December 18, 2014

Pompeii (2014)

Pompeii, from writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil, Event Horizon) is the sort of well-intended, amiable B-movie where criticising it too harshly would feel like kicking a puppy. It does what it does, it means well, and it doesn't actively trip over itself in the attempt. Is it historically accurate? Not really. Is it scientifically accurate? Well, no, but if it was then it would have made for one fabulously abrupt climax. It is what it is: a competently directed and immensely derivative riff on Ridley Scott's Gladiator using cheaper actors, significantly less pretense and a bucket-load of naive enthusiasm. Despite looking like a mid-budget Hollywood blockbuster it's actually a German-Canadian co-production. I'm not sure what that demonstrates: that everyone can make generic and dumb disaster movies?

Celtic slave Milo (Kit Harington from Game of Thrones) is transported from Londinium to Pompeii to be a gladiator in that growing city's games. He meets and falls in love with  Cassia (Emily Browning from Suckerpunch), the daughter of the city's ruler (a slumming Jared Harris) who is also the romantic target of the cruel Roman senator Corvus (Keifer Sutherland, also slumming it). As this romantic triangle threatens to reach a climax the nearby volcano Vesuvius erupts, putting everyone in danger.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Meridian"

It's 14 November 1994 and time for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

On the station, Quark tries to get a holographic picture of Major Kira so that he can include her in one of his clients' masturbatory holosuite fantasies. Meanwhile the Defiant is patrolling a star system where a planet suddenly materialises out of nowhere. The planet, named Meridian, only shifts into our dimension once every 60 years. When Lieutenant Dax falls in love with one of its residents, she has to make a choice whether to stay on Meridian with him or return to her friends on Deep Space Nine.

So basically this is Brigadoon in space. And it's awful. No, more than that. It's irredeemable, eye-gougingly, please-God-please-make-it-stop, ruinous, appalling shit; television so inexplicably incompetent and embarrassing to watch that if there was any justice in the world its writers and producers would be sent to their offices to tighten up their resumes. Even when the episode drags itself away from the tripe that is Jadzia Dax's Brigadoon fanfic booty call, it's just to return to a comedy bit about Quark trying to invade Kira's privacy and co-opt her image for a sex simulation. This is the worst episode of Deep Space Nine so far.

December 17, 2014

Tsuritama: "Striking Underwater"

What an astonishing difference one episode makes. After eight amiable episodes of teenage friendship and sea bass fishing, with a vague background about mind-controlling aliens in the ocean and secret government organisations, everything in the background suddenly explodes to the front. This is the series-changing episode I was expecting last time, building on the firm foundation of characters it's developed for the first two-thirds of the series and setting up a wonderfully dramatic climax.

I had this series pegged as a comedy in my head, because the science fiction elements seemed inconsequential and the character work didn't seem particularly dramatic. This episode isn't very funny at all, but is packed with little moments of drama, action and growing suspense. The government agency DUCK has taken over the town of Enoshima and forced its residents indoors. Coco and Haru head out into the open ocean to shut their fellow alien JFX down, with terrible consequences. Haru ultimately takes over Enoshima, using his mind-controlling water pistol to force all of the residents out of town.

Judging the New 52: November 2014

At the same time that sales figures for November 2014 were announced, DC Comics confirmed a whole raft of cancellations in March 2015. Prepare to say goodbye to Aquaman and the Others, Infinity Man and the Forever People, Klarion, Secret Origins, Star Spangled War Stories, Trinity of Sin, Worlds' Finest, Arkham Manor, Batwoman, Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians, Red Lanterns and Swamp Thing. That's thirteen cancellations in one hit, suggesting that once DC's two-month Convergence event is over we're going to see a hell of a lot of issue ones come June 2015. (I told you DC would cancel the Lantern spin-offs in 2015.)

The cancellation of Arkham Manor is particularly odd, given that its first issue only came out in October. Its second issue, released in November, saw a 33% drop to 30,907 units - that's actually really respectable, and suggests a book that could run for at least 12-18 issues. Instead it's going to close at just six. It makes me wonder if it was intended as a six-part miniseries all along, but was simply promoted as an ongoing in order to boost its sales (miniseries do not sell well in this day and age). Either that or writer Gerry Duggan's exclusive contract with Marvel doesn't include exceptions for Arkham.

