golden Swallow's from her time in martial arts training - and the murders purely exist to attract her attention so they can be reunited.

Let's start with the enormously weird bit of that synopsis: a brooding ex-boyfriend trying to get his one true love's attention by murdering literally dozens of people to make her notice him. That's a romantic gesture that goes well beyond creepy and into fully-blown criminal insanity. While Silver Roc's behaviour is not condoned by Golden Swallow, neither she nor the film in general really treat the man's actions with the slack-jawed nervous horror that they deserve.

So what the hell are we talking about here? This is Golden Swallow, a 1968 sequel to the legendary Hong Kong wuxia movie Come Drink With Me. Martial arts star Cheng Pei-Pei reprises her role of Golden Swallow, this time finding herself at the centre of a violent love triangle. It's a Shaw Brothers production: basically if you close your eyes and imagine the most iconic and archetypal old-fashioned Hong Kong action movie that you can, you're probably right on the money.

Babylon 5: "Racing Mars"

It's 21 April 1997, and time for more Babylon 5.

Marcus (Jason Carter) and Franklin (Richard Biggs) arrive on Mars to meet with its resistance leaders. Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) is forced to take a day's vacation, which he spends challenging Garibaldi over the comments he made to ISN.

Let's get the weird question out of the way first: why is Dr Franklin undertaking a top-secret espionage mission to Mars? He's Babylon 5's chief medical officer - one would think his talents would be better used in his substantive position. Of course, there's a clear reason of behind-the-scenes pragmatism behind the choice. Who else in the regular cast is actually available to go? It's also a relief to see Richard Biggs get a chance to do something, since he's only had short scenes and cameos since the season began.

July 22, 2015

The Pull List: 22 July 2015, Part I

I love Aquaman. I'm not sure what precisely it is about him that I like; it may simply be that I enjoy a good underdog, and feel sorry for the constant derision with which he's met by comic book readers over the decades. I think part of the appeal is that, more often than not, he's less a superhero and more the star of an underwater fantasy. He's the king of Atlantis, and spends most of his time fighting against incursions by surface dwellers, internal strife, undersea monsters and the like. There's something really good in the character that has the potential for great comic books.

And some of them have been really great. I adored Peter David's lengthy run in particular, and have been a pretty big fan of what Geoff Johns and Jeff Parker did with the character in the New 52. Since Convergence he's been written by Cullen Bunn. The latest issue, #42, came out today.

Story-wise it's okay: the narrative jumps from the past to the present, as we slowly discover what terrible threat to Atlantis led to Aquaman being ousted as king and hunted across the seven seas by his vengeful ex-girlfriend Mera. Art-wise it's less successful. This book feels badly rushed.

The proof is in the credits, which have Trevor McCarthy providing "layouts" with McCarthy, Jesus Merino and Walden Wong all credited with "finishes". The multiple artists give the issue a very scrappy, unfinished and inconsistent look that gets in the way of the story being told. It's felt of late that Aquaman has been a really solid book, but if they put too many issues out like this I suspect the readership will begin to look elsewhere. (2/5)

DC Comics. Written by Cullen Bunn. Art by Trevor McCarthy, Jesus Merino and Walden Wong. Colours by Guy Major. (Note: the cover depicted here, which is how the issue was solicited to readers, is not remotely the cover with which it came.)

Under the cut: reviews of The Fly: Outbreak, The Infinite Loop, Star Trek and Winter World.

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (2013)

Most people seem to have encountered Journey to the West in one form or another. Most Australians my age will have first encountered Wu Cheng'en's legendary Chinese novel via its Japanese TV adaptation Monkey, which the ABC broadcast on a seemingly endless look during the early 1980s. More recent audiences might have seen it adapted by Hollywood in The Forbidden Kingdom (2008), or the admittedly very loose adaptation in the popular anime Dragon Ball. The story basically follows a Buddhist priest on a pilgrimage from China to India, accompanied by three supernatural creatures: a water monster, a pig monster, and the boistrous Monkey King.

Stephew Chow's 2013 film Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons is another rather loose take on Wu's novel. It seems to make two major changes: firstly, it presents itself essentially as a prequel, set prior to Xuanzang (aka Tripitaka, for English viewers) embarking on his pilgrimage; secondly, it presents his three companions Sandy, Pigsy and Monkey not as fallen immortals from heaven but as terrifying and monstrous demons in need of hunting down and taming.

July 21, 2015

Judging the DCU: June 2015

To paper over the relocation of the DC Comics offices from New York to Los Angeles readers had to sit through Convergence, a weirdly ill-advised mega-crossover of 40 two-part miniseries between April and May. With that out of the way, it's back to business as usual with a mini-relaunch: new status quos in most of the ongoing titles, plus a whopping 21 new ongoing monthlies and miniseries.

