Monday, 29 February 2016

Film Review - 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - Sword of Destiny'

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon proved to be such a big hit, when it was released about sixteen years ago, that it was probably something of a surprise to a lot of people, at the time, that plans for a sequel weren't put into motion almost immediately. It's not like there wasn't plenty of potential for a sequel, either - with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon being an adaptation of one of a series of five popular Chinese novels.

The explanation for the lack of a sequel is fairly straight-forward, though. Despite the success that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon enjoyed in the West, where it was something new and different, it really wasn't treated as anything special in its native country. In China, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon amounted to little more than just another wuxia/martial arts film (of which there have always been plenty) - and, the overall slow pace of the film, along with a shortage of action when compared to similar films, seemed to have further hindered its efforts to stand out. On top of that, there was also the issue of the performer's accents (an issue that Westerns audiences wouldn't even have noticed if it wasn't pointed out to them) - with much of the cast required to perform in a language that they simply weren't familiar with and the results, naturally, being mixed.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S01E06 - 'Star City 2046'

With the previous episode ending with the Wave-rider forced to crash-land in Star City in the year 2046, the stage had seemed to be set for another very entertaining episode. Not only that but, by finally moving into the future, Legends of Tomorrow had finally shown some indication that it was ready to start making the most of its basic premise. The setting, itself, has also seemed to have a great deal of potential - with the team being confronted by a Green Arrow, who clearly wasn't Oliver Queen, on streets that looked to be overrun with crime.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Review - 'Arrow', S04E15 - 'Taken'

As someone who never did get around to watching the Vixen animated series that was released online last year, I can't really say that I felt the sense of anticipation about her live-action debut that the creator's probably wanted me to feel. But, even still, I do have to admit that the idea of this take on the DC universe being broadened to include more magic does hold a certain appeal, to me - and, that is, of course, exactly what happened, here.

With Damian Darhk recently learning of the existence of Oliver's son, William (Jack Moore), he is obviously eager to make the most of the opportunity that this new knowledge provides. The previous episode ended with the reveal that Darhk had already put his plans into effect - snatching up willing under the pretence of being a friend of his mother's, and keeping the boy securely tucked away with his own family. Here, Darhk seems to take his usual manic glee in revealing all of this to Oliver - confronting Oliver and Felicity, and demanding that Oliver end his mayoral campaign in exchange for his son.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S02E15 - 'King Shark'

Judging this episode purely by the available preview information, I have to admit that I was actually a little worried, coming in. The idea of an episode based around a character like 'King Shark', allowing him to return to the spot-light after his too brief cameo appearance earlier in the season, was certainly appealing - but, it seemed oddly placed coming so soon after the previous two episodes. With Zoom once more (finally) brought properly back into focus, it had seemed like a shame to suddenly move away from that and toward a stand-alone episode - regardless of how much fun that stand-alone episode might prove to be.

Thankfully, having actually seen the episode now, I can admit that my initial impression of this episode was incorrect. The presence of King Shark did bring a necessary lightness of tone to the episode, sure. After all, much like with Gorilla Grodd, this entirely CGI creation is another of those classic 'absurd' comic-book moments that the show has done so well. As intimidating as he proved to be, King Shark is still, by his very nature, a character that appeals primarily to that simple love of comic-book silliness that so many fans of The Flash share (again, much like Gorilla Grodd). It's definitely to the creator's credit that they didn't waste any time trying to make him appear as anything else, either. But, King Shark is also fair from all that this episode is about.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S01E05 - 'Fail-Safe'

Things took a surprisingly dark turn in this episode of Legends of Tomorrow - or, perhaps, it wasn't so surprising, given the location for so much of the action. With half of the team captured, and held in a notoriously harsh Soviet gulag at the height of the Cold War, the remaining 'Legends' are forced to mount a desperate rescue attempt before Professor Stein is force to reveal the secrets of creating a Soviet Firestorm.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Review - 'Arrow', S04E14 - 'Code of Silence'

A few weeks ago, we had an episode that ended with Oliver Queen and Damian Darhk coming to something of a temporary agreement. After Oliver had saved his family from Lonnie Machin, Darhk had offered to give Oliver a few weeks of freedom to spend with his own family. It had seemed like a somewhat contrived moment, to be honest - like, for example, that it was a development more likely to be motivated by Neal McDonough simple being unavailable for a few weeks of filming. But, whatever the reasoning behind it, this episode makes it clear that Oliver's grace period is over as Damian Darhk makes his presence felt, once more.

