July 31, 2016

A Ball at the Anjo House (1947)

In the aftermath of the Pacific War, the aristocratic Ando family has fallen on hard times. The proud father Tadahiko (Osamu Takizawa) is about to lose their mansion to a wealthy black marketeer. His lothario son Masahiko (Masayuki Mori) has seduced a family maid while secretly pursuing marriage with the marketeer's daughter Yoko (Keiko Tsushima). Daughter Akiko (Yumeko Aizome) spurned the advances of the family's chauffeur, who has now returned to the scene as an independently wealthy businessman. It is only Tadahiko's other daughter, the bright and thoughtful Atsuko (Setsuko Hara), who holds onto any kind of hope for the future. Together the family agree to host one final society ball, to commemorate and mourn the noble life to which they have all been accustomed.

One of the special programs of this year's Melbourne International Film Festival is a retrospective on the legendary Japanese actor Setsuko Hara. Shortly after the end of the war she starred in Akira Kurosawa's drama No Regrets for Our Youth. From there she was quickly cast in Keisuke Kinoshita's Here's to the Girls, as well as this film: Kimisaburo Yoshimura's A Ball at the Anjo House. In all three she came to typify the image of the 'new Japanese woman': one looking to the future more than dwelling on the past, and accepting Japan's new position in the second half of the 20th century.

July 30, 2016

The Pull List: 27 July 2016, Part 2

James Tynion IV's re-envisaging of Detective Comics as a team book has not particularly worked for its first few issues. It all felt a little messy and fractured, and seemed to suffer the most from sidelining Batman in his own book. That all appears to stop with this latest issue, #937, as both Batman finally gets some of the spotlight back, and Tynion's team - consisting of Batwoman, Red Robin, Spoiler, Orphan and Clayface - finally appears to click together.

The premise of this storyline's threat is a pretty great one: essentially an attempt to co-opt Batman's methods and technology and to militarise it for the United States government. There is a personal element in that the mastermind of this group - known as the Colony - is Kate Kane's father, and as a result also Bruce Wayne's uncle. It was a clever move to make Jacob Kane the antagonist, because it piles a personal element on top of a relatively impersonal enemy. It raises the stakes wonderfully.

Early scenes really showcase Batman's skill in escaping capture and turning the tables on his captors. The issue's middle section continues to define and showcase his assembled team. Red Robin in particular is highlighted this time around, which pleases me as a big fan of the character. At the climax both threads come together: issue #938 looks set to be pretty action-packed. Hopefully this newfound quality continues in the coming weeks. If it does this may well become one of DC Rebirth's must-reads. (5/5)

Detective Comics #937. DC Comics. Written by James Tynion IV. Art by Alvaro Martinez and Raul Fernandez. Colours by Brad Anderson.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Batgirl, Ms Marvel and Nightwing.

July 29, 2016

Roadies: "Friends and Family"

It is 24 July 2016, and time for another episode of Roadies.

The Staten-House Band returns to their home town of Denver, Colorado, for two special shows. Immediate complications ensue: Janine, the subject of Christopher House's tortured affections and one of the band's most famous songs, turns up to watch the concert. Kelly-Ann (Imogen Poots) struggles with the rumour that she and Reg (Rafe Spall) are a romantic item. Shelli (Carla Gugino) is desperate for sex with no one to have it with. Bill (Luke Wilson) is inspired to finally make amends to his ex-wife Lorraine.

This episode brings big changes for the lives of several regular characters, but because these characters have been developed so stereotypically and thinly it is difficult to actually feel any sort of emotional effect. What's more, the time spent pushing those particular hamster wheels in circles prevents the episode from spending more time on the characters that do work.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Masterpiece Society"

It is 10 February 1992 and time for more Star Trek: The Next Generation.

While monitoring a rogue stellar fragment, the Enterprise detects a previously unknown human colony on a planet in the fragment's path. When the crew attempt to warn the colonists of the danger, they discover a carefully orchestrated civilisation where every individual has been genetically engineered for a specific place in society. Before long the Enterprise crew's presence among the colonist causes a disruption in their society - one that might not be possible to repair.

"The Masterpiece Society" is a flawed episode rich in strong and intriguing moments. It is these moments that ultimately save it, and give it a depth that the fairly dull premise fails to provide on its own. It also gives some nice material to Troi (Marina Sirtis) and La Forge (LeVar Burton), the latter of whom has been in sore need of a decent storyline for some time.

July 28, 2016

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Some times you can't go back again. I think pretty solid proof of that sentiment is Steven Spielberg's 2008 sequel Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It is a film made with the best of intentions, and certainly by a lot of talented people. It continued the Indiana Jones movie franchise that had - a relatively unpopular TV spin-off aside - seemingly wrapped up with The Last Crusade in 1989. Suddenly, 19 years later, there was a new instalment with a 66 year-old Harrison Ford returning as the titular archaeologist. The same creative team by-and-large reunited to make the film, yet the results seems to fall far short of The Last Crusade. While box office takings were huge, the audience response was fairly ambivalent. Crystal Skull rapidly became one of those Hollywood blockbusters - like Prometheus and Batman v Superman - that it was uncool to defend.

Certainly I cannot defend it. I can defend parts of it, but individual sequences and characters are not capable of saving an entire film. What is particularly striking to me about Crystal Skull is that it is broadly pretty great for its first half, and then weirdly derails as soon as it hits the jungle. After that it becomes a real head-scratcher: why those story choices? Why that kind of visual effect? Why those kinds of attempts at comedy? In the end it seems to leave the Indiana Jones series with two kinds of film: the slick, non-stop adventure of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade, and the messy 'curate's egg' attempts of The Temple of Doom and The Crystal Skull.

The Pull List: 27 July 2016, Part 1

ROM was an electronic robot toy, released by board game manufacturer Parker Bros in an attempted expansion to produce action figures. To promote the toy the company partnered with Marvel Comics to create a tie-in comic. ROM #1 was published in 1979 with a script by Bill Mantlo and art by Sal Buscema. The toy was a commercial flop. The comic lasted for 79 issues, including four extra-length annuals, and finally wrapped up in 1986.

The weird thing about the ROM comic book was that for a toy promotion it was really good. Mantlo incorporated ROM, the cyborg alien with a penchant for killing interstellar Dire Wraiths, into the Marvel Universe itself. Characters such as the Hulk, Sub-Mariner and the X-Men would guest star in issues of ROM. The character developed a firm cult following that continued to praise the character long after the book had wrapped up and the character rights had reverted to Parker Bros. Now, 30 years after Marvel called it quits, IDW has licensed the property from Hasbro (who bought out Parker Bros some years back) and is launching an all-new monthly series of ROM.

