Sunday, 7 February 2016

REVIEW: FLASH 2-10 & 2-11, Legends of Tomorrow 1-1 &1-2

POTENTIAL ENERGY

Well, you've got to give them props for bringing the naffest villains from the comics to life in an (almost) believable way. The Turtle makes for a pretty funny baddie-of-the-week, and his slo-time gimmick works reasonably well as a minor trial for him to overcome. There's a lot of time spent on the West family and their new addition Wally, but to be honest, I'm not enamoured with the guy so far and this part of the ongoing story isn't gripping me. No, the main part of this episode is Barry trying to find the guts to tell Patty he's the Flash. Apparently he hasn't learned anything from how it all blew up with Iris. What a goon.

THE REVERSE-FLASH RETURNS

The best thing in The Flash is Tom Cavanagh as Harrison Wells. Or Tom Cavanagh as Eobard Thawne as Harrison Wells. So an episode focusing at least partly on him is always a treat. Here, we have the other Eobard Thawne - the original Thawne - from an earlier point in his own timeline, before he faced Barry and all that fun last year. The problem is that Matt Letscher is nowhere near as good at playing the villain as Cavanagh, and the lack of familiarity with this version of Thawne really hurts the episode. However, the main cast are still great, and it's good to see Barry get over some of his hang-ups about Thawne and let him go to maintain history (and Cisco's life).

The second best thing in The Flash is Shantel vanSanten as Patty Spivot, and it's way beyond time that she got brought into Team Flash. And what do they do? They write her out, by dint of Barry being stubborn and too afraid to take risks. I realise this was her place in the story from the beginning, but damn it, Patty is wonderful. I hope that she comes back at some point, because her presence has been a big part of why this season has worked so well.

Also: Jay's Earth-One alter ego is named Hunter Zolomon, which would seem to be a huge hint that he's actually Zoom. More likely, though, it's a great big herring.

LEGENDS OF TOMORROW (two-part pilot)

So, that's what Doctor Who looks like when made by American superhero execs. Arthur Darvill basically plays the tenth Doctor, and to be honest, he's not bad, although he's also clearly not taking it remotely seriously (which is the only way to play it). There's a big chunk of Terminator in here too, what with the devastated future America and all.

Overall... this is OK. It's all good fun, and there are some lovely moments. The barroom brawl with Captain Cold, Heatwave and Canary, to a Captain and Tennille soundtrack, is tremendous fun. There are some nice spots for fans of both the original comics and the Arrowverse shows: Damian Darhk being present at the arms deal, Chronos turning up, a brief mention of Per Degaton. But it's also mired by some poor acting and some truly terrible dialogue. It's just a little too naff and cheesy to quite work (and considering how cheesy The Flash is, that's really something).  There's way too much being introduced all at once. Even of you have seen The Flash and Arrow, characters like Hawkman and Hawkgirl, and Firestorm, are tough, confusing characters to sell.

And what have they done to Martin Stein? He's a great character, and I'm all for adding a little edge to him, but having him rohypnol Jax is just utterly out of character and really pretty nasty. The second episode, which put him up against his earlier self and gave him a needed dose of humility, helped, but it's still a bad move on the writers' part.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

January is finally over

January is the worst month. It's cold, it's grim, no one has any money, and everyone is trying so hard to go dry or be vegan that no one seems to have any time for anything fun. 

Today, Terry Wogan died. I annoyed Wogan on live television once with the help of some friends, using a gigantic banner on which the words "Terry, sing the Floral Dance!" were roughly painted. He never did sing it, but it was still a classic moment. I'm not alone in wanting to write off this whole month for all the remarkable people who have died. I've already written about Alan Rickman and David Bowie, both taken far too young (but Doctor Who Comic is reprinting the eleventh Doctor comics with thin Bowie stand-in John Jones as companion, culminating this month with his apparent death, laden with Bowie lyrics. It's spectacular timing but a little too soon to not be unsettling). The talented TV writer Robert Banks Stewart, actor David Margulies, Eagles frontman Glenn Frey, classic thesp Frank Finlay - not young people, but remarkable people, sadly missed. 

However... I have got to spend a lot of time with my ridiculous and wonderful girlfriend. We went to see The Mousetrap last week, which I have finally seen after many years of meaning to; it starred Louise Jameson and was surprisingly hilarious. Bloody brilliant. We had a comedy exchange: I introduced Suz to Simon Munnery and she showed me Foil, Arm and Hog. She got me to go to a club I haven't been to for at least ten years and I had a fine time. Didn't cut it up like last time, but then, this time I wasn't dressed for it.

