Friday, 29 April 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S01E13 - 'Leviathan'

The last episode of Legends of Tomorrow added an unexpected complication that this team of time-travelling super-heroes couldn't possibly have expected, in the form of a strict dead-line by which to complete their mission. By temporarily removing their own various loved ones from the time-line, in order to protect them from the Time Council, Rip and his team of 'legends' managed to create a situation within which these same loved ones may forget them, entirely, once the time-line resets itself.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Review - 'Containment', Episode 2 - 'I To Die, You To Live'

The previous episode of Containment had set the scene for a series that seemed to have a fair amount of potential, but which also had some issues that it needed to resolve. While the show's central 'viral outbreak' premise was instantly compelling and, judging by what we saw in the first episode, very well-realised, it was somewhat disappointing to have to come to the conclusion that the same just couldn't be said about some of the characters that we met. Unfortunately, by the end of the second episode, I found that I was left to draw much the same conclusion.

Review - 'Containment', Episode 1 - 'Pilot'

Based on the Belgian series, Cordon, the clear goal of Containment, from its opening moments, is clearly to present as grounded and as realistic a take on what a viral out-break in a major American city might look like as possible. The city chosen as the location for such a grim story is Atlanta, home of the CDC – a location which, perhaps, simply felt thematically appropriate.

Review - 'Arrow', S04E19 - 'Canary Cry'

With the way in which the previous episode of Arrow ended, there really wasn't any mystery concerning what plot-thread this latest episode would be devoted to exploring. The season long question concerning exactly who it was in that graved had finally been answered, it seems – and, the answer was Laurel Lance. Of course, whether you actually felt any of the emotion that this episode clearly intended on making you feel really came down to how you felt about this character over the past few seasons.

For my part, at least, I have always appreciated the effort that the series made to actually show us something of Laurel's gradual transition from lawyer to costumed vigilante. I had appreciated the fact that we had been shown something of her struggles, and early failures – and, especially, the way in which she had actually had to earn her place on the team. It wasn't perfect, of course – but, it was definitely handled better than the few months of off-camera training we had with Thea.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S02E19 - 'Back to Normal'

Given how frustrated I had been by the way in which the previous episode of The Flash had ended, it would probably be fair to say that my expectations for this episode weren't quite as high as they could have been. It wasn't the idea of Barry giving up his powers that bothered me, of course (since, that sort of thing can often be a source of some great drama, where super-heroes are concerned) – but, instead, it was with the way in which it happened.

The way in which that entire ending sequence had been staged had seemed, to me, to be incredibly problematic. First, we had the moment in which Zoom clearly let Wally West go – willingly relinquishing the only real bargaining chip that he had. Then, we had the moment in which Barry Allen decides to allow Zoom to take his speed, anyway – seemingly, for no other reason than that he had already given his word and so, naturally, couldn't back out of the deal. Rather than being tense and dramatic, and a display of Barry Allen's selfless nobility, this entire sequence of events had simply made him look foolish.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Film Review - 'Shaolin'

Without any sort of central government to establish order, China is at the mercy of warlords all eager to carve out their own personal kingdoms. This is what is known as the 'Warlord Era' in Chinese history - a period running from about 1916 to 1928, where opposing military forces threatened to tear the country apart. And, it is also were we find ourselves in the martial arts film, Shaolin.

In the midst of all of this chaos, the monks of the Shaolin Temple try to get by as best they can. Devoting themselves to simple lives of reflection and training, they also do what they can to aid the people living in the area around their Temple. The conflict that they had hoped to avoid is brought right to their doorstep, though, when Huo Long flees to the Temple seeking refuge in the aftermath of a battle in which his own forces were defeated. He is pursued by a rival, Hou Jie (Andy Lau) - a somewhat ruthless individual who refuses to be swayed by the monks' pleas for mercy, and who ultimately kills his rival on the Temple grounds.

Film Review - 'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou'

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a difficult film to get a proper handle on - which, naturally enough, makes it difficult to know where to begin when it comes to writing a review.

Obviously, it's a strange film - but, it is also one that seems almost wilfully so. It is the sort of film that clearly seems to revel in its own absurdities, and is content to challenge the audience to either accept them, or move on to something else. At the same time, though, so much of what makes this film so odd can feel somewhat unnecessary - or, even forced. It is as though the desire to make the film 'quirky' might have gone to director Wes Anderson's head.

