January 22, 2017

Izetta: The Last Witch: "The Sword in the Heavens"

On the front lines of Coenenberg, the Eylstadt army makes a final stand to prevent an invasion by the Germanian forces. They have no hope of success, and are simply buying time so that civilians may evacuate the area. Izetta wants to help, but Finé forbids her involvement; will Izetta obey?

It would be a pretty boring episode if she did: "The Sword in the Heavens" matches the first episode of Izetta: The Last Witch with tremendously exciting action sequences and emotive war drama. It manages to pack quite a lot into 25 minutes, and does a generally great job of it too.

January 21, 2017

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

An environmental catastrophe sends the Klingon Empire spinning towards total collapse. Taking advantage of the crisis, the Klingon Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) arranges with Starfleet's Captain Spock (Leonard Nimoy) to begin immediate peace negotiations with the United Federation of Planets. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) is sent to escort the Chancellor to Earth onboard the USS Enterprise, but when Gorkon is assassinated and the Enterprise's crew implicated, Kirk and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) are sentenced to a Klingon prison while Spock plays detective in the attempt to find the real culprits.

A lot Star Trek fans debate which series was best: the original series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager or Enterprise? The smug side-answer is actually none of those. I think there's a strong argument to be made that the best Star Trek ever got was the four-film extended narrative formed by The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home and The Undiscovered Country. They combine humour with drama, action with intrigue, and they actually seem to mean something to their characters. They may initially seem to be about space battles, rescuing whales and assassinating Klingons, but really they're ultimately about what it means to grow old.

Izetta: The Last Witch: "Scars and Gunfire"

It is 8 October 2016, and time for the second episode of Izetta: The Last Witch.

The witch Izetta has rescued Princess Finé from the Germanian military, but now she must race to find assistance before Finé's injuries overcome her. A series of flashbacks reveal how the witch and the princess first met, and the bond that initially formed between them.

The second episode of Izetta: The Last Witch is a more sedate affair than the first; after a brief but dramatic aerial dogfight the episode settles down to further set up its characters and premise. That is not necessarily a bad thing in the long term, but it does make things feel a little deflated and disappointing.

January 20, 2017

The Pull List: 18 January 2017, Part 2

So I read comic books as a child, like most children do: mainly British comedic books like Nutty and Whizzer & Chips. I did read American comics when I got my hands on them, though - usually anything involving Batman or The Incredible Hulk. In my teenage years I got back into them around the time that Image Comics was launched, and I've stayed interested in comics in a big way ever since. There were basically three comics that captured my interest at that time: Todd McFarlane's brand-new, wonderfully ridiculous Spawn, Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle's excellent run on Batman, and The Ray: a six-issue miniseries by Jack H. Harris and Joe Quesada. It rebooted an old DC superhero for the 1990s, and now 25 years later DC is rebooting him again in the one-shot Justice League of America: The Ray Rebirth #1.

For an introduction to a revised character it is simple, direct and pretty entertaining. Ray Terrill, aka the Ray, has been redeveloped a little. He's gay now, and his power set has been advanced and expanded somewhat. Now he can fly, shoot light, create illusions and make both himself and other invisible. Thankfully his iconic appearance remains: I always thought the Ray Terrill version of the character looked the best out of all the versions over the decades.

Having now read the introductions for the Ray, Vixen and the Atom, I have to say the forthcoming Justice League of America is shaping up to have a pretty inventive line-up of characters. This has been a good stunt by DC to publish these one-shot prologues. (3/5)

Justice League of America: The Ray Rebirth #1. DC Comics. Written by Steve Orlando. Art and colours by Stephen Byrne.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman, Green Arrow, Justice League vs Suicide Squad and Superman.

Doctor Who: "The Daleks"

It is 28 November 1964, and time for the second instalment of "The Dalek Invasion of Earth".

The Doctor (William Hartnell) and Ian (William Russell) are prisoners of the Daleks, who have successfully invaded the Earth of AD 2164. Meanwhile Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Susan (Carole Ann Ford) have been rescued by London's human resistance, who are planning a bombing attack on the Dalek saucer.

Doctor Who's first epic event serial continues in this solid second episode. It is not quite as attention-grabbing as the first part, but a combination of drama, action and menace help to ensure this serial remains one of the best of the series so far. The presentation of the Daleks feels much more confident than in their debut run, and the devastated future London brings along with it a provocative parallel with the real-life London during the Blitz.

January 19, 2017

The Pull List: 18 January 2017, Part 1

In a post-apocalyptic USA, two brothers find an unconscious woman beneath a tree, cradling a baby in a gas mask. Certainly it's one of the more arresting opening premises for a comic series, and it helps kick The Few off in fine style.

This extra-length opening issue tells a reasonably engaging story, but it is Hayden Sherman's artwork that really makes it jump off the page. Using a similar visual style to the likes of Sean Phillips, Sherman's jagged, edgy images give the whole story a sense of danger and tension. He has a strong sense for white space as well, using fairly limited art in many of the panels to emphasise the action and drama. The limited colour palette works towards that goal as well.

Like a lot of first issues, this gives a solid set-up without really indicating where the story is going to go in future months. For now it seems well worth keeping an eye on: if the story kicks in well in February this might really be something. The art quality is already here - it's just Sean Lewis' story and script that need to bring the goods. (3/5)

The Few #1. Image. Written by Sean Lewis. Art by Hayden Sherman.

Under the cut: reviews of Black Widow, Divinity III: Aric Son of the Revolution, Revolutionaries and Star Trek: Waypoints.

Railroad Tigers (2016)

In December 1941 a group of Chinese railroad workers, led by the station porter Ma Yuan (Jackie Chan) engage in carefully staged raids of Japanese train shipments to disrupt Japan's military efforts to occupy China and invade other Asian nations to the south. When an injured soldier tells the group of a failed mission to blow up a strategically vital bridge, they take it upon themselves to complete the mission on the Chinese army's behalf.

Railroad Tigers is a hugely enjoyable slice of populist action-comedy, headlined by Jackie Chan in one of his most entertaining films in years. While the film has problems - in fact it has quite a few of them - none of them manage to fully obstruct what is ultimately a hell of a lot of fun. This is his third collaboration with director Ding Sheng, following Little Big Soldier in 2010 and Police Story 2013. To my mind this is the strongest of the three. It has plenty of action, a strong line in slapstick comedy, and makes the best use of its ageing star that I can remember.

January 18, 2017

Ikiru (1952)

A disaffected civil servant in late middle-age (Takashi Shimura) learns that he has terminal cancer and a few months left to live. After the initial shock and panic wears off, he sets out in a last-ditch attempt to find a proper purpose and meaning to his life.

Ikiru is Akira Kurosawa's 13th feature film as director, and was his first film after his disastrous experience making The Idiot - which his studio sliced down in post-production and arguably badly weakened in the process. I have no idea if the bruising gauntlet had to run with The Idiot affected his ability to direct Ikiru, but it strikes me as a fairly messy and inconsistent film - and a fair drop down in quality from his widely regarded classics Rashomon and Stray Dog.

There are tonal problems with the film, which swings from bleak satire to uplifting melodrama and back to satire. It is very possible that these shifts in tone were wholly intentional; if so, they strike me as a failed experiment. By trying to make two sorts of film in one there is an extent to which Kurosawa fails to deliver with both. General critical opinion seems to disagree with me entirely, as Ikiru is regularly held up as the 'lost classic' of Kurosawa's career. Personally - and in the end all film reviews are personal ones - Ikiru simply failed to fully impress me. Kurosawa had done better, and would go on to do much better, in the future.