This first issue is clearly produced with an enormous amount of love for the original comic. It follows ROM's arrival on Earth, and as with the Marvel edition he finds the Earth overrun with the shape-shifting diabolical Dire Wraiths. That said, this is an issue that definitely plays things safe. It tells an entertaining story but nothing more. It does not push any boundaries, it does not try anything innovative and new. David Messina and Michelle Pasta's artwork is solid but conventional. Any readers looking for a straightforward science fiction story about an alien coming to Earth and meeting a human woman might find this satisfying. Long-term fans of the character will get a kick out of seeing his origin remixed a little.

Under the cut: a slightly more spoilerific comment on ROM, plus reviews of The Autumnlands, Doctor Who, 4001 AD, and Mechanism.

July 27, 2016

Batman v Superman: Ultimate Edition (2016)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice opened into cinemas earlier this year with a storm of publicity and a huge amount of negative feedback. Most critics were relatively unkind, and audiences - particularly the ardent comic book fans - seemed to generally hate the film. I did not mind it myself, although it is a movie with an enormous number of flaws. Back in March I called it "a poor film with outstanding pieces in it", which still seems to be a pretty fair assessment.

Batman v Superman has now come to home video with a so-called "Ultimate Edition": an extended cut of the film that adds an additional 30 minutes of footage. That brings its running time to a gargantuan three hours and makes it the longest superhero movie of all time. People who found the film too bloated and long back in March are likely running for the hills already.

There are basically three kinds of extended editions. The first is the simple cash-grab: a studio re-releases a film on home video with a couple of minutes of trimmed footage thrown back in and hopes all of the fans re-purchase it. The second is a more creative extended cut, as typified by Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings movies, or James Cameron's Aliens. The film released in cinemas was in effect the director's cut, and the additional footage is inserted purely to give the fans a lengthier and oftentimes more satisfying alternative experience. The third kind, which is the one that interests me the most, is the genuine director's cut: the version of the film that the director wanted to release into cinemas the first time around, but which was nixed by the studio. Batman v Superman: Ultimate Edition is that kind of extended cut.

Penance: "Emergency PTA Meeting"

It is 15 January 2012, and time for the second episode of Penance.

As a child, Maki and her three friends watched Emili be taken away by a strange man, and subsequently discovered her raped and murdered body in the school gymnasium. When all four surviving girls failed to describe what the murderer looked like, Emili's mother Asako (Kyoko Koizumi) demanded all four girls pay a penance - one which Asako would approve - in return for their failure. 15 years later Maki (Eiko Koike) is a tightly-wound, ruthlessly strict school teacher, and crosses paths with Asako again.

As I noted in my review of Penance's first episode, this is a five-part television drama by noted Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa and based on the novel by Kanae Minato. The first episode, "The French Doll", was a bleak and unsettling character piece. The second, "Emergency PTA Meeting", strikes quite a different note. It is an unexpected satire about a school desperate not to displease its student's parents, and about how right and wrong behaviour can boil down to a difference of perspective.

July 26, 2016

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

So last week my father died. It was a fairly long time coming, and Dad prepared us all incredibly well - much more than I would have anticipated a week earlier. Despite that it was, and still is, a terrible shock. When something dreadful happens my viewing habits tend to retreat towards comfortable territory: films I have seen many times before, ones where I can talk over the action to discuss particular shots, or lines of dialogue. Last week one of the films I homed in on very rapidly was Steven Spielberg's 1989 sequel Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It was only while watching the film that I realised I had unconsciously gravitated to a film about the relationship between a son and his father.

This third film in the Indiana Jones series sees the titular archaeologist (Harrison Ford) sent on an episodic chase across Europe and the Middle East to rescue his father Dr Henry Jones (Sean Connery) and to prevent the Nazis from obtaining the Holy Grail - the specific cup that caught the blood of Christ upon the cross. I am going to be immediately upfront and say that this is my favourite of the four Indiana Jones films. I do not think it is necessarily the best - that remains 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark - but The Last Crusade continues to have a strong effect on me. It is a film to which I can return over and over again and never tire of watching it.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Violations"

It is 3 February 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise is hosting three representatives of the Ullians, whose telepathic gifts enable them to draw out and revive long-forgotten memories from people's minds. When Troi (Marina Sirtis) comes under a fierce psychic attack, and falls into a coma, it becomes clear that one of the Ullians is a dangerous predator.

With "Violations" The Next Generation attempts to tackle the issue of sexual assault through the obfuscating lens of science fiction. It is certainly a provocative choice to make, and it seems that as soon as the choice was made it was fiercely back-pedalled into all that was left was a fairly trite and superficial handling of the issue tied in with some genuinely odd story choices. This is a bad episode, but it is worth unpacking why it is so bad.

July 25, 2016

The Pull List: 20 July 2016, Part 3

Joyride was initially solicited as a four-issue miniseries, however solid sales and strong word of mouth has led it to become an ongoing series instead. I'm glad: this book has a great core concept, beautiful art and designs by Marcus To, and a set of characters I really want to follow for a whole pile of future issues.

So, to recap: sometime in the far future, a repressive Earth government has closed its entire population off from the broader universe. Three human teenagers have escaped: the idealistic Uma, the love-struck Dewydd, and the reluctant soldier Catrin - recently revealed as the daughter of Earth's dictatorial leader. Together they have stolen a starship, and joined up with an eccentric robot and a cynical alien drifter. This issue sees the pursuing Earth military finally catch up with them, and attempt to take Catrin home.

This is a rock-solid space opera, with a great plot, really likeable characters and stunning artwork. Each issue has endeared itself to me more than the last: like all good stories, the characters are key. As I have read more of Catrin, Uma and Dewydd, I have come to relate to them more. This climactic issue seals the deal: I want to read the further adventures of these runaways for as long as the creative team are willing to tell them. I can see a bright future ahead for this book: a TV or film deal seems a certainty. Why not get in at the ground floor? (5/5)

Joyride #4. Boom Studios. Written by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly. Art by Marcus To. Colours by Irma Kniivila.

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

Roadies: "The City Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken"

It is 17 July 2016, and time for another episode of Roadies.

It is time for a much-needed day off for the roadies of the Staten-House Band, but when Reg (Rafe Spall) says the name of a cursed city on the tour bus everyone's day is immediately devoted to breaking the curse before it ruins the tour. Meanwhile the band's bass player goes missing, sending Bill (Luke Wilson) and Shelli (Carla Gugino) on a road trip to find him.