While Damian Darhk may be back in action, though, it seems that, at least for now, he will be playing a supporting role to his wife, Ruvé Adams (Janet Kidder). After announcing her intention to run against Oliver Queen for the role of mayor of Star City, it was Ruvé who took the spot-light for much of this episode - with her managing to display some sense of the same calm menace that Darhk so often has throughout the season.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S02E14 - 'Escape From Earth-2'

The previous episode of The Flash ended things on a pretty great cliff-hanger. After doing a great job of introducing the audience to Earth-2, the episode's final moments shows us Barry as a prisoner of Zoom - finally able to track down Wells's daughter, Jesse, but entirely powerless to save either her, or himself. It also gave us a new mystery, in the form of third prisoner - a man wearing an iron mask.

Now, with Barry held prisoner by Zoom, Cisco and Harrison are forced to come up with a new plan - but, of course, they immediately encounter new difficulties of their own. With Zoom learning that Harrison Wells has betrayed him, and that he has returned to Earth-2, Zoom wastes no time in launching a city-wide campaign to hunt them down. He was even willing to go as far as trying to intimidate the citizens of Earth-2's Central City into helping him - in a manner which was, admittedly, a little goofy. But, despite the fact that Zoom's methods seemed to boil down to handing out flyers demanding that Wells be turned over, the thought that the people of the city might be so scared of Zoom that they would willingly turn on Cisco and Wells had some definite dramatic potential.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S01E04 - 'White Knights'

So far, it feels as though Legends of Tomorrow has been playing it relatively safe with its time travel adventures. For the first three episodes, the cast found themselves temporarily stranded in the 1970s - and, now, for the show's fourth episode, they move barely ten years into the future, to find themselves in the 1980s. It might feel like a bit of a shame that a series with the potential of Legends of Tomorrow would limit itself to such an extent - though, it is also important to remember that this is only the fourth episode. There is, obviously, still plenty of room for further exploration. And, besides, the idea of someone like Vandal Savage being active during the height of the Cold War has a great deal of potential, in itself.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Review - 'Arrow', S04E13 - 'Sins of the Father'

As the previous episode of Arrow came to a close, we were left with the sight of Thea in hospital, her refusal to give in to the demands of her Lazarus Pit induced blood-lust slowly killing her (for reasons that don't really make a lot of sense, admittedly - but, it's magic, so clearly we just need to go with it). Oliver seems to be entirely out of ideas with regard to how to save his sister - at least, until Nyssa al Ghul (Katrina Law) arrives with a possible cure. But, of course, Nyssa also came with an ultimatum for Oliver - that she would only hand to cure over after Oliver finally killed Malcolm Merlyn.

So, now, Oliver finds himself forced to make a very difficult decision, as this episode opens. He is not willing to let his sister, die, obviously - but, he is also reluctant to kill Merlyn. Not only is there Oliver's personal rule against killing to consider, but there is also the simple fact that he is Thea's father - and, that Oliver still hopes that the two of them might be able to build some sort of healthy relationship.

Believing that Nyssa's only real interest is in taking her father's place as the leader of the League of Assassins, and that Malcolm would place more value in his daughter's safety than in power, Oliver comes up with a desperate plan to arrange a third option - convincing Malcolm to abandon the League of Assassins in exchange of Nyssa's cure. Each seems open to the possibility - and, for a brief moment, Oliver believes that he might be able to bring about the best possibly solution for everyone involved.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S02E13 - 'Welcome to Earth-2'

It would probably be fair to say that, since the moment when the audience was giving its first look at Earth-2 earlier in the season, audience anticipation for the inevitable episode to be set entirely within this strange new would would have been fairly high. Because, of course it was going to happen eventually. The retro-futuristic style of Earth-2 was, simply, too exciting a prospect not to be explored in more detail - and, then, there's the simple joy of having more fun with Earth-2 doubles of the established cast of characters.

