December 31, 2016

Doctor Who: "The Hungry Earth"

It is 22 May 2010, and time for another episode of Doctor Who.

The Doctor (Matt Smith) aims for Rio and winds up in 2020 Wales. A nearby scientific project is drilling more than 20 kilometres beneath the Earth's surface. Something has woken up beneath the ground. Amy (Karen Gillan) is dragged below, and before the Doctor and Rory (Arthur Darvill) can mount a rescue the drilling project and its crew come under attack from Silurian warriors.

"The Hungry Earth" is the first part of a two-part serial produced for Doctor Who's fifth season: the first for executive producer Steven Moffat and star Matt Smith. The script is by Chris Chibnall, a writer who had previously written the fairly unpopular Season 3 episode "42" as well as produced the spin-off series Torchwood. Chibnall, who since the broadcast of this episode has gone on to become one of Britain's most acclaimed television writers via the crime drama Broadchurch, is also the next executive producer of Doctor Who and takes over the series from Season 11 in 2018. That makes "The Hungry Earth" a fascinating episode to watch, since it might provide some idea of what the series under Chibnall will be like.

The Pull List: 28 December 2016, Part 2

The final showdown between Batman's team and the Victim Syndicate is interrupted by Spoiler, who has a dangerous mission all of her own. "The Victim Syndicate" has been a great storyline, introducing several new villains while pushing Batman's united vigilante team into a whole new territory. I know superhero comics are essentially like soap operas - constant rolling motion that ultimately leaves everything in the same place - but I do like it when that rolling motion is there.

That motion comes in this case from Spoiler, who after Tim's apparent death has come to believe Batman does more harm than good. She's not a villain now, but she's definitely an antagonist in the making. It sets up huge potential for character interaction going forward - between her and Bruce, her and Cass, her and Harper - and the introduction of Batwing to the ongoing roster adds another element to the comic.

This is shaping up to be a really memorable run on Detective Comics, possibly the best since Scott Snyder's pre-New 52 effort. The developing story James Tynion is telling is really beginning to deliver creative dividends. (4/5)

Detective Comics #947. 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, All-Star Batman and Batgirl.

December 30, 2016

The Pull List: 28 December 2016, Part 1

She-Hulk has always been one of Marvel's more entertaining characters, perhaps surprisingly so given her basic set-up. Jennifer Walters is the cousin of Bruce Banner, aka the Incredible Hulk, and when she needs a blood transfusion he provides it - only to accidentally bestow the Hulk's transformative powers and super-strength. Unlike the Hulk, however, She-Hulk has been a stable and responsible character. Her books have generally been on the lighter side, ranging from small-scale entertaining action to flat-out comedy. Her new series, however, is somewhat different. For one thing, this first issue isn't remotely funny. Secondly, it's simply titled Hulk.

During the Civil War II miniseries, Jennifer was badly injured and almost died. When she woke from a coma she learned that during the subsequent conflict her cousin Bruce was murdered by Clint Barton, one of her friends. Hulk sees Jennifer for once back in a fully human form, no green skin or extra height, and struggling to re-start her life. She's back working as a lawyer, working super-powered cases. She is also struggling badly with PTSD, only this time if she loses her temper she fears that - like Bruce before her - she will lose control.

Mariko Tamaki writes a smart, emotional script, and Nico Leon and Matt Milla provide excellent artwork to back it up. This is not the She-Hulk relaunch I was expecting, but so far it's one I am very happy to read. This is serious, heavy drama for a character who usually doesn't have to deal with it. I may hate Marvel's event series, but sometimes they really do lead to excellent new angles on pre-existing characters. (5/5)

Hulk #1. Marvel. Written by Mariko Tamaki. Art by Nico Leon. Colours by Matt Milla.

Under the cut: reviews Black Widow, Justice League vs Suicide Squad, Seven Against Eternity, and Spider-Man.

December 29, 2016

It Follows (2014)

Jay (Maika Monroe) goes out to the movies, where her date Hugh (Jake Weary) freaks out after he sees someone at the back of the cinema that Jay cannot. On their second date, and after having sex, Hugh chloroforms Jay. When she wakes, she has been tied to a chair. Hugh explains to her: his name is not Hugh. There is a supernatural creature stalking him. The only way to escape it is to pass it to someone else via sexual intercourse, and now that creature is stalking Jay.

It Follows is a 2014 horror film written and directed by David Robert Mitchell. It comes with one hell of a strong hook: an anonymous and unexplained entity, one that can take on the form of anybody you know, and which silently and calmly walks towards you until it catches up and kills you. You could run away, but it will just keep calmly walking in whatever direction you are in. You could shut yourself behind a locked door, but it will beat down the door and then reach you anyway. Driving far away in a car provides you enough distance for a few hours' respite, but all the while the thing is still walking ever-patiently towards you.

December 28, 2016

Top 10 comic books of 2016

2016 was a horror show year for celebrity deaths and international politics, but for what it is worth it was a sensational year for American comic books. A huge number of exceptional books were published over the past 12 months, which actually made whittling down my favourites to just a top ten about as difficult a task as it has ever been.

DC Comics really picked up their game in 2016 with the launch of Rebirth, a shift to fortnightly release on numerous key superhero books, and a tighter focus on characters and settings that the readership most wanted to see. Meanwhile Marvel struggled a little, releasing plenty of solid titles but staggering under the weight of delayed and generally invasive event miniseries like Secret Wars and Civil War II. What is most striking to me, however, is how despite the excellent books published by 'the big two', only one Marvel and one DC superhero universe book made it into my top ten. They may have done great work, but the independent publishers and creator-owned books were generally producing even better material. Like I said, 2016 was a sensational year for American comic books. Here are my personal favourites.

La La Land (2016)

Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress trapped in the industry cycle of waitressing by day and failing auditions by night. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is an ambitious jazz pianist trapped playing Christmas music at a restaurant while dreaming of setting up his own club. After a series of chance meetings they enter into a romantic relationship, which struggling to balance their love for one another with their separate ambitions.

There is a great film buried somewhere inside La La Land, a new film musical by writer/director Damian Chazelle. Unfortunately Chazelle never quite manages to find it. The film he has made hints at that greatness quite regularly, but never seems to fully nail a scene or moment. The promise is everywhere. The anticipation is palpable and regular. It is never completely satisfying. It never goes that extra mile to turn a good scene or moment into a legendary one. The end result is a film with a lot of intermittent charm and glimmers of profundity, but which is ultimately a bit of a boring confection.