So this is the fourth episode of Roadies, the 2016 TV drama so weirdly awful that I simply have not been able to look away. Every week I am dragged back by its gravity of predictable characters, well-worn stereotypes, and bizarrely gargantuan smugness, just so that I can get flummoxed by how it got to be so hopelessly awful all over again. This episode is not an improvement. It is perhaps a slightly different kind of awful to earlier episodes, but awful it remains. I will be stunned if this series gets a second season.

July 24, 2016

The Pull List: 20 July 2016, Part 2

Birds of Prey was one of DC Comics' great team-up books. It kicked off with a 1995 one-shot by writer Chuck Dixon, and when that sold well DC followed it up with a miniseries and eventually an ongoing series. The book united Oracle, aka Barbara Gordon, with Black Canary and the Huntress, and via a bunch of writers - notably Gail Simone - it became one of the better superhero books on the shelves. A 2011 attempt to revive the book with a new cast of characters failed to get an audience. Now DC is trying again with a more traditional take: Barbara Gordon's back, now as Batgirl, and this prologue issue sees her teaming up once again with Black Canary and the Huntress.

While it's always great to see a good band get back together, the script by Julie and Shawna Benson feels a little too much on the nose. There is not a lot of room for subtlety, and this issue at least dwells perhaps a little too much on Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's notorious graphic novel The Killing Joke. It looms over pretty much every take on Batgirl since 1988, and it would be a relief to finally see a take on the character that moves on from her being shot in the spine by the Joker to make Batman and her father unhappy. Claire Roe's artwork does not quite meet with my expectations, but I suspect that may be more of a taste thing than a question of quality. Certainly it's quite distinctive.

This issue does feel slightly confused when it comes to continuity. It seems to mention continuity from both before and after DC's Flashpoint, creating a strange sort of Schrodinger's Huntress situation where I was unsure whether Batgirl and Black Canary knew Huntress until they finally encountered one another in the issue's final act. I suspect this may be the fault of DC's messy continuity rather than this issue in particular, and for new readers it is likely not an issue at all.

I am not sold on this new iteration of Birds of Prey, but this is just the kick-off - with any luck the series proper, which begins in two weeks, will be better. (2/5)

Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Rebirth #1. DC Comics. Written by Julie Benson and Shawna Benson. Art by Claire Roe. Colours by Allen Passalaqua.

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

July 23, 2016

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II (2015)

With civil war exploding across PanEm, rebel figurehead Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) makes a dangerous journey into the capital with the hope of finally meeting President Snow (Donald Sutherland) face-to-face. On the way she must help Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) recover from his torture at Snow's hands, and to finally decide which of her two suitors - Peeta and Gael (Liam Hemsworth) - she really loves.

Mockingjay Part II continues Hollywood's love for splitting adaptations of single books into multiple parts. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was split into two, the final Twilight film was split into two, and The Hobbit was even split into three. It is a strategy that certainly makes a mercenary kind of financial sense - double the films and double the revenue - and can arguably make narrative sense if one novel's climactic narrative really is too long and dense to fit into a single movie. It often winds up straddling some sort of middle ground, however, so The Deathly Hallows wound up with a rather slow and padded first half followed by a dramatic and entertaining second. I worry the opposite has happened with Mockingjay. The first film was really very good, but this second half - and final film for the franchise - is really quite sedate and maudlin for what should be an emotional finale.

July 22, 2016

Thunderbolt Fantasy: "Code of Umbrellas"

Dan Fei runs through the storm with her brother Heng. A group of swordsmen ambush them - they are after a legendary sword Fei carries - and while her brother is killed Fei manages to escape. She next runs into a travelling stranger, Bu Huan, who reluctantly defends her when the Xuan Gui Zong clan return to take the sword once and for all.

Thunderbolt Fantasy is a rather surprising new anime series. This 13-part series is a Japanese-Taiwanese co-production, one written by noted author and script writer Gen Urobuchi (Black Lagoon, Psycho Pass, Fate/Zero). It tells a typical Chinese wuxia adventure full of super-human sword-wielding vigilantes, rich and extensive back stories, and lengthy speeches and narration. It is full of portent and gravitas - so much, in fact, that it is often difficult to treat this first episode seriously.

Oh, and it's also performed in live-action with glove and rod puppets.

The Pull List: 20 July 2016, Part 1

Faith has been a popular character for Valiant, and just after she's enjoyed a successful solo miniseries she has now graduated to her own ongoing monthly from writer Jody Hauser and a range of talented and distinctive artists.

This is in many respects a very traditional sort of superhero narrative. Faith is a superhero in Los Angeles with a secret identity and a day job working for a tabloid news website. She is struggling to hide her true identity - some friends know, some don't - as well as to juggle being a crime-fighter with having a normal life. The art is strong. Pere Perez handles the bulk of it, with Marguerite Sauvage and Colleen Doran taking on a range of extra pages including dreams and a quick origin recap.

As is often the case with these books, it is not what the story is but how it is told. Jody Hauser writes a fantastic character with Faith: she's uncertain, yet powerful, and has a geeky edge that I suspect will appeal to quite a few readers. If you're looking for a rock-solid superhero book with a female protagonist and a bit of a fresh angle, Faith is definitely worth checking out. (4/5)

Faith #1. Valiant. Written by Jody Hauser. Art by Pere Perez, Marguerite Sauvage, and Colleen Doran. Colours by Andrew Dalhouse.

Under the cut: reviews of Darth Vader, Rai and Spider-Man.

July 21, 2016

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Three years into its five-year mission the Enterprise is dispatched to an impenetrable nebula on an urgent rescue mission. Instead of a trapped starship they find an ambush. With the crew captured and an alien despot planning an attack against the Federation, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), McCoy (Karl Urban) and the gang must work against a ticking clock to escape, defeat the enemy and save the day.

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, and to celebrate Paramount, Bad Robot and an improbably large number of co-producers have teamed up to make Star Trek Beyond. It is the third in producer J.J. Abrams' run of rebooted pictures, featuring a younger cast and updated design, and the thirteenth Trek film overall. There is an oft-quoted rule, ironically once quoted by co-writer and actor Simon Pegg in his classic geek comedy series Spaced, that the odd-numbered Star Trek films are not any good. The three Trek films since Star Trek: Nemesis caused that rule to wobble. Beyond shatters it entirely. This is simultaneously a great Summer blockbuster, a great 50th anniversary celebration, and easily the best Star Trek film since The Undiscovered Country back in 1991.

Samurai Flamenco: "Attack! Army of Evil"

It is 28 November 2013, and time for another episode of Samurai Flamenco.

The mysterious King Torture announces he will invade Japan with a series of deadly monsters, however those monsters keep getting defeated by Samurai Flamenco and the Flamenco Girls. Hidenori begins to worry about how enthused Masayoshi has become about the conflict. Mari begins to feel jealous of how Masayoshi is dominating their monster battles.