The previous episode's final reveal that we would, most definitely, be heading to Earth-2, here, definitely raised my expectations for this episode, considerably - perhaps even unfairly so, to an extent. Though, fortunately, the second season's thirteenth episode also proved to be one of the true high-lights of the show, so far.

Beginning with that first trip through the last remaining portal between the two Earths (Barry having done a quick and thorough job of closing the rest as the episode opened), the episode wasted no time in giving the audience what the show's creators must have known we wanted. Accompanied by Barry and Cisco, Earth-2's Harrison Wells is finally able to return home to resume his desperate mission to rescue his daughter. As the trio arrive, though (and, after a few moments of 'sight-seeing' for Barry and Cisco), the true gravity of their situation reveals itself. It seems that, in the time that Wells has been gone, Zoom's activities have become increasingly violent - resulting in a strictly imposed, city-wide, curfew as the harried Central City police desperately try to protect the innocent citizens.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Five Great Short Science Fiction Films Available Online

Science fiction can be many things. It can be serious or absurd. It can be grim and violent or bright and idealistic. A science fiction story can be funny, or dramatic, or even terrifying. In the end, the only thing that brings a particular story under the broad category of 'science fiction' amounts to little more than its basis on some manner of hypothetical vision of the future - or, of some hypothetical science and technology.

But, the sheer number of different forms that such a story could take is almost bewildering, if you take a step back and give it some serious thought. Even apart from the tone of an individual story, there are so many possible sub-genres that fall under this single broad category that you can get lost trying to sort them out. Or, alternatively, you could simply not worry about any of that and just enjoy the stories that are being told. That works, too.

Listed after the break are just five examples of the forms that these stories could take. Five short films which each fall under that single broad category, but which all manage to be very different from each other.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Five Great Short Fantasy Films Available Online

Fantasy is a genre that deals, exclusively, with the impossible. That's what truly separates it from its close cousin, Science Fiction, in the end. If a story possesses an element of the impossible, something which simply does not exist in the real world and which the audience cannot imagine ever actually existing, then it falls under the broad umbrella of 'fantasy' (if it's something that you could imagine, hypothetically, existing then it's 'science fiction').

And, it's a very broad umbrella, too. There's room under there for stories about magic and the supernatural, folklore and ancient mythology, or even entirely unique created worlds. Whatever form it takes, the goal of 'fantasy' is always the same - to take something impossible, turn it into something that the audience can accept, then tell a story within that context.

Listed after the break are five short films which, I believe, manage to do just that - each film taking something impossible and using it as the basis for a highly entertaining story. The fact that the films below also do a good job of showing something of the broad variety of different forms that Fantasy can take is, really, just a bonus.

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S01E03 - 'Blood Ties'

After the previous two episodes went into such great detail in showing us this disparate team coming together and dedicating themselves to the task of dealing with Vandal Savage, it was actually a bit of a shame to see the 'Legends' break apart so quickly, here, as so many of them went off on their own little adventures. Though, with this being only the third episode of the season, it was also probably inevitable - it is, after all, much too soon for this group of character to become the well-oiled machine that they will, no doubt, need to be to truly defeat someone like Vandal Savage. Unfortunately, while having so many members of the team go off to do their own thing probably felt inevitable, the end result is an episode which, much like the first, simply felt a little messy.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Review - 'Arrow', S04E12 - 'Unchained'

Over the past four seasons, Arrow has done an impressive job of building up a cast of fascinating supporting characters. Sure, many of them are drawn directly from the pages of the comics - but, it's to the show's credit that they have all been brought to life so convincingly, here. This episode does a particularly good job of show-casing just how important the supporting cast of Arrow has become to the show's success.