Generally speaking June was a great month for DC, with most ongoing titles enjoying small jumps in the number of units sold, as readers took the opportunity to sample some of these new creative directions. Superman has had his secret identity revealed to the world and lost his powers. Jim Gordon has become Batman. The Green Lantern Corps has gone missing. Robin now rides around the world on a giant bat monster.

Where I'm most interested, however, is in these 21 new titles. Which ones grabbed the market's attention and which ones failed to make an impact? On average, each new title shifted 45,472 units via Diamond Distribution. Five of the books shifted above average. The other 16? Not so much. So how did all of the new titles go?

July 20, 2015

Babylon 5: "Atonement"

It's 24 February 1997 and time for more Babylon 5.

Delenn (Mira Furlan) is summoned back to Minbar to face judgement for her taking on human form and becoming engaged to John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner). Meanwhile Sheridan sends Marcus (Jason Carter) and Franklin (Richard Biggs) on a secret mission to the Mars colony.

In the name of all sanity, really? "Atonement" is primarily focused on Delenn undertaking a ritual judgement inside "the dreaming", a glowing white room full of mist where she enters a dream-like state and re-lives events from her own past. This means the episode spends most of its time in a series of dream sequences, something that Babylon 5 seems to do with an increasingly depressing regularity. Thankfully this particular dream sequence plays out more like flashbacks than as surreal conversations, but it does feel a lot like the dream sequence is the Babylon 5 equivalent of Star Trek: The Next Generation's holodeck: it keeps getting used, to the point where it's becoming tedious to watch.

Your Highness (2011)

Comedy is such a subjective genre. You can critique and disassemble dramatic films all day, finding solid arguments as to why they work or falter, whether or not their stories are well plotted and paced, or if they express their themes and tones in successful ways. Comedy is simultaneously a lot easier and a lot more difficult to analyse. The bottom line for judging a comedy is remarkably simple: did it make you laugh? Analysing a comedic film beyond that point gets tricky, because a film can be poorly plotted and characterised, shoddily produced, and generally poor in quality - yet all of those criticisms are ultimately meaningless if it managed to make you laugh.

Your Highness is a 2011 comedy film directed by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) and starring Danny McBride, James Franco and Natalie Portman. It is a high fantasy parody crossed with a stoner movie. Its characters are thinly drawn and its plot is ridiculously generic. It stops and starts its way along a predictable road, filling itself as it goes with obvious jokes about sex and drugs. It is by many quite sensible criteria an absolutely terrible film - yet all of these criticism are ultimately meaningless to me, because it manages to make me laugh.

July 19, 2015

Gatchaman Crowds Insight: "Inbound"

It's 20 June 2015 and time for more Gatchaman Crowds.

After a two-year hiatus Gatchaman Crowds has returned to Japanese television with a second season, subtitled Insight. It has been launched with this special half-length prologue episode, "Inbound". This episode was made available online rather than broadcast, but does a decent job of setting the series up for new viewers.

So the series in a nutshell: the Earth is defended from alien invaders by a group of individuals known as the Gatchaman. They were each selected by a mysterious alien named J.J. who gifted each of them with a NOTE, a notebook with which they can transform into a super-powered mechanical hero. The Gatchaman team's latest recruit is Rui, a trans woman who used alien technology to invent CROWDS, a social media service that allows users to temporarily manifest elsewhere in the world as spherical-headed powerful entities. In short, anyone in the world can join the CROWDS for good or ill, and the Gatchaman remain to keep the piece and protect the world from serious threats.

July 18, 2015

The Pull List: 15 July 2015, Part II

Anthology comics seem to work everywhere except the USA. France got Metal Hurlant, the United Kingdom got 2000 AD, and Japan got all manner of manga serialisations. In America, however, the single-issue comic book has dominated the landscape, making most attempts at an anthology title a fairly unlikely proposal. Hopefully that won't be the case for Island, a new title published by Image and spearheaded by Brandon Graham (Multiple Warheads, Prophet).

It's slightly larger in size than a standard American comic, and also substantially longer at about 110 pages or so. Inside are four self-contained comic stories by some of the best independent writers and artists working in the American industry today.

"ID", by Emma Rios, is a near future story about three individuals considering joining an experimental program to have their bodies swapped. It's smartly written with well developed characters, although given Rios' sketchy style and the red monochromatic artwork it does get a little difficult to follow during one action scene. All up it's an intriguing beginning, and is left hanging for a second part in issue #2.

Brandon Graham contributes "Ghost Town", a welcome continuation of his earlier series Multiple Warheads. It's the sort of comic that's perfect for this kind of project; a loose, relaxed riff on a lot of surreal French artists, notably Moebius but also Lewis Trondheim to an extent. Your enjoyment of it will likely depend on how much you enjoy weirdness for weirdness' sake. Personally, I enjoy it a lot, and it's both well drawn and nicely coloured.

