Friday, 29 January 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S01E02 - 'Pilot, Part 2'

The main issue I had with the first episode of Legends of Tomorrow is that, while it was definitely a fun start to the series, it felt increasingly messy by the end. It just felt as though there was simply too much ground that needed to be covered, and that the creator's of the series had made a serious mistake in trying to cover it all over such a short period of time. The end result was an episode which, while still perfectly entertaining, simply wasn't the resounding success that I was hoping for from this series.

Review - 'Arrow', S04E11 - 'A.W.O.L.'

Episodes that place a greater focus on John Diggle have always been have always been a clear highlight of Arrow, for me. Even if the episodes, themselves, often don't turn out as well as I might have liked (which has, unfortunately, been the case in the past), David Ramsey has always been so great in the role that I am always glad to see him given more to do than simply lending his support to Oliver. Similarly, Andy Diggle (Eugene Byrd) has been a fascinating new element since he was introduced as one of Damian Darhk's loyal soldiers a few episodes ago - and, the scenes between the two brothers have made for some great character drama. With the Diggle brothers finally seeming to have found some common ground only recently, it would seem to make sense to place the focus solely on them, here.

Despite being officially done with the clandestine operations of Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), and ARGUS, Diggle finds himself drawn back into that shady world when a compromised ARGUS agent reaches out Lyla (Audry Marie Anderson) - retired ARGUS agent, and Diggle's current wife. Only moments after making contact, though, the agent is kidnapped - leaving Diggle and Lyla to sort out the mess that they have suddenly found themselves in.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S02E11 - 'The Reverse-Flash Returns'

It is a well-known, and well-documented, trope of comic-book plot-lines that no one is ever truly dead. No matter how certain it seems that a character has met their final end, long-time readers will always have that lingering suspicion that they will return, one day - even if it does not actually happen until many years later. With the previous episode's final moments revealing that Eobard Thawne (who had, of course, served as the primary villain throughout the first season of The Flash) had reappeared, it had seemed as though The Flash was set to follow along in that proud tradition.

Naturally, Barry is understandably disturbed by the idea that Eobard Thawne could have, somehow, survived - but, of course, this isn't actually the same Reverse-Flash that he remembers. Now played by Matt Letscher, who had barely a few minutes of screen-time in the role throughout the first season, this version of Eobard Thawne is one who has not yet stolen the identity of Earth-1's Harrison Wells, and who has not yet travelled back in time to murder Barry's mother. He has not even discovered the true identity of the Flash, yet - and, seems genuinely surprised to have to have stumbled across the moment in history in which the Flash first emerged.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S01E01 - 'Pilot, Part 1'

Seeking to further expand on that unique take on DC's comic-book universe already so well developed by Arrow and The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow is a series that is definitely intent on hitting the ground running - a series that wastes no time in setting up its premise, and in drawing its cast (and the audience) directly into the action. That makes sense, of course - Legends of Tomorrow is, after all, a show that has already benefited from an impressive amount of build-up. It draws its cast, almost exclusively, from those who have already been featured in its parent shows - and, it builds on a conflict that has already served as the focus of the most recent Arrow/The Flash cross-over episodes.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Review - 'Arrow', S04E10 - 'Blood Debts'

Last year, Arrow brought us to its mid-season finale with what had felt like a very conventional plot-twist - that being, that Damian Darhk would launch an attack on Oliver and Felicity only moments after Oliver had proposed to her, and that the attack would leave Felicity seriously wounded. There's absolutely nothing wrong with following along with familiar tropes, of course - it's just that the more cynical members of the audience (like me, I suppose) are going to take some measure of delight in pointing out that they saw it coming.

The final shot of the episode (despite seeming to be clearly sign-posted the very moment that Oliver had got down on one knee) had still been a very effective one, though - with Oliver holding Felicity in his arms, and her own fate seeming uncertain. And, now, as Arrow makes its return, we have a direct continuation of that development. Felicity is in hospital, and Oliver is set on revenge - taking to the streets in a desperate effort to finally track down Damian Darhk.