This really has become a quite peculiar series. The first six episodes followed a clueless male model attempting to be a superhero in a mundane world. The seventh suddenly introduced a genuine monster that kills several police officers before killing itself in an explosion. I really was not sure what sort of series was going to emerge after such a weird change in tone and content. Now that I have watched the eighth episode, I am still not sure. I'm intrigued, and that does count for quite a bit.

July 20, 2016

Colditz: "Court Martial"

It is 28 December 1972, and time for another episode of Colditz.

The prison receives a new German medical officer, a stern disciplinarian who insists all prisoner salute him as he passes. When Carter (David McCallum) repeatedly obeys this order, the doctor has him arrested and subjected to a court martial. The escape committee think the trial may prove to create a valuable escape opportunity, but when Carter appears set to be sentenced to death priorities are changed in an instant.

"Court Martial" is the first episode of Colditz to simply feel like just another episode. While the cast do a solid job, the story simply does not seem as gripping or original as the previous ones. Perhaps it is simply that the episode has followed a particularly strong one ("Tweedledum"). Perhaps it simply is not as good as the others. While I am open the possibility of the former, I really do think it is the latter: "Court Martial" is simply not that interesting.

July 19, 2016

Penance: "The French Doll"

It is 8 January 2012, and time for the first episode of Penance.

Five girls are playing together. One is drawn away from the group by a strange man, and is assaulted and murdered. When her four friends cannot remember what the man looked like, the dead girl's grieving mother (Kyoko Koizumi) promises that all of them will be forced to face a penance. Fifteen years later one of the friends, Sae (Yu Aoi), encounters the grieving mother again - the time has come for her penance to begin.

Penance was originally a novel by Kanae Minato, whose other book Confessions was turned into a particularly bleak and relentless film drama in 2010. Penance was adapted not into a film but rather a five-part television series, one directed by acclaimed filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Internationally the series was distributed as a pair of feature films, but I have decided to give it a watch in its original television format.

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Musical biographies are a popular genre for Hollywood. I think in many respects it is because they come with their own ready-made soundtrack and fan base, but ultimately their success or failure relies on the featured musicians having interesting stories to tell. There is certainly a very interesting story in F. Gary Gray's Straight Outta Compton, which follows the lives of Dr Dre, Eazy-E, MC Ren, Ice Cube and DJ Yella. Together they formed the hugely significant West Coast hip hop band N.W.A.

The film tracks the lives of the band members, favouring Dre, Eazy and Cube in particular, from their initial partnership in the late 1980s to a somewhat tragic conclusion in 1995. It is a complex film with a lot of good and bad aspects to it, but ultimately Gray zeroes in on enough key elements to the N.W.A. story to make it a most worthy addition to the canon of quality musical biopics. It also feels like a deeply personal film: O'Shea Jackson Jr makes his screen debut playing his own father Ice Cube, Cube and Dr Dre both had a hand in producing the film, and F. Gary Gray's first film as director was Ice Cube's cult comedy Friday.

July 18, 2016

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Hero Worship"

It is 27 January 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise has been sent to locate the missing Federation starship Vico. When they find it inside a mysterious 'black cluster' stellar phenomenon, it has been torn in half. There is only one survivor: a boy named Timothy, who is rescued by Commander Data (Brent Spiner). While the Enterprise crew attempt to determine why the Vico was destroyed, Timothy forms an unexpected attachment to Data.

It is an odd bit of scheduling for The Next Generation to bunch together two episodes about children in a row. We have only just watched "New Ground", in which Worf is forced to directly care for his son Alexander. Now we have an episode in which Data is ordered to spend several days in the company of a traumatised boy in the hopes of aiding in his emotional recovery. It would have been better had a completely kind of episode been slotted in between them. As they stand, "Hero Worship" is the stronger episode of the two. It boasts a much stronger juvenile performance by Joshua Harris, as well as a more interesting science fiction subplot.

July 17, 2016

The Gate (1986)

When Glen (Stephen Dorff) and his best friend Terry go digging in a building site for geodes, they accidentally open a gate to another dimension. While Glen's parents are out of town for the weekend, imps invade Glen's house, and threaten to unleash an enormous demon into the world - unless Glen and Terry can close the gate.

The Gate is a 1986 children's horror film directed by Tibor Takacs. Today it is likely only remembered for being the film debut of actor Stephen Dorff. It is a film I used to see on the shelf at the video store when I was child, but for some reason I never rented it out or gave it a watch until now - 30 years after it was originally released in cinemas.

It is pretty easy to see why the film has fallen into obscurity. It feels like typical mid-1980s filler. There is a story that is pretty generic, direction that for the most part is just competent with little imagination or flair, and a cast that say their lines on cue but do not really get the chance to express more than two dimensions at a time. Then the second half kicks in, and it becomes a lot more interesting and entertaining than I had expected.

July 16, 2016

The Pull List: 13 July 2016, Part 2

I have always liked it when DC attempts to showcase the superheroes in countries other than the USA. Grant Morrison did the most intriguing job in the last decade or so of introducing super-teams in both Japan and China. Japan got the hilarious Super Young Team, featuring the likes of Most Excellent Superbat and Big Atomic Lantern Boy. They made a few quest appearances before receiving their own miniseries. I was even more enamoured with the Great Ten, a state-sanctioned Chinese superhero team who also got their own limited series - one so unpopular as it turned out that DC cancelled the miniseries before it was completed.

So it seems maybe the market is not as keen on whimsical Asian superheroes as I am, which does not bode well for New Super-Man. It featured Chinese teenager Kenan Kong, who is persuaded to participate in a scientific experiment that gives him the powers of America's Superman. To be honest it feels a lot less inventive than Morrison's Chinese creations like August General in Iron and Accomplished Perfect Physician. It is a very generic origin story about a school bully and arrogant idiot who is clearly going to learn the error of his ways by becoming a superhero. Viktor Bogdanovic and Richard Friend's artwork is competent but not entirely gripping. Gene Luen Yang's script is very by the numbers. I went into this book hoping for something really unusual, and instead found something that is crushingly ordinary. I will give New Super-Man another issue, but I suspect it is not going to last more than eight or nine issues before DC retires the title. It's a shame; foreign superheroes could be so cool. (2/5)

New Super-Man #1. DC Comics. Written by Gene Luen Yang. Art by Viktor Bogdanovic and Richard Friend. Colours by Hi-Fi.

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

Samurai Flamenco: "Change the World"

It is 21 November 2013, and time for another episode of Samurai Flamenco.

