July 1, 2016

The Angriest: June 2016 in review

Another edition of the Pull List review column topped the list at The Angriest in June. In this case 22 June part 2 took the honours, with reviews of The Autumnlands (really, go read this comic), Doctor Strange, Darth Vader and Usagi Yojimbo.

Other popular posts this month included reviews of the excellent Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Darmok", and the significantly less excellent Terminator: Genisys.

This month I went a bit TV show crazy, particularly in regards to Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season 5 is so good - and Colditz. It is Colditz that has impressed me the most: I had heard of the series for years but had never watched it before, and it is outstanding dramatic television, particularly considering it was made in 1972.

In June 2016 The Angriest featured reviews of two recent films (The Conjuring 2 and The 5th Wave) and nine older films, as well as 27 TV episodes, three anime episodes, 45 comic books, one graphic novel and six videogames. A full index of June 2016 blog posts is included below the cut.

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

Paranormal Activity is a hugely successful, lengthy horror film franchise that has almost entirely passed me by. I watched the original film back when it was released onto home video, already well-inflated by popular acclaim and commercial buzz. I found it engaging enough, although terribly back-loaded. It is a film about a demonic presence haunting a young couple, told entirely via hand-held camcorders and security cameras. For about two-thirds of the film it is something of a chore: an interminable experience rather close to being forced to watch someone's home movies. When it finally got going it was tremendously effective and creepy, but I did question whether the payoff at the end was worth the work it took to get there.

The world has moved faster than I have, and with six sequels been and gone it seemed as good a time as any to try and sample them. Paranormal Activity 2 presents another house and another couple - this one with a teenage daughter and an infant son. It offers pretty much the same story: something invisible and evil is haunting their house, and we see the situation turn frightening via camcorders and security cameras.

June 30, 2016

The Pull List: 29 June 2016

Let's talk about Spider-Man. Since its relaunch five issues ago it has focused on Miles Morales, who was the Spider-Man of Marvel's Ultimate Universe before they destroyed it as part of their Secret War event. I have a lot of affection for Miles. He is distinctive, goodhearted, fallible and constantly out of his depth. He's been written by Brian Michael Bendis ever since Bendis created the character, and he has benefited enormously from Bendis' keen ear for dialogue and characterisation. Miles has also received some outstanding artwork as well, with this current run being illustrated by Ultimate Spider-Man favourite Sara Pichelli.

Miles Morales has a problem though, and it is a problem shared by many of his Marvel Comics stablemates. It is event miniseries. They come along every few months, and the majority of Marvel's titles slavishly tie into them, and they throw up, switch and change around the status quo every time. More often than not they lead to half of the regular monthlies being cancelled and replaced with new editions. It's incredibly frustrating, because it not only interrupts the momentum of books like Spider-Man it often closes off intriguing story possibilities. Comic books are fighting a constant war of attrition: new titles are published every week, and old titles as a rule lose readers every month. On the one hand constantly rejigging and relaunching books seems like a smart idea, because it is constantly giving new readers an opportunity to jump onboard. At the same time it is also giving existing readers constantly excuses to jump off. This sense of what I'll call "volume fatigue" has already led to me dropping Thor. I'll probably catch up some day via collected editions. I'm pretty close to dropping Spider-Man as well, because while this issue was entertaining - Black Cat has Miles kidnapped, while Ganke further befriends the X-Men's Goldball - it ends with a proud announcement that next issue drops everything to tie into Civil War II.

I read superhero comics because I adore serialised storytelling. The more Marvel disrupts and interferes with that serial narrative, the less engaged with the book I become. It's a shame. This is a really entertaining book when Marvel aren't interrupting it. (4/5)

Marvel. Spider-Man #5. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Sara Pichelli.

Under the cut: Darth Vader, 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank, Jade Street Protection Services, 3 Devils, and X-O Manowar.

Cutie and the Boxer (2013)

Ushio Shinohara is an 80 year-old Japanese artist living in New York. He has made his reputation on the back of a prolonged series of abstract paintings that he creates by dipping a pair of boxing gloves into paint and then furiously punching the canvas. His wife of 40 years, Noriko Shinohara, is also an artist. In this fascinating documentary, director Zachary Heinzerling follows the Shinoharas around in the lead-up to a joint exhibition of their works.

