November 28, 2015

R100 (2013)

Takafumi Katayama (Nao Omori) is a meek furniture salesman. His wife is in a coma at a nearby hospital. His father-in-law helps with raising his young son. Lacking excitement in his life, Katayama signs up to a local bondage club - only there's a catch. His contract with the club will last one year, he cannot break it at any time, and leather-clad dominatrices may strike at any time to beat him senseless. On the street, in the park, in his house, at his workplace - before long Katayama is desperate to escape.

Writer/director Hitoshi Matsumoto is a stand-up comedian turned film-maker. He has directed four feature films to date. About a year ago I watched his second film, Symbol, and found it to be one of the most delightfully strange films I had seen in years. R100 is his fourth film, and while it's pretty much as odd and bizarre a movie as Symbol was I think it shows a major development in tone and range for Matsumoto. This film is not quite what it represents itself to be.

November 27, 2015

The Storm Warriors (2009)

The Storm Riders was a 1998 wuxia film directed by Andrew Lau. It was based on the hugely popular Hong Kong comic book Fung Wan by Ma Wing-shing, starred popular movie stars Aaron Kwok and Ekin Cheng and made then-ground breaking use of computer graphics to recreate the comic's thrilling fantasy elements. It was a rare Hong Kong film that actually found an international audience, and audiences back home eagerly awaited the arrival of a sequel.

I'm not sure anybody was initially expecting a sequel to take 11 years, but in 2009 a second Fung Wan film did hit the cinemas. It was the work of a different production company, had new directors Danny and Oxide Pang, but did manage to reunite Aaron Kwok and Ekin Cheng as the overly dramatic super-warriors Cloud and Wind.

A synopsis of the film feels a bit superfluous: it's a story about the evil Japanese general Lord Godless invading China, and Wind and Cloud teaming up with other sword-wielding warriors Ghostly Tiger, Nameless and Second Dream to defeat him. Wind turns evil, forcing Cloud to fight against him for the future of the nation.

The Pull List: 25 November 2015, Part I

Saga fans the world over must be relieved to see that the comic's lengthy hiatus - it feels like the longest yet - is at an end, and another six issues are on their way. The first dropped into stores this week, and is a wonderfully entertaining book.

We pick up the story two years on from where we left it. Alana and Marko are nowhere to be seen. Hazel is now four years old, and living inside a prison with her incarcerated grandmother and a bunch of other children of various species. It's a striking change of pace, and signifies what might be a rather different story arc for the book. Don't get me wrong - the tone is the same, and Fiona Staples' artwork is stunning and distinctive as always. It just feels like we're getting a slightly different story for a while.

Two things leaped out immediately. Firstly it's great to have Izabel back. The bright-red ghost was one of my favourite elements in the series' earlier issues, and it feels like she's been gone for ages. Secondly, this feels like the point where Hazel is going to take centre stage as the protagonist of her own story. She's narrated it since issue #1, but until now has been too young to really affect or drive the plot in any great way. It feels like that has started to change.

This is a great series, and will it's had its ups and down like most long-running books, it feels as if it's in a very strong, enjoyable space for now. It's great to have it back. (5/5)

Image. Written by Brian K. Vaughn. Art by Fiona Staples.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman & Robin Eternal, Darth Vader, Robin: Son of Batman, and Silver Surfer.

November 26, 2015

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Loss"

It's 31 December 1990, and time for more Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise unexpectedly collides with a previously-unknown colony of two-dimensional beings, which trap the ship and drag it along in their wake. While the crew work to free the ship from the colony Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) discovers that the collision has robbed her of her empathic abilities.

"The Loss" is an episode that attempts to do something quite admirable, but suffers the limitations of its running time and the general need to keep episodes relatively self-contained. As a result it's only a partial success. On the other hand it does manage to keep its two storylines fairly well connected throughout; a common pitfall that it manages to avoid. Add in some solid performances by Marina Sirtis and Jonathan Frakes, and some wonderfully bonkers science, and it all pulls together into something that's pretty entertaining.