December 27, 2016

The Pull List: 21 December 2016, Part 3

With the huge box office success of the film Guardians of the Galaxy, and a sequel coming in 2017, it is no surprise to see Marvel capitalise on the interest with a couple of new Guardians spin-off comics. There's a new Star Lord book, a new Rocket Raccoon, and now Gamora gets her own self-titled series.

It's a prequel storyline, set back when Gamora was the loyal daughter of Thanos and competitive sibling to Nebula. As a rule I don't particularly like prequels: I like to see what happens next, not what happened to get a story to where it started. To the credit of writer Nicole Perlman it is well developed and intriguing, but at the same time it's not quite intriguing enough to keep me reading for the long-term. I would much rather see Gamora get a present-day solo series.

Marco Checchetto's artwork, combined with Andres Mossa's colours, presents an eye-catching and distinctive alien universe. There's also a nice sense of movement to the issue's action sequences, and a solid set-up of the first story arc. While I am unlikely to continue myself, I suspect there is a solid audience of Marvel fans for this kind of story. It's solid, just not quite strong enough to add to my already excessive pull list. (3/5)

Gamora #1. Marvel. Written by Nicole Perlman. Art by Marco Checchetto. Colours by Andres Mossa.

Under the cut: reviews of Animosity, Doctor Strange, Silver Surfer, Southern Cross, Superman and Usagi Yojimbo.

Doctor Who: "Prisoners of Conciergerie"

It is 12 September 1964, and time for the final episode of Doctor Who's first series.

After finally meeting the English spy James Stirling (James Cairncross), the Doctor (William Hartnell), Ian (William Russell) and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) agree to help spy on a secret meeting with France's next leader - Napoleon Bonaparte - while government forces close in on Robespierre (Keith Anderson).

"The Reign of Terror" reaches its climax with a much-needed change of pace, and an injection of a real-life historical turning point. After five episodes of fairly generic escapes and recaptures, the serial finally returns to the sort of historical drama presented by "Marco Polo" earlier in the season. The Doctor and his companions become witnesses to history once again, with Ian and Stirling witnessing the fall of Robespierre and the TARDIS crew escaping France just as Napoleon seizes control.

December 26, 2016

Doctor Who: "The Return of Dr Mysterio"

While attempting to repair damage to the time continuum around New York City, the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) accidentally feeds a rare and exceedingly powerful alien gemstone to a young boy named Grant. Two decades later the gemstone has given Grant (Justin Chatwin) super powers straight out a comic book, which he uses to join the Doctor and the Doctor's new companion Nardole (Matt Lucas) fight against an alien invasion.

One of the signature elements of Doctor Who is its use of pastiche: it takes classic films and novels, remixes and re-arranges them and plays them back through a uniquely Doctor Who lens. "The Seeds of Doom" copied The Thing, "The Curse of Fenric" lifted liberally from The Fog, and in more recent times the Doctor's entire relationship with his wife River draws from the popular novel The Time Traveller's Wife. With "The Return of Dr Mysterio" the series attempts to lift elements and tropes from superhero comics - and specifically Richard Donner's feature film Superman: The Movie - and once again replay them from Doctor Who's perspective.

It doesn't work.

December 25, 2016

Cell (2016)

Clay Riddell (John Cusack) is a comic book artist in Boston airport when a strange mobile phone signal turns everybody using a cell phone into a screaming, violent lunatic. Barely escaping the airport with his life, Clay joins a train driver (Samuel L. Jackson), a mournful teenager (ISabelle Fuhrmann) and a terrified schoolboy (Owen Teague) on a journey north to find his estranged family and keep them safe.

You would think from Cell's set-up that it would be a sizeable hit. It's essentially a zombie movie, released at a time when people still seem to really enjoy zombie movies, and is based on a novel by hugely popular author Stephen King. It stars decent actors like Cusack, Jackson and Stacy Keach. It is clearly a film that went through some trouble, though: despite being shot in 2014 on a moderate budget it took until the middle of 2016 for it to limp direct to home video, with a very limited theatrical release in the USA grossing less than a million dollars.

How could the film do so badly? One viewing makes that pretty clear: Cell isn't any good.

The Pull List: 21 December 2016, Part 2

This week DC Comics launched its first post-Rebirth event series. In Justice League vs Suicide Squad, Batman brings information to the Justice League that senior US government operative Amanda Waller is running a covert strike team comprising incarcerated supervillains. In response the League sets out to shut the Squad down. When the League arrives, Waller gives her unwilling criminal soldiers an ultimatum: take down the Justice League or die. Meanwhile a third party is secretly assembling his own super-villain team.

It is such a ridiculously simple set-up, and yet it works so much better than this sort of "versus" storyline usually does. The typical problem, in say Avengers vs X-Men or Justice League vs Teen Titans - or even Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, is that the writer has to overcome the question of why two well-meaning, good-hearted groups or individuals would want to try and kill each other. Here it immediately makes sense: the League want to take down the Squad because the Squad comprises actual violent criminals. In return the Squad are forced to take down to League (or at least try) because Waller will kill them if they do not. It's a perfect set-up, and this issue does a great job of setting the conflict up.

Meanwhile a subplot sets up a more complex storyline that will hopefully sustain this miniseries over six issues. It features the return of a character I think for the first time since the New 52 started, and it's interesting to see which of the two angles on the character DC has chosen to take. Joshua Williamson writes a strong, fast-paced script here, and Jason Fabok's artwork is - as it usually is - excellent. (4/5)

Justice League vs Suicide Squad #1. DC Comics. Written by Joshua Williamson. Art by Jason Fabok. Colours by Alex Sinclair.

Under the cut: reviews of Doctor Aphra, Doctor Who, 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank, Green Arrow, Joyride and Lake of Fire.

December 24, 2016

Robin Hood (2010)

It is 1199 AD. After witnessing the death of King Richard I in battle, archer Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) escapes back to England with his companions to avoid the inevitable chaos that will ensue. En route Robin meets a dying knight who makes him promise to deliver a sword back to the knight's father in Nottingham, where he meets the widow Marian (Cate Blanchett) and assumes the knight's identity.