But, before we get to that, though, the episode opens with a return to the scene which ended the season's first episode, in which we suddenly jumped forward in time six months to find Oliver standing over an unidentified grave. Returning to this moment as the episode opens (now only four months into the future, we are told), it is fairly clear that the show is allowing itself a moment of deliberate misdirection, as it attempts to suggest the possibility that Felicity had passed away - though, in anything, the attempt is simply too blatant to be entirely convincing. The episode, itself, even goes on to quickly refute the possibility, with the clear indication that, while she might still be in need of surgery, Felicity's condition seems to be relatively stable.

Film Review - 'The Lost Bladesman'

The Three Kingdoms period of ancient China was a point in history defined, largely, by violence. It was a period of almost continuous conflict and constantly changing loyalties, as three different kingdoms struggled for dominance. Sure, it may not have been particularly pleasant period of history to have to actually live through - but, as a source for some great stories, you would probably have a hard time finding any point in history with as much potential.

The usual source of inspiration for these stories would have to would have to be the original - Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a fictionalised account of this period of war and strife that has come to be considered one of the classic works of Chinese literature. It is the elements that make up this original work which often serve as the basis for modern interpretations - particularly memorable sequences, for example, or the portrayal of certain characters.

This particular example, The Lost Bladesman, once again seems to draw its inspiration directly from Romance of the Three Kingdoms - telling a story which is, essentially, an interpretation of a single chapter from that sprawling epic (for trivia fans, the chapter in question is one informatively titled 'Guan Yu Slays Six Generals Through Five Passes).

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S02E10 - 'Potential Energy'

The revelation on which the mid-season finale of The Flash had ended, last year, managed to be both mildly disappointing and actually fairly intriguing, at the same time. It was disappointing in that what we learnt of Zoom's actual motivation for hunting down other Speedsters (that he, apparently, feeds on them, like a vampire, in order to grow faster and stronger) seemed fairly mundane - unless, of course, there is more to it than what he was willing to reveal. But, that final moment was also intriguing in that it placed Earth-2's version of Harrison Wells of being forced to make a deal with Zoom in order to save his daughter's life - that deal being, of course, to help make Barry faster and stronger before Zoom comes in for the kill.

What made this little development so interesting, for me, is that we really don't have any way of knowing what Earth-2's Wells is going to do next. He accepted Zoom's offer, of course - but, is he actually going to go through with it? Or, is he going to continue trying to find some way to turn the tables on Zoom? Or, is he going to play them against each other until he sees some way to get what he wants out of the situation? Honestly, there was really no way of knowing - but, it was fascinating to see a completely different brand of moral ambiguity play out with this character, compared to what we had in the previous season.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Film Review - 'Cold Prey 2'

It doesn't take much to kick off a new film franchise - perhaps even less with something as inherently straight-forward as the 'slasher' film. Here, if the first film is entertaining enough, and if the villain is iconic enough, fans will want to see more - or, at least, film-makers will believe that they do. Sure, the longer a franchise runs, the greater the chance that it will eventually collapse under the weight of its own absurdity - but, you have to believe that film-maker's hearts are in the right place, at least in the beginning. They just want to give the fans what they want, after all - and, if they happen to make a lot of money in the process, all the better. The success of Norway's entry to this particular genre, Cold Prey (first released in 2006), seems to have made a sequel almost inevitable. It had all of the hall-marks of a successful new franchise, after all. The mysterious Mountain Man had an iconic enough look to him that he could have been instantly recognisable to fans, and the mountain location could have easily become the next Camp Crystal Lake.

If this were the 80s, and we weren't all so cynical about this sort of thing, we could easily have been up to Cold Prey 8, by now.

It's probably for the best that the film-makers decided not to go in this direction with their sequel, though - because what we ended up getting was a lot more interesting.