So Samurai Flamenco follows the naive male model Masayoshi Hazama, who has decided to assume the tokusatsu (Power Rangers and their ilk) persona of Samurai Flamenco, and to head out onto the streets of Tokyo to fight crime. Over the first six episodes his crusade has escalated somewhat: a local pop idol and her back-up singers have assembled costumes of their own to become the Flamenco Girls. A TV network put a reward out for anyone able to unmask Samurai Flamenco. A crazy inventor fitted Masayoshi out with weapons and gadgets derived from office supplies.

In this seventh episode Masayoshi discovers that his parents did not simply die in an accident when he was a child, but were murdered in a robbery gone wrong. He also discovers that his grandfather, who created and wrote the Samurai Flamenco character, wrote that tragic origin into his television script. Then a police raid on a drug laboratory goes haywire as one of the drug dealers mutates into a giant homicidal cyborg gorilla with a guillotine in its chest.

July 15, 2016

Ghostbusters (2016)

I do not actually remember the last time a Hollywood Summer blockbuster has reached cinema with such a ridiculous storm of... I'm going to be honest, I don't have a suitable word to describe it. It isn't 'controversy', because that immediately suggests there is something controversial about Paul Feig's Ghostbusters remake. I suppose the best word is simply 'noise': a small, overly active minority of angry Ghostbusters enthusiasts took umbrage with the idea of remaking the film, of remaking it instead of making a second sequel to Ivan Reitman's 1984 original, and of remaking it with a gender-flipped cast of women rather than men. Some fans seemed to side with one or the other of those objections, and the noisiest appeared to side with all three, but the total response has been weirdly farcical and fairly repellent to watch. Groups of angry people seem to have conspired to hamstring the movie wherever possible, including flooding the film's IMDB listing with negative reviews and ratings prior to anyone having actually seen the film.

The more reasonable anti-remake fans seem as if they need a hug and a quiet reality check: this is just a movie, it doesn't ultimately matter. The most aggressively sexist ones - many of whom seem to have attitudes approaching genuine misogyny - seem to be demanding a fierce punch to the face, or better yet to just be completely ignored for the trolls and children that they are. If their goal was to destroy Ghostbusters I feel pretty safe in claiming their attempt has failed: few tentpoles this year have been as actively and consistently profiled and discussed. I am not sure if a marked publicity boost was what the so-called "Ghost-bros" had in mind, but it is effectively all that they achieved.

After all of the shouting, the sabotage attempts, and the widespread angst and anticipation, Ghostbusters turns out to be pretty great. It is not as good as its namesake, but that is not a surprise. What it is is a very funny, rather stylish variation on a 1980s classic, one that holds up very well by comparison and stands by itself as a tremendously enjoyable blend of horror and comedy.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is an unemployed Londoner given the opportunity to join a top-secret elite spy agency. Under the tutelage of veteran agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth), code-named "Galahad", he enters the training program to join the mysterious Kingsmen. At the same time Hart has his hands full investigating the eccentric billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), who has a diabolical plan for the future of humanity.

So Kingsman: The Secret Service is a 2015 action-comedy directed by Matthew Vaughn, and reunites Vaughn with comic book writer Mark Millar. A few years back Vaughn directed the film adaptation of Millar's comic book series Kickass, and he does it again here by adapting Millar's later work The Secret Service. There is a peculiar style to Millar's work. His storylines are almost universally based on pastiche, and centre on simple "What if?" premises. What if an ordinary teenager tried to become a superhero? What if Batman was evil? What would Flash Gordon be like as an old man? In Kingsman the premise is, effectively, what if a lower-class man got to become James Bond?

July 14, 2016

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "New Ground"

It is 6 January 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

While the Enterprise is dispatched to aid in the testing an entirely new starship propulsion method, Worf (Michael Dorn) finds himself unwillingly forced to take over raising his son Alexander (Brian Bonsall). It is a task for which he is ill-prepared.

Star Trek: The Next Generation gains another recurring character this episode, with Alexander Roschenko moving onboard the Enterprise to stay with his father. It is a mixed blessing. On the one hand the episode allows for new angles and fresh challenges for Worf. On the other it does force the episode into a rather low-stakes storyline about a new father trying to cope with a badly behaved child. It is not the most enjoyable episode of the season by a long stretch. It would be unfair to describe it as actively bad, but it certainly is not particular good either.

The Pull List: 13 July 2016, Part 1

As a pretty keen fan of science fiction, I have been really happy in recent years to see American comic books really embrace the genre in a manner I haven't seen in years. Saga is one of the biggest-selling comics on the market. The Fuse has been running strong. Even DC and Marvel have been contributing with the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy and The Omega Men.

One of the books that runs the risk of getting overlooked is Steven Horton and Stephen Thompson's Satellite Falling. It is set on a space station packed with alien refugees, as well as one human who does not want to remain on her own world after it cruelly blockaded and imprisoned the aliens as they arrived. In issue #3 Lilly (that one human) has learned her presumed-dead ex-lover appears to be running a crime syndicate. While the police undertake their own investigation, Lilly puts together a team to fly out into space and take down her former girlfriend herself.

This is a really strong pulp science fiction comic that feels as if it is getting better with every issue. The art in this particular instalment really stands out, with Stephen Thompson taking the opportunity to design a stunning range of aliens and high-technology environments. The script also opens with a much-needed flashback to start fleshing out the background of this story. It is not necessarily doing anything that has not been done before, but Satellite Falling is doing it very, very well. (5/5)

Satellite Falling #3. IDW. Written by Steve Horton. Art by Stephen Thompson. Art by Lisa Jackson.

Under the cut: reviews of Archangel, Dungeons & Dragons and Powerpuff Girls.

July 13, 2016

Like Father Like Son (2013)

Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) and Midori (Machiko Ono) are a rich urban couple with a six year-old son named Keita (Keita Nonomiya). Their lives and thrown into disarray when the hospital where Keita was born contacts them with a stunning admission: there was a mix-up, and they have been caring for someone else's baby for the past six years.

Like Father Like Son is a 2013 Japanese drama from the acclaimed writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda. It presents what has to be a nightmare scenario for a parent: discovering that your child is not your child at all, and some random family in the outer suburbs has been raising your actual son as their own.

Like all good filmmakers, however, Koreeda (whose surname is sometimes translated as Kore-eda to ensure people pronounce it correctly) knows there's a difference between what a story is ostensibly about and what it is actually about. In this case, Like Father Like Son really tells the story of a man coming to the realisation that he has been a terrible father.

Roadies: "The Bryce Newman Letter"

It is 10 July 2016, and time for the third episode of Roadies.

When the caustic music critic Bryce Newman (Rainn Wilson) evicerates the current Staten-House Band tour, Reg (Rafe Spall) decides to invite Bryce to their first Atlanta concert. The attempt to curry favour goes awry when Wes (Colson Baker) spikes Newman's coffee with hallucinogenic mushrooms.