You can see why Universal Pictures jumped at the chance to make Ridley Scott's Robin Hood. Not only did the film utilise a widely known and liked folklore character, it reunited the director and star of Gladiator - one of 2000's biggest box office hits, and an Best Picture Oscar winner to boot. I can only imagine that at the end of the day studio heads were sorely disappointed. Robin Hood grossed just $320 million or so from an estimated $200 million budget. Gladiator had cost half as much and earned more than $450 million. What's more, reviews for Robin Hood were pretty negative. All in all it seemed a bit of a mistake for everybody involved.

The Pull List: 21 December 2016, Part 1

70 years after the Soviet Union enveloped the whole of Europe, and 21 years after the Americas finally fell under Russian control, the Red Brigade is formally announced as the world's primary security force. The heroes of the Valiant Universe - Bloodshot, X-O Manowar, Shadowman, and so on - all work for the safety and security of a brutal and totalitarian state. History has gone wrong, and the only person who seems to remember this is Colin King. Back in the real universe he worked for the British government under the code-name Ninjak. Here he masquerades as a Soviet security chief while quietly working to find allies and a means of changing the world back to rights.

The original Divinity was an intelligent and quite unusual miniseries about a Russian cosmonaut turned into an uncontrollable super-powered entity upon his return from outer space. It's fair to say that things have developed quite a way since then. This is a classic 'mirror universe' storyline for the Valiant characters, boasting great art, an intriguing set-up and a lot of entertainment value seeing the alternative versions of all the popular heroes. If there's a criticism it's that not quite enough happens in this first issue. It's a great set-up though; I'm keen to see where writer Matt Kindt takes it. (3/5)

Divinity III: Stalinverse #1. Written by Matt Kindt. Art by Trevor Hairsine and Ryan Winn. Colours by David Baron.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batman, Jem and the Misfits, Star Trek/Green Lantern: Stranger Worlds, and Trinity.

December 23, 2016

The Ice House (1978)

It is 25 December 1978, and time for a final Ghost Story for Christmas.

Paul (John Stride) has recently separated from his wife, and has booked himself into an isolated health spa to relax and recuperate. After he witnesses a strange phenomenon of staff feeling ice-cold to the touch - staff who mysteriously vanish shortly afterwards - Paul begins to suspect something is amiss about the vine-covered ice house deep in the spa's grounds, and the brother and sister (Geoffrey Burridge and Elizabeth Romilly) that manage the estate.

By 1978 director Lawrence Gordon Clark had left the BBC to work freelance for commercial rival ITV instead. In his place, Derek Lister directed this eighth and final short film under the Ghost Story for Christmas banner. With a script by John Bowen, who previously adapted "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas" for the series, and a modern-day setting, "The Ice House" is easily the strangest and most oddly stylised film of the six I have seen. That said, while it is definitely unusual, it is sadly not particularly good either.

The Exorcist (1973)

Regan McNeill (Linda Blair) is a bright-faced pre-teen living in Georgetown when her bed begins moving on its own accord. Soon Regan is afflicted by seizures and delusions, and disturbing changes in behaviour. When medical science cannot provide an explanation, Regan's mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn) resorts to calling in the priest Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) and he in turn must rely on the exorcist Father Lancaster Merrin (Max Von Sydow).

The Exorcist is a widely regarded masterpiece of cinema, and one that is regularly cited as the greatest horror movie ever made. It was the first horror film to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. Entertainment Weekly and Time Out both ranked it as the scariest film ever made.

Here's the thing though: The Exorcist isn't really a horror film. Don't get me wrong, it has a few nice scary moments. It does feature supernatural content and themes. At the same time, however, it is also a masterful drama about how a priest almost lost his faith until a demon forces him to take a stand and fight for his beliefs.

December 22, 2016

Doctor Who: "A Bargain of Necessity"

It is 5 September 1964, and time for the fifth episode of the Doctor Who serial "The Reign of Terror".

At the Conciergerie, the Doctor (William Hartnell) works to release Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Susan (Carole Ann Ford). Across town Ian (William Russell) has walked into a trap staged by Leon, who wants information about the protection ring.

"A Bargain of Necessity" shows a marked improvement over the previous episode, with a lot more action and plot progression. At the same time it does continue this serial's biggest flaw: it's ultimately just a string of captures and escapes until the Doctor and his companions can safely return to the TARDIS.

AKB0048: "For Their Smiles"

It is 22 July 2012, and time for the final episode of AKB0048.

After retreating from the DES forces, the understudies make the choice to return to Lancastar and perform their first concert after all. Will Nagisa's voice return, and will AKB successfully deflect the DES assault in order to perform?

The first season of AKB0048 comes to a close with a climactic music concert, and some huge plot developments to power the story over into its second year. Over and above anything else it re-emphasises the overall themes of the series: that love and hope will conquer all, that the way to that love is through pop music and idol groups, and that nothing makes that pop music better than the addition of glowing alien spirits, lightsabers, giant robots and soap opera histrionics. This has overall been a wonderfully silly series, throwing as many elements as it can reach into a blender and then throwing it into the air like a pop culture rainbow explosion.

December 21, 2016

Five Films: Donnie Yen

One of the most common responses I have seen to Disney's new film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, apart from the ones that would involve spoiling the movie to explain, is a general shock and joy at the performance of Donnie Yen as blind Force-sensitive warrior Chirrut Imwe. For many viewers in the English-speaking world Yen is a surprising new action star: talented, athletic, handsome and funny. For viewers in the Chinese-speaking world he has been a major action star for a quarter of a century, ranked up alongside male contemporaries like Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Chow Yun-Fat. It has taken Yen longer to make a successful break into Hollywood - a mid-90s attempt failed when he accepted a role in the fairly ropey sequel Highlander: Endgame - but now that he is here I would not be surprised to see American studios begin lining up to offer him some high-profile roles.

Thankfully for the new fans who have first seen Yen do his action thing in Rogue One, there is now a massive back catalogue of awesome often-times over-the-top action films to check out. I have picked five that I think will likely give the new viewer a solid showcase of what Yen can do. I have been a huge fan of his work for years, and it's great to see him make such a huge impact this year.

The Pull List: 14 December 2016, Part 2

After a story arc that explored each key character's backstory, events in Descender suddenly rush back into action. Tim-21 runs for his life from a murderously jealous brother. Telsa and Quon make an escape attempt from the Machine Moon, and Andy finally makes a move on his resentful ex.

It is all told as closely to simultaneously as a comic book can manage, with each individual storyline swapping out on what is close to a panel-to-panel basis. It's a great technique, as it gives the issue a huge amount of pace and energy as it jumps from Andy to Tim-21 to Telsa in their respective situations.