Film Review - 'Cold Prey'

You don't really expect much from a 'slasher' film, do you? You know the sort I mean - a group of pretty young people being hunted and killed by some mysterious figure. Sure, there may be some variation. One killer could, for example, be a zombie. Another might hunt his victims through their dreams. Others might just be crazy. Then, of course, there are the wild variations you can find in the actual quality of a specific film - where one example may manage to be perfectly entertaining in spite of its reliance on very familiar tropes, while another never really had a chance.

Regardless, though, if you see enough of them, then there's a fair chance that all of these sorts of films will end up looking the same, after a while.

Cold Prey (released as Fritt Vilt in its native country, which actually translates as 'Open Season') is a Norwegian entry into the 'slasher' genre, first released in 2006. It is, as you can probably expect, one that doesn't try to stray too far from the accepted formula - but, despite this, it still manages to succeed quite admirable at what it sets out to do.

A group of five friends (Jannicke, Eirik, Morten Tobias, Mikal and Ingunn) travel together to the mountains for a day of snowboarding. However, things go badly for the group when Morten has an accident and breaks his leg. With their only means of transport left far away, at the base of the mountain, the group turn instead to what they take to be a nearby mountain resort hotel.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Film Review - 'Troll Hunter'

Three student film-makers (Thomas, Kalle, and Johanna) set out to follow up on rumours of an poacher illegally hunting bears in the Norwegian wilderness - looking to use these rumours as the basis for a documentary film. Interviewing local hunters, they are directed to a stranger that has often been seen in the area since the bear killings started. Naturally, they feel compelled to follow up on this lead. This mysterious man rebuffs their attempts to get him to speak, though, leading the trio to (bravely or stupidly, take your pick) follow him on one of his nightly trips deep into the nearby woods.

While trying to pick up Hans's trail, the three find themselves confronted by the sight of Hans, himself, running toward them through the woods, seemingly pursued by something large, and shouting the single word 'troll' at them. As they make their escape, Thomas is attacked, and bitten, by something large - though, naturally, none of them had been able to get a clear view of what it might have been. Fleeing the woods with Hans, they also find their own car knocked on its side, and with its tires torn off. Once safe, Hans tells them the truth of what they had inadvertently stumbled into.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Film Review - 'Black House'

As a child, Jeon Joon-oh (Hwang Jung-min) was forced to watch his younger brother driven to suicide by the constant bullying he was subjected to. This gives him a understandably profound familiarity with the pain caused by suicide which seems to serve him well when, in his new job as an insurance agent, he finds himself receiving a call from a woman asking about his company's policy on paying out in the event of suicide. Convinced that he is speaking to a woman who may be considering the act, herself, Joon-oh is moved to ignore the standard operating procedures for dealing with this sort of call - instead offering sympathy and support, and sharing details of his personal life, including giving his name when the woman asks.

A few days later, Joon-oh finds himself called to the home of an insurance policy holder, as a result of a complaint filed against a co-worker. Finding himself at a run-down and decrepit house, he is greeted by Park Choong-bae (Kang Shin-il), a grim and intimidating figure. While there, Joon-oh also stumbles upon the body of Choong-bae's young step-son - hanging from a noose in his bed-room, in what appears to be a suicide.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Review - 'Ash vs Evil Dead', S01E10 - 'The Dark One'

Things got pretty tense at the end of the previous episode of Ash vs Evil Dead. The face that had always graced the cover of the Necronomicon had been cut off as part of a ritual that Ruby had claimed would allow the book to finally be destroyed - only for that same face to attach itself to Pablo. Ruby, who had made a good show of being on the side of 'good' up until that moment, had promptly revealed herself to be the original writer of the Necronomicon. And, Ash and Kelly were left stunned - with Ash seemingly powerless against Ruby and the Necronomicon, while Kelly attempted to remove the disturbing 'mask' that had attached itself to Pablo. Meanwhile, Heather (the only one of the three hikers to have survived to this point) is left with little option other than panic.