Work's pretty good; I've a ton of extra work on top of the everyday stuff, but overall it's going OK. I'm not really sleeping, so I'm busy and exhausted, but altogether I think I'm OK. January is over, the year shall surely get better.


All together:

Friday, 29 January 2016

TREK REVIEW: New Voyages: The Holiest Thing

SPOILERS! If you haven't seen the episode, you can watch it here first.

Not so much a new voyage as a walk along well-trodden paths, this latest episode of the fan series is nonetheless one of the best they have produced. It's heavy on the continuity, but it doesn't feel forced or awkward, with the exception of the odd decision to frame the story with scenes of a 24th Century Scotty reminiscing about the adventure (he has little to do with the main adventure, making it doubly strange). This is primarily the story of Dr. Carol Marcus, the character remembered for her appearance as Kirk's lost love in The Wrath of Khan (and less well remembered for inclusion in its cover version, Star Trek Into Darkness). Here, Dr. Marcus is played by the beautiful Jacy King, who gives a fine performance as a scientist who believes passionately in the vital nature of her work and who will defend it to the hilt, even in the face of disaster. Less convincing is her romance with Kirk, although this has more to do with the limited screentime, and with Brian Goss's performance. As yet, I'm not convinced by Goss as Kirk, who seems a little freshfaced and ineffectual here. He lacks Kirk's display of bravado and confidence; he'd probably have worked well when younger as a less experience Jim Kirk, as lieutenant on the Yorktown, but he doesn't yet convince as the legendary captain, Still, give him time - he's very new to the role.

Anyway, "The Holiest Thing" is a prequel to the aforementioned Wrath of the Khan, dealing with Dr. Marcus's first attempts to create a new terraforming device that will bring "life from lifelessness." We know it's doomed to fail, which makes her passion for the project both wonderful to see and rather heartbreaking. Here, it's the actions of a fellow scientist on their base on Lappa Three that spells disaster, but we know that once day, she'll be cutting similar corners with the Genesis device, with catastrophic effects. This episode ties in nicely to the movie, although the timing is a little questionable. Still, I don't mind this too much - continuity is fun to play with, but being beholden to it is a poor idea. Yes, this adventure should have happened earlier if Kirk's son David was to be the result, but then it wouldn't have been made as part of Star Trek: New Voyages.

This attitude to continuity is best displayed in the identity of the mysterious aliens involved in the disaster. The series Enterprise drew flak for its inclusion of the Ferengi, clashing with established continuity. This goes even further, happily having the Ferengi identify themselves once they are revealed, in spite of apparently not making contact with the Federation until the time of Picard. Frankly, who cares? The Ferengi make a fun baddie for the episode, and Clay Sayre gives a great performance as the grotty Ferengi captain, beneath some truly excellent make-up. The series is looking better than ever; there's a sequence where the camera draws back from the Enterprise through the star system, revealing the alien ship, that is absolutely gorgeous. Pretty damned good stuff.

Monday, 25 January 2016

REVIEW: The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight is an unnecessarily violent, grotesque and offensive film; in other words, classic Tarantino. An undeniably talented, if arguably overrated filmmaker, Tarantino has developed such a recognisable style that there's a risk when seeing a new film that you know exactly what you're going to get. Following up the excellent Django Unchained with another western was a questionable move. Making it a mystery story, though, is a triumph, bringing a new element to the same set of themes and stylistic tics and giving everyone a reason to keep watching, other than wondering who'll be the next poor sucker to get his head blown off.

The Hateful Eight works as a follow-up to Django Unchained, dealing with the same themes of racism and the North/South divide, but will inevitably suffer from comparisons to it. It's a fine film, expertly done, but Django was one of Tarantino's best and it's going to be very difficult to top it. Indeed, at one point in its early treatment, The Hateful Eight was intended to feature Django, and while it's easy to see why this idea was dropped, there are shadows of the character here in the two bounty hunters who first enter the story. Kurt Russell's John Ruth and Samuel L. Jackson's Major Warren are distorted afterimages of Christoph Waltz and Jamie Bell's King Schultz and Django. There are no heroes in this film, only the innocent and the villainous, and these two initial protagonists are merely the least awful of a crowd of utterly abhorrent individuals.