Dustin Nguyen's artwork continues to fascinate me: it's loose watercolour style does not have much in the way of fine detail, and that stands in stark opposition to the bulk of science fiction comic books one tends to see on the shelves. It gives the book a unique aesthetic, and while occasionally it's frustrated here it works almost to perfection. I'm glad the pace has picked up now, as in recent issues it was becoming almost unforgivably slow. Here it's breakneck. (4/5)

Descender #17. Written by Jeff Lemire. Art and colours by Dustin Nguyen.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Daredevil, and Detective Comics.

December 20, 2016

Home Alone (1990)

When the McAllisters leave Chicago for a Christmas holiday, they accidentally leave behind eight year-old Kevin (Macaulay Culkin). While doing his best to cope while they are gone, Kevin discovers a pair of burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) are planning to rob his home on Christmas Eve.

Home Alone is one of those movies that was enormously popular at the time, made a huge and lasting impact on popular culture, but which is regularly pilloried and mocked for being a terrible film. I have honestly always liked it. It's an odd sort of film, in that the elements that made its reputation - Kevin unleashing a series of overtly violent slapstick traps upon the thieves Harry (Pesci) and Marv (Stern) - only comprises about 20 minutes out of a 90 minute film. It is that remaining 70 minutes that I find most interesting: a series of scenes and situations of an eight year-old placed in charge of his own life and having to negotiate it the best he can. It is regularly sentimental stuff, but it's a sentiment regularly punctured by quite honest moments about childhood, child-like fears, and abandonment.

Star Trek: Voyager: Season 1 in review

By the early 1990s Star Trek had become a hugely profitable franchise for Paramount. Star Trek: The Next Generation was the most popular drama in American syndication, and in 1993 the production team successfully expanded to produce a second series in parallel: Deep Space Nine. At the same time it was felt the cast of the original 1966 Star Trek were getting too old for the studio to continue their film franchise beyond 1991's Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The decision was made to end The Next Generation at the conclusion of its seventh season in June 1994, immediately launch a Next Generation feature film at the end of that year, and then release a replacement TV series in January 1995.

That replacement came at the perfect time since Paramount was launching its own television network, the United Paramount Network (UPN) and a Star Trek weekly series was the perfect flagship programme with which to do that. As it was ostensibly a replacement for The Next Generation Season 8 (something the entire Next Generation cast had happily agreed to do before they were shoved into movies instead), the new series had to replicate a lot of its signature features. That is, it was another Star Trek series set on a starship with a cast of humans and aliens having adventures from week to week. Tasked with developing some variation on that theme, Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor created Star Trek: Voyager.

December 19, 2016

Galaxy Turnpike (2015)

It is the year 2265. Midway between Earth and an outer solar system colony lies the Galaxy Turnpike, where travellers can pull over their spacecraft and relax at a retro-styled Sandsand burger joint. Inside the husband and wife team of Noa (Shingo Katori) and Noe (Haruka Ayase) operate the kitchen while coping with a disintegrating marriage and a dwindling number of customers.

Galaxy Turnpike, a Japanese comedy directed by Koki Mitani, essentially works as a series of inter-connected comedic vignettes. In one booth a fussy businessman (Kanji Ishimaru) negotiates with a hard-sell pimp (Koji Yamamoto) to have sex with an alien sex worker for the first time. In another, a company auditor (Yasunori Danta) begins to hallucinate a mime artist and a range of cartoon animals. In a third, a nervous police officer (Shun Ogiri) struggles to reveal to his captain (Kenji Anan) that he is actually an Ultraman-style superhero named Captain Socks.

The Pull List: 14 December 2016, Part 1

Jackie Mayer is a music enthusiast secretly investigating a series of groupie murders from the 1970s that have suddenly re-emerged in present-day Los Angeles. He soon meets music journalist Dorothy Buell, and together they begin digging around.

Rockstars is a new monthly comic from Image, writer Joe Harris (whose earlier Image title Great Pacific was pretty enjoyable) and artist Megan Hutchinson. It is clearly aiming for a sweet spot between rock music, conspiracy theories and the occult. This first issue is littered with references to classic music groups, songs and lyrics, and features strong art by Hutchinson as well as excellent colours by Kelly Fitzpatrick. For some reason, however, it simply didn't gel with me.

This is clearly a competently assembled book from a talented creative team, but it simply lacks the spark that turns a good book into a great one. Harris' script is over-reliant on narration, and there is a weird lack of urgency throughout. There is also a weird sense of "been there, done that" about the whole book. It may pick up in future issues, and certainly if a mixture of the paranormal and 1970s rock bands sounds like your thing you will find plenty to enjoy here, but ultimately I'm not sure if this book is quite good enough to stick with and find out. (3/5)

Rockstars #1. Image. Written by Joe Harris. Art by Megan Hutchinson. Colours by Kelly Fitzpatrick.

Under the cut: reviews of The Fuse, Hadrian's Wall, Poe Dameron and Spider-Man.

December 18, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the Galactic Empire nears completion of its planet-killing space station the Death Star. At the same time the Rebel Alliance rescues a young woman named Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) from an Imperial labour camp in order to user her to get to her father: the scientist who helped design the Death Star.

Or, in other words, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story recounts how the plans to the Death Star wound up in Princess Leia's possession at the beginning of the original Star Wars back in 1977.

This is the first of Lucasfilm's bi-annual range of Star Wars Story films, which tell side-stories in the same fictional universe as the main trilogies but that aren't exclusively following the Skywalker family. It has a lot to achieve in two hours: it needs to be an entertaining movie, certainly, but it also needs to demonstrate that Star Wars can be a worthwhile franchise once expanded beyond the limits of Luke, Han, Leia and their various offspring. Thankfully I think Rogue One succeeds on both counts, with certain qualifications.

Doctor Who: "The Tyrant of France"

It is 29 August 1964, and time for the next episode of the Doctor Who serial "The Reign of Terror".

The Doctor (William Hartnell) gains an audience with the so-called "tyrant of France", Maximilien Robespierre (Keith Anderson). Susan (Carole Ann Ford) continues to suffer a fever, however she and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) are reunited with Ian (William Russell). As Barbara seeks medicine for Susan's condition and Ian continues his search for the English spy James Stirling, both fall into a trap.

