October 31, 2012
Until Walt Disney Pictures officially announce a director for Episode VII there's going to be a ridiculous amount of speculation over who their choice will ultimately be. What I've done here is put up 25 names: directors that have sufficient experience to be reasonably considered for the post, and have some sort of connection to Lucasfilm, producer Kathleen Kennedy, Walt Disney or sci-fi/fantasy cinema in general. I've also tried to include all of the obvious suggestions Star Wars fans might make. They're in alphabetical order, and if it's too long to bother reading I've mentioned the most likely names to make Disney's shortlist at the very end.
There are precisely two women on this list: don't blame me, blame an industry that doesn't give women the opportunity to direct big budget Hollywood features.
October 30, 2012
In one fiery, determined monologue, Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) lays out the precise difference between Deep Space Nine and the rest of the Star Trek franchise. It's been coming for almost two seasons, but with "The Maquis, part 2" Deep Space Nine finally hits its groove and finds its purpose. This episode represents the final shift of a series from black and white morality to graduating shades of grey. We see Sisko bending Starfleet's rules in the hope of redeeming his friend. We see new, previously unseen depth and empathy within Gul Dukat. We see Quark outwit a Vulcan over logic. Nothing is purely right and wrong any more. No one is good and evil. Everybody is strong and frail, smart and foolish, courageous and cowardly. From hereon in, and more than any other science fiction drama in history, Deep Space Nine presents a nuanced, three-dimensional and fallible vision of the future.
October 29, 2012
After seeing the latest fantasy film starring actress Yukie Fujikaze, ninjas-in-training Naruto, Sakura and Sasuke are shocked to see the film’s real-life heroine galloping towards them on a horse. The chase leads them to their latest mission: to protect Fujikaze and prevent her from fleeing the shoot of her next fantasy picture. Why is Fujikaze so desperate to avoid shooting in the distant Land of Snow? What is her manager’s secret, and why are a trio of magically armoured ninja trying to kidnap her?
Naruto is one of the most popular manga and anime properties in the world. Created by Masashi Kitamoto, it follows the adventures of the orange tracksuit-wearing ninja Naruto as he strives to improve his skills and become the most talented ninja in his village. The manga, which has become a multi-volume bestseller, inspired an equally popular anime TV series. That in turn led to a series of feature films, beginning with this first effort from 2004.
"The Maquis" is a significant pair of episodes for Deep Space Nine, because in many ways it (and "The Jem'Hadar" in a few weeks' time) establishes the narrative of the series for the remaining five seasons. The series' original set-up was relatively simple: the Cardassians withdrawn from Bajor and the Federation moving in to oversee the recovery. Now we have Federation citizens drawing up militias to fight the Cardassians and Cardassians secretly arming their own civilians to fight back. It's morally ambivalent, unexpectedly messy and typifies the unusual tone and angle that Deep Space Nine holds within the Star Trek universe.
October 26, 2012
115m. 2011, Hong Kong. Directed by Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai. Starring Louis Koo, Gao Yuanyuan, Daniel Wu, Lam Suet, Larisa Bakurova and JJ Jia.
While Johnnie To remains relatively obscure to English-speaking audiences, even among fans of Hong Kong cinema only half of his career receives the attention it deserves. He is already well known for his Triad-based thrillers and action films, but in parallel to that he has maintained a long, rich career in writing and directing romantic comedies. Don't Go Breaking My Heart is his first romantic film since 2008's drama Linger, and it comes as a refreshing surprise.
I don't just mean I'm addicted to reading the graphic story medium. I mean that my honest-to-god preferred format for comics is the original magazine format issues. I know the industry is slowly gearing itself towards graphic novels, but when it comes to ongoing action-adventure stories I like the 20-24 page instalments. I love cliffhangers. I love the wait to find out how a story is going to progress. Now if I particularly like a comic I will usually buy the trade paperback or hardcover collection at some stage, but for the first read it's the individual issues for me.
I think that's why I've found it relatively easy to buy some comics in digital editions. While you lose the tactile enjoyment of the printed page, you do get the serialised feel and the cliffhangers intact. I can see this becoming the future of the medium, at least in terms of American comics: digital serials that are subsequently published in collected print editions. On the one hand it would be sad to lose a near-century-old tradition of the printed comic book, but on the other I'd finally have some extra room in my house.