With such a great cliff-hanger as the lead-in to this final episode of the season, I have to that I was a little worried that the series would fumble, at the end - and, that it simply wouldn't be able to maintain that same exciting pace. Thankfully, though, that didn't actually happen - but, before I get into any of that, I should take a moment to warn you that I do intend on discussing the episode's various plot-points in depth. So, consider yourself warned.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Film Review - 'Superman vs The Elite'

Superman vs The Elite may not be the most imaginative title, admittedly, but it certainly does get the point across. It's a title that brings to mind the classic sort of super-powered stand-off. An epic battle between hero and villains - filled with impressive action, and all the rampant destruction you could possibly want. To an extent, that is exactly what the film is - though, it is also a film that strives to be a little more. Based on the comic story, What's So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way?, it is a film that sees Superman forced to confront a foe that isn't just a threat to himself, physically, but a threat to his very ideology, and everything that he has ever stood for.

The Elite are a team of super-heroes newly arrived in Metropolis, and eager to meet the Man of Steel. They come to the aid of the Man of Steel during a particularly tough battle - earning his respect in the process. And, for a while, everything is amiable - with Superman willing to take this young team under his wing, and The Elite eager to learn. But, things begin to sour when Superman sees their methods first-hand. Unlike Superman, who has always held himself to a strict code, The Elite are willing to torture and kill to achieve their goals. Their leader is Manchester Black - a man who combines the look and the attitude of a 70s punk rocker with an impressive array of psychic and telekinetic powers (and, a passable British accent). He is a man who sees the optimism that Superman has always tried to embody as quaint and naive. While Superman strives to be an ideal for humanity to strive toward, Black believes that the human race needs a threat looming over them, to keep them in line - and, Manchester Black intends to be that threat.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Film Review - 'Accident'

Ho Kwok-fai (Louis Koo), is an assassin with a very distinct style. Known to his partners-in-crime as 'Brain, his preferred method of fulfilling his contracts is to spend days, if not weeks, studying his target and exploring ways to manufacture an 'accidental' death, so that it can never be traced back to him. Working with a team of carefully chosen accomplices, Brain has developed a reputation, in certain circles, for his skill at arranging these untraceable assassinations - and, his services are often sought out, despite the high cost. His teams latest target, an infamous crime-boss, is successfully taken out in the film's opening moments, when a sequence of seemingly unrelated and entirely random events place him beneath a loose pane of glass just in time for it to be knocked loose - with predictable results.

Brain is a cold and clinical sort, as you might expect - a man whose perfectionism, and attention to detail, will not allow his team to get away even with something as seemingly innocuous as a carelessly discarded cigarette butt. But, he also seems to be a man prone to suspicion, if not outright distrust - even when it comes to his own team. He is the sort of man, for example, who is not above planting bugs in his own team's meeting place, and listening in on their conversations before he arrives.

Review - 'Ash vs Evil Dead', S01E09 - 'Bound in the Flesh'

The previous episode of Ash vs Evil Dead finally gave a sense of clear focus to a season which, while entertaining, had tended more toward meandering, so far. Ash's arrival at the secluded cabin where all of his troubles began was clearly the logical end-point for this first season - and, the sudden arrival of Ash's evil clone (grown out of the hand that he was forced to cut off way back in Evil Dead 2), effectively raised the stakes as we moved toward the end of the season.

But, despite all of this, the one question that had still remained frustratingly unanswered was exactly what role Ruby Knowby (Lucy Lawless) was going to play in the finale. It has been clear from the beginning of the season that she was going to be important - but, the lack of focus she had received has made it very difficult to get any sort of a handle on her (she wasn't even in the previous episode). I'm reluctant to go as far as stating that the writers have mishandled the character in any way (since the air of mystery around her, and her role, was obviously intentional) - but, the lack of screen time has made it difficult for her to make the impression that she was intended to make.