Like all seven episodes of "Marco Polo" before them, the fourth and fifth episodes of "The Reign of Terror" no longer exist in the BBC archives. Audio recordings of both episodes have been recovered, so we can hear what happens in each episode, but video recordings at this stage are unlikely to ever be recovered. When releasing this serial to DVD BBC Video commissioned special animation to replace the lost visuals, and it is these animated versions of the episodes I have watched for the next two reviews.

December 16, 2016

Stigma (1977)

It is 29 December 1977, and time for another Ghost Story for Christmas.

A family has recently moved into a rural cottage by a large stone circle, and to accommodate a new lawn one of the giant stones is to be moved. When a work crew attempt to shift it, the stone appears to have an effect on the mother (Kate Binchy). She begins to find blood soaking through her clothes, yet she cannot find from where on her body she is bleeding.

The biggest problem with Stigma, front and centre, is that it is not a ghost story. While it is clearly a horror film, the nature of that horror is rather vague and muddled. It is also the first film in the series to be produced from an original script - by Clive Exton - and the first to be set in the present day. As a result of all of these differences Stigma feels like it has been made for the wrong show. Scheduling issues within the BBC also delayed its original broadcast to after Christmas altogether.

Star Trek: Voyager: "Learning Curve"

It is 22 May 1995 and time for the Season 1 finale of Star Trek: Voyager.

Okay I exaggerate: it is no kind of finale at all. Paramount originally ordered 19 episodes for Voyager's first year (20 if you count "Caretaker" as two), however towards the end of production executives within the United Paramount Network decided to hold over the final four episodes to be aired at the beginning of Season 2. The idea was to get the jump of competing shows - Voyager could premiere Season 2 a full month before its competitors launched - but the effect was to abruptly end Season 1 here without fanfare. It is a low-key episode with visibly small ambitions.

After a Maquis officer is insubordinate to Lt Tuvok (Tim Russ), Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) suggests taking a small group of the less cooperative Maquis crew members and putting them through basic Starfleet training. Meanwhile the biological gel packs that provide the bulk of Voyager's processing power begin malfunctioning without explanation.

December 15, 2016

Jessica Jones: "AKA It's Called Whiskey"

Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) and Luke Cage (Mike Colter) bond over their mutual super-powers and begin a passionate sexual relationship. Jessica's talk show host friend Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) agrees to interview Hope (Erin Moriarty) on the air about her experience with Killgrave (David Tennant), only to use the interview to goad the psychic criminal into revealing himself. While Jessica attempts to source the surgical anaesthetic needed to cancel out Killgrave's powers, Trish becomes Killgrave's latest target.

After two outstanding episodes in a row Jessica Jones hits a bit of a stumble with its third episode. While a lot of the elements that have made the series so strong out of the gate remain, "AKA It's Called Whiskey" manages to drag in a whole pile of problems that get in the way of it working. If this were a lesser show many of the faults probably wouldn't be noticed. After such an excellent start, however, they are glaring and oftentimes rather irritating.

Bad Santa (2003)

Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) is an alcoholic safe-cracker and thief. Each Christmas he and his accomplice Marcus (Tony Cox) obtain work at a suburban shopping centre as Santa Claus and elf, use the opportunity to case the centre's security, and then steal its takings on Christmas Eve. When working a job in Phoenix, Arizona, Willie finds himself tied up in the affairs of a credulous young boy (Brett Kelly) that threaten to derail the entire operation.

Bad Santa is one of my favourite Christmas movies. On a superficial level it is a gross-out comedy packed with swearing, drinking, poor behaviour, and criminal activity. Everything is taken to excess, particularly anything to do with Willie. He drinks alcohol until he has to throw up in an alleyway. He has a penchant for anal sex with large women. When dressed as Santa Claus he swears at and verbally abuses the very children he is supposed to be entertaining. At one point he is so drunk he urinates in his Santa suit.

I imagine a lot of people tried Bad Santa and hated it, and that's fair enough: the film's roughest elements are clearly more than a lot of people will find entertaining. That said, I personally adore the film because underneath that superficial layer of poor behaviour there is a heartwarming story about a bad man learning to become a better person.

December 14, 2016

Mickey's Craziest Adventures (2016)

French comic creators Lewis Trondheim and Nicolas Keramidas hit a phenomenal historical find some time ago, discovering an incomplete run of the long-forgotten Mickey's Quest comic book at a jumble sale. Within this obscure comic book, copies of which don't even exist in Disney's archives any more, there was a one-page serial titled "Mickey's Craziest Adventures". Together Trondheim and Keramidas have carefully restored and translated the surviving one-page strips and packaged them together into a 48-page collected edition recently released in English by IDW.

Not really: it's all a fake-out. In truth Trondheim has written and Keramidas has illustrated a stunning and hilariously entertaining set of one-page strips themselves, replicating the tone and style of Walt Disney's old comic book serials with a jaw-dropping sense of accuracy. It really does feel like it is what it claims to be: a bunch of 1960s comic strips rediscovered after decades of obscurity. Readers drawn to the book based on Trondheim's past original works may go away disappointed, as the tone hews much more closely to old-style Disney than Trondheim's style. Readers looking for a clever new take on old-fashioned Disney comics with a distinctive artistic edge will enjoy this book enormously.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Schisms"

It is 19 October 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

While the Enterprise explores a vast globular cluster, Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) finds himself unable to get enough sleep at night. What seems like an odd irritation grows increasingly serious as he discovers he is not the only member of the crew to be exhausted, and that they may be getting abducted in their sleep.

"Schisms" undertakes the risky task of taking a bonkers premise - alien abductions in space - and transforming it into a smart, gripping episode of The Next Generation. It does so remarkably well. This is an episode with genuine surprises and unexpected plot developments, and is peppered with plenty of small highlights and neat touches.

December 13, 2016

The Small One (1978)

A young boy is ordered by his farmer father to take their old donkey, named Small One, into town to sell him at market. The boy struggles to do what he has been commanded: Small One is a beloved pet, and is very old, and the only person who wishes to buy him is a tanner who wants to kill Small One for his leather.

The Small One is an odd little curiosity in Walt Disney history. It is a 1978 animated short feature, running 26 minutes in total, and was paired in cinemas with a re-release of Disney's popular classic Pinocchio. Pairing new short features with pre-existing animated films was a cost-effective way for Walt Disney Pictures to get people into cinemas: some would be attracted by experiencing an old favourite again, others would be attracted by the new film attached to it. The company attempted it again in 1983 with the pairing of Mickey's Christmas Carol and The Rescuers, as well as Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore and The Sword in the Stone.

