Sunday, 20 December 2015

Review - 'Ash vs Evil Dead', S01E08 - 'Ashes to Ashes'

Whatever the end-point for this first season of Ash vs Evil Dead is intended to be, it seems as though the series took a significant step in that direction with this episode, as Ash finds himself back at the cabin where all of his troubles began. It was something that the audience must have suspected was coming from the very beginning, of course - after all, to not revisit the iconic setting of the first two films would have felt like too much of a wasted opportunity. It was something that many fans probably would have argued simply needed to happen - and, that fact seemed to have been confirmed by the show, itself, as Ash learnt that the cabin was exactly where he needed to go to undo the damage that he had unwittingly caused.

So, Ash's eventual return to that secluded cabin was all set to be a big moment for the series. And, it is definitely treated in that regard in the episode's opening moments, as Ash seems to display hesitance, and genuine fear, for the first time. Of course, it turns out that, despite his best efforts, Ash wasn't going to be alone at the cabin for long.

With the previous episode making such a big deal out of Ash's surprisingly selfless decision to leave his team behind, in order to spare them the gruesome deaths that he had every reason to believe would come for them at the cabin, it did feel like a bit of an anti-climax to have Amanda turn up so soon after Ash, himself. Honestly, the way that whole sequence played out was strange - with Ash only just arriving, and reaching the cabin's front door, before turning to find Amanda just behind him. It gave the, somewhat implausible, impression that she had actually been trailing along behind Ash, without him noticing, the entire time - and, left me suspecting that her sudden appearance might have actually turned out to be a Deadite trick, of some sort. It seemed like such a strongly hinted at development, in fact, that I actually found myself feeling a little disappointed when it soon became obvious that this wasn't going to be the case - and, that this was really Amanda.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Film Review - 'Sword of Desperation'

Sword of Desperation is a movie about Samurai, - and, one that features a central protagonist who we are told, early on, happens to be an expert swordsman. It even has the word 'sword' right there, in the title. So, going in without any prior knowledge, it would probably seem perfectly fair to assume that the film you are about to watch would turn out to be some violent and action-focused epic.

With that in mind, it's probably worth pointing out right from the start that this isn't really the sort of film that Sword of Desperation is. It would be more accurate to think of the film as a historical drama - a period piece which just happens to be based around Samurai. It is a slow-moving and thoughtful sort of film, really. The type of film that isn't afraid to linger on the quiet moments between its cast. The film's focus is kept entirely on its somber and stoic central protagonist - a man with a clearly troubled past. It is, in the end, really something of a reflection on that trait of absolute loyalty to one's lord which defines the classic image of a Samurai.

With all of that being said, though, the film does all lead toward a seemingly inevitable, and fantastically shot, action set-piece at its conclusion - one that is, really, everything that a fan could want. But, that single scene aside, the film's primary purpose is clearly to offer a faithful and accurate recreation of the life of a Samurai living on the Edo period of Japan.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Film Review - 'Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow'

The human race is slowly, but surely, losing a long and drawn out war against an invading alien race. Millions have already died while the Mimics, named for their ability to anticipate and adapt to any strategy the human military try to use against them, seem unstoppable. In the course of the entire war, there has only been one significant victory for the human race - where, in her first battle, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) somehow managed to kill hundreds of the creatures (earning the dual nicknames the 'Angel of Verdun' and 'Full Metal Bitch' in the process).

In the midst of all of this, we meet Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), an officer who has never seen actual combat, and who is determined to keep it that way. Cage's role is purely PR - spinning the human race's war efforts to the media as best he can. When Cage is sent to London and placed under the command of General Brigham (Brandon Gleeson), though, he learns of a plan to send him to the front line of the next big battle, in order to document the planned battle on the beaches of Normandy as part of the military's propaganda campaign. Cage, naturally, isn't interested in putting himself at risk - even going as far as trying to blackmail the General in his efforts to talk his way out of the assignment. Though, Cage only succeeds in getting himself arrested. Now, instead of simply documenting the battle, General Brigham pulls a few strings to make sure that Cage will have to fight in it - a form of revenge that the General probably found amusingly fitting.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Review - 'Ash vs Evil Dead', S01E07 - 'Fire in the Hole'

The first season of Ash vs Evil Dead is only going to be ten episodes long - so, it feels like it is well past time that some sort of focus. Thankfully, Ash's realisation that he would need to return to that original cabin in the woods, in the previous episode, did manage to give us a clearly defined end-point, at least. And, although this episode was, essentially, little more than another in a series of largely episode encounters with demonic creatures, it did have the benefit of context. Ash's desire, here, was the reach out to some potential allies, and secure some much needed new weaponry, as he prepared for that final confrontation at the cabin - so, while this was all simply another detour, it still managed to feel like one that actually had a sense of purpose behind it.

