April 16, 2014

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Elementary, Dear Data"

With some leisure time available, Data and La Forge embark on a holodeck adventure based on Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories - with a doubtful Dr Pulaski in tow. When the Enterprise computer is instructed to prepare a mystery that would be a genuine challenge for Data, it somehow bestows sentience on one of the game's characters - a character that now wants to be free from his holographic prison.

Katherine Pulaski is such an appalling racist. She's been on the Enterprise for three weeks now, and despite all evidence to the contrary she continues to treat Data like a mechanical thing rather than as a self-aware, conscious individual. It's all rather offensive, particularly since Pulaski seems to afford more respect to Professor James Moriarty, the holodeck character that has become self-aware. You'd expect there to be some payoff by the end of this episode, where Pulaski apologise to Data and promises to treat him with respect, but instead we're found wanting.

April 15, 2014

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Where Silence Has Lease"

In "Where Silence Has Lease", the Enterprise encounters a strange void in space unlike anything anyone has encountered before. Which, rather perversely, makes it exactly like everything everyone has ever encountered before. I'm not one hundred per cent certain, but I'm reasonably sure that there's never been an episode of Star Trek where someone - Spock, Data, whoever - has conducted a scan, and confidently declared that the phenomena in front of the Enterprise is identical to something in the ship's records.

Once trapped inside the void, the Enterprise is at the mercy of the mysterious alien presence called Nagilum. It threatens to kill half of the crew. Riker and Worf get trapped in an Escher-like mass of duplicate starship bridges. Illusory starships turn up and promptly vanish. By the episode's climax, Picard realises he may have to destroy the entire ship and everybody on it just to defeat Nagilum.

April 14, 2014

Joint Security Area (2000)

Park Chan-wook remains one of South Korea’s most acclaimed directors – and deservedly so. Joint Security Area would seem almost inarguably to be one of his best works.

A shooting has occurred across the demilitarised zone that separates North and South Korea. With both nations on high alert, an investigative team is dispatched on behalf of the United Nations. They are ordered to interview those soldiers involved and establish exactly what transpired that led to the fatal event. The diverging accounts, and the truth behind what happened at the titular “joint security area”, form the basis of this exceptional, unexpectedly human drama.

It is easy to fall into the assumption that there are two Koreas – the pro-US, democratic South and the anti-US, militaristic North. Korea is, culturally at least, still the one nation. Families and friends are separated across seemingly arbitrary border. The Korean War never actually ended – there was a cease-fire, but certainly no formal declarations or treaties exist. The demilitarised zone between the two Koreas remains a tense, rigorously monitored and patrolled border, and as such makes for a remarkable setting for a motion picture. It gives Joint Security Area an edge, as well as political machinations, the military and a constant sense of urgency.

PSX20: Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee

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.

Abe is a slave working in an alien meat factory. When he learns that he and his fellow slaves are to be murdered and processed as the latest foodstuff, he breaks free from captivity and goes about rescuing all of his fellow slaves. He has the ability, via chanting, to possess the enemy Sligs and send them to their deaths. He can also communicate with his fellow slaves, using a combination of gestures, faceslaps and farts to get them to follow and cooperate with him.

Any game where there's a specific control to make your character break wind is going to get my attention. Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee was a rather peculiar hit back in 1997. At a time when most hit videogames were presenting faux 3D graphics, awash with polygons, Oddworld was a 2D platform game. It wasn't even a scrolling platformer: you controlled the protagonist Abe from screen to screen. It felt remarkably old-fashioned. It looked great. It played very addictively.

April 13, 2014

God Bless America (2011)

To a certain generation of movieogers, Bobcat Goldthwait is always going to be Zed the squeaky-voiced gang lord turned police officer in Warner Bros' dreadful Police Academy movies. He's been flying under the radar in recent years, however, as a writer and director of some exceptionally black comedies. His 2006 and 2009 films Sleeping Dogs Lie and World's Greatest Dad both had their fans, but he really got some sensational notices for his 2011 satire God Bless America. And rightfully so: it's razor-sharp and brutally violent, but most importantly it's a smart movie comedy that actually has something to say.