Reviewed this week: All-Star Western, Batman Incorporated, Debris, The Flash, Multiple Warheads, National Comics: Madame X, Prophet, Revival, Superman and Talon.
October 25, 2012
I've noted a few times the similarities between contemporary Thai action films and Hong Kong cinema of the 1980s and 1990s, both the heavy emphasis on action and stuntwork over plot and character and the overwhelming "how the hell did they do that?" bravado of the actors and stunt artists. Raging Phoenix is another addition to Thailand's growing canon of over-the-top martial arts films, although this one adds a lot of Michael Bay-inspired camerawork and a genuinely odd plot that seems to get stranger the longer the film goes on for. Had it continued for another 20 minutes I wouldn't have been surprised to see aliens show up.
This episode is essentially 42 minutes of Star Trek fan pornography, on a level not seen since Star Trek: The Next Generation's "Relics" (the one where Mr Scott arrives in the 24th century). If you're not an ardent fan of the original Star Trek, then these three Klingon veterans could be anyone. If you are an original series fan, then you immediately know that Kang, Koloth and Kor are the three Klingon captains who faced off against Captain Kirk and the Enterprise.
October 24, 2012
Okay so it's Casablanca, serial numbers freshly shaved off and staged on Deep Space Nine. Quark replaces Humphrey Bogart, Cardassian teacher Natima replaces Ingrid Bergman and the enigmatic tailor Garak takes up the Claude Rains bit. It's not the best pulp sci-fi remake of Casablanca ever made - surely that has to be Barb Wire - but it's done with its tongue pushed far enough into its cheek for the production team to get away with it.
I really enjoyed this episode because it provided a little more background to the Trill, a species who act as hosts to a symbiotic sort of slug/horseshoe crab hybrid that lives for centuries and passes on wisdom from one host to another. We've already gained an understanding of the importance and the risks of being selected as a host in "Invasive Procedures", but now we get a broader look at how a host goes about being officially selected. The episode also adds a new wrinkle to Jadzia's relationship with Dax's previous host Curzon.
October 23, 2012
Londo Mollari is faced with another moral challenge this week, and fails once again - now not only is he in bed with the mysterious Shadows, he's now participating in a planned coup d'etat. It's a pretty effective character arc, given how much he was used for comic relief in Season 1. He's still being used for comic relief for a lot of this episode too, but there's a dark edge to things now.
October 22, 2012
Of course the real test will be to see how many of these new readers stay on for October - those that do may be in for a shock, given how many cliffhangers will be getting resolved this month. To fully exploit the sales potential of the Zero Month stunt, DC really needed all of its titles to have strong jumping-on points the following month - and very few books do. It smells, as does much of the New 52, like DC editorial is running things off the tops of their heads, improvising the creative direction as they go.
One thing the success of Zero Month pretty much guarantees is another sales stunt in 2013. Minus One Month? A return to DC One Million? A month of issues devoted to the villains? There are a lot of ideas, but I would bet all the money in my pockets that we're going to get something around September next year.
Under the cut: reviews of Batwoman, Cyber-Force, Daredevil, DC Comics Presents, Hawkeye, It Girl and the Atomics, Legion of Super-Heroes, Sword of Sorcery and Wonder Woman.
October 19, 2012
This affection is for a number of reasons. First of all, it was a console that unfairly died before its time. The Dreamcast's release was derailed by a series of strategic press releases and conferences by Sony, each one making successfully grandoise claims about the power of their upcoming Playstation 2 console. Jaw-dropping demonstration videos (which were faked) and hyperbolic descriptions of the PS2's hardware (what the hell is an "emotion engine"?) led many gamers to hold off on buying Sega's very real console in favour of Sony's then-unreleased competitor. Not only was this strategy by Sony both distasteful, it led a lot of gamers to overlook and underestimate the sheer quality of Sega's machine. The Dreamcast boasted great sound and graphics, in some cases visibly superior to anything Sony would go on to produce on the PS2.
The Dreamcast was released as part of a generation of hardware that included the Playstation 2, the Nintendo Gamecube and the Microsoft Xbox. It sold 10.6 million units, compared to Nintendo's 21.7 million, Microsoft's 24 million and Sony's 154 million. It sold the least, but it remains - hand on heart - the best console of the four.
Under the cut: my ten favourite Dreamcast games.