Here, Ash and his growing support team (with Pablo and Kelly being joined by Amanda) made their way out to secluded militia camp briefly mentioned in the previous episode - believing that Ash's old buddy, Lem (Peter Feeney) would be able to introduce them. Unfortunately, by the time they actually arrive Lem has already been possessed by a Deadite, and he has made his own way to the militia camp. Currently under attack by a creature that they don't understand, this group of backwoods survivalists are even less inclined to trust a group of outsides than they might have been, otherwise.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Review - 'Arrow', S04E09 - 'Dark Waters'

The Flash brought us to its mid-season break with an episode that, while perfectly entertaining on its own, felt much more like a standard episode than it did any sort of finale. Arrow, on the other hand, has managed to bring us to this point in its own season with an episode that provided all of the drama and tension that its spin-off seemed to somewhat lack.

Oliver's mayoral campaign promise to clean up to the pollution if Star City's bay may have placed him publicly at odds with Damian Darhk - but, it also seems to have won him the approval of the city's residents. There were even an impressively large number of volunteers eager to turn up and take part in the clean-up operation - and, as the episode opens, we see this operation in progress, with Oliver feeling some well-deserved pride in what he had been able to achieve. Everything seems to be going quite well - at least, until the clean-up project is suddenly attacked, and many of the innocent volunteers are left seriously injured.

Understandably furious, and knowing Damian Darhk must have been the one behind the attack, Oliver soon comes to the conclusion that the only way he might be able to hurt Darhk would be to strip away the secrecy that he depends on, and draw him out into the open. Despite knowing that doing so would make Oliver, and everyone close to him, a public target, Oliver's team agrees - and so, Oliver arranges a public press conference in which he reveals Damian Darhk's identity as the leader of the 'Ghosts' who have been terrorising Star City, in the hope of turning the city against him.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Review - 'The Flash', S02E09 - 'Running to Stand Still'

As mid-season finale's go, this episode of The Flash felt relatively low-key - lacking in much of the tension and drama that we had in the episode that brought us to last years mid-season break. Barry's encounter with Zoom, a few episodes ago, felt like it would have been a much more appropriate way to end things, here - what with it being every bit as tense a confrontation as Barry's first official run-in with the Reverse-Flash. But, maybe that's why the decision was made to place that episode earlier in the season? Maybe it was felt that the two episodes were simply too similar?

Whatever the reason, the tense and dramatic confrontation which could have brought us to the break actually happened a few episodes ago - and, what we have in its place is, essentially, a 'Christmas' episode. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course - this is still a very entertaining episode. It is simply an episode that lacks much of the tension that the audience may have been expecting.

But, in saying that, the episode makes up for it by simply being a lot of fun - as you might expect, given that this is the episode were Mark Hamill returns to play the Trickster, once more.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Review - 'Ash vs Evil Dead', S01E06 - 'The Killer of Killers'

The strangest aspect of the fact that Ash vs Evil Dead limits itself to half-hour episodes is the idea that each episode will be required to significantly limit its scope. So far, it has seemed as though each episode has really only had enough room for a single encounter, of a single confrontation. This hasn't actually been a problem for the series, so far, to be fair - and, in fact, the previous three episode actually fit together quite nicely to form a plot-arc concerning the team's battle with the demon, Eligos. And, even the first two episodes of the season were set up to lead into each other in a way that maintained some sense of progress and forward momentum.