Ludroe's "Dagger-Proof Mummy" closes off the issue, and is the longest piece of the three. It tells a story of skaters, talking cats and a young woman looking for a missing person. Unlike the other two stories, this one didn't really grab me too much. It's not awful by any definition, but it does feel like a let-down of sorts after the first two strips and outlasts its welcome by a few pages. Like "ID" it's got a most monochrome look, fpr the most part presenting a story in differing shades of brown.

Overall this is a great comic, and at US$7.99 is outstanding value. Hopefully enough readers will pick it up to keep it going on a monthly schedule. (4/5)

Under the cut: reviews of Lumberjanes, Revival, Robin: Son of Batman, Silver Surfer and Usagi Yojimbo. It's a really decent selection of comics right here.

July 17, 2015

The Constable (2013)

Kuen (Simon Yam) is a commander in charge of the Kowloon police vehicle pool. By day he supports Hong Kong's police officers in their duties, and by night he returns by bus to Shenzen to care for his intellectually challenged son. In a series of vignettes and encounters, Kuen assists his colleagues, fights random crimes, and does his best as a single parent.

Really that's about it. The Constable is a weirdly misguided film from beginning to end. It's a highly episodic affair that lurches from random action scene to gentle melodrama and back again. In each scene Kuen is revealed to be essentially selfless and faultless. He single-handedly takes down a gang of street thugs. He cares for his son, who has both a serious heart defect and down's syndrome. He gives zen-like advice to his colleagues, as well as Lin - the young woman who watches over his son Chung during the day. The various scenes are thrown up after one another so haphazardly that there's very little momentum to the story, and the characters lack so much depth that the story basically doesn't matter anyway. It also has foreshadowing about as subtle as a brick in the face.

Babylon 5: "The Illusion of Truth"

It's 17 February 1997 and time for more Babylon 5.

An ISN news crew returns to Babylon 5 to report on how the station has changed since it split away from the Earth Alliance. Sheridan grants the team access to the station as well as an interview - but will their report do anything to change the public perception back home?

Of course it will not because it's evident from the outset that Dan Randall (Jeff Griggs), the journalist doing the reporting, is just stitching up an anti-Babylon 5 propaganda piece for President Clarke. The episode is split into two halves. The first shows Randall and his team recording interviews and observing events across the station. The second shows what he has created: a carefully edited collection of shots designed to paint the station as an alien-controlled hellhole where humans live in poverty and the Minbari have plans to take over the human race via eugenics. It's tremendously tedious to watch, because for the most part you're simply drumming your fingers waiting for the inevitable.

July 16, 2015

The Pull List: 15 July 2015, Part I

Godzilla is having a pretty decent time of it at the moment: a hit US blockbuster last year with a sequel on the way, and a new Japanese movie coming at the same time. IDW has been on the Godzilla train for a while now, however, and this week sees the beginning of what must be the weirdest take on the character ever: Godzilla in Hell.

It is, rather unexpectedly, exactly what it says on the cover. Godzilla is dead, plummets into the Christian Hell, and does what Godzilla does best -only in the underworld rather than Tokyo. James Stokoe's art is absolutely beautiful, and he captures Godzilla's likeness perfectly.

There's no dialogue - after all, the protagonist is a giant monster - but there is an intriguing story told panel by panel. Is there enough story here? It's true that without any dialogue or narration this is a very quick read, and at US$3.99 an issue might represent poor value to some readers. Not to me, though: the art and layout really is that good, and the premise is just so ridiculous - yet treated so seriously - that it's difficult not to be a little bit impressed. (4/5)

IDW. Story and art by James Stokoe.

Under the cut: reviews of Black Canary, Book of Death, Book of Death: Legends of the Geomancer and Giant Days.

July 15, 2015

Babylon 5: "Epiphanies"

It's 10 February 1997, and time for more Babylon 5.

The Shadow War has ended, leaving the militaristic Earth Alliance as Sheridan's next challenge. The Psicop Bester returns to Babylon 5 with a warning for the captain, and Garibaldi resigns from his position as the station's chief of security.

So begins the protracted examination of the after-effects of the Shadow War. There's an odd vibe to this episode. It begins with jubilant celebrations and parties, visibly inspired by the end of World War II (for the victors, anyway), and then sort of segues into business-as-usual. To an extent it doesn't feel like a massive war has ended at all. Everyone does their jobs, the station still turns, and while much of the plot sets up the new storylines there's a weird lack of urgency about it all.

Punished (2011)

Wong Ho-Chiu (Anthony Wong) is a Hong Kong property tycoon. After his wife's death he remarried a younger woman - something that his rebellious daughter Daisy (Janice Man) will not accept. Daisy lives a life of drugs and scams, stealing from her father to pay for her wayward lifestyle. When Daisy goes missing, and Wong receives a ransom demand from her kidnappers, his life begins to collapse around him as he assigns his bodyguard - a former criminal named Chor (Richie Ren) - to help get her back and punish those responsible.