December 16, 2014

Non-Stop (2014)

Liam Neeson has become such an integral part of the American action movie landscape in recent years that it's almost worth considering him a cottage industry all on his own. Whether it's in his Taken movies, or The Grey, or Unknown, he has fashioned a lucrative brand for himself as a tall, gruff, brutally violent action star: the 21st century's Arnold Schwarzenegger. Non-Stop is the latest in this seemingly endless conveyor line of interchangeable action movies - and it does genuinely seem endless, with Taken 3 and Run All Night both due before the end of 2015.

Non-Stop sees Neeson play Bill Marks, a tall, gruff and brutally violent United States air marshal who finds himself at the centre of an apparent hostage situation over the mid-Atlantic. The extortionist is somewhere on the plane, threatening to kill a passenger every 20 minutes unless he or she is paid $150 million dollars. On the ground, the authorities mistakenly believe Bill himself is the hostage-taker. As the body count rises and the tension increases, Bill must blah, blah, and so on and so forth.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Civil Defense"

It's 7 November 1994 and time for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

While examining the station's old ore processing facility, Sisko, O'Brien and Jake accientally trigger a Cardassian security system. With the station in lockdown and hurtling towards self-destruct, the DS9 crew race against the clock to shut the system down before it kills them all.

"Civil Defense" (American spelling noted) is a neat little "bottle" episode, using only one extra set and two guest stars. Given those constraints it's a remarkably effective little thriller, as every attempt by Sisko and his officers to improve the situation sets off another layer of Cardassian security. The end is never in doubt, but it's an enjoyable sort of by-the-numbers ride as it goes. It would be almost entirely forgettable, in fact, were it not for its two guest stars: Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo) and Garak (Andrew Robinson), who pretty much steal the show.

December 15, 2014

The Pull List: 10 December 2014

So we're three issues into Marvel's relaunched Thor, which distinguishes itself from the previous (and rather excellent) volume by giving Mjolnir to a masked woman and leaving the original Thor Odinson comparatively powerless. It was a great concept in terms of generating publicity ("Thor's a woman!") but so far it's proving slightly less captivating in practice. We're three issues in, yet we know next to nothing about the new Thor. Obviously there's a big reveal to come, but given how little has happened in three issues it's becoming harder and harder to care.

It's annoying because things started off so well: Odin and Frigga are at odds over how to rule - and indeed who should rule - the realm of Asgard, Thor is a seemingly broken man following the events of the Original Sin miniseries, a masked woman is running around weilding Thor's hammer, Malekith is teaming up with the Frost Giants and the Roxxon Corporation continues to make trouble back on Earth. Now, more than 40 pages later, we haven't had any update on tensions in Asgard, the masked woman is still just an anonymous masked woman, the Frost Giant's attack on Roxxon has gone on for two issues without significant developments and Thor has only just turned up to find out who the hell took his hammer. It's the sort of decompressed storytelling that is absolutely murdering monthly comic books.

Despite the glacial pace, Jason Aaron is still writing strong dialogue and characterisation. New artist Russell Dauterman is doing a sensational job - if nothing else this is a very beautiful book to read. I just wish it would go somewhere a lot faster than it is. We're paying US$3.99 an issue for this stuff. We deserve a story. (2/5)

Marvel. Written by Jason Aaron. Art by Russell Dauterman.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl, Batman Eternal, Copperhead, FBP: Federal Bureay of Physics, The Fuse, Prometheus and Wild's End.

Noah (2014)

Darren Aronofsky is one of America's boldest and most interesting filmmakers. He impressed me straight out of the gate with his idiosyncratic thriller Pi, a black and white Jewish science fiction thriller about mathematics. His follow-up Requiem for a Dream was a perfectly constructed adaptation of a highly confronting novel. While a lot of people found his third film The Fountain a bit too weird and difficult with which to engage, I've found it a really bold experiment - albeit only partially successful. Aronofsky then bounced back into mainstream success with The Wrestler and Black Swan, both of which I rate very highly, each boasting superb performances by their respective lead actors and really sticking hard in the memory afterwards. Now in 2014 he's directed Noah, an epic adaptation of a few Bible verses from the Book of Genesis. If it was any other filmmaker I'd be scratching my head. Since it's Aronofsky I'm simply nodding my head and watching this immensely talented writer/director do his thing.

The plot of Noah for those who have somehow never encountered it: humans have become wicked. God tires of this wickedness and sends a flood to wipe them out. Before the flood hits he tells one man, Noah, to build an enormous wooden ship - the ark - to house and protect the world's animals until the flood abates.