July 4, 2015

The End (2012)

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

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

Star Trek: Enterprise: "These Are the Voyages"

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

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

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

July 3, 2015

The Pull List: 1 July 2015, Part II

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

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

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

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

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

July 2, 2015

Godzilla vs King Ghidorah (1991)

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

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

Star Trek: Enterprise: "Terra Prime"

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

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

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

July 1, 2015

The Pull List: 1 July 2015, Part I

In the middle of a vast desert there is the Spire, a massive towering construction filled with more than a million people - both human and otherworldly. Shå is one such otherworldly figure: not only the last of her kind but also the captain of the city watch. When three people are randomly murdered in the bowels of the Spire, and one of them turns out to be the former nursemaid of the newly crowned Baroness, Shå is sent to solve the crime - or suffer the consequences.

The Spire is a new eight-part fantasy miniseries from Boom Studios. Writer Simon Spurrier is at the top of his game here, providing an extended first issue that's both packed with story and rich in world-building. There's a very strong sense of Mervyn Peake about the characters and the Gormenghast-like citadel in which they live.

It's also beautifully illustrated by artist Jeff Stokely and colourist André May. It has a varied and dynamic panel layout and very subtle, nuanced colours. If the script was influenced by Peake, then the art is influenced by a range of noted artists including Hayao Miyazaki and Jean "Moebius" Giraud.

Everything is set up wonderfully here: I can't wait to see what happens in the remaining eight issues. 'Proud stands the Spire,' claims one overly zealous guard. Proud stand Spurrier, Stokely and May too. This comic is great. (5/5)

Under the cut: reviews of Imperium, Onyx, The X Files and X-O Manowar.

Star Trek: Enterprise: "Demons"

It's 6 May 2005, and time for more Star Trek: Enterprise.

The Enterprise has returned to Earth as a group of allied civilizations begin negotiations for a trade alliance among them - the first step towards a broader coalition in the future. A dying woman sends T'Pol and Trip on an unexpected mission: somehow, somewhere on Earth, they have a child.

It's genuinely a surprise, after pointless Klingon continuity references, half-naked slave girls, and parallel universe shenanigans, to find Enterprise producing a decent episode again. "Demons" is great: it has an intriguing storyline, a fast pace, and it tells precisely the sort of story that Enterprise was set up to tell: not weird combinations of continuity minutia but actually Star Trek history. The negotiations going on in the background of this episode will lead, ultimately, to the United Federation of Planets.

June 30, 2015

Arachnophobia (1990)

Throughout the 1990s Amblin Entertainment seemed to be an unstoppable factory of populist family films, jumping genres from action to science fiction to horror, and forming the foundation for many children's film-going experience. Even when the bulk of the films weren't directed by Steven Spielberg, his presence was constantly felt throughout whether in the development of their screenplays or their particular visual aesthetic.

This long series of family films appeared to by-and-large conclude in 1990 with the release of Frank Marshall's Arachnophobia. Before that film the company produced the likes of The Goonies, Gremlins, Young Sherlock Holmes, Batteries Not Included as well as Spielberg's own E.T. the Extraterrestrial and Hook. After Arachnophobia the company seemed more likely to produce films like Cape Fear, The Bridges of Madison Country or To Wong Foo. Family films continued to emerge from Amblin, but that core vibe of its original 1980s films seemed to get left behind.

So in many respects Arachnophobia feels like the end of an era, straddling the gap between two kinds of film as well as two decades.