July 30, 2014

Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva (2009)

Will there ever be a great motion picture adapted from a videogame? Certainly there have been a few reasonably enjoyable ones, and a fair share of watchable yet critically flawed attempts, but it seems generally agreed that the vast majority of game-to-film adaptations are pretty dire. One of the more recent attempts is Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, released in Japan in late 2009 and based on the popular puzzle-based adventure games for the Nintendo DS.

I entered the film with fairly high hopes – it is an animated feature, utilising the same animation and design work as the videogames it’s based on, and supervised by the original game design studio Level 5. The characters in the games are remarkably appealing, and they already boast a very film-like aesthetic and narrative. Sadly The Eternal Diva doesn’t quite live up to its promise, but it does remain an enjoyable distraction.

After a bizarrely inaccessible and confusing opening ten minutes – which includes two flashbacks, one nested inside the other – the film settles down to exploring a strange mystery. Archaeologist and renowned puzzle solver Professor Hershel and his apprentice Luke Triton travel to view a new opera performance whose composer, Oswald Whistler, has just adopted a young girl claiming to be the reincarnation of his dead daughter. Soon the situation explodes into death-defying escapes, radio-controlled sharks, a theatre that transforms into a cruise liner, a mysterious Atlantis-like island and – potentially – the secret to eternal life.

Doctor Who: "The Ordeal"

With Elyon dead, the Thal expedition continues their dangerous journey into the mountain ranges behind the Dalek city. When Antodus in injured in a rockfall, it leaves them with no opportunity to turn back - even if the path ahead seems impossible to traverse.

When we last caught up with Ian and Barbara, they were setting off on an expedition to stop the Daleks from killing off the peaceful Thals. When we end this episode, Ian and Barbara are still off on their expedition to stop the Daleks from killing off the peaceful Thals. Herein lies the problem: Terry Nation has seven episodes to fill with this serial, and to be honest he has the plot for four. The result has been more than a fair share of episodic padding and faffing about in an attempt to hide the fact that nothing is really happening here.

The Doctor and Susan do get a bit more to do. They return to the Dalek city, muck about short-circuiting some electronics, and wind up captives of the Daleks again. Fools.

July 29, 2014

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "The Nagus"

One of the great things that Star Trek: The Next Generation did with the franchise canon was to take pre-existing Trek cultures like the Klingons and the Romulans and actually develop their backstories, religions, societies and the like. They took characters that had previously been simple plot cyphers and gave them depth and nuance. In the same vein, Deep Space Nine took a species from The Next Generation - the Ferengi - and not only installed one as a series regular, they gave them a similarly detailed treatment. That process begins with "The Nagus".

When the Ferengi leader, Grand Nagus Zek (Wallace Shawn), arrives on Deep Space Nine, Quark fears it's to buy his bar. Instead it's to establish Ferengi business interests in the Gamma Quadrant. When Zek unexpectedly dies, however, Quark finds himself unexpectedly advanced to the leader's role - and under target for assassination.

Kiki's Delivery Service: 25 years on

There are few films in the world more delightful to watch than Studio Ghibli films, and there are few Studio Ghibli films as delightful as Kiki's Delivery Service. I've heard it said that the first Hayao Miyazaki film you see will always be your favourite, and while I'm not entirely sure I could pick a favourite these days I can't deny I will always have the warmest of affections for Kiki.

Today it turns 25, since it was on 29 July 1989 that it premiered in Japanese cinemas. It remains one of my favourite films, so it seems appropriate to wish it a happy birthday.

It was a critical production for Studio Ghibli, since its preceding double-bill of My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies had failed to turn a profit, and the high cost of producing animation meant that the studio would close shop if Kiki wasn't a hit. Thankfully it turned a healthy profit, grossing almost three times its ¥800 million yen budget by the time it left cinemas.

July 28, 2014

PSX20 #9: Ridge Racer Type Four

PSX20 celebrates the 20th anniversary of Sony's Playstation videogames console by counting down my 20 favourite videogames for that platform. These aren't necessarily the best PSX games ever made, but they are the ones I liked and played the most.