Punished is a 2011 thriller from Milkyway Image, Johnnie To's celebrated production company. The film is directed by Law Wing-Cheong, whose romantic melodrama 2 Become 1 I reviewed a few days ago. Punished is its polar opposite: not merely a thriller but almost mercilessly bleak. It suffers a pronounced lack of sympathetic characters, with a protagonist who's as much a criminal as a businessman, a kidnapping victim who abuses her new stepmother, and a bodyguard whose strategy to track down a team of kidnappers involves some fairly extreme violence.

July 14, 2015

The Maze Runner (2014)

The success of The Hunger Games in cinemas has led to a predictable flurry of young adult novel adaptations, including the Divergent books and The Fault in Our Stars. One recent attempt has been The Maze Runner, a feature adaptation of the James Dashner novel directed by Wes Ball.

An amnesiac teenager (Dylan O'Brien ) wakes up in a steel elevator rising upwards through a dimly lit shaft. At the top he finds himself in a forest glade and confronted by a large community of teenage boys - all suffering from amnesia, and all of whom arrived via the same elevator. Their glade is surrounded by an enormous shifting labyrinth full of monsters. No one knows why they are there, and no one knows how to get out.

The lack of context in The Maze Runner is one of its greatest strengths: it strips away everything but the plot and the characters, and gives the film a nice sense of momentum as the teenagers work to establish how to escape, and whether or not they dare risk it. It's also very well cast, with two notable British child actors (Will Poulter and Thomas Brodie-Sangster) demonstrating that their talent is clearly going to extend into adulthood.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I (2014)

The Hunger Games was a great movie. It grabbed an immensely popular young adult novel and adapted it for the screen right at the height of its success. It cannily featured Jennifer Lawrence as its protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, at precisely the perfect moment to launch her already impressive career into super-stardom. It cleverly surrounded her with great supporting actors including Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Wes Bentley and Donald Sutherland. Most importantly of all it told a great story: a little familiar to fans of Battle Royale, maybe, but distinctive and more than capable of standing on its own as a great science fiction film.

Its sequel, Catching Fire, committed one of the cardinal sins of sequels. There's a trick to a good sequel. You need to give the audience more of what they liked in the original work, but give it a fresh wrinkle or a new outlet. Too different to the original and you can alienate your existing fans. Too similar, and you get a film like Catching Fire: a faded photocopy of the original, repeating far too many of the same beats and showing an apparent lack of enthusiasm or imagination. Of course the films are adapting Suzanne Collins' novels, and to an extent are slaved to her writing, but between the book and the screen adaptation of it, I felt like something went missing.

Mockingjay Part I, the third part of the series, is thankfully a welcome return to form.

July 13, 2015

The Contender (2000)

When the USA's Vice-President unexpectedly dies, the President (Jeff Bridges) passes over his most obvious choice in favour of a female Senator (Joan Allen). Between her and the Vice-Presidency is a series of confirmation hearings, whose leader (Gary Oldman) appears intent on doing anything in his power to stop her from succeeding.

The Contender is a film stacked with outstanding actors delivering great performances. It's got Jeff Bridges as a President nearing the end of his second term, and keeping one eye firmly on his legacy. It's got Joan Allen as Laine Hanson, an idealistic left-wing Senator facing a barrage of misogynistic attacks. It's got Gary Oldman playing the Congressman behind those attacks, as well as Christian Slater as an up-and-coming young politician and William Petersen as the jilted Senator denied the chance to become Vice-President in Allen's favour. If you were to rate a film purely based on its cast, then The Contender would be a cinematic home-run. If you were to also rate it based on the quality of its screenplay, then The Contender winds up an unfortunate misfire.

The Pull List: 8 July 2015, Part III

Descender continues apace with its fifth issue. The boy robot Tim-21 has been captured by raiders and taken to the planet Gnish, where the systems-wide cull of all robots and androids was first initiated. There the local king is intent on disassembling Tim until he can find a link to the mysterious Harvesters that decimated the United Galactic Council.

This issue really broadens the scope of the series into a fully-fledged space opera. You've got the rival alien civilizations, the huge unexplained objects (the Harvesters), and a pile of action, drama and intrigue. The world building is impeccable. The story is developing in an interesting fashion. This is, basically, yet another exceptional science fiction comic from Image - one that can sit comfortably alongside Saga, The Fuse and Copperhead.

Dustin Nguyen's artwork is distinctive and helps to really set this book apart from others on the market. He's basically colouring his own pencils, and bypassing inking altogether. This gives the book a sketchy, sort of watercolour aesthetic to which I'm really warming. One more issue of the first arc next month, and then the first collected edition in September: one way or another, if you're a fan of comics and science fiction you should definitely check this book out. (4/5)

Image. Written by Jeff Lemire. Art by Dustin Nguyen.

Under the cut: reviews of Catwoman, Gotham Academy and Pisces.

