January 31, 2015

Samurai Flamenco: "The Meaning of Justice"

It's been a while since I've reviewed an episode of Samurai Flamenco (this is the fifth), so it's probably worth a quick reminder of what this anime is and what it's about. Masayoshi Hazama is a young male model and aspiring actor whose love for tokusatsu TV shows (think Ultraman or Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) is so extreme that he's taken to putting on a costume and taking to the streets of Tokyo as the masked vigilante Samurai Flamenco. His low-rent exploits - basically returning lost purses and interrupting muggings - have attracted the attention of the public, the scorn of the local police, and the adoration of the novelty-obsessed news and entertainment media.

It has also earned him a sidekick, Flamenco Girl, actually a successful pop starlet named Mari Maya with a penchant for excessive physical violence. The contrast between the polite, awkward Samurai Flamenco and the brash, brutally violent Flamenco Girl forms the basis for this episode, "The Meaning of Justice".

Villain (2010)

Villain, a Japanese drama directed by Lee Sang-il, is a curious experience. It's about the murder of a young woman along a country road, although its focus is very much on those still-living who are affected by her death. At no point is the identity of the killer ever in doubt, indeed we spent the bulk of the film in his company. In the end it's essentially a tragedy in the classical sense: bad things happen to those who probably don't deserve it, but they happen nonetheless because of their own unchangeable behaviours.

Yoshino (Hikari Mitsushima) works for an insurance company in Fukuoka. She has her eye on the dashing university student Keigo (Masaki Okada), and has been bombarding him with e-mails and phone messages. At the same time she's taking another young man - the shy, withdrawn Yuichi (Satoshi Tsumabuki) - for a ride, only dating him in return for money. She pre-arranges to meet Yuichi, but walks into Keigo at the last moment and gets in his car instead. When the self-centred Keigo tires of her advances, he physically kicks her out of the car and onto a remote hillside road. Shortly afterwards Yuichi arrives, having followed them both. Minutes later Yoshino is dead: strangled and dumped by Yuichi.

January 30, 2015

The Lost Boys (1987)

As a director Joel Schumacher fascinates me. I'm not sure there's another director whose films straddle such a vast distance in quality, whether exceptional (Falling Down), really good (A Time to Kill) through to flawed (Flatliners), dull (Dying Young), flat-out awful (Batman Forever) or even wildly misunderstood (Batman and Robin, no really). It makes each of his films a real gamble to watch: are you going to get a Phone Booth (entertaining) or a Trespass (really not entertaining)?

On this broad scale, The Lost Boys sits somewhere in the upper middle. It's not a faultless film by any stretch, and its 1987 production has allowed it to date rather significantly, but its a very entertaining teen horror movie with a lot to recommend. I've always suspected the film is a lot like Richard Donner's The Goonies. If you saw it at the right age you will absolutely love it, but if you saw it too late then you'll probably wonder what all of the fuss was about.

The Emerson family - divorced mother Lucy and teenage sons Michael and Sam - move to the Californian seaside town of Santa Carla. It appears to be the murder capital of America with a growing number of disappearances. Michael falls in with the wrong crowd, and Sam learns the town's secret: a gang of vampires is preying on them all.

January 29, 2015

Gatchaman Crowds: "Abjection"

In episode #7 of Gatchaman Crowds, Rui decides to use the Crowds to destroy Berg Katse - with catastrophic results. Sugane and Joe rush to help, but even they may not be strong enough to defeat Katse. Will Paiman authorise the rest of the Gatchaman team to assist?

Thanks to the careful groundwork laid in earlier episodes, "Abjection" winds up the best installment of Gatchaman Crowds to date. It has plenty of action, great character work, a few surprises and some laugh-out-loud moments thrown in as well.

Rui's initial attempt to attack Katse is jaw-dropping to watch. It's not that the Crowds cannot match Katse's powers; dramatically speaking, that was to be expected. It's that the fight is so horrifyingly one-sided. Katse doesn't just drive back the Crowds. They're massacred. Katse then descends upon a defenceless Rui with an unexpected brutality. This is really quite confronting stuff given the tone of earlier episodes, and makes a huge impact as a result.