But, with this episode, we have something of a transitional period between the 'Eligos' arc, and whatever is coming next. This is a self-contained 'filler' episode, basically - and, as such, it becomes the strongest argument, so far, against the creator's decision to limit themselves to such short episodes. Not because of any dip in quality, of course. Rather, it's because the episode simply feels a bit slight - something which is especially noticeable coming right after three episodes devoted to a single story-arc.

Leaving behind the burning remains of Pablo's uncle, Ash, Kelly, and Pablo find their way to a nearby diner, where they plan their next move. Ash has come to realise that a trip back to that original cabin in the woods seems to be in his immediate future - but, displaying a nice bit of concern for his new friends, he announces that he plans on going alone. Kelly and Pablo aren't willing to be left behind, though - with Kelly, in particular, seeming more angry and determined after her first-hand experience with demonic possession.

Review - 'Doctor Who', S09E12 - 'Hell Bent'

So, it turns out that everything we had seen and heard about this episode before it actually became available was a classic case of deliberate misdirection. We were led to believe that this final episode of the ninth season of Doctor Who would be tense and exciting - and, that it would concern itself primarily with the Doctor's revenge against his own people. Because, of course, that was the big revelation that we ended the previous episode with - that the ones who had worked so hard to lure the Doctor into such an elaborate trap were the Doctor's fellow Time Lords.

By the time that the Doctor had been able to escape from that strange prison (which, it turned out, existed within the Confession Dial that had been featured throughout the season), he had clearly seemed to be angry enough to turn on his own people. Even the promotional trailer for this episode had been cut together in a way that made it look as though this was exactly how things were going to play out.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Film Review - 'No One Knows About Persian Cats'

Ashkan and Negar are young musicians, and a part of a thriving underground music scene in modern Tehran. They live in a world were performers require permits to be allowed to actually play their music, and where musicians who attempt to play without a permit risk arrest if they are caught. Each of the two has, in fact, previously spent time in jail for the sake of their music - and, they are each clearly prepared to do so again, if necessary.

The two musicians are, perhaps understandably, eager to leave Iran in order to be able to perform elsewhere – particularly, at an indie-rock festival to be held in London which they are hoping to be able to attend. But first, they need money. They need to arrange for passports and visas. And, perhaps most importantly, they need a band.

They are aided to Nader, a fast-talking (quite literally), and somewhat shady, businessman who seems to know how to manoeuvre around the rigid laws of Iran. Nader is suitably impressed by their music, and so sets about doing all he can to help them – putting them in contact with someone that can arrange fake passports, as well as introducing them to a wide variety of different Iranian bands.

This is a film which is, at heart, really about the music. The search for band-mates is clearly used as a means of weaving in a variety of performances from actual Iranian musicians – and, the film will quite unashamedly bring things to a temporary halt in order to let the performance play out. One thought that occurred to me, early on, was that the film had actually started to feel like a more serious and dramatic take on The Blues Brothers - what with the obvious emphasis on 'putting a band together', and a story that was really only present to serve the music. It's probably a good thing, then, that the music is actually very good.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Review - 'Arrow', S04E08 - 'Legends of Yesterday'

The first part of this year's The Flash and Arrow cross-over event was, admittedly, a bit of a mess. It has some fantastic moments, sure - but, it was saddled with the task of introducing a variety of new plot-elements, while also finding space for a sub-plot to advance the show's own seasonal arc. It was a fairly straightforward example of an episode spreading itself too thin, in the end. But, as we move into the second half of the cross-over, with the latest episode of Arrow, we can do so knowing that all of the necessary set-up is out of the way - which will, hopefully, result in a much more focused episode.

Fortunately, that does seem to be the case, here, as we open with a flash-back to ancient Egypt, for a brief glimpse at the first lives of Hawkman and Hawkgirl - along with Vandal Savage, himself. A plot-line concerning continuously reincarnated lovers, and the immortal man-man who repeatedly murders them, is really just the latest in a long series of blows to the commitment to 'realism' we once had with the first season of Arrow - but, actually taking us all the way back there was still unexpected. At this point, I think that the creators have proven that they're willing to do just about anything.