July 12, 2015

Babylon 5: "Into the Fire"

It's 3 February 1997, and time for more Babylon 5.

On Centauri Prime, newly appointed Prime Minister Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) has just hours left to force the Shadows off his planet before the Vorlons destroy everything. Meanwhile the Alliance fleet masses in orbit around Coriana 6 as both the Vorlon and Shadow fleets arrive. In a final showdown, Captain Sheridan leads the defence against the galaxy's most powerful enemies.

Wait, what? Final showdown? Let's back-track a little. When Babylon 5 launched back in 1993, it was promoted widely to science fiction fans as "a novel for television". Unlike the TV science fiction dominated by Star Trek, Babylon 5 would feature a pre-planned narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. It would build and develop, season over season, on what we had all been told was a five-year arc. Yet here we are, at episode 72 of 110, and the central storyline of Babylon 5 just wrapped up. That's it: the Shadow War ends. The Shadows and the Vorlons are written out of the series, and everybody gets to go home safely.

July 11, 2015

2 Become 1 (2006)

Bingo Leung (Miriam Yeung) is a marketing executive who works hard by day and then hangs out with her bitchy friends in Hong Kong's bars and nightclubs at night. She meets a guy, the attractive Vincent "V" Cheung, takes him home, things get a little hot and heavy- and then he discovers a suspicious lump on her breast.

This is a weird film. It kicks off with all of the banter and innuendo of Sex and the City: three energised professional women out to find the man of their dreams, with comical misunderstandings, a token gay friend, and a dashing love interest with a high-paying job and a sports car. Even the title seems like a cliché: 2 Become 1, clearly referring to the two separate lives of Bingo and Vincent combining in one whirlwind, comedic romance.

Nope. It's a melodrama about breast cancer, and the title refers to Bingo's inevitable mastectomy. I have to hand it to director Law Wing-Cheong: this was not a plot twist I saw coming.

July 10, 2015

The Pull List: 8 July 2015, Part II

A lot of readers cried foul when DC revealed their plans for Batman this year: Bruce Wayne is out of the picture, the people of Gotham believe Batman is dead, and the GCPD has spared no expense in launching their own officially sanctioned Batman using a powered robot suit, an aerial deployment system, and former police commissioner Jim Gordon. I saw a lot of people claimed that the character was ruined, that the story was going to be stupid, and that they weren't going to buy the comic any more.

That's a real shame, because this current Batman story arc is pretty awesome. There's been a spate of random crime bosses displaying terrifying super-powers and then spontaneously dying. It all seems to be the work of someone called Mister Bloom - although whoever that is, he's staying out of sight. At the same time Jim Gordon is struggling to fit into his new role, his team are struggling to iron out the kinks, and elsewhere Bruce Wayne appears to be quietly starting a new life away from vigilantism and super-villains.

Yeah you read that right: Bruce Wayne's not dead. The comic hasn't even tried to pretend that he is: they showed him alive and well within about three pages of his apparent death back in April. This is basically what it was clearly going to be: a shake-up of the status quo for a few kind of story, and so far it's been great. Scott Snyder has nailed Gordon's personality and dialogue, and Greg Capullo and Danny Miki are clearly having a ball drawing the new robot Batman. This issue is just really good stuff, and it ends with a great cliffhanger. (5/5)

DC Comics. Written by Scott Snyder. Art by Greg Capullo and Danny Miki.

Under the cut: reviews of Doctor Who, Lando, Rebels and Saga.

Babylon 5: "The Long Night"

It's 27 January 1997, and time for more Babylon 5.

The Shadows have returned to the war, obliterating the surface of any planet aiding the Vorlons with nuclear warheads. While Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) prepares to launch a final counter-offensive around the planet Coriana 6, Emperor Cartagia travels to the Narn homeworld to observe G'Kar's execution - and to fall into Londo's deadly trap.

I have absolute no idea what happened in the broadcast schedule of Babylon 5 that led to only a one-week gap in broadcast between the Season 3 finale and the Season 4 premiere, yet an eight-week gap between "Falling Toward Apotheosis" and "The Long Night". That must have been enormously frustrating for viewers at the time. These first episodes of Season 4 have been aggressively serialised, to such a degree that they all tend to run into one another when viewed on home video.

To be honest the bulk of the action on Babylon 5 this episode feels like filler, as if it's waiting for the Centauri storyline to work itself out before progressing to a major battle the following week. There are, thankfully, more than enough Centauri plot developments to see the audience through.

July 9, 2015

Kikujiro (1999)

I'm pretty sure I haven't got around to reviewing a Takeshi Kitano film on this blog before, so it's probably worth giving him a quick explanation before reviewing his movie. Takeshi Kitano is an extremely famous figure in Japanese entertainment. He started off as a stand-up comedian, performing under the name Beat Takeshi. He segued into acting under the same name, and in a long career he has also worked as a singer, talk show host, writer, director, film editor, talent agent, poet, painter and videogame designer. He still hosts his own weekly TV show, and regularly makes guest appearances on others. Last year I spent eight days in Tokyo, and watching a small amount of broadcast television late at night in my hotel room, and even I managed to somehow tune in and see him muck about on live TV. Oh, and he's also a professor at the Tokyo University of the Arts.