Journey Into Mystery: Stronger Than Monsters (2013)

Journey Into Mystery is one of Marvel's oldest titles, running off and on in one form or another since 1966. It started off as a horror anthology, and then featuring an ongoing story about the Norse God Thor. It soon got retitled The Mighty Thor and ran under that title for decades. A few years ago its original title was restored, and the story given over to Thor's brother Loki - then recently transformed into a 12 year-old boy during the events of the crossover miniseries Siege. When that storyline wound up, Journey to Mystery was briefly passed over to the Asgardian warrior Lady Sif. This run did not sell particularly well, wrapping up after just 10 issues, although Marvel did release it to trade paperback in two slim volumes. The book I've just read, Stranger Than Monsters, is the first of the two.

By the time the book begins, Asgardia - the home of the Norse Gods - has suffered multiple attacks and sieges. It is also hovering on a floating mountain above the small town of Broxton, Oklahoma. The warrior Sif, seeking an advantage against future attacks, visits a witch and gains the super powers of the ancient Asgardian berserkers. Then she gets ambushed and thrown into a dimension with ancient Asgardian berserkers. Then, as they say, hijinks ensue.

January 28, 2015

Broken Blade: "The Time of Awakening"

On the continent of Curzon, technology is based on operators using their mental energy to manipulate 'quartz', a sort of magically-imbued type of crystal. When one nation covets the quartz mines of its neighbour, both nations go to war using quartz-powered giant robots named golems. When the kingdom of Krishna looks set to fall to the Athens Commonwealth, a 'un-sorcerer' named Rygart - who cannot manipulate quartz like others - discovers he is the only person capable of piloting a recently uncovered golem that is hundreds of years old.

Broken Blade (also known as Break Blade) is a strange anime. Rather than be released as a television series it was produced as a rapid-fire series of six short feature films that each ran briefly in Japanese cinemas before getting a DVD release shortly afterwards. As a result episode lengths vary, but seem to be around the 45-50 minute mark each. This unusual release schedule seems to have afforded the series a higher animation budget, or maybe more time to produce them. Whatever the reason, the result is that it has a pretty high standard of animation. It blends traditional cel animation with a small amount of CGI to create a story that visually pops off the screen. The giant robot (or 'mecha') battles in this first episode look great, and are extremely well choreographed and animated. Unfortunately that seems to be where its selling points end.

The Pull List: 21 January 2015

Wild Blue Yonder #6 finally hit comic stores this past week, five months late. It's been a rough release schedule for this miniseries: funded via Kickstarter, distributed via IDW and then bogged down by delay after delay. It must have had a terrible affect on sales. Issue #1 was released in June 2013, after all. I'd be interested to know how many readers stuck around.

It's a shame that the delays occurred, because this has been an immensely entertaining book. It's a post-apocalyptic story, as airships battle for the remaining fuel resources high among the clouds. It boasted strong character work, some nice world-building and sensational action sequences. With all of the flying it reminded me a little of Hayao Miyazaki's animated films, albeit with a much grittier edge to it.

This final issue wraps things up in a satisfying way, but at the same time it feels just a little bit truncated. The miniseries was initially solicited for just five issues, suggesting that something went a little wrong with the original plotting process. Truth be told this book could still do with another 10 pages or so.

When it's collected into a trade paperback this year it would be well worth your time tracking this series down. Now that the delays are all over, and it can be read all at once, it's a very satisfying book. (4/5)

IDW. Written by Mike Raicht and Austin Harrison. Art by Zach Howard. Colours by Nelson Daniel.

Under the cut: reviews of The Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw, Batman and Robin, Batman Eternal, Batwoman, Black Widow, Doctor Who, Lumberjanes and The Wicked + the Divine.

January 27, 2015

Highlander: The Final Dimension (1995)

On 27 January 1995 Highlander: The Final Dimension was released in American cinemas. It was the third film in a franchise that started back in 1986. Now the original Highlander was not a significant hit when it was released into cinemas. The fantasy adventure starred Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery as immortal swordsmen in 16th century Scotland and present-day New York. While the film only grossed $12 million dollars on its theatrical release, it became a cult hit on home video.
This led to a 1991 sequel, Highlander II: The Gathering. Lambert, Connery and director Russell Mulcahy were dragged back somewhat unwillingly via sequel clauses in their original contracts, and the sequel’s producers (who had no participation in the original film) diverted considerably from the established back story with a science fiction tale of global warming, time travel and alien planets. Mulcahy famously left the film’s premiere in disgust after 15 minutes, while Lambert unsuccessfully attempted to quit the film altogether while it was shooting. Highlander II made more money than Highlander, but it also cost more money: in the end both films sat as a curious movie franchise where neither instalment had actually turned a profit.