It is a comedy, nominally - but, it is one that is rarely 'laugh out loud' funny. In general, the film clearly prefers to go for a quieter, and more subtle, form of humour that is only really ever likely to raise the occasional chuckle. There are elements of more serious character driven drama, too - but, much like the film itself, the character's are often wilfully quirky and difficult to get a proper handle on.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S01E12 - 'Last Refuge'

With the previous episode of Legends of Tomorrow, we saw the 'legends' momentarily driven into hiding by a team of bounty hunters sent after them by the Time Masters. While the odd little 'Wild West' adventure that resulted from this had been genuinely entertaining, it had ultimately been something of a shame to see the team of time travelling bounty hunters, themselves, turn out to be so underwhelming when they finally made their appearance at the end of the episode. In the end, it had simply been a disappointing ending to an otherwise pretty great episode – but, despite this, the episode did still manage to end with the introduction of an intriguing new threat who would, hopefully, provide a more formidable challenge.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S02E18 - 'Versus Zoom'

Over the course of the second season of The Flash, the series has managed to do an impressive job of establishing Zoom as a legitimately intimidating threat. Though, to be fair, the way in which they did that was to, essentially, make him a fairly straightforward 'horror' villain. With a combination of intimidating voice (provided by Tony Todd), and imposing appearance (thanks to the show's costume designers), it hasn't even mattered that his motivation had been kept vague until only recently – just having him on-screen was enough. But, of course, with recent developments finally revealing exactly who it is beneath that intimidating mask, the most important question, now, is whether Zoom/Hunter Zolomon is going to be as effective and entertaining a villain as 'Zoom' had been.

This episode does get off to fairly impressive start in that regard, though, with a flash-back to Hunter Zolomon's own childhood on Earth-2. Here, we had what seems like the perfect example of a classic 'villain' origin story – an abusive father who forced the young Hunter to watch while he murdered Hunter's mother. It would have to be one of the most disturbing scenes that has ever been shown on The Flash – something that might still be fairly tame by the standards of other shows, perhaps, but which still formed a fairly stark contrast to the usually light tone of The Flash. It was also interesting to have this opening sequence go out of its way to draw a parallel between Barry Allen and Hunter Zolomon – with attention once more turning toward Barry's own tragic childhood.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S01E11 - 'The Magnificent Eight'

It has been a disappointingly common trend, throughout this first season of Legends of Tomorrow, that the series has often been at its most entertaining whenever it has distanced itself from the season's primary plot-line. That shouldn't really be the case, of course – but, with Vandal Savage being so poorly utilised by the series, it often feels that way. With this episode, we have yet another example of this lingering issue – another very entertaining episode which has absolutely nothing do with the team's efforts to stop Vandal Savage.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Film Review - 'The Sorcerer and the White Snake'

The idea of a martial-arts star of Jet Li's calibre starring in a film that sees in doing battle with giant demon-snakes is the sort of thing that strikes me as instantly appealing. Honestly, it's the sort of thing that I didn't even know I wanted to see until the moment I learnt that seeing it was actually possible. It is exactly the sort of over-the-top visual spectacle that has always appealed to that part of me that stubbornly refuses to 'grow up' - and, it's the sort of thing that could make even the most mediocre film at least somewhat entertaining, for me. Though, of course, I would also want any film that actually offered up this sort of unique viewing experience to, also, actually be 'good'.

Well, The Sorcerer and the White Snake is the film in question, here - a film which promises to offer up exactly this sort of spectacle. Though, of course, it would hardly be fair to go in assuming that this is all that the film has to offer. Placing itself firmly in the realm of Chinese legend, The Sorcerer and the White Snake introduces us to a world where demons and humans exist in parallel to each other - aware of each other, but kept strictly separate. Some of these supernatural creatures are dangerous, and outright malevolent, but many others are capable of compassion (one thing to keep in mind is that 'demon' is just the term used for translation - these are creatures of Chinese folk-lore, who don't have much in common with the classic, Western, idea of 'demons') - but, regardless, the common wisdom seems to be that allowing these two, very different, worlds to mingle never ends well.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Film Review - 'Valhalla Rising'

When you imagine a film about Vikings, especially one with a title like Valhalla Rising, it would probably seem fair to expect some sort of violent action film.Well, it's only fair to point out, upfront, that this really isn't that sort of film (the action part, at least. Valhalla Rising is, on occasion, very violent). It's bleak and very sombre, rather than tense and exciting - and, it's pacing may test the patience of some of its audience. But, it could also be a fascinating experience, if you're willing to give it a chance.

One other thing that's probably worth pointing out, though, is that, while the film might have been filmed in Scotland with a cast that includes many Scottish actors, the setting is clearly intended to be pre-Christian Denmark. It is a film about Vikings, after all.

But, anyway, on to the film, itself.

A mysterious mute warrior (Mads Mikkelsen), simply named 'One Eye' for reasons that should be fairly obvious, is kept as a prisoner. His only purpose, as far as his captors are concerned, is to fight for their entertainment - challenging other prisoners while his captors place bets on the results.