Here's the thing: that's the Takeshi Kitano of Japan. In the rest of the world he has become noted and widely feted almost entirely for his feature film career. Since 1989 he has written and directed 17 features. His early films, including Violent Cop, Boiling Point and Sonatine, were all violent crime films involving the yakuza. This has earned him a reputation in the English speaking world for basically making yakuza movies. He has been involved in two English language productions: he wrote, directed and starred in Brother (2000), and he co-starred in Johnny Mnemonic (1995). In both cases he played a gangster.

With all of that in mind, Kitano's 1999 film Kikujiro must have come as quite a surprise.

Babylon 5: "Falling Toward Apotheosis"

It's 25 November 1996, and time for more Babylon 5.

With the Vorlons launching an unprecedented attack on any planets influenced by the Shadows, Captain Sheridan has no option but to get the Vorlon Ambassador off Babylon 5. Over on Centauri Prime, Londo's horror at the insane Emperor Cartagia only grows when it becomes clear that the Emperor is not only aware their planet is about to be destroyed, but is welcoming of it.

You have to hand it to J. Michael Straczynski: when it comes to pretentious episode titles, he certainly has everybody else beaten. "Falling Toward Apotheosis" feels like a wonderful companion to previous titles including "Passing Through Gethsemane", "And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place" and "The Geometry of Shadows". Do you know what the episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was broadcast on the same day as "Falling Toward Apotheosis"? "The Ascent". I know back in the mid-1990s it was fashionable for Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 fans to be quite combative over each other's shows, and I will say if the contest came down to elaborate episode titles then Babylon 5 won nearly every single time.

July 8, 2015

The Pull List: 8 July 2015, Part I

For a brief, wonderful time Invader Zim was the most stunning cartoon on American television. Created and produced by comic book creator Jhonen Vasquez, it followed the adventures of an incompetent alien sizing up the Earth for invasion while masquerading as a human schoolboy. Originally commissioned by Nickelodeon as a TV series for young children it staggeringly failed in its actual remit while becoming an enormous cult success.

Oni Press have scored a real coup by launching a much-anticipated monthly comic book adaptation that not only brings in one of the series animators, Aaron Alexovich, as artist, but Jhonen Vasquez himself as the writer of the first issue. Viewers of the cartoon will feel right at home here. Readers of Vasquez's early comic book works like Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Squee and I Feel Sick will know pretty much exactly what to expect. The tone may be a bit more all-ages than usual, but honestly it's only a bit.

This is a hilarious comic book that, understandably given its pedigree, replicates perfectly the tone and humour of the original cartoon. It's wonderful: it's like meeting an old friend long after you assumed they had died. I can't remember the last time a comic book spin-off was published that so perfectly captured exactly what made the source material so beloved. And now I have to wait a month to read more. (5/5)

Under the cut: reviews of Bloodshot Reborn, Star Trek/Green Lantern and Unity.

Babylon 5: "The Summoning"

It's 18 November 1996, and time for more Babylon 5.

Zack thinks he's got a lead on the whereabouts of Michael Garibaldi. Delenn's attempts to unite the non-aligned worlds end in failure, with rising tensions on the station and rumours of a rally against her leadership. On Centauri Prime, Emperor Cartagia begins to torture G'Kar, and he refuses to stop until he hears him scream.

I mentioned this in my review of "Whatever Happened to Mr Garibaldi", but it's become even more apparent here: Season 4 of Babylon 5 has become so aggressively serialised that it's quite difficult to distinguish the storyline from one episode to the next. Sheridan's disappearance and resurrection on the surface of Z'ha'dum gets pushed forward a little more, as does Garibaldi's own kidnapping, as does Delenn's struggle to control the League of Non-Aligned Worlds, as does Londo Mollari's plot to assassinate Emperor Cartagia. This kind of dense serialised narrative is commonplace today, particularly on cable and streaming TV providers, but back in the mid-1990s it was pretty groundbreaking stuff: particularly for a mid-budget sci-fi series like this.

July 7, 2015

Wyrmwood (2015)

Barry (Jay Gallagher) is an auto mechanic living in rural Australia with his wife and daughter. Barry's sister Brooke (Bianca Bradley) is a photographer in Bulla Bulla. When a strange meteor shower falls over the country, and the population are mostly transformed into zombies, Barry goes on a mission to get to Bulla Bulla and rescue his sister before she is killed.

Wyrmwood is an Australian zombie movie written by Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner and directed by Kiah. It's an absolute riot: cheaply produced, paced like a runaway freight train and packed with extreme violence, gore, horror and humour. It is the latest film in a long, rich tradition of such films, made in Australia on shoestring budgets and generally referred to as "Ozploitation".

