April 30, 2016

Winter of Discontent (2012)

Art has always been a powerful tool for political discourse, and cinema is clearly no different from any other medium. Ibrahim El Batout's 2012 drama Winter of Discontent is a strong example of that. It depicts the chain of events in 2011 that started with protests in Cairo's Tarhir Square and snowballed until they forced the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Shot shortly afterwards, and released within a year, it is to an extent a film without a conclusion: history had not yet provided one. As a powerful representation of a collapsing regime and the strength of the people, it is near-faultless.

Amr (played by Amr Waked) is a political dissident who was taken from the streets and tortured by the Egyptian secret police in 2009. Two years later he observes pensively as the people begin to rise up against their oppressive government and demand a revolution. His ex-girlfriend Farah (Farah Youssef), with whom he separated after his ordeal, now co-hosts a pro-government television talk show while secretly struggling with the ethics of lying to the Egyptian people. As the events on the streets grow in scale and violence, both Amr and Farah are drawn into the conflict.

N64:20 #11: Snowboard Kids 2 (1999)

In 2016 the Nintendo 64 turns 20 years old. It was Nintendo's third videogame console, produced to succeed the enormously successful SNES. Upon its release in 1996 Time magazine claimed it was "machine of the year". While the N64 failed to best Sony's enormously popular PlayStation - a console in whose early development Nintendo had a key hand - it still sold almost 33 million units worldwide and hosted some of the greatest videogames ever made. To celebrate its anniversary I'm counting down my top 20 N64 videogames; not necessarily the best titles released on the format, but definitely my personal favourites.

It's not really spoiling anything to admit that Mario Kart 64 is one of the higher-ranked videogames in this Nintendo 64 countdown. For one thing it was such a great party game, with four players playing simultaneously in races. As with all videogames though, sometimes you can play a game too much and start craving some variety. You find yourself looking for a solid back-up: similar sorts of games but with different race tracks or mechanics, and so on. As a kart racing substitute, Snowboard Kids 2 was one of my go-to titles.

April 29, 2016

The Pull List: 27 April 2016, Part 1

One of the genuine delights of visiting your local comic shop is finding unexpected independent comics on the shelf of which you have never heard, but which turn out to be absolutely delightful. That's certainly the case with Sabretooth Dan: A Talent for Danger, whose first issue was published this week by Scout Comics.

It's a three-issue miniseries about Sabretooth Dan, a human boy with two protruding tusks raised by wolves in a house and forced to do the cleaning. When he spies a pair of pirates in the local library - which is long abandoned - Dan decides to run away from home and live a live upon the high seas.

There is a beautiful sense of whimsy and delight about this comic, which is written and drawn by C.R. Mountain. It has wonderful cartoon-like designs, and its black and white artwork makes it immediately reminiscent of all the popular independent comic books of decades past. It has perfectly-pitched humour as well as a strong sense of adventure. It is a wonderful fantasy book that deserves a huge audience - but due to its independent nature may struggle to find it. Hunt it down. Check it out. If you like it, recommend it to your friends like I'm currently recommending it to you. (5/5)

Sabretooth Dan: A Talent for Danger. Story and art by C.R. Mountain.

Under the cut: reviews of Daredevil, The Omega Men and Saga.

April 27, 2016

David Bowie: The Next Day (2013)

The Next Day was a hell of a surprise back in 2013, with David Bowie spontaneously coming out of apparent retirement after a heart attack ended his 2004 world tour. The album's lead single was simply released without fanfare in January 2013, with no advance publicity. It was simply a case of revealing a new song out of nowhere, and then a new album soon afterwards. The Next Day represented yet another phase in Bowie's career, with another seeming change in identity: now an intensely private performer, Bowie released an album of new songs but did not appear in interviews or undertake any tours. Even the album's cover seemed to suggest a new reclusive identity: the original cover art to his legendary album Heroes with Bowie's face obscured by a white square. It seemed - it still does - a striking erasure of his popular identity, leaving just the music behind for his fans to enjoy.

I suspect history will obscure The Next Day to a large degree in favour of his 2016 follow-up, Blackstar, which was released just days before his death from cancer. I think that will prove a pity, since The Next Day is an unexpectedly strong album with so many exceptional songs to recommend.

April 26, 2016

The Pull List: 20 April 2016, Part 2

Dark Souls has been an unexpectedly huge franchise for Bandai Namco; the third game in the franchise was recently released, and despite being a quite harshly difficult game usually suited to a hard-core fanbase, it has managed to become something of a mainstream hit.