The Small One also stands out among Disney's long back catalogue because it is an overtly religious film: the town in which the boy attempts to sell his donkey is Nazareth, and its eventual buyer is Joseph father of Jesus.

Destruction Babies (2016)

Shota (Nijiro Murakami) lives alone in a tent in the small Japanese town of Mitsuhama. His older brother Taira (Yuya Yagira) is on the streets of the nearby city Matsuyama. Taira is fixated on having fistfights. If he sees a target on the street who looks as if they can present a challenge, he simply walks up and starts punching them in the face. While Shota sets out to find Taira, Taira falls in with Yuya (Masaki Suda): a local teenager who joins Taira's violent excursion for a cheap thrill.

Destruction Babies is cold and violent journey to a very bleak place. I have a fairly high threshold for on-screen violence, however Destruction Babies repeatedly made me flinch. It is not an outlandish action film replete with machine gun fire, sword fights or elaborate martial arts sequences. Instead it is a quite disturbed drama about the failure of Japanese society. Taira is not a skilled fighter; he simply has a high threshold for pain. As he impulsively dives into random street brawls - and I cannot exaggerate how many times in one movie this happens - they are not clean, stylised affairs. They are messy, brutal assaults. Noses break. Skin splits. Faces bruise like ripe fruit. It is a profoundly effective exercise in film-making, but it tells a story many viewers will simply not want to hear.

December 12, 2016

The Pull List: 7 December 2016, Part 3

Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr scored a minor hit for DC Comics with their hipster-esque, inner suburbs take on Batgirl. They moved on at the end of the New 52 era, and this week's Motor Crush shows off where they landed: a new street-racing science fiction-edged series at Image.

Domino Swift is a professional motorcycle racer by day, but by night she competes in furious and violent illegal street races for the chance to score 'crush', an engine narcotic that massively accelerates the speed of one's bike. When her mechanic father's assistant accidentally discovers Domino's stash, it lets off a chain of unexpected events that send her running for her life.

Babs Tarr's artwork feels a lot more loose and rough here than in her DC work, which helps to give Motor Crush an edgier, less 'safe' feel. The script by Stewart and Fletcher sets up the media-saturated world of professional sports and the gang-run street races very effectively. It's a nice dramatic setting, and the characters as revealed are solid and intriguing. There are two plot developments in this debut issue that really stand out: they're unexpected, horrifying and point to a much darker series going forward than the first few pages might have suggested. Future issues will need to seal the deal, but it looks like Image might have another top-notch science fiction series on its hands. (4/5)

Motor Crush #1. Image. Written by Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart. Art by Babs Tarr.

Under the cut: reviews of Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love, Giant Days, Green Arrow, and Ringside.

Jessica Jones: "AKA Crush Syndrome"

In episode 2 of Jessica Jones, Jessica's (Krysten Ritter) attempt to avoid blame for taking unsolicited photographs of bartender Luke Cage (Mike Colter) only gets Cage into serious trouble, and leads to an unexpected discovery. Meanwhile Jessica's hunt to track down the elusive psychic criminal Killgrave (David Tennant) leads her to a crippled ambulance driver and a doctor on the run.

This second episode is almost as good as the first, slowly teasing out both the current mystery facing Jessica and simultaneously revealing her upsetting back story one clue at a time. The series is proving exceptionally good at the latter, introducing one element that doesn't seem to quite make sense - for example Jessica chanting a list of street names whenever her PTSD overwhelms her - and then following it up and explaining it in due course. It is a solid storytelling technique that does wonders for an ongoing narrative when done well. Here it is being done very well indeed.

December 11, 2016

Star Trek: Voyager: "Jetrel"

It is 15 May 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

Voyager is contacted by the alien Jetrel (James Sloyan), the scientist who masterminded a weapon of mass destruction that decimated Neelix's home planet and destroyed his family. Jetrel brings bad news: Neelix (Ethan Phillips) may be suffering a degenerate illness as a result of the weapon's blast - but will Neelix accept Jetrel's help?

Ever since Voyager started with "Caretaker", Neelix has sat like an open sore on the series' face. He is a humorous character that simply is not particularly funny, and is designed and costumed to look bluntly ridiculous compared to the characters around him. What's more he has been consistently written with a repellent personality, combining hostile jealousy at anyone looking at his girlfriend Kes with a penchant for trying to be helpful and upbeat whether the crew or the audience want him to or not. Speaking of his relationship with Kes: the concept of a middle-aged alien dating a two year-old is one that should have been looked at twice during development, because it's deeply creepy. Even accepting that we're dealing with science fictional species and a two year-old Ocampan is clearly not analogous to a human the clear power imbalance between the two has always felt quite distasteful to me.

December 10, 2016

Ringo Sheena: Japanese Manners (2007)

I have previously reviewed Japanese jazz-rock band Tokyo Jihen's 2011 album Great Discovery. This 2007 precursor features many individual members of that band, but is actually a solo recording by its lead singer Ringo Sheena. It was produced as the soundtrack to Mika Nishikawa's feature film Bakuman (adapting the popular manga) in collaboration with composer and violinist Neko Saito.

To describe Japanese Manners as a soundtrack would, however accurate in specific terms, miscommunicate the style of the album. Sheena had originally envisaged an electronic instrumental score, but it was at Nishikawa's insistence that the music was expanded to include the violin, vocals and an entire orchestra. This is, if anything, an experimental jazz album. It is also pretty outstanding.

I think Ringo Sheena is an exceptional singer. She has a distinctive husky voice that really sets her apart from her Japanese contemporaries, and there is a strong sense of play and experimentation in her music. I would recommend her work to anyone with an interest in good music.

Jessica Jones: "AKA Ladies Night"

Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is a troubled, cynical woman working in New York as a private investigator. When she accepts a case to track down a missing university student she discovers that the traumas of her past are returning to haunt her, and the abuser that she thought she saw die may somehow still be alive.

For the last two years Netflix and ABC Studios have been collaborating on a range of 13-episode TV dramas, each showcasing a different comic book character from Marvel Comics. Now the first two of these series, Daredevil and Jessica Jones, have been released onto home video for both non-Netflix subscribers to finally watch them and for ardent Marvel fans to add them to their growing collection of feature films and TV shows. I am not a Netflix subscriber myself (it's complicated) so I am welcoming these releases with open arms, as I have read and heard so many good things about them.