It is not a surprise to see Roadies introduce a straw-man snooty critic upon whom Cameron Crowe can unload all of his resentment and aggression. It is a common thing for put-upon and widely criticised filmmakers to introduce into their films or TV shows. The poster child for this kind of behaviour is almost certainly M. Night Shyamalan, who not only parodied an arrogant film critic in his film The Lady in the Water but had him eaten by wolves as well. Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich sneaked a cruel parody of Roger Ebert into their 1997 Godzilla remake. George Lucas named his evil henchman in Willow after Pauline Kael.

July 12, 2016

Crusade: "The Needs of Earth"

It is 18 August 1999, and time for another episode of Crusade.

Based on intelligence gained from the Rangers, Gideon (Gary Cole) sets off to rescue an alien dissident who is on the run with his planet's most critical data. Once he finds the alien, his second challenge is to keep him safe when the alien's government comes looking for him.

"The Needs of Earth" is probably the strongest episode of Crusade so far. Due to the interference by TNT in the series' running order and content, it was scheduled here as the 11th of 13 episodes. It was actually intended to be much earlier into the run, and that's really obvious in the final episode. It would have bolstered the season's earlier episodes considerably, and while I doubt that it would have been enough to keep the audience watching it would likely have led more science fiction fans to warm to the series' potential.

Cop Car (2015)

Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford) are two young boys walking cross-country through a series of fields. In a small grove they find a police patrol car. They dare each other to touch it. They dare each other to get inside. They find the keys. They go on an impulse joy ride. A minute later the local sheriff (Kevin Bacon) returns to find his patrol car missing. He has just buried one dead body. The second is in the patrol car's trunk.

Cop Car is a low-budget but brilliantly effective comedy thriller. The humour plays like a comedy of errors as Sheriff Kretzer goes on a tightly-wound, drug-fuelled meltdown over the loss of his car, and Travis and Harrison engage in increasingly dangerous hijinks with a back seat full of police weapons and equipment. The thrills come as the tension gradually escalates, some unexpected story developments appear, and the risk to the boys' lives becomes greater and greater. It is a relatively short film, running 88 minutes including the credits, but it is a strikingly effective one.

July 11, 2016

Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

This is twice in a row I have found myself watching a comedy sequel. I am always reluctant to watch them, because generally my expectations have been raised to a certain level by the original film, and that sequel almost without exception is inferior in nearly every way. It's a phenomenon that seems regular enough that a smarter viewer would simply refuse to watch a comedy sequel ever again, yet I constantly live in hope. Like a moth to a flame, I inevitably watch the sequel and inevitably feel disappointed by the sequel.

The latest film off the ranks is Elizabeth Banks' 2015 sequel Pitch Perfect 2. I really enjoyed the original. It told an overly familiar story - a disparate group of college students unite to win an a capella championship - but it told it very well. The performances were top notch. The jokes were well-placed and funny. The a capella singing was highly entertaining in its own right. It was also the kind of film that grew on me after the fact. It encouraged a sort of immediate nostalgia, because it was ultimately such an uplifting and heart-warming kind of a film. It was that weird sort of nostalgia that led me to watch its sequel, fearing the worst but hoping for the best.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "A Matter of Time"

It is 18 November 1991, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

An asteroid has struck the Federation-controlled planet of Penthara IV. When the Enterprise travels to assist in halting an ecological disaster, its crew is visited by an eccentric time travelling historian from the 26th century: Professor Berlinghoff Rasmussen (Matt Frewer).

Comedy takes the lead over drama in this slightly odd episode, one originally written for Robin Williams but re-worked for Max Headroom star Matt Frewer once the former turned down the offer due to commitments to Steven Spielberg's Hook. You can see how much the episode was tailored to Williams, and its a testament to Frewer's talent that he absolutely makes it his own. There are certainly much better episodes of The Next Generation out there, but this one satisfies pretty well on its own merits.

July 10, 2016

Ted 2 (2015)

When his marriage to Tammy-Lynn (Jessica Barth) begins to fail, Ted (Seth McFarlane) decides they should have a baby. The attempt leads to the government declaring that Ted is not a person but instead merely property, sending him, his best friend John (Mark Wahlberg) and junior lawyer Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) on a civil rights crusade.

There is a general rule of diminishing returns when it comes to sequels, and that seems doubly so for sequels to comedies. Generally speaking the jokes have already been played out, and there is a tendency to avoid pushing characters into new or original settings or plots. More often than not you get a story that broadly copies the original, or one that - while progressing beyond the narrative - presents something riddled with stereotypes and cliches. It is very difficult to find a genuinely good comedy sequel. It is pretty much impossible to find one funnier than the original. All that is true of Ted 2. The film copies a lot of the jokes from the first film, or at least presents simple variations of them, and its storyline is a dreadfully weak story about Ted going to prove he is a person while being hunted down by an evil toy company wanting to reverse-engineer him and manufacture millions of Teds.

The Pull List: 6 July 2016, Part 3

Black Mask Studios are really going all out in launching new books at the moment. Their latest new title is Kim & Kim, from Mags Visaggio and Eva Cabrera. It follows two bounty hunters, Kimiko Quatro and Kimber Fantzler, as they hunt down criminals on the planet Vessus Secundo. It's a bizarre coincidence to see this book get released this of all weeks, since its release coincides with that of the very similar Bounty over at Dark Horse Comics.

Of the two, I think I prefer Kim & Kim. It has a much breezier tone to it, and a more relaxed kind of humour. The characters immediately seem more likeable. Visaggio's script also throws around a lot of background detail, that helps to quickly paint together an expansive fictional universe in which the story can take place.

That said, Eva Cabrera's artwork feels relatively inexperienced and below par. It is a similar problem I found with Black Mask's other recent launch, Jade Street Protection Services, but in this case the drawbacks of the art are well compensated by Claudia Aguirre's rich colours. If you ever wanted a good example of how strong colours can lift artwork, Kim & Kim seems like a great example. This is a very promising first issue, and I am keen to see more. (4/5)

Kim & Kim #1. Black Mask Studios. Written by Mags Visaggio. Art by Eva Cabrera. Colours by Claudia Aguirre.

Under the cut: reviews of The Fuse, Giant Days, Revival, The Sheriff of Babylon and Silver Surfer.

July 9, 2016

Colditz: "Tweedledum"

It is 21 December 1972, and time for another episode of Colditz.

Wing Commander Marsh (Michael Bryant) develops an audacious plan to escape Colditz: he will fake mental illness, forcing the Germans to repatriate him back to Britain. It is plan known only to a few key British officers, and one that will take months to achieve. As his plan slowly comes to fruition, Marsh begins to anger and upset the guards, the Kommandant and even his own unwitting fellow officers.