In the present, 'Team Flash' and 'Team Arrow' are still united in their efforts to protect Kendra and Carter from Vandal Savage - though, for the moment, they are forced to content themselves with hiding out on a farm until they are able to learn something of use. Barry and Oliver had, after all, only barely been able to escape from Savage once he had gotten his hands on the Staff of Horus in their last encounter - and, that had only been because Savage was momentarily distracted when he had sensed Kendra's abilities emerging.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Review - 'The Flash', - S02E08 - 'Legends of Today'

While last year's big cross-over event, essentially, boiled down to nothing more complicated than a pair of loosely connected stories, it had still been fun to see the cast of characters from each show interact with his other. This year's cross-over event, though, seems to have set its sights a little higher - telling a single story which spans both shows while, at the same time, properly setting the scene for Legends of Tomorrow when it begins early next year, by introducing us to its villain.

Here, the focus of the story is Kendra Saunders (Ciara Renee), who finds herself targeted by Vandal Savage (Casper Crump) - an extremely dangerous, and seemingly immortal, figure who has arrived in Central City to kill her. Fortunately, though, Cisco happened to be with her when Savage made his attack - and, Cisco was able to call Barry. Following a brief struggle, Savage makes his escape, and Kendra is safe, for the moment. Barry, somehow (honestly, given the brief encounter, this isn't very clear), comes to the conclusion that Vandal Savage's abilities are mystical in nature and, therefore, well beyond his own experience - leading to the decision to take Kendra to Star City for help. But, of course, Vandal Savage follows.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Film Review - 'These Final Hours'

These Final Hours is a film based on a very simple premise - the question of what we would do with the time we had left if we knew that we were going to die. It's probably not a terribly original premise for a film, sure - but, it's still one that seems worth returning to, on occasion. On top of that, there's also the small matter of the end of the world - as we find ourselves on the verge of an unstoppable extinction-level event - as a massive meteor collides with the Earth somewhere in the North Atlantic.

Picking up moments after the actual impact (and, presumably, after days of escalating fear and panic as the meteor approached), and with approximately twelve hours left until a wave of fire and ash sweeps over Australia, These Final Hours brings the audience into a world were most seem to have already given up entirely. Suicide has become depressingly common - as have acts of violence and depravity. For James (Nathan Phillips), though, the only real concern is making it to a massive party, where he can spend his final hours making sure that he wont actually feel anything when the end finally comes - even if it means leaving his girlfriend, Zoe (Jessica De Gouw), behind.

On his way to the party, though, the limits of James' selfishness are tested when he comes across Rose (Angourie Rice), a young girl recently kidnapped by two men. Realising that even he can't quite bring himself to leave the girl to whatever fate her kidnappers have planned, he sets out to rescue her.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Review - 'Ash vs Evil Dead', S01E05 - 'The Host'

Things looked pretty grim for Ash and his fellow 'ghostbeaters' at the end of the previous episode. Ash was left unconscious after the demon, Eligos, unsuccessfully tried to force its way into his head. The fact that Ash's efforts to fight off Eligos in his own private dream-world had also resulted in him attacking Kelly in the 'real-world' certainly hadn't done much to win the confidence of his allies - with Ash now bound and gagged after being knocked unconscious by Pablo. Kelly, herself, is still possessed by Eligos - with the demon clearly set on causing more mayhem as it plays the innocent victim in order to keep attention focused on Ash. Pablo and his 'Brujo' uncle (Hemky Madera) have no way of knowing where the true danger lays, of course - so, they begin preparations to try to exercise the demon that the mistakenly believe is possessing Ash.

This is the third episode the feature Eligos - and, it is certainly great to have a mini-arc based around a particular threat. It's the sort of focus that this series probably needs, if it's going to be able to maintain any sort of long-term appeal. Also, even if Eligos, itself, remains a largely unknown figure, it is still the most genuine threat we have seen, so far. Deadites might be comical creatures, for the most past, but Eligos has been genuinely intimidating over the past couple of episodes - and, that continues here.

Review - 'Doctor Who', S09E11 - 'Heaven Sent'

There was a moment from an episode of Doctor Who from a few years back which I couldn't help but be reminded of as I watched this episode. It was from, I believe (though, I could be wrong), Matt Smith's first episode as the Doctor - and, it was a moment that was intended to give us a glimpse of how the Doctor observes the world around him. In this moment, we had time seeming to slow down around the Doctor as he observed his surroundings - and, we saw him picking out details that were too small, and too far away, for any ordinary person to have any real hope of noticing them. It was a pretty great moment, over all - one that did a remarkable job of showing just how different the Doctor truly was.