Based on the first episode, Jessica Jones absolutely lives up to the hype. It is a smart, stylish, mature and horrifyingly bleak drama about violence against women and surviving trauma, and pretty much stands apart from every other production that the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe has generated.

December 9, 2016

The Signalman (1976)

It is 22 December 1976, and time for another Ghost Story for Christmas.

A railway signalman (Denholm Elliot) is haunted by a ghostly spectre that appears to foreshadow calamity. Over two nights he tells a curious gentleman (Bernard Lloyd) his supernatural tale.

For his sixth annual Christmas ghost film, Lawrence Gordon Clark abandoned the short stories of M.R. James in favour of Charles Dickens. Dickens has written the original story in 1866 following his near-fatal experience in a train crash a year earlier. The change in source material gives The Signalman a very different feel to the earlier films. M.R. James presented horror stories that were quite malevolent and fantastical, whereas here the supernatural elements are ghostly and unsettling but ultimately attempting to achieve some good. This feels like the cosiest and most reassuring of the four Christmas films I have seen thus far, which may go some way to explaining why it is probably the most widely acclaimed film of the set. This feels like a very safe, comfortable BBC short feature.

The Pull List: 7 December 2016, Part 2

When DC announced Tom King was taking over as the writer of Batman I was initially very excited, because through his astonishing work on The Sheriff of Babylon and The Omega Men he had become of the best and most interesting writers the publisher had. My initial reaction to King's Batman, however, was disappointment. It was solid without being exceptional, and I was expecting exceptional. The second story arc, "I Am Suicide", seemed much better than the first, "I Am Gotham", which gave me hope that the A-grade writing that made King's earlier series so amazing was gradually coming back.

With Batman #12 it comes back and then some. The previous issue finished with Catwoman unexpectedly betraying Batman, leaving his plan to kidnap Psycho Pirate from under Bane's nose seemingly in tatters. I had expected to see how Batman got out of this trap, but instead I got something so much better.

This is a very special issue, as Batman fights his way through a series of gorgeous double splash pages on a path from the bottom of Bane's fortress to the top. I usually dislike splash pages, but here they work perfectly because they're covered with the text of a hand-written letter from Bruce Wayne to Selina Kyle. This is an issue that explains Batman, and also the relationship between Batman and Catwoman. Every writer of Batman needs to know what their idea of the character is, and how he works: King's is honestly one of the best I've ever seen. This is one of the single-best comic book issues of the year. (5/5)

Batman #12. DC Comics. Written by Tom King. Art by Mikel Janin and Hugo Petrus. Colours by June Chung.

Under the cut: reviews of Doctor Aphra, Revival, and Superman.

December 8, 2016

Doomsday (2008)

27 years after Scotland was sealed off from the world due to an uncontrollable outbreak of a deadly virus, that same virus appears in London. As satellite photography appears to indicate that people are still alive north of the border, a military mission is dispatched into Glasgow to investigate the survivors and potentially find a cure. Once in the city they discover a wild, broken-down society of punks, violent murderers and cannibals.

Or business as usual on a Glasgow Saturday night, as the joke probably goes. There's definitely a sly sort of ribbing going on in Doomsday, the second of three Neil Marshall films about people venturing into Scotland and getting violently massacred. Marshall himself is English, but here as well as in Dog Soldiers and Centurion he gets an extraordinary amount of value from sending English characters north of the border to their doom. You would think the Scots would get offended: instead funding body Scottish Screen actually invested funds in Doomsday's production. It's possibly all of those scenes of English people getting beaten by angry Scots.

Schalcken the Painter (1979)

It is 23 December 1979, and time to watch Schalcken the Painter.

In 17th century Leiden the apprentice painter Godfried Schalcken (Jeremy Clyde) falls in love with his master's niece Rose (Cheryl Kennedy). Before he can marry her she is spirited away by the gaunt and mysterious Vanderhausen (Justin Jones), sparking off a mystery involving the supernatural, horrifying apparitions and possibly even Death himself.

Schalcken the Painter is yet another Christmas-time horror film produced by the BBC. In 1979, seeing that the long-running annual series A Ghost Story for Christmas had been cancelled, producer/director Leslie Megahey took the opportunity to provide a replacement. This 70-minute period thriller, which acts as a fine replacement for the cancelled series, created a minor controversy within the BBC at the time. Megahey had recently assumed control of the documentary series Omnibus, and allocated part of its budget to this film on the grounds that - as it focused on the real-life Schalcken as well as his teacher Gerrit Dou - it could tenuously qualify as docudrama. As it is a fictional ghost story, one adapted from a Sheridan Le Fanu short story, it makes for terrible docudrama. As yet another supernatural chiller for the Christmas season, it's rather wonderful.

December 7, 2016

The Pull List: 7 December 2016, Part 1

Okay, so every 90 years twelve gods are reborn in the bodies of young twentysomethings, who then boast supernatural powers and draw huge crowds of followers before dying after two years. We used to think it was some kind of natural order thing, but it turns out an immortal named Ananke - who ostensibly wakes and guides them - has actually been killing them to avert 'the Great Darkness'. Now one of these young gods, Persephone, has stone-cold murdered Ananke, leaving the future for the surviving gods (down to 10) very much unknown.

It's a nice and ridiculously blunt bit of symbolism to begin this new story arc on New Year's Day. The old reign under Ananke is gone, and quite frankly anything could happen going forwards. That makes it a pretty exciting time to be a Wicked + the Divine (or WicDiv) reader. It's a particularly uncertain future for Laura - now reborn as Persephone. She was our protagonist, but can we even really trust her any more?

Jamie McKelvie's subtle, expressive art is so good at capturing emotion and character. He is one of my all-time favourite comic book artists. Kieron Gillen's script is smart and beautifully paced. The ideas are phenomenal. I found WicDiv was struggling a little about a year ago but this issue feels like a phenomenal return to form. (5/5)

The Wicked + the Divine #24. Image. Written by Kieron Gillen. Art by Jamie McKelvie. Colours by Matthew Wilson.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, The Electric Sublime, and Faith.

December 6, 2016

Star Trek: Voyager: "Faces"

It is 8 May 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

Torres (Roxann Dawson) and Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) are captured by the Vidiians. In an attempt to cure the Phage with Klingon dna, a Vidiian scientist (Brian Markinson) uses advanced technology to split Torres in two - one version fully human, and the other fully Klingon.