"Tweedledum" is generally held up as the very best episode Colditz had to offer. It was widely acclaimed upon release, and Michael Bryant's guest performance as Commander Marsh is so accomplished it earned him a British Academy Award nomination (he lost to Anthony Hopkins for War and Peace). It has been nearly 44 years since the episode was first broadcast, and despite its age it remains staggeringly effective. This is an episode I would strongly recommend watching before reading any reviews about it.

Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)

Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) is a teenager mourning the death of her mother. In attempting to contact her mother's spirit she instead attracts a malevolent entity that has designs on her soul. In desperation her father (Dermot Mulroney) reaches out to retired psychic Elise Rainer (Lin Shaye) - but Elise has sworn off tackling evil spirits for good.

Insidious Chapter 3 jumps back - as seems to be the wont of a growing number of horror sequels - to tell the origin story of psychic crusader Elise Rainer and her two offsiders Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson). It is an odd choice for Leigh Whannell, who both writes and directs this prequel. On the one hand, jumping back a few years enables him to tell another story with Elise, Specs and Tucker before their parted ways at the end of the original Insidious. It also satisfies any curiosity over how three such disparate people wound up working together. On the other hand, we don't actually need to know how they got together. It is unnecessary information, and knowing all three will be alive and well in the future takes away quite a bit of suspense from this third film. There is also an irritating issue in that Insidious Chapter 2 ended in a really interesting place. I am much more interested in seeing what happens after the original two films that in filling in the gaps of what happened before them.

July 8, 2016

The Pull List: 6 July 2016, Part 2

One of the best books of DC's New 52 line was Batman and Robin. The creative team of Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray absolutely nailed the relationship between Bruce Wayne and his son Damian. It was funny, dramatic and warm, and more importantly it absolutely sold the idea of a vigilante superhero running around the city with his own son.

That same team has reunited on the DC Rebirth edition of Superman. They are telling a similar story: Clark Kent is teaching his son Jonathan how to embrace and control his superhuman powers. While that basic framework is the same, and while it is looking to be just as accomplished and entertaining a comic, the tone is very different. Superman is a much brighter character than Batman, and Jonathan Kent is vastly more upbeat that Damian Wayne. It's these differences that are really making Superman pop off the page. The relationship between father and son is just beautiful.

There's an unexpected fight here with a giant alien-looking purple squid thing, which given the Watchmen references in DC Universe Rebirth did give me pause for a moment. It's a great scene, with Superman keeping his son safe while encouraging him to properly control his heat vision for the first time. There is also the return of a former Superman villain that really makes me feel like the Rebirth Superman titles are revisiting the early 1990s with perhaps a little too much enthusiasm.

Gleason and Gray's artwork is excellent, particularly their wonderful cover. John Kalisz colours it all wonderfully too. This is a great superhero title with a fresh and entertaining angle. It's shaping up to be one of the best Rebirth books on the shelves. (4/5)

Superman #2. DC Comics. Written by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason. Art by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray. Colours by John Kalisz.

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

Annabelle (2014)

John (Ward Horton) and Mia (Annabelle Wallis) Form are expecting the birth of their first child. Mia is a doll collector, and as a present John buys her a rare antique doll she has been wanting for years. When a pair of Satanic cultists break into their home Mia is badly injured, and one of the cultists commits suicide. When subsequent unearthly events follow Mia it becomes clear that something has possessed the antique doll in her house, and demonic forces are targeting her newborn daughter.

Warner Bros was quick to capitalise on the success of James Wan's The Conjuring with this slight and formulaic spin-off, focusing upon the cursed doll that featured in the prologue to Wan's film. On a financial level it was certainly a canny move, with Annabelle grossing a quite astonishing US$256m worldwide. On a creative level it is a fairly empty and dull experience. The biggest problem with Annabelle is that it spends 95 minutes telling a story that essentially took The Conjuring all of three. A lesser, but significant, problem is that for a horror film it seems to pull an awful lot of emotional punches.

July 7, 2016

The Man From UNCLE (2015)

CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is on the hunt for a missing East German nuclear physicist. His hunt takes him straight to that physicist's daughter, car mechanic Gaby (Alicia Vikander), and across the path of rival KGB agent Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). Together these unwilling allies must work together to stop a criminal organisation from assembling a nuclear warhead.

Film adaptations of TV shows are pretty much like remakes: Hollywood studios adore them because they give each film a leg-up in terms of marketing and branding. Audiences know and remember Mission: Impossible or Star Trek, and are happy to go and see the film adaptation due to their affection or nostalgia for the original property. Some times studios get it really wrong: I have no idea of the size of the market for a Car 54, Where Are You? movie, but I am going to take a guess than the market was relatively modest (worldwide gross: US$1.2m).

The Man from UNCLE honestly feels like it belongs somewhere in the middle. Do audiences remember it fondly? Sure. Is that a huge audience? The last regular episode aired in 1968, and while there were a few subsequent TV movies I think transforming the series into a fresh motion picture was a bit of a gamble on Warner Bros' part.

The Pull List: 6 July 2016, Part 1

Kurtis Weibe scored a major cult hit with his fantasy comedy series Rat Queens, which followed a group of archetypal Dungeons & Dragons style adventurers - all women - fighting monsters, getting drunk and generally behaving very badly. That book seems to have foundered under something of a cloud, but Weibe is keeping busy. This week sees the release of Bounty, an all-new 10-part miniseries from Dark Horse. Weibe is writing, with Mindy Lee providing the art.

The book follows wanted criminals and sisters Nina and Georgie who, after a mission goes wrong, take on new identities and become intergalactic bounty hunters themselves. It is a jump in genre for Weibe from fantasy to science fiction, but it's a jump he had made before and in many respect it acts as a sister title to Rat Queens relocated to a different genre. The tone is relatively similar, but the characters and the background detail are completely different.

Mindy Lee's artwork reminds me quite a bit of Annie Wu. It has that same spiky, exaggerated energu to it, and it matches Weibe's script very well. This is a violent book, but not to Rat Queen's extent, but it is also a genuinely funny book. If it keeps up its current quality, I can see it giving Rat Queens a run for its money in the cult comic book stakes. (4/5)

Bounty #1. Dark Horse. Written by Kurtis Weibe. Art by Mindy Lee. Colours by Leonardo Oler.

Under the cut: reviews of 4001 AD: Shadowman, Doctor Who: Supremacy of the Cybermen and Poe Dameron.

July 6, 2016

Roadies: "What Would Phil Do?"

It is 3 July 2016, and time for the second episode of Roadies.