October 18, 2012
If the premiere left any doubt that Red Dwarf has improved considerably with this new season, this second episode completely erases that doubt. I compared "Trojan" to Red Dwarf around its fifth or sixth season. "Fathers and Suns" is for the most part much more akin to the series back in its third season. The characterisation is razor-sharp, the gags are mostly based on character rather than situations, and the overall vibe is much more akin to the likes of "Balance of Power" or "Marooned" than, say, "Gunmen of the Apocalypse" or "Back to Reality". I'm slightly shocked to admit it, but this is the first Red Dwarf episode in quite a while to be genuinely good.
October 17, 2012
So four books have been confirmed to end in January: Blue Beetle, Grifter, Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE and Legion Lost. Two of these are not a surprise: Grifter and Legion Lost simply haven't been very good or popular comics since they debuted, and in the case of Grifter I'm surprised it's taken this long for it to be cut.
Blue Beetle is a bit more surprising: while the comic hasn't been selling very well, DC has shown a very dogged intent to make Jaime Reyes a major character. Certainly he has a lot of potential for use in other media. I can easily imagine a Saturday morning cartoon or a Summer blockbuster based around Blue Beetle. I can imagine DC continuing to try and find ways to make the character work - I don't think the problem this time around was the character or the setting, it was simply that it wasn't a very good book.
Even more surprising is Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE. It's been declining in sales, but issue #0 received a 23% bump and for the next four months it's crossing over with the more successful Animal Man and Swamp Thing. I honestly expected DC to give it a few more months.
Apologies for being late with last week's comics: I was in Hong Kong and only picked up my pull list from the comic shop on Monday.
Reviewed this week: Batman, Batman and Robin, Demon Knights, Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE, Halloween Eve, The Massive, Monster Turkey, Red She-Hulk and Uncanny Avengers.
October 15, 2012
Some years later I was amazed to discover the series lasted beyond two seasons, and watched as Red Dwarf went from strength to strength, gaining mass popularity as it went. Sadly, the longer the series went on the less I enjoyed it. The science fiction stopped being a background for the comedy and started becoming a source for it. Smart dialogue got replaced by more visual gags. The characterisation went south: by introducing the android Kryten the series rendered another character (the ship computer Holly) utterly redundant, while the three regular characters Lister, Rimmer and Cat slid into stereotypes and stock running jokes. The nadir seemed to hit around the sixth season: the two subsequent seasons shook things up by introducing Chloe Annett as new regular Kochanski, but the series was still a long way from the quality of those first 12 episodes.
October 6, 2012
October 4, 2012
Of course the next big comic sales stunt is Marvel Now, where most of Marvel's comics are getting relaunched with new first issues. I doubt this relaunch will be anywhere near as impactful as DC's: firstly, they're not rebooting but simply relaunching; secondly, they've already relaunched so many of their titles that a new #1 doesn't seem particularly special. There's a hilarious advertisement in this week's Daredevil: End of Days advertising the final issues of Captain America and The Mighty Thor with the slogan "The end of an era!". Yeah maybe, but when those last issues are #19 and #22 respectively, that's a really short era indeed.
Reviewed this week: Action Comics, Animal Man, Batwing, Daredevil: End of Days, Detective Comics, Green Lantern, Non-Human, Stormwatch and Worlds' Finest.
October 3, 2012
Summer Wars is a masterstroke: it is quite possibly the finest Japanese animated feature film since Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. It is beautifully designed and animated, genuinely warm and emotional, populated with richly drawn appealing characters and strung together with one of the most original and unexpected narratives in recent years. For general fans of Asian cinema it comes strongly recommended, while for fans of anime it should be seen as an essential purchase.
The film is based around Kenji Koiso (voiced by Ryunosuke Kamiki in the Japanese version), a gifted mathematics student who also works part time as a moderator for OZ, a massively-multiplayer online (MMO) game through which the people of Japan not only play but also conduct business, banking and even international diplomacy. When classmate Natsuki Shinohara (Nanami Sakuraba) asks him to accompany her to her grandmother’s 90th birthday party, Kenji awkwardly agrees – only to discover that she’s already announced to her family that he’s her fiancée.