Film Review - 'Gamer'

In the near future, eccentric genius, Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall), invents a self-replicating nano-technology which, when implanted in a human brain, replaces brain cells and allows a third party to take direct control of the affected person's motor functions. A person under the influence of this technology is always entirely aware of what is happening - but, when someone else is in control, they are essentially powerless.

Now, you might be thinking that technology like this would raise all sorts of issues if it ever existed in the real world. And, you would probably be right. But, this isn't the real world - so, instead of the ethical debates you might expect, this new technology becomes the basis for a pair of massively popular video games.

The first is 'Society' - where players can pay for the opportunity to take direct control of real 'actors', who are payed for their voluntary participation. Think of it like Second Life - only, somehow, even more prone to outright creepiness. We're talking 'a man takes control of a woman and directs her toward a known rapist, so that he can watch the results in first-person' level of creepy, here. Once the 'actors' sign up to become an avatar in 'Society', there don't seem to be many rules in place to protect them from the players. Though, on the plus side, 'actors' are very well payed for their willing participation.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Film Review - 'John Wick'

Film plots that boil down to little more than elaborate revenge fantasies are so common that they may as well be their own genre. Families could be killed. Daughters could be kidnapped. There's all sorts of things that could drive a person already suitably unhinged into setting off on a violent, revenge-fuelled, murder-spree. Though, I have to admit, I don't think I've ever seen one inspired by the death of a dog, before. But, that's exactly the set-up that we are given in John Wick.

John Wick is a dangerous man. The sort of man that even the most violent criminals fear - assuming that they have the common sense to be afraid, of course. At one point, John Wick was the most dangerous hit-man in the business. But, then, he decided that he wanted to quit. John Wick had fallen in love, it seems - and, for the past few years, he has been retired, happily married, and content with the life that he had built for himself.

But, of course, this wasn't going to last. As the film opens, we are treated to a montage of a woman slowly being killed by cancer - and, of a husband powerless to do anything to stop it. It's a surprisingly effective opening, even if it does amount to little more than a quick summery only meant to set the scene for the action to follow. It creates a strong enough sense of emotional connection between the audience and John Wick that, by the time he finds himself in possession of an adorable puppy, the film-makers had done a good enough job setting it all up that it would quickly become so important to him.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S01E10 - 'Progeny'

The first season of Legends of Tomorrow has struggled with one fairly significant problem since it began earlier this year. While individual episodes have, more often than not, proved to be very entertaining, the overarching plot-line that is supposed to be driving the season forward has, just as often, proved to be one of its weaker elements. Rip Hunter's efforts to stop Vandal Savage's rise to power in the future was, initially, legitimately compelling – but, in time, the team's efforts to stop this immortal future tyrant have become increasingly messy and unfocused. Even worse, though, is the fact that, despite frequent appearances, Vandal Savage still hasn't been allowed to appear as the legitimately dangerous threat that he is supposed to be.

Unfortunately, this episode ultimately proved to be the perfect example of this lingering issue. It is an episode which, when taken on its own, offered up some very entertaining moments, all built around a genuinely compelling central dilemma. Whenever I tried to take a step back to consider how this episode fit into the season-long plot, though, it all began to feel a little messy.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Review - 'Arrow', S04E18 - 'Eleven-Fifty-Nine'

One of the more interesting sub-plots that has received some focus throughout the fourth season of Arrow has concerned Diggle's brother, Andy (Eugene Byrd), and his gradual process of redemption as he reconnects with his family. It's a plot thread that has only received a small amount of focus, overall – but, it has still offered a very interesting character-arc for both brothers, as they work toward re-establishing their brotherly bond.

The issue of exactly where Andy Diggle's loyalties may truly lay has brought back into focus at the end of the previous episode, when we were confronted with the revelation that Andy might still be working for Damian Darhk, after all. It was a development which, I admit, I had somewhat mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it promised interesting new elements of dramatic tension – but, on the other, it seemed to suggest that some fairly compelling character development was about to be tossed aside in favour of this latest 'shock' development.

Interesting, though, this episode almost immediately followed up on the previous one's reveal that Andy had been in contact with Malcolm Merlyn by having him instantly reveal the entire plan to his brother. So, using the information provided by Andy, 'Team Arrow' (still minus Felicity) are able to work to stop Merlyn's plan to break Damian Darhk out of prison. But, complications immediately present themselves when Andy's information proves to be little more than a distraction – ensuring that most of the team are split when Merlyn makes another of his (absurdly easy) sudden appearances in the team's base, set on stealing the idol that is the source of Damian Darhk's supernatural powers.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Five Great Short Comedy Films Available Online

Comedy is hard. Sure, just about anyone is capable of being spontaneously funny in the right circumstances - but, deliberately setting out to make the greatest number of people possibly laugh would have to be a stressful prospect. And, the fear of failure would have to be daunting. Even the most mediocre comedies you can imagine are likely to be the result of a great deal of time and effort - with jokes being written and rewritten, continuously, in a desperate effort to elicit the greatest number of laughs possible.