The film actually has its work cut out for it: it's a zombie movie, and that's a genre of horror film that doesn't lack for product. It's almost the default genre for a low-budget filmmaker, and as a result it has become harder and harder for prospective writers and directors to pinpoint a fresh angle on the material. It's actually really easy to make a zombie movie, but it's genuinely hard to make one that people will actually notice.

Babylon 5: "Whatever Happened to Mr Garibaldi?"

It's 11 November 1996, and time for more Babylon 5.

Captain Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) remains lost somewhere beneath Z'ha'dum. Back on the station Ambassador Delenn (Mira Furlan) struggles to move on without him. G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas) sets off on his mission to find the whereabouts of Michael Garibaldi - with Marcus Cole (Jason Carter) by his side, and with disastrous results.

The serialisation effect of Babylon 5 is in full force with this episode. It's not in any real fashion self-contained. It doesn't introduce any significant new plot threads, and it certainly doesn't close any off. It simply keeps things developing for 40 minutes, chaining the story from "The Hour of the Wolf" to "The Summoning" the following week. That's a difficult act for any TV episode to achieve. The middle part of a trilogy is always difficult, since you lack both beginnings and endings, and have to find something dramatic and engaging to do with a handful of middles.

July 6, 2015

Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)

1999 was a year so ridiculously packed with great American films that it's easy to overlook the minor ones in favour of the big leagues. To an extent Drop Dead Gorgeous slipped through the cracks at the time, which is a pity. It's a pitch-perfect satire of a certain breed of American culture, played out by a great cast of actors and a nicely sharp edge to it. To date it's the only feature film directed by Michael Patrick Jann, and that seems like a shame. This one was so good I would really have liked to have seen more.

The film is a mockumentary following the small town heat of a popular beauty pageant. We follow the efforts of 17 year-old Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst), a tap dancer who works after school as a mortuary beautician and who has dreams of becoming America's next Diane Sawyer. In her way is Becky Leeman (Denise Richards), the too-perfect daughter of the richest man in town, whose mother Gladys (Kirstie Alley) is also in charge of running the pageant. The stakes are, let's be fair, extremely low - it's a beauty pageant - but they're treated by all involved as if they're ridiculous high, so much so that contestants start getting murdered to take them out of contention.

Babylon 5: "The Hour of the Wolf"

It's 4 November 1996, and time for the Season 4 premiere of Babylon 5.

Captain Sheridan is missing, presumed dead, after travelling to Z'ha'dum and destroying the Shadows' largest city with two nuclear bombs. Commander Garibaldi is also missing, sending G'Kar on a mission to find him. With the Shadows temporarily in retreat, the assembled civilizations of the galaxy are abandoning Babylon 5 to shore up their own defences back home. Londo Mollari commences his new position in the court of the Centauri Emperor Cartagia - only to discover the situation is far worse than he could possibly have imagined.

The Season 3 finale of Babylon 5 threw a lot of game pieces up into the air. "The Hour of the Wolf" is, in effect, about that terrifying moment of suspension before they all fall crashing back onto the board. We don't learn what happened to Garibaldi. We don't learn what happened to Sheridan - although he does appear to be alive. The Shadow War appears to be momentarily on hold, with every party taking the chance to just breathe deeply and wait for the next round.

July 5, 2015

The Pull List: 1 July 2015, Part III

Graphic India is Singapore-based publisher that aims to create popular mainstream comic book and animation works based on Indian culture and mythology. They're clearly out to make American readers sit up and take notice with their new monthly series 18 Days, because they've hired comic book mega-star Grant Morrison to write it.

18 Days basically adapts the Mahabharata, re-imagining some of the details more in the vein of an epic Hollywood blockbuster. It's difficult to gauge precisely how successful it will be at that goal from the first issue, which essentially acts as a bit of a prologue: big panels, multiple splash pages, and lofty narration all combining to build interest but not really tell much of a story. Jeevan J. Kang's artwork is bold and simply drawn, allowing for the colours to really stand out. It's a rather pretty book, all things considered. I just wish there was a little more story.

It's also a remarkably cheap book. Graphic India are doing their best to entice new readers by pricing this issue at just US$1.00. It's a good ploy, and certainly got me sampling the issue. Will I be back for another issue in a month's time? To be honest I haven't yet made up my mind. It's an admirable thing they're trying to do, I'm just entirely convinced it's good enough to warrant buying it every month. One to keep an eye on, I suspect, just in case. (2/5)

Under the cut: reviews of Broken World, He-Man: The Eternity War, The Wicked + the Divine and The Woods.

July 4, 2015

The End (2012)

It seems that in recent years we've been awash with films about the end of the world. Lars von Trier's Melancholia, Zak Hilditch's These Final Hours and Lorene Scafaria's Seeking a Friend for the End of the World all represented the lives of random, ordinary people in the final days and hours of human life on Earth. You can add to that list The End (aka Fin), a 2012 Spanish thriller by first-time director Jorge Terregrossa.

