August 31, 2016

Star Trek: Voyager: "Emanations"

It is 13 March 1995, and time for another episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

The Voyager crew discover a series of alien burial grounds inside the rings of an uninhabited planet. A transporter accident sees Ensign Kim (Garrett Wang) swap places with one of the dead aliens. While she is successfully revived on Voyager, Kim wakes to find himself transported to another dimension - where a race known as the Vhnori use vacuoles in space to transport their dead to the afterlife.

"Emanations" marks a huge improvement in script quality for Voyager. This is an episode that is intelligent, sensitively portrayed, provocative and distinctive. It is easily the best episode of Season 1 thus far. It also finally gives the spotlight to Harry Kim, a likeable character who has been poorly served by the scripts since the series pilot.

The Jungle Book (2016)

The Walt Disney Company has been enjoying some remarkable success of late by remaking their range of classic animated features as live-action films. Robert Stromberg's Maleficent (2014) re-imagined Sleeping Beauty from the point of view of its villain, and Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella (2015) offered a pleasant but traditional take on the popular fairy tale. Now Jon Favreau has adapted Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book - and Disney's 1967 animated version - into an all-new CGI-heavy live-action feature and it's possibly the most satisfying production of the three.

Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a human child raised in the Indian jungle by a pack of wolves. When the jungle is visited by the human-hating and scarred tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba), the decision is made to take Mowgli to the nearest human village. Hijinks ensue along the way, as they do, involving the lazy bear Baloo (Bill Murray), the hypnotic python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) and the giant ape King Louie (Christopher Walken).

August 30, 2016

The Last Panthers: Episode 1

It is 26 October 2015, and time for the first episode of The Last Panthers.

In the port city of Marsielles a jewel heist goes disastrously wrong. While the thieves get away with millions of dollars' worth of diamonds, one of them is injured and a child is killed in the crossfire between the gang and the police. While French police detective Khalil (Tahar Rahim) begins his investigation, he finds his efforts complicated by the arrival of Naomi (Samantha Morton), an English insurance investigator sent to recover the lost diamonds.

The Last Panthers is a bleak and uncompromising crime drama created and written by script writer and playwright Jack Thorne. It is a European co-production, told across multiple countries and in three different languages. It boasts an excellent international cast, including not just Rahim and Morton but also Goran Bogdan, Corinne Masiero and John Hurt. Upon its release late last year it gained a lot of publicty due to its theme music, which was composed by pop singer/musician David Bowie from his forthcoming single "Blackstar". While the music is a great fit for the tone of the series, it is far from its best selling point. This is a great first episode all round.

Three for the Show (1955)

When stage performer Julie (Betty Grable) loses her husband Marty (Jack Lemmon) during the Korean War, she moves on by marrying his former writing partner Vernon (Gower Champion). Two years later Marty turns out to have been marooned on an island all along, leaving Julie with two husbands at the same time. Rather than choose one over the other, she decides to keep both.

Three for the Show is a slightly bizarre Hollywood musical starring Betty Grable in her penultimate film role. As one career wound down, however, another picked up, with the film giving Jack Lemmon one of his key early roles as the competitive romantic Marty. The film is unusual in the way it aggressively skirts the line in pushing references to its characters' sex lives in such a mainstream studio fare. The Hays Code, which had rigorously policed movie standards in relation to sex and violence, was winding down by 1955 but it was certainly still there. I was slightly surprised at how enthusiastically Three for the Show seemed to enjoy prodding it.

August 29, 2016

Roadies: "Corporate Gig"

It's 21 August 2016, and time for the penultimate episode of Roadies.

Much to the road crew's chagrin, the Staton-House Band has been booked to play a corporate function for a rich rubber magnate. Shelli (Carla Gugino) returns just it time to get an unexpected offer from Tom Staton (Catero Alain Colbert). Kelly-Ann (Imogen Poots) ponders her life choices after receiving a hard drive of her teenage writing. Reg (Rafe Spall) continues to obsess over his own future, and the fate of the band.

It is frustrating when a television drama fails to come together. I think it is even more frustrating when a television drama does come together, but it does so too late. These last two episodes of Roadies have seen the series finally work out its rhythms and characters, but of course by now it is almost certainly too late for an audience to find it. Showtime have yet to make a formal announcement on the series' future, but for it to receive a second year at this stage - and with declining viewing figures - would be a big surprise.

The Green Inferno (2013)

A group of idealistic activists head into the Peruvian Amazon to save an indigenous tribe from an illegal logging operation - only to become targeted by the tribe itself.

I was a big fan of Cabin Fever, Eli Roth's bleak 2002 body horror film about a group of clueless college students who get infected with a flesh-eating virus while camping in the woods. It was a bold film, and remarkably graphic, but with a real visual and tonal flair that made it seem as if Roth was a really fresh talent to watch. I was much less impressed by his 2005 follow-up Hostel, which featured more gore but seemingly less flair. His 2007 sequel Hostel Part II was perhaps a little better, but the potential shown by that first feature did not seem to have led anywhere worthwhile.

The Green Inferno is Roth's fourth feature film as director, and sadly continues his downward trajectory as a filmmaker. The gore of his earlier works remains, but the flair and style seems to have entirely evaporated. This is a weakly developed, intellectually lazy and to be honest mildly offensive film that - for me at least - puts the nail in the coffin for Roth's long-term chances. His career started with merit, but wherever it goes from here I suspect I won't be following.

August 28, 2016

The Pull List: 24 August 2016, Part 2

1220 AD: Theo and Hugh are two young noblemen that have set off across France - and against their mother's wishes - to join the Holy Crusade. They are promptly set on a mission to the isolated village of Montaillou, more to get them out of their commander's way than anything else. Once there they discover not heretics but demonic invaders from another place.

This whole schtick of medieval-warriors-versus-aliens has been done plenty of times before. A recent Dark Horse miniseries by Dan Abnett and I.N.J. Culbard, Dark Ages, did a great job with it. It seems like this new Image monthly is going to have an excellent stab at it as well. The characters are archetypal but remarkably well realised, while the script is clearly well researched with a fascinating grounding in the Albigensian Crusade.

This is also a great value first issue, with 44 pages of story and a higher panel count per page to keep the story pushing along for an impressive length. Matt Smith's artwork is exceptional: realistic enough to have some weight behind it, but cartoonish enough to give all of the characters a rich sense of personality. This was a hugely enjoyable issue; I will definitely continue reading. (5/5)

Lake of Fire #1. Image. Written by Nathan Fairbairn. Art by Matt Smith. Colours by Nathan Fairbairn.

Under the cut: reviews of Generation Zero, ROM and Usagi Yojimbo.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Outcast"

It is 16 March 1992, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Enterprise comes to the aid of the androgynous J'Naii, who have lost a shuttlecraft inside a previously theoretical area of space known as 'null space'. While Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) works with the J'Naii technician Soren (Melinda Culea), the begins to share a romance - once expressly forbidden by the customs of Soren's people.

Star Trek: The Next Generation executive producer Rick Berman once said: 'We thought we had made a very positive statement about sexual prejudice in a distinctively Star Trek way, but we still got letters from those who thought it was just our way of "washing our hands" of the homosexual situation.' Let's have a look into why the Next Generation production team might have received those letters.