It's an impressive cast, with Russell and Jackson standing out, as well as Jennifer Jason Leigh as the murderous Daisy Domergue. She's revolting and mesmerising by turns, sympathetic yet despicable. As Ruth's bounty, she's the centre of the film's slight plot. While it's a mystery story, this enclosed drama, primarily confined to a single room, is concerned more with the interaction between the vicious, hate-filled characters and their shifting web of trust and distrust. Of the less prominent characters, Oswaldo Mobray stands out thanks to Tim Roth's hilariously toffee-toned flamboyant performance.

Set some years after the American Civil War, The Hateful Eight is concerned greatly with lingering hatreds, in particular between the various splinters of the Union and Confederate armies. As such, it will doubtless resonate more with American viewers, whose dark history is being dissected onscreen, but the theme of ongoing feuds translates to any nation. And while it is, as expected, extremely violent, it's not as over-the-top as some previous Tarantino films (save one particularly in-your-face moment). In fact, the most upsetting scene involves a graphically described male rape, one that probably never happened but that serves to incense the certain characters. I could have done without it, but it serves its purpose in the story. It's a story of violence begatting violence and how everyone pays for this in time. With a Morricone soundtrack.

Monday, 18 January 2016

WHO REVIEW: Four Doctors by Paul Cornell

Multi-Doctor stories are a tradition. A tradition that either marks an anniversary event, a charity telethon or an opportunity to get the fans to spend a few more quid on something that might just be unmissable. We've had the The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors, The Two Doctors, The Eight Doctors and The Four Doctors (already), plus many more that don't include numbers in their names. Four Doctors was touted as Titan Comics' big event for 2015, ostensibly for American audiences (not that getting the issues elsewhere is a challenge) and has now been reprinted both in the UK marketed Doctor Who Comic and in trade paperback collected format. A multi-Doctor story is basically an excuse for an knees-up, with overgenerous helpings of continuity and a few set pieces stringing it together. Occasionally, we get something with a little more substance, such as the fiftieth anniversary film The Day of the Doctor. This graphic adventure doesn't quite reach those heights, but it walks the line between fanwank and proper story well, something Paul Cornell has always been able to manage. He's also been a master of timey-wimey stories before Stephen Moffat came up with the silly term, so it's not surprise that he handles multiple Doctors and overlapping timelines very well indeed.

Some vaguely familiar people


The first question is which four Doctors will be featured, and early publicity suggested we'd have a team-up for Ten, Eleven, Twelve and the War Doctor. This isn't quite what we get here, for the War Doctor's appearance is little more than an extended cameo that supplies some background for the ensuing adventure. Everything that occurs here is fallout from the Time War, with some races, such as Voord, considering themselves considerably better off in the war-ravaged timeline.

Ah, yes. The Voord. Including the rubber-suited nasties in a story is guaranteed to make me smile, and their presence here, not as a joke but as a major adversary, pretty much sells the comic for me altogether. Again, Cornell has form, having turned the Vardans into a threat for the New Adventure No Future, but he takes the Voord reasonably seriously here, rethinking them as a formidable gestalt that genuinely threatens to defeat the Doctor. Fan-pleasing moments like this are never far behind, with the Blinovitch Limitation Effect coming into play and bringing Cornell's own creation, the Reapers, in to provide an arresting cliffhanger. However, the inclusion of Gabby and Alice - comicbook companions for the tenth and eleventh Doctors respectively - keeps this feeling fresher and not just a rehash of TV elements.


Swonnk


Four Doctors would seem to be, on the face of it, a perfect opportunity to bring the ninth Doctor back into the mix. Titan evidently have the rights to use the character, what with them publishing a series for him, and he does, at least, make a cameo. Still, it does seem like a missed opportunity. Three Doctors in the hero position is perhaps as much as a story can really handle before collapsing in on itself. As for the fourth Doctor of the title... his identity is a little more unexpected, and while hardly an original direction, works well with the conceit of the story.

The story does, by issue five, start to run out of steam, but the resolution is so rarely as satisfying as the set-up. Neil Edwards's artwork isn't entirely successful either, ranging from spot-on to unrecognisable within a single page.They can't all be The Day of the Doctor, but they needn't be Dimensions in Time either. Four Doctors has enough in its favour to mark it as a winner, if not quite an unmissable event.