The reason why I bring this up, now, is because this episode does something very similar - just with more of a creative flourish. Much like that moment from Matt Smith's time as the Doctor, this episode gives us a very interesting internal look at how Peter Capaldi's Doctor goes about solving the problems that confront him. Here, we see that, in times of very real danger, the Doctor will actually imagine himself safely back in the TARDIS - his thoughts moving faster than the action taking place around him as he tries to work out some way to save himself. It is another fascinating display of exactly how different this centuries old alien figure truly is - and, the sight of the Doctor safely in the TARDIS and talking to himself (or, an imaginary version of Clara, in this case), while the 'real-world' danger plays out in slow motion on a screen, was a creative way of visualising it.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Film Review - 'Knights of Badassdom'

After being dumped by his girlfriend, part-time mechanic and aspiring musician, Joe (Ryan Kwanton), looks to a bottle of whiskey and an impressive bong for comfort. After a night of drinking and smoking pot with his two closest friends, though, he wakes the next morning to find himself laying in the back of a van and dressed in what appears to be an impressively authentic looking suit of armor. It seems that his friends, Hung (Peter Dinklage) and Eric (Steve Zahn), are heavily involved in LARP (or, live action role-play, for the uninitiated), and have decided that dragging Joe along to a weekend-long LARP event would be the best way to take his mind off of his troubles. Joe is, perhaps understandably, a little irritated with his friends, at first, though gradually allows himself to be talked into taking part.

Later, Joe meets up with the rest of his companions for the weekend: Gwen (Summer Glau), who is only reluctantly taking part in order to look after her cousin; Gunther (Brett Gipson), Gwen's cousin, a player so invested in his imaginary life that he cannot seem to break character even when confronted by an actual monster; and, Lando (Danny Pudi), a player not above breaking the rules of the game if it means he can win.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Film Review - 'Odd Thomas'

Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin - and, yes, 'Odd' actually is his real name. It was a typo on his birth certificate, apparently) was born with the ability to see dead people - an ability which he inherited from his mother. After seeing the toll that this ability took on his mother, first-hand, Odd grew up believing that he needed to be careful about who he could revealed his secret to. Still, Odd was a young man who clearly also wanted to do the right thing - believing that his ability was a gift that he was obligated to use. So, that is exactly what he has done - devoting his time to helping spirits resolve their issues whenever he can, while striving to keep the rest of his life simple and uncomplicated.

Along with the ability to see spirits of the dead, though, Odd is also able to see creatures called Bodachs - demonic entities who are drawn to pain and suffering. With his life-time of experience dealing with supernatural matters, Odd has learnt that the presence of a Bodach tends to indicate some manner of tragedy in the future. So, when he sees a swarm of the creatures, all centred around a single man, Odd is understandably worried that something bad is about to happen. His fears also seem to be confirmed by a dream in which he witnesses people being gunned down by a mysterious figure. So, with the aid of his long-time girlfriend Stormy (Addison Timlin) and local chief of police Wyatt Porter (Willem Defoe), both of whom are aware of Odd's ability, he sets out to investigate - and, hopefully, avert a tragic event.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Film Review - 'Dredd'

Judge Dredd is a character with a long, and often very violent, history. The character's first comic-book appearance was in an issue of the British science-fiction anthology series, 2000 AD, back in 1977 - and, his previous film appearance Sylvester Stallone's fan-displeasing effort, released in 1995 - a film which even someone as unfamiliar with the source material as I am would have to admit failed in a number of ways. If there is any character who deserves another chance in film, it would have to be Judge Dredd. Thankfully, with 2012's Dredd, he received just that.

The film's opening narration tells us everything we need to know about this bleak world. With much of America reduced to a barren wasteland, what's left of human civilisation survives in massive walled-off cities. In these massive cities, desperate citizens struggle to survive while criminal elements constantly threaten to bring the whole system crashing down into a state of anarchy. In this bleak and violent world, the task of enforcing order rests on the shoulders of the Judges - officers who, essentially, have the power to act as judge, jury and, if necessary, executioner. In Mega-City One, the most feared of these is Judge Dredd - a single-minded and terrifyingly efficient champion of the city's harsh take on the concept of 'justice'.