Ridge Racer started life as a series of arcade titles, but like all mid-90s arcade games it rapidly found its way onto the PlayStation beginning in 1994. The original PSX Ridge Racer was one of the key early titles and went a long way towards selling the system in both Japan and overseas. Given its huge success it's no surprise that Namco followed it up with Ridge Racer Revolution in 1995 and Rage Racer in 1996. It was the fourth and final PSX Ridger Racer title, Ridge Racer Type Four (1998), that really grabbed my attention.

That's the thing with videogame sequels - they're almost the opposite of Hollywood, where the quality goes down with each instalment. Videogame quality tends to go up, as technology improves and designs refine. Type Four isn't just the best of the Ridge Racer games. It's my favourite racing videogame ever. I'm sure there are better titles out there, but for sheer nostalgia and the number of hours of entertainment found, Type Four is my sentimental favourite.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Move Along Home"

Deep Space Nine plays host to the first-ever delegation from the Gamma Quadrant - the myserious Wadi, whose interests seems less in diplomacy and more in the games at Quark's Bar. When they catch Quark cheating them out, they force him to play a game of their own - with the lives of Sisko, Dax, Bashir and Kira in the balance.

I'm not quite sure what to make of "Move Along Home". It's relatively awful - in fact I remember it being widely regarded as the worst episode of the season when it was first broadcast. At the same time there is a kernel of potential in what's presented. You can see a solid and inventive episode buried inside, but the episode as broadcast is basically an hour of silliness without a point to it. I despair that I will never see another decent episode this season.

July 27, 2014

The Pull List: 23 July 2014

Doctor Who has a long, rich history of being adapted into comic books. It is, in fact, the single longest-running comic book adaptation in television history. There's been a Doctor Who comic or comic strip running somewhere in the United Kingdom since 1964. In recent years the Americans have been in on the act as well, with IDW publishing several ongoings and miniseries. Some of those books were pretty decent. Some, like their 50th anniversary maxi-series Prisoners of Time, wound up being significantly less than decent. Obviously someone within the BBC wasn't happy, because IDW lost the license, and now an all-new range of Doctor Who comics are kicking off at British publisher Titan Comics.

Titan are simultaneously launching two Doctor Who monthly comics, both titled Doctor Who with the exact same logo. One features ongoing adventures for David Tennant's 10th Doctor and the other features ongoing adventures for Matt Smith's 11th Doctor. A 12th Doctor comic, featuring Peter Capaldi's interpretation of the character, has already been announced and will come along in a few months. This opens up a worrying possibility that we'll soon be seeing a monthly 9th Doctor comic, then an 8th Doctor comic, and before long we'll all be getting hit up for 12 monthly comics - one for each Doctor. Part of me would love to read a regular 2nd Doctor comic book. Another part of me screams for my bank balance.

Both books come with absolutely gorgeous painted covers by Alice X. Zhang. Really: they are the classiest comic book covers for Doctor Who since Ben Templesmith did some early ones for IDW. Absolutely stunning. Let's look at what's inside each one.

Under the cut: reviews of (deep breath) Doctor Who: The 10th Doctor, Doctor Who: The 11th Doctor, All-Star Western, Aquaman, Batman, Batman and Robin, Batman Eternal, Daredevil, The Flash, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Revival, Saga, Star Wars Legacy, Wild Blue Yonder and Wonder Woman.

July 25, 2014

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "The Passenger"

While en route to the station, Major Kira and Dr Bashir intercept a damaged Kobliad freighter. Onboard they find a security guard, Ty Kajada, and her dying prisoner, Rao Vantika. Despite Vantika's death, on arrival at Deep Space Nine Kajada insists her prisoner may still be alive. Has Vantika somehow faked his own death, and transferred his consciousness into someone else's body?

Here we go again: great concept, dreadful execution. This was originally a really cool concept for an episode of Star Trek, with a police officer trying to hunt down a vanished criminal only to learn that the criminal is actually hiding inside their own mind. It brings to mind all manner of Philip K. Dick novels and stories, and could have been a wonderfully twisted story rich with paranoia. The problem of course is that it would have been based around the guest star, with the regular cast relegated to supporting roles. That makes a certain amount of sense, and there's another good episode to be made here where we don't know which of the station command crew has been secretly possessed.

Except we do know, because for reasons known only to its creators "The Passenger" flat-out tells us within two minutes of the episode starting.