Middle-aged insurance salesman Frank Murdoch is divorced with a brat daughter who hates him and neighbours who won't give him enough quiet to cope with his constant migraine headaches. When he is diagnosed with a brain tumour and fired from his job, Frank goes on a violent killing spree - egged on by teenager Roxy Harmon - to kill everyone who are collectively dragging American culture into the gutter.

April 12, 2014

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Child"

So we're back onto the Star Trek: The Next Generation bandwagon with a review of the Season 2 premiere, "The Child", aired all the way back in November 1988. In "The Child" a mysterious alien presence invades the Enterprise and finds its way inside Counselor Troi. She then gives birth to a human-like child, who rapidly grows from infancy at a frighteningly accelerated rate. Meanwhile the Enterprise is transporting a dangerous set of plague specimens that will kill the entire crew if released.

Before going into the episode itself, it's worth looking at Season 2 as a whole because they have been a few changes. Firstly Gates McFadden has followed Denise Crosby's lead and quit the series. In her place, rather oddly, is Diana Muldaur as Dr Katherine Pulaski. I say oddly because for some reason she is never credited in the opening titles, but instead spend the entire year making a "special guest appearance". She's an older, crankier medical chief, deliberately styled more like the original Star Trek's Dr McCoy. It's fascinating that, as the show struggles to find an identity for itself, it's first major response is to make it more like the original series, when apeing the original is actually one of its biggest problems.

April 11, 2014

The Pull List: 9 April 2014

Lumberjanes boasts one of those awesome indie covers that I find difficult to walk past: it's got a sense of energy and whimsy to it that I just love diving into. It's also the sort of thing I track down in collected editions, but in this case I figured I'd take the plunge and support the creative team on a month-by-month basis.

Sadly the book's a bit of a disappointment. It's okay when I wanted it to be phenomenal. It's amusing when I wanted it to be laugh-out-loud funny. It's important that I stress it isn't a bad comic, but it's not the knocked-out-of-the-park indie hit I wanted it to be. Expectations are so annoying that way.

The comic follows five teenage girls at a summer scouting camp who find mysterious monsters in the surrounding woods. It's got the tone down right, but for some reason it doesn't quite gel together as well as it should. The art is great, although with some comparatively large panels it does wind up being a very quick read. There are some nice touches in the comic's back-end. I did really like the cut-out-and-keep CD sleeve for fans wanting to compile their own Lumberjanes mix CD.

This is a good comic, but I want it to be better. I think it has the potential, and certainly I'll be buying the next issue. For now, however, it's not matching the potential of its own cover, and that just left me a little unsatisfied. (3/5)

Boom Studios. Written by Noelle Stevenson. Art by Brooke A. Allen.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl, Batman Eternal, FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics, Manifest Destiny, Star Wars and Worlds' Finest.

April 10, 2014

Invisible Target (2007)

Invisible Target is a high-octane, passionate action flick from Hong Kong that despite its visible pace and enthusiasm feels about 10 years out of date. Released in 1990s and this would have been a gripping stunt-filled thrill ride. Unfortunately for Invisible Target I think Hong Kong cinema has partially moved on. A new wave of directors including Andrew Lau and particularly Johnnie To has led audiences to expect something a little more. As it stands the film fails to offer Hong Kong movie viewers anything they haven’t seen before, leaving it a competent but fairly missable film experience.

The film comes from writer/director Benny Chan, who boasts a long pedigree in Hong Kong action cinema. I have always had a lot of affection for Gen-X Cops, which he directed in 1999. He has also directed several Jackie Chan films – Who Am I?, New Police Story and Rob-B-Hood. If anything Invisible Target feels like another instalment of Chan’s famed Police Story franchise, albeit one missing its most crucial ingredient. It feels as if the film is seeking a replacement, either Chan’s own son Jaycee Chan or New Police Story alumni Nicholas Tse, but the vacancy never quite seems to vanish. Like a Jackie Chan film the actors do their own stunts, which is always fairly impressive to watch.