The film focuses on a group of friends. Two decades ago they were a close-knit group of university students. Now they all have their separate lives and families, and by coming together in an isolated rural cottage old wounds and conflicts rapidly rise to the surface. One night there's a spectacular flash in the sky, and all power is cut. The telephone line is dead, their cars won't start, and their only option is to walk to the nearest town for help. On the way they begin to see ominous signs that something has gone terribly wrong: abandoned houses, crashed cars, and packs of hungry dogs running through empty camp sites. It is as if the entire human race has vanished, leaving only these friends alone in the world.

Star Trek: Enterprise: "These Are the Voyages"

It's 13 May 2005, and time for the series finale of Star Trek: Enterprise.

Ten years after their mission of exploration commenced, the crew of the Enterprise are on their way back to Earth for the signing of the Federation Charter - except they're not. We're actually in the late 24th century, where Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) struggles through a personal crisis by visiting holographic reproductions of the original 22nd century Enterprise using the USS Enterprise's holodeck.

This is indeed the final episode of Star Trek: Enterprise. It's also the final episode of any Star Trek TV series to date. Between 1987 and 2005 Paramount produced 622 separate episodes across four separate series. Over-exposure and a lack of any real changes or shake-ups in the final few years pretty much guaranteed that a mainstream audience effectively abandoned the franchise. Enterprise's planned seven-year run was cut short at the four-year mark, and audiences didn't get any new Star Trek until J.J. Abrams rebooted it with an all-new film in 2009.

July 3, 2015

The Pull List: 1 July 2015, Part II

Back when Superman was first created in 1938, he was very much the working class hero. His powers were more limited, and he fought for the common citizen against criminals, corrupt business executives and the like. That's all pretty far removed from Superman today, which is why this current arc by Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder feels so refreshing. Superman has lost most of his powers. His secret identity Clark Kent has been outed to the public via the Daily Planet. Now a rogue police squad is out to take him down, and raze to the ground the inner-city suburb of Metropolis where he's been living.

This is a Superman for the common citizen again. He's not saving the planet from aliens in a blue and red caped battle-suit. He's in jeans and a t-shirt, doing is best with vastly reduced powers to stop the police from crashing into a peaceful protest and send half of his neighbours to the hospital. The story feels more relevant and real as a result. The stakes feel as if they matter more. The nobility of Clark Kent - his simple honour and good nature, his resolute defiance in the face of injustice - is front and centre and fully believable.

I know this is only a temporary arc. I know that within a few months the status quo will inevitably return. For now, however, this feels like a Superman comic that matters again. (5/5)

DC Comics. Written by Greg Pak. Art by Aaron Kuder. Colours by Tomeu Moray and Hi-Fi Design.

Under the cut: reviews of Darth Vader, Detective Comics, The Omega Men and Ultimate End.

July 2, 2015

Godzilla vs King Ghidorah (1991)

I usually start reviewing a film by providing a short synopsis. There is not short synopsis I can write for Godzilla vs King Ghidorah. It begins with Japan being visited by time travellers from the 23rd century. By the end history has been changed, then changed again, then changed for a third time, and in between several Japanese cities get crushed by Godzilla, the three-headed flying dragon King Ghidorah, and as collateral damage during fights between Godzilla and King Ghidorah.

It's all a charming nonsense, but then charming nonsense is often the raison d'etre of the Godzilla movies. This was the 18th film in the series, and the third in the Heisei period following 1984's The Return of Godzilla and 1989's excellent Godzilla vs Biollante. After Biollante under-performed, the decision was made to abandon new giant monsters (or "kaiju") in favour of old favourites. As a result King Ghidorah, last seen in 1972's Godzilla vs Gigan, makes his return. The character was originally an alien, but for this film he is a mutant created by nuclear radiation on three genetically engineered pets from the 23rd century.

Star Trek: Enterprise: "Terra Prime"

It's 13 May 2005, and time for the penultimate episode of Star Trek: Enterprise.

Trip, T'Pol and their cloned infant daughter are the prisoners of the Terra Prime terrorist group. A super-weapon is aimed at Starfleet Command from Paxton's Mars base, and Captain Archer can't get close without risking the Enterprise's destruction. The clock is ticking down on Paxton's demand: that all non-humans evacuate the planet Earth for good.

There's a general trend in Star Trek for the second half of a two-part story to be a bit of a letdown. The franchise has always been great at setting up critical situations and building to sensational cliffhangers, but never quite as effective at stepping down from those cliffhangers and providing sensible, entertaining conclusions. This is the final second-part episode of any Star Trek series, so it's actually a relief to see them pull off a pretty outstanding finale. It's not perfect, and has one or two very silly elements that get in its way, but all up it's a really solid hour of television.