As Reg (Rafe Spall) makes budget cuts on the tour and fires multiple members of the road crew, team morale drops to a new low. Despite coming back to work Kelly Ann (Imogen Poots) finds her colleagues are not so quick to forgive her. In Phil's absence Bill (Luke Wilson) suffers a crisis of confidence in doing his job.

There is clearly something worthwhile in Roadies, because despite the first episode being jarringly awful I have found myself back watching the second episode. It is almost as bad, although to its credit it is a little more grounded and believable. I think this may be what I have seen others refer to as 'car crash television': it's awful, yet for some reason it's impossible turn away from the carnage on screen.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Unification II"

It is 11 November 1991, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy), assisted by Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Data (Brent Spiner), works to establish a new relationship between Romulus and Vulcan - but there is a traitor in their midst. Meanwhile Riker (Jonathan Frakes) continues to investigate the theft of a Vulcan starship from a Federation salvage depot.

"Unification II" finally sees characters from both the original Star Trek and The Next Generation team up for a 25th anniversary adventure. It is a busy, relatively talky affair, which tries to squeeze a little too much narrative into too short a time and suffers somewhat as a result. It is tremendously enjoyable stuff, primarily to see Spock's scenes opposite Picard and Data, but there is a sense of a missed opportunity too. With a third episode to flesh out this storyline it could have been something truly remarkable.

July 5, 2016

Poltergeist (2015)

An American family move into a new house. They are immediately met with strange supernatural occurrences. Objects move by themselves. Creepy sounds can be heard at night. Before long their youngest daughter has been taken beyond the normal world, and it is up to a team of paranormal experts to help bring her back. This may sound like the 1982 horror film Poltergeist, but it is now also the synopsis for the near-identical 2015 remake of the same name.

So why remake films? It strikes me that there are three reasons, and any particular remake might exist for a combination of the three in one proportion or another. The first reason is creative: a writer, director or producer sees an old film and recognises a way to re-envisage it or update it for an entirely new audience. It is a transformative process, taking a pre-existing property and advancing it a little in the cultural conversation.

A second reason is to do with language. A fantastic film might be made in Japan, and an American producer knows it would be hugely successful if it was only produced in English. Thus America gets The Ring, The Grudge, The Departed and all other manner of Asia-copied movies. The theory works in the other direction as well: you can see a Hong Kong remake of Cellular if you like, or the Japanese Unforgiven.

Colditz: "Bribery and Corruption"

It is 14 December 1972, and time for another episode of Colditz.

One of the German guards needs money desperately to pay for a lover's abortion, and the Colditz prisoners attempt to use that to their advantage. Meanwhile Colonel Preston (Jack Hedley) receives upsetting news from home.

As always, this ninth episode of Colditz is based on a true story. There was an actual attempt to bribe a guard, in order to get him to turn the other way while a group of British officers escaped via a tunnel. It is this general fidelity to the facts that had made this such an entertaining series. The storylines are surprisingly varied, and the tone shifts quite nicely from episode to episode. This episode splits into two evenly divided stories: the latest escape attempt, and Preston's overwhelmingly awful news. His wife has died while driving an ambulance, and he has no idea who is caring for his two young children - or indeed where they are.

July 4, 2016

John Wick (2014)

I really appreciate a film that has a clarity of purpose, and a passionate drive to fulfil that purpose in the most inventive and effective manner possible. That is one of the main reasons I really adored John Wick, a 2014 action film directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. Its story is really incredibly simple. John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a retired assassin-for-hire whose wife has just died. When Russian gangsters come to his house, beat him senseless and steal his car, he sets out onto the streets of New York to get revenge.

That is not all of the set-up, but we can leave the other part until later into the review in case you have not seen the film yet. To keep things effectively spoiler-free, John Wick is a tightly edited and beautifully shot series of incredibly violent action scenes with a body count that rivals the most excessive shoot-outs by Hong Kong's John Woo - in fact it seems clear to me that Woo's oeuvre, including Hard Boiled, The Killer and A Better Tomorrow, is one of the clear influences over Stahelski and Leitch's film. Viewers looking for a stunning, energetic and oddly off-kilter action movie are going to love John Wick. Anyone with a dislike for violence, blood or indeed Keanu Reeves should probably seek entertainment elsewhere.

Furious 7 (2015)

The most knowingly ridiculous action movie franchise of all time reaches its seventh instalment with Furious 7. It is such an over-the-top affair that it has effectively rendered itself critic-proof. What is there to criticise? You could remark upon how unbelievable the stunts are, or what a nonsense the plot is, or how there is not a single realistic character in the bunch, but to do so would be pointless because the filmmakers already know. These are films that embrace and encourage their own silliness. Without question Furious 7 is the silliest of the bunch.

Following the defeat of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), who has been left in a coma, Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his gang are targeted for reprisals by Owen's much more dangerous brother Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). To track down Deckard and challenge him head-on, Dom agrees to work with "Mr Nobody" (Kurt Russell) - a US government representative who needs to rescue a talented hacker from an African terrorist in order to secure the world's greatest-ever surveillance system. The chase takes Dom's team from Los Angeles to Azebaijan to Abu Dhabi and back to Los Angeles for an explosive chase through the city streets. The simpler plot synopsis would read: "A string of random nonsense allows Dom and his team to drive cars very fast, shoot people, and blow things up for 137 minutes."

July 3, 2016

Garm Wars: The Last Druid (2014)

On an alien world, generations of war have reduced the eight Garm tribes to just three: the Columba, the Briga and the technologically advanced Kumtak. A Kumtak priest named Wydd (Lance Henriksen) has been captured by the Briga along with a presumed-extinct Druid - a powerful technology master hidden behind an egg-like mask. When Wydd tricks the Briga and destroys their interrogation chamber with a massive explosion, he goes on the run - accompanied by an unwilling Briga pilot named Stellig (Kevin Durand) and a Columba fighter pilot named Khara (Melanie St Pierre). Together they hunt for the gods who created the world, and to find out why they were abandoned.

That is about as coherent a synopsis of Garm Wars: The Last Druid that I can give you. This visually eye-catching but narratively jumbled effort comes from Japanese writer/director Mamoru Oshii. Oshii is a legend in animation, having directed a string of hugely popular and enduring anime features including Ghost in the Shell, The Sky Crawlers and Patlabor. His live-action feature films have not enjoyed such widespread success. His 2001 science fiction film Avalon, which was shot in Poland with an entirely local cast, was a well-deserved critical and cult success. His other live-action films, including Assault Girls, The Red Spectacles, Stray Dog: Kerberos Panzer Cops and Talking Head, have not enjoyed the same exposure. Garm Wars: The Last Druid is one of his most recent live-action efforts, and his first film to be shot in English.