Thursday, 28 July 2016

Film Review - 'The Forbidden Kingdom'

For any fan of martial arts films, the idea of Jackie Chan and Jet Li appearing in the same film would have to be a pretty big deal. I mean, it probably wouldn't even matter what the film actually was, right? As long as both put in an appearance, and were guaranteed to share at least once action-sequence, that would have to be enough of a draw to make the film worth a look, at least.

Thankfully, though, the film which did ultimately unite two of the world's most recognisable martial arts performers was, ultimately, a genuinely enjoyable one - even if it wasn't quite the instant classic that fans might have hoped for.

Borrowing heavily from the classic Chinese tale, Journey to the West, The Forbidden Kingdom centres around Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano) - a young martial arts enthusiast living in modern day