The five short films listed below are films which are successful, though - each being genuinely hilarious, in their own unique way. Whether it's the elements of parody to be found in Kung Fury and Future Hero, the character driven comedy of The Duel at Blood Creek, the entertaining meta-fiction of The Gunfighter, or the surreal absurdity of At Your Convenience, each clearly seems to succeed at that elusive goal of eliciting laughs.

Of course, that being said, it's probably worth mentioning that comedy is also highly subjective. So, the fact that I, personally, found each of the films below to be hilarious probably wont mean much to you if you happen to disagree.

Anyway, let's get to it....

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Review - '11.22.63', Episode 8 - 'The Day in Question'

The penultimate episode of 11.22.63 had ended on a suitably tense moment. Lee Harvey Oswald was in position, ready to go down in history as the man who assassinated United States President John F. Kennedy. Jake and Sadie found themselves in a desperate race against time to reach the Texas Book Depository – struggling against Time's latest efforts to push back against them (which, admittedly, hadn't really resulted in anything more significant than their car's engine failing to start). The pieces had seemed to be in place for this final episode to be a tense and exciting resolution. As we move into this final episode, though, it all takes an unexpected turn (to anyone who hasn't read the story on which this series is based, at least – from what I understand, everything that happens in this last episode is actually fairly faithful to the novel).

With Jake and Sadie continue their desperate race to the Texas Book Depository, things take a slightly stranger turn as it seems that Time has renewed its efforts to stop them. A road which Jake had good reason, based on his own research, to believe would be open is suddenly closed off – leaving them closed in, and forced to abandon their stolen car. Then, Bonnie Ray Williams (Grantham Coleman), the witness who originally testified against Lee Harvey Oswald, decides to lock up the Book Depository and leave, instead. Strangest of all, though, are the brief glimpses that Jake and Sadie have of the various people who have died throughout Jake's mission – whose presence, clearly, is intended to distract them.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Five Great Dramatic Short Films Available Online

In the context of the ways in which we categorise our own entertainment, 'drama' is a term that can feel almost uselessly vague. After all, dramatic moments can crop up in any story - no matter what genre it defines itself as. A comedy can still take time for a heartfelt conversation between two characters. A science fiction, or fantasy, story may be built around relationships that feel entirely real and genuine. Even a horror story might take a moment to explore feelings of grief regarding a character's (doubtlessly horrifying) death.

Pure drama, though, is a genre that defines itself by these moments - It's a genre that entirely devotes itself to exploring themes that are, for lack of a better word, dramatic. They can be bleak and depressing sorts of stories, of course - but, there's also plenty of room for stories that are hopeful and uplifting. They can be romantic, or tragic, or tense - exploring subject matter that could range anywhere from love and family to crime and corruption.

Whatever form they take, these are the sorts of stories that most depend on establishing a strong sense of connection between the characters and the audience - due to the simple fact that their success is almost entirely dependent on convincing you to feel something of what the characters are feeling.

Below is a list of five great short drama films which, in my opinion, all manage to succeed at this quite admirably.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S01E09 - 'Left Behind'

While the previous episode might not have been the best that Legends of Tomorrow has had to offer over the season, so far, it did still managed to bring things to a close with an entertaining cliff-hanger. First, we had Sara, Kendra, and Ray seemingly stranded in 1958, when the 'Waverider' suddenly takes off without them. Then, at the same time, we have the rest of the crew once more finding themselves under attack by the mysterious time-travelling bounty hunter, Chronos.

Review - 'Arrow', S04E17 - 'Beacon of Hope'

Over the past couple of season, Arrow and The Flash have settled into a comfortable relationship. Arrow aims for darker and more serious stories (though, still toned down, somewhat, for network television, of course), while The Flash is, quite often, bright and fun. Even with the initial promise that this season of Arrow would find room for more lightness and humour, that lightness and humour has still played out in a restrained sort of way – and, as the season has progressed, the overall tone seems to have gradually shifted back toward 'grim and serious', anyway. With this episode, though, we have a story that fully embraces the 'comic-book' style absurdity that The Flash has, quite often, managed so well.

Brie Larvan (Emily Kinney), and her army of robotic bees, had managed to come across as a particularly outlandish villain even by the standards of The Flash during her last appearance on that series – so, having her suddenly transition over to Arrow for an episode was bound to result in a significant change in tone. Arriving in Star City (with her army of robot bees), Brie doesn't waste any time in laying siege to the Palmer Tech building and taking the Palmer Tech Board of Directors hostage – all in an effort to force Felicity to hand over one of the neural implants designed by Curtis Holt. The only issue, of course, is that there is only one prototype of Curtis's chip – the one that is currently implanted in the base of Felicity's spine.