Cutie and the Boxer is a great documentary for a couple of reasons. The first is that Heinzerling has found an exceptional pair of artists upon which to focus his attention. The Shinoharas are fascinating to watch. Ushio is brash, chaotic and easily distracted. Noriko is calm, patient and visibly long-suffering against her husband's whims and self-obsessed fancies. Even before their art is explored, they are excellent documentary subjects. A couple for four decades, they have visibly and by their own admission been imperfect spouses and parents. Of course when the documentary focuses on each individual's art and artistic process, another layer of intriguing material is introduced. Their respective works are poles apart, and yet one clearly works as a reaction to the other.

Where the documentary really excels, however, is in the way it presents itself as one kind of story and then gradually shifts over time to be about something else altogether.

Samurai Flamenco: "Capture Samumenco!"

It is 14 November 2013, and time for another episode of Samurai Flamenco.

With a huge reward out for anybody willing to unmask Samurai Flamenco, Masayoshi finds himself in an increasingly desperate situation. Thankfully scientist Jun Harazuka is on the case to provide Samurai Flamenco with the superhero technology he requires.

It has close to 18 months since I last reviewed an episode of Samurai Flamenco, such is my lax attitude to watching anime. Thanks to a DVD release by Australian distributor Madman, however, it has suddenly become a lot more convenient to watch. A quick recap of the series: Masayoshi Hazama is a young male model and aspiring actor who is such a fan of Japan's Power Rangers-style superhero shows that he has put on a costume, called himself Samurai Flamenco, and has started fighting small-scale crime on the streets of Tokyo. It's a decision that has already gained him a sudden level of celebrity, a sidekick (Flamenco Girl) and now a bounty for him to be publicly unmasked. It is sort of a Japanese animated take on Mark Millar's Kick Ass, only less distastefully violent.

June 29, 2016

Roadies: "Life is a Carnival"

It is 26 June 2016, and time for the debut episode of Roadies.

The popular Staton-House Band rolls into New Orleans for a stadium concert, and their road crew - known as "Roadies" make preparations for the evening's event. Tour manager Bill (Luke Wilson) has slept with the producer's 22 year-old daughter, rigger Kelly-Ann (Imogen Poots) is preparing to quit to go to film school in New York, production manager Shelli (Carla Gugino) stresses over whether to stay or join her husband on a Taylor Swift tour, and a groupie with a restraining order is loose backstage.

Roadies is a new lighthearted drama series (I kind of loathe the term 'dramedy') from writer/director Cameron Crowe. He brings with him an awful lot of cultural cache: at the age of 16 he went on the road with the Allman Brothers Band and sold the story to Rolling Stone magazine. He subsequently became one of the magazine's contributing editors. As a feature film writer and director he gave the world Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Say Anything, Singles, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. His films are renowned for their extensive and informed use of popular music in their soundtracks. Put simply: if one wanted to make a television drama about life backstage with a stadium rock band, Cameron Crowe is likely the first creative to whom you would speak.

Insidious Chapter 2 (2013)

Following their harrowing supernatural encounter, Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) have moved their family in with Josh's mother (Barbara Hershey) while the police investigate their house. It soon becomes clear that the spirits that tormented them have not gone away, and that Josh is started to act badly out of character.

Insidious Chapter 2 continues on directly from the conclusion of the original Insidious, but tonally speaking it feels like a quite different kind of horror film. To be completely honest it is a bit of a hot mess, where a story continues not because there is more to say but because commercial considerations demand it, and where the genre shifts weirdly into really unexpected and, to be honest, fairly uncharted territory. In some ways it reminds me of John Boorman's The Exorcist II, which went in a wildly off-the-wall direction that was quite difficult to comprehend. Now Insidious Chapter 2 is nowhere close to the colossal misfire that Boorman directed, but it is certainly a somewhat substandard and confused film compared to its predecessor.

June 28, 2016

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Unification I"

It is 4 November 1991, and time for Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is summoned to a Starfleet admiral for a top-secret intelligence briefing. Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy), the most celebrated and respected diplomat in Federation history, appears to have defected to the Romulan Empire. Picard and Data (Brent Spiner) immediately dispatched on a secret mission to Romulus, while Riker (Jonathan Frakes) commands the Enterprise in an investigation into black market dealing of Vulcan technology.

"Unification I" presents a hugely significant moment in the history of Star Trek. While characters from the original series had appeared in The Next Generation before - DeForest Kelley made a humorous cameo in "Encounter at Farpoint", and Mark Lenard had reprised his role as Sarek of Vulcan in "Sarek" - this episode marked the first time a lead character from the original run guest starred alongside the Next Generation cast. Not just any lead either, but arguably the most iconic character in Star Trek's 25-year history.