I am not going to beat around the bush with this one: this is an episode about rape. It's unsettling, difficult and more often than not deeply seedy and upsetting. There isn't a physical rape in sight, instead it's all telepathic. The tone, the emotional beats and the damage, however, are all clearly recognisable. If you find dramatic depictions of rape upsetting I recommend you give this episode a miss. If you can handle such material okay, I'm honestly still unsure on whether you should watch it or not: despite some good scripting and performances, the entire episode left an unpleasant taste in my mouth.
October 2, 2012
We're now 13 months into the New 52 and, a few individual titles aside, I'm sad to admit it's been an enormous creative failure. The problems are mostly at the editorial level: the new continuity is visibly being written on the fly and simply doesn't mesh together from one book to another. In some cases they're actively going back and rewriting earlier issues when they're produced in trade paperback collections (Teen Titans being an obvious example).
This relaunch is a big problem for DC, because I think it's going to hurt their books in the long run. When the sales start dropping from 40,000 to 30,000, or 20,000 to 10,000, there's no reasonably opportunity to relaunch things again so soon. Readers already annoyed with the New 52 will become more annoyed, and those actively enjoying these new books and continuity will be angry to see it dropped.
My comic shipment was late last week, hence the delay in posting this. I also haven't had a chance to read the entire pull list this week, so purchased but not reviewed were Aquaman, The Flash and Prophet. Underneath the cut are reviews of All-Star Western, Batman Incorporated, Debris, Happy and Talon.
122m. China, 2010. Directed by Tsui Hark. Starring Andy Lau, Carina Lau, Fan Bingbing, Tony Leung Ka-fai and Deng Chao.
Recent years have seen Hong Kong’s most popular directors of the 1980s and early 1990s make their respective comebacks. John Woo returned from a lengthy period directing in Hollywood to helm the magnificent two-part Red Cliff. Ringo Lam rebounded from a fallow period with such hits as Fire of Conscience and The Stool Pigeon. Finally Tsui Hark, who directed and produced some of Hong Kong’s most outstanding and popular hits – including Once Upon a Time in China and Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain – has returned to form with the bright, energetic and engaging mystery adventure Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame.
The coronation of China’s first Empress is fast approaching. To commemorate her ascension, the Empress (Carina Lau) has commissioned an enormous statue of Buddha to be constructed in front of the royal palace. Construction is proceeding according to plan when two leading imperial dignitaries inexplicably burst into flames and die. To solve the mystery of the ‘phantom flame’, the Empress summons Di Renjie (Andy Lau), a talented detective whose political opinions have seen him imprisoned by the Empress for the past eight years.
The legend of Hua Mulan, which is a significant one within Chinese pop culture, is almost certainly best known to English-language audiences in the form of the 1998 Walt Disney animated feature film (just run a Google image search on the word "mulan", for example). It's perhaps refreshing then to find a new, Chinese-language take on the story in Jingle Ma's 2009 live-action feature Mulan.
This is the sixth motion picture to be based on the story of Hua Mulan, although previous attempts have included not just Disney's animated effort but also silent films and motion picture operas. This is Hua Mulan as seen through the lens of Chinese sword-fighting epics, and the result is visually attractive, emotionally stirring but also a little bit by-the-numbers. It's my arch-nemesis when it comes to reviewing films - an average one.
October 1, 2012
It's part of a broader incorporation of classic DC Vertigo characters back into the DC Universe. Swamp Thing received a relaunch at the same time, while Justice League Dark has incorporated John Constantine and Tim Hunter (of Hellblazer and The Books of Magic fame). It could have been disastrous, and in fact I was expecting it would be disastrous, but some fantastic writing and sharp artwork have made these books among the better titles of the New 52.
A continuing problem that has plagued Doctor Who since its return in 2005 is a lack of time. Put simply, there's not enough room in a 42-45 minute episode to introduce a new setting and guest characters every week, tell a three-act narrative and leave room for depth and characterization among the regular cast. Generally, its the narrative that has lost out and that's certainly the case here. While there is a plot, it's a relatively truncated one, and would have benefited enormously even from an extra 10 minutes to let it breathe and have the ideas play out. In a perfect world it would have been a two-parter, and I certainly could have survived without "A Town Called Mercy" or "The Power of Three" to get it.
- Pale Rider (1985) (link)
- On Wonder Woman's costume (link)
- Secret of Mana (1993) (link)
- House Calls #1: "Asylum of the Daleks" (link)
- Sleeping Dogs (2012) (link)