Despite some neat ideas around the edges, and a solid guest performance by Brian Markinson, "Faces" never quite escapes its ridiculous and hokey premise. 'B'Elanna Torres gets split into two' is some a-grade sci-fi nonsense, and was probably unsaveable at the conceptual level. The production team, including writers Jonathan Glassner and Kenneth Biller, deserve credit for giving the story their best shot, but I strongly suspect it was not a workable premise with which to begin.

The Ash Tree (1975)

It is 23 December 1975, and time for another annual episode of A Ghost Story for Christmas.

Sir Richard Fell (Edward Petherbridge) inherits the country seat of Castringham, and intends to settle there with his new wife Augusta (Lalla Ward). The house is cursed, however, and the longer Sir Richard stays there the more consumed he becomes with visions of his ancestor Matthew Fell who condemned a woman to death for witchcraft.

Another M.R. James short story gets a Christmas-time short feature, courtesy of director Lawrence Gordon Clark. The film is based on a script by playwright and screenwriter David Rudkin, whose other film and television works include Fahrenheit 451, Artemis 81 and Penda's Fen. While it boasts some nice horror imagery, and a particularly unexpected climax, it is the weakest of the three Ghost Story films I have seen to date.

December 5, 2016

David Bowie: Blackstar (2016)

Blackstar is David Bowie's 25th studio album, released back on 8 January to widespread acclaim. Two days later, and without warning, David Bowie was dead, succumbing to a liver cancer that he had deliberately kept quiet from the public and the press.

The death of such a hugely talented and influential artist overshadowed his final work. It was impossible for me, at any rate, to listen to Blackstar without dwelling on its creator's passing. David Bowie was and remains one of my all-time favourite performance artists. His music was astonishingly good. His various styles and performing identities were groundbreaking and near-unique. The album and the artist are irrevocably united now in his death.

That is clearly a deliberate choice on Bowie's part. It is typical of an artist of his kind to not only plan his own funeral, but to transform it into an artistic event at the same time. The album was fantastic for two days, and then upon hearing it following Bowie's death the entire work took on a new significance. Lyrics suddenly meant different things. Even the term 'blackstar' refers to a form of cancerous tumour.

Alien Nation (1988)

Los Angeles, 1991. A year after a massive alien spacecraft lands in the Mojave Desert, a population of 300,000 humanoid aliens - known as "Newcomers" - have settled in the city. A human police detective, Matthew Sykes (James Cann), is teamed with the police department's first Newcomer detective George Francisco (Mandy Patinkin) on a homicide investigation.

Science fiction is a great genre for allegory, and that's pretty much what we are dealing with in Alien Nation. It is, for all intents and purposes, a buddy cop movie with a focus on Los Angeles racism, but rather than pick up racism against Latinx or African-American communities it fictionalises the issue completely.

It is a rather clever conceit, and the Newcomers themselves look great in terms of make-up design, and it work very well to paper over the tremendously stereotypical cops-versus-drug-lords narrative underneath.

December 4, 2016

The Pull List: 30 November 2016

I have a rather ambivalent reaction to comic book annuals, since they usually only exist to fill in gaps in the weekly schedule when a month has a fifth week. They're longer than a usual book, sure, but in recent years that doesn't mean more story but rather more splash pages and a lower panel-per-page count. That is certainly the case with Superman Annual #1, the first DC annual (along with Batman, see below the cut) for the DC Rebirth period. The story is short, but the page count is comparatively long. In the end I feel somewhat ripped off by the US$4.99 price tag.

It must be said that Jorge Jimenez's artwork does a pretty sensational job, despite my general dislike of big splash pages and low panel counts. Superman investigates the disappearance of water from the farmland around his home, and stumbles upon Swamp Thing - who has arrived because he has sensed this new Superman is not properly connected to the world he inhabits. In true superhero fashion there is a misunderstanding and they wind up fighting. Plotwise it is pretty ordinary stuff. It does tease a bit of the slow-developing Rebirth arc, but not in any particularly intriguing way. It is a nice combination of characters, however, and does a reasonably entertaining job. I just wish DC would do a better job with their annuals than this: I want either a longer story, or a couple of shorter ones, and not just a normal length one-shot inflated by big pictures. (2/5)

Superman Annual #1. DC Comics. Written by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason. Art by Jorge Jimenez. Colours by Alejandro Sanchez.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Black Widow, Doctor Who: The Third Doctor, MASK, Ms Marvel, Saga and Seven to Eternity.

December 3, 2016

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Relics"

It is 12 October 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise stumbles upon a dyson sphere, a huge spherical construction enclosing an entire star and producing a staggering large living environment on the sphere's interior surface. Embedded into the exterior of the sphere is a 75 year-old Starfleet vessel, with its transporter still recycling the same pattern. When La Forge (LeVar Burton) successfully beams the pattern out of the transporter, it is revealed to be legendary engineer Captain Montgomery "Scotty" Scott (James Doohan) - decades out of his own time.

After the huge success found in bringing Spock to The Next Generation is Season 5, the same trick is attempted again in "Relics". Scotty comes to the 24th century and is immediately paired up with his future replacement Geordi La Forge. At the same time the episode plays with the idea of the dyson sphere, which is one of my favourite pieces of 'out there' engineering concepts. In the end neither concept seems to get exploited quite as well as it could have been, but there is still an awful lot of fun to be had in watching Scotty interact with the Next Generation characters.

December 2, 2016

Perfume: Game (2008)

Game is the debut album of Japanese vocal group Perfume, released back in 2008 to fairly mixed to positive reviews. The album was produced by electronic musician and composer Yasutaka Nakata, whose own band Capsule have been performing since 1997. It was Nakata who developed Perfume's 'technopop' sound: electronic music, strong beats and digitally transformed vocals.

It is clear on the first listen of Game that French electronic duo Daft Punk was an influence. The two bands share a similar pace, tone and melodic style. Like Daft Punk, Perfume have a relatively homogeneous sound. It is possible, if you enjoy the general sound of the band, to play it in the background and simply let the album flow from one upbeat pop number to the next. Assessing the relative quality of each individual song comes down to which ones have the best combination of beats and specific sounds. If this kind of ultra-cute Japanese electronic pop does not appeal in the first place, none of the songs on Game will likely change your mind.