A Scene at the Sea (1991)

Shigeru (Kurodo Maki) is a garbage collector in a coastal Japanese town. He's also both deaf and mute. One day he finds a broken surfboard left out for collection. After repairing it the best he can, he sets out on a quest to learn how to surf. Over the summer, as his skills improve, he forms a romantic relationship with the similarly deaf young woman Takako (Hiroko Oshima).

A Scene at the Sea, by writer director Takeshi Kitano, is one of those maddening films that makes a mockery of film genres. We always want to pigeon-hole films: is it a drama, or a comedy, or an arthouse movie? In this case it's all three, jumping from slapstick comedy to thoughtful drama to bizarrely detached scenes where nothing much seems to happen at all. It is a 100 minute movie with the sort of narrative that would usually struggle to fill half an hour. It has hardly any dialogue. It spends minutes at a time just watching its characters walk to and from the beach. It's not easily categorised into any genre at all. It's simply a film to climb into and experience. It's a wonderful place to visit.

November 25, 2015

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

Is there a cultural artefact that screams "1990" more definitively than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie? You could maybe turn to pop music - Technotronic, Ya Kid K, MC Hammer - but they're all in the film's soundtrack. You could turn to other films - Ghost, Home Alone, Pretty Woman - but none of them seem to be so aggressively of their time nor capitalising so heavily on the pop culture around them.

The Ninja Turtles originated in a 1984 comic book: its creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird heavily parodying Marvel's X-Men and Daredevil in the process. Readers soon got hooked on the ridiculous set-up - masked anthropomorphic turtles named after Renaissance artists and instructed by a talking rat - and the comic went from strength to strength. Once a television cartoon and toy line were created in 1987, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles exploded into a genuine phenomenon.

With such huge success one would assume a feature film adaptation was a no-brainer. Instead it was a real struggle to convince any studio to produce it. Hollywood had strong memories of Cannon's Masters of the Universe, another cartoon-to-film adaptation that came to cinemas far too late to catch the craze at its height. In the end the Ninja Turtles movie was produced by Hong Kong studio Golden Harvest, shot in North Carolina, and distributed by New Line Cinema. Hollywood may have scoffed at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but upon its release it grossed more than $200 million dollars worldwide and became the ninth-highest grossing film of 1990.

Bodacious Space Pirates: "The Hakuoh Pirates' First Job"

It's 21 April 2012, and time for another episode of Bodacious Space Pirates.

Their initial teething troubles behind them, the temporary crew of the Bentenmaru pirate shop begins preparations to storm the pleasure cruiser Princess Apricot. Yacht club president Lynn appears to have something on her mind, and when she's spied secretly communicating to somebody off-shop it sets off Grunhilde's suspicions.

Something that's been bugging me about Bodacious Space Pirates for the whole series has finally slipped into clarity: there's no conflict. Conflict is the basis for drama: it's either a person against another person or a person against their environment. It's arguable that the conflict in Bodacious Space Pirates is between the characters and their own self-doubt, but assuming that to be the case it's a pretty thin foundation upon which to build a story.

November 24, 2015

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001)

It's the year 2071. On the Mars colony, a terrorist attack destroys a container truck and spreads a deadly pathogen that infects more than 300 civilians. When a staggering bounty is placed on the head of the man believed responsible, a group of space-faring bounty hunters set off to track him down.

Those bounty hunters are Spike Spiegel, Faye Valentine, Jet Black and Edward Wong - known to anime fans around the world from their popular television series Cowboy BebopBebop was a sensational science fiction anime that combined bounty hunter action with a stunning and eclectic musical score. Each episode felt like a small 25-minute feature, combining its various inspirations and creating a highly dynamic and tremendously entertaining series in the process. The cinematic qualities of the series made it a pretty easy fit for a spin-off feature film. While anime series receive film spin-offs and follow-ups all the time, they're rarely as satisfying or as well produced as this one.