Colton Haynes' return as Roy Harper was, of course, treated as the main draw. He is not the only long absent character to suddenly reappear, though - with Nyssa al Ghul (Katrina Law) making an appearance. But, the episode also finds time to work in a surprise cameo appearance for Tatsu Yamashiro (Rila Fukushima), perhaps better known to comic-book fans as 'Katana'. And, also, there is the even more surprising reappearance of Shado (Celina Jade), a character who we saw die during the second season. On top of that, even characters who have not been absent for quite as long are given some renewed attention - with both Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), and Curtis Holt (Echo Kellum) reappearing.

With so much ground to cover, it would be easy to imagine this episode collapsing under its own weight (as some previous, and similarly plot-heavy, episodes of both Arrow and The Flash have, in the past). Somehow, though, the writer's of this episode were able to find a way to juggle each of it's various plot-threads in a way that actually worked - giving each equal focus and development without undermining any of the others.

Film Review - 'Superman/Batman: Apocalypse'

While most of DCs line of animated films have been intended as stand-alone adaptations of various comic stories, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is actually a direct sequel - with the film picking up shortly after the events of Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. Lex Luther, former President of the United States of America, is in the process of being impeached, and the kryptonite meteor that had threatened to wipe out all life on the planet has been destroyed. As the film opens, though, chunks of that same meteor are still making their way to Earth - crash-landing all over the planet.

One particularly large chunk of meteor even appears over Gotham City, in the film's opening moments - though, of course, this one isn't quite what it seems. Buried within this large chunk of pure kryptonite, it turns out, is a single ship containing a single passenger in the form of a mysterious young woman. Lost and confused, and displaying an array of very familiar powers, this young woman is left to stumble through the streets of Gotham City - attracting attention from Gotham City's police, then from Batman, himself. It is not until Superman is finally called in, though, that the young woman's identity is revealed (though, of course, it should be fairly obvious to comic-book fans). She is Kara Zor-El - not only a fellow Kryptonite sent away from her doomed planet, but also the Man of Steel's biological cousin.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S02E12 - 'Fast Lane'

With shows like The Flash, which have so many episodes to fill over a single season, it is almost inevitably that you end up with some that feel very transitional, in nature - as in, episodes which seem to exist more to set the scene for future events, rather than tell a story of their own. Unfortunately, to a large extent, that seems to be exactly the case with this twelfth episode of the show's second season.

Once more returning to the familiar 'meta-human of the week formula', this episodes gives us Tar Pit (Marco Grazzini) - a petty criminal hurled into a pit of boiling tar at the precise moment of the particle accelerator explosion two years ago. There are elements of a fascinating character here, of course. The idea that he had been, essentially, buried alive for the past two years before finally being set free was certainly a disturbing enough fate to explain his deranged desire for revenge. Also, his new-found abilities are put to good use, at various points throughout the episode - with his ability to kill by drowning his victims in boiling tar, much as he was before being transformed, making him one of the more disturbing meta-humans to appear on The Flash.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Film Review - 'Superman/Batman: Public Enemies'

The America of the DC Universe has entered a period of bleak recession, as the film begins. People are struggling just to get by, unemployed rates are climbing, and homelessness is becoming an ever more prevalent problem. Desperate times call for desperate measures, it seems - and, there is not likely to be a measure more desperate for the American people than willingly electing Lex Luthor as president.

Seemingly finally able to put his resources and his intellect to good use, Lex is able to do what must have seemed impossible to anyone else - leading the county out of its economic depression, lowering crime, and even working toward ending wars around the world. His time in the White House has been so successful that even superheroes who know, firsthand, what Lex Luthor is really like have started to come around. They have convinced themselves that the massive ego boost he is getting from being seen as a legitimately effective president may be enough to curtail is more overtly villainous tendencies, and that his time in office might actually benefit the country. Deciding that his vision for the country is worth supporting, some have even willingly joined Lex Luthor's personal team of government-employed superheroes - despite what they may still think of the man, himself.