Review - 'Jessica Jones', S01E13 - 'AKA Smile'

Much like the previous episode, this finale for the first season of Jessica Jones was very restrained - lacking in much of the tense excitement that we had from the last episode of Daredevil earlier in the year. Of course, it's more than likely that this was entirely intentional. Jessica Jones had always been a smaller-scale and much more personal story, in general - so, it makes sense that it would end the same way (though, before I get to the review, I should admit that I'm not going to be trying to tip-toe around any major plot-points in the way that I usually do - so, feel free to stop reading, if that's an issue).

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Review - 'Jessica Jones', S01E12 - 'AKA Take a Bloody Number'

For the penultimate episode of this first season of Jessica Jones, this was a rather restrained episode. Luke Cage's return at the end of the previous episode, after an extended absence, wasn't exactly a surprise - but, it was certainly welcome. I've enjoyed the interaction that we have had between the Luke and Jessica, so far - and, Mike Colter's performance has me fairly convinced that his own series is going to be well worth watching when it is finally released next year.

Review - 'Jessica Jones', S01E11 - 'AKA I've Got The Blues'

Throughout the course of the season, it has been fairly clear that the only real reason Jessica has been reluctent to kill Kilgrave was because of Hope. It was the reason why she chose to stay and fight, rather than run, at the end of the first episode - and, it has been her primary motivation ever since. Jessica needed either a confession, or clear proof of Kilgrave's mind-control ability, in order to have Hope released from prison - neither of which she would be able to get if he were dead.

Review - 'Jessica Jones', S01E10 - 'AKA 1,000 Cuts'

Jessica Jones has, so far, been a series of consistently high quality. It has been tense, exciting, occasionally genuinely funny - and, most importantly, it has managed to darker themes and subject matter in a way that has not felt gratuitous or unnecessarily provocative. It hasn't been perfect, of course - there have been some weaker elements over the past nine episodes. But, this tenth episode of Jessica Jones would have to be the lowest point of the series so far, for me.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Review - 'Jessica Jones', S01E09 - 'AKA Sin Bin'

Given everything that we have seen and heard about Kilgrave, and the horrible things he has done to the people unfortunate enough to cross his path, it is probably fair to say that he was never going to be a sympathetic figure, even after the recent revelations about his childhood. But, this episode does continue with the trend begun in the previous one of trying to make him understandable.

Review - 'Jessica Jones', S01E08 - 'AKA WWJD?'

Much like with the previous episode, things took a strange and unexpected turn in the eighth episode of Jessica Jones. While things got increasingly out of hand in the previous episode, though, this time, the stranger turns that the episode takes actually become a significant strength, as things go in an unexpected, though still very dark, new direction. 

Monday, 23 November 2015

Review - 'Jessica Jones', S01E07 - 'AKA Top Shelf Perverts'

The seventh episode of this first season of Jessica Jones was strange. Very strange. That's really the only word I have for it.

After Jessica was forced to confess to her part in the death of Luke Cage's wife, to prevent him from killing an innocent man, Luke seems to have decided to leave town - and, Jessica is even more of a wreck than usual. Feelings of guilt and self-loathing have clearly taken a heavy toll on her, at this point - and, we even join her just as she is being tossed out of a bar.

Review - 'Jessica Jones', S01E06 - 'AKA You're a Winner!'

After a brief misstep a couple of episodes ago, Jessica Jones rallied to offer up the best so far with the previous one. Now, moving into the sixth episode, it seems that things are going to continue at that high level of quality for the time being - with this being, over all, another great episode.

First of all, I have to say that I am, personally, very relieved to know that there was actually a purpose behind the scene of Hope being severely beaten in the previous episode - and, that the show isn't going to waste any time in getting to it. Of course, the revelation that Hope was pregnant with Kilgrave's child, and that she had actually paid another prisoner to beat her in the hope that it would cause a miscarriage, is still a very disturbing one - but, it fits with what we have seen of Hope's story, so far, so it doesn't feel gratuitous, at least.