Cashing in on that success is British publisher Titan Comics, whose growing range of licensed titles are turning them into something akin to Dark Horse at their Alien/Predator/Star Wars peak. This past Wednesday they released Dark Souls #1, a spin-off comic book written by Doctor Who comic book writer George Mann and illustrated by Alan Quah.

Quah's artwork makes an immediate and sensational impact. This is the best illustrated comic book of the week, with a beautiful painterly quality and a rich gothic tone. Komikaki Studio has handled the colours, which are evocative and subtle. If fans of Dark Souls want some exceptional artwork to pore over in between rounds of playing the game, then this is absolutely a must-purchase.

Sadly Mann's script is not anywhere near as successful. The problem with a comic book based on a videogame about knights running around in the dark smacking the undead with swords is that it generally results in a pretty dull comic about those knights still running around in the dark smacking the undead with swords. There's a lack of depth and originality in this issue that lets the whole book down. I hope future issues expand the scope of the story more, but my gut tells me this isn't going to be the case. Gorgeous but a little dull, Dark Souls #1 is a comic for the dedicated fans only. (2/5)

Dark Souls #1. Titan Comics. Written by George Mann. Art by Alan Quah. Colours by Komikaki Studio.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Robin: Son of Batman and The Shadow Glass.

April 25, 2016

Hisashi Tenmyouya: Samurai Nouveau (2006)

The New People Artist Series was a range of documentaries released on DVD by American anime distributor Viz. As a collection they provide a fantastic insight into contemporary Japanese art in the middle of the last decade. I enjoyed one of the documentaries, Traveling with Yoshitomo Nara, immensely, and this led me to watch a second: the 2006 film Hisashi Tenmyouya: Samurai Nouveau.

Hisashi Tenmyouya is a former art director who abandoned commercial art to become a full-time painter. He draws his inspiration from 19th century Japanese painting, but adds a strong contemporary tone. Some of his more famous works include a Goddess of Peace armed with sub-machine guns, a feudal-looking Gundam robot, and a pair of samurai playing football (a commission for the Tokyo World Cup).

Tenmyouya describes his art as 'new Japanese painting', and over the course of the documentary he explains this position and reveals much about the history of 19th century Japanese fine art. It's a fascinating insight into both a style of art and the titular artist himself.

April 23, 2016

The Pull List: 20 April 2016, Part 1

Boom Studios is on a winning streak of miniseries of late, and from its first issue it looks like Joyride is going to be yet another feather in the publisher's cap. This energetic series follows a trio of teenagers on a race across the galaxy, combining science fiction, drama and humour in a really effective fashion. Don't be surprised to read news that it has been picked up by a Hollywood studio: this is high concept, well-illustrated entertainment.

Joyride follows Uma and Dewydd, two teenagers living in a repressive future Earth that has been encased within an enormous shell to block it off from the rest of the universe. Uma has a plan to escape, and hitch-hike a ride with a friendly alien, and Dewydd is basically devoted enough to follow her with her plan. Their escape attempt is interrupted by Catrin, a much more dutiful and obedient teen. The adventure begins there.

The issue has a fast pace and great, immediately likeable characters. Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly have written a script with a sort future dialect and slang that's familiar enough to be immediately readable but abstract enough to strongly evoke a dystopian future. Marcus To's artwork is beautiful and nicely detailed; Irma Kniivila's colours really make it pop off the page. This is a fabulous first issue. (5/5)

Joyride #1. Boom Studios. Written by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly. Art by Marcus To. Colours by Irma Kniivila.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Doctor Who and Obi-Wan and Anakin.

April 21, 2016

The Bombay Royale: You Me Bullets Love (2012)

The Bombay Royale is an 11-piece independent pop group based in Melbourne, Australia. The group was formed in 2010 by musician Andy Williamson, and it was initially devoted to performing covers of songs from 1960s and 1970s Bollywood movies. They rapidly segued into writing and performing original songs, albeit ones overwhelmingly inspired by the kind of popular Indian music they were covering.

They really are a band you need to see live, given they not only sing songs but enthusiastically perform them. Lead singers Parvyn Kaur Singh and Shourov Bhattacharya front the Bombay Royale with a surfeit of energy and personality. The nine musicians are each clothed in a different weird fancy dress - one a ship captain, one a masked bandit, and so on. They blend Indian popular music with funk, surf rock and even elements of disco. In short they are a near-perfect multicultural party band, well-suited to be lined up at the next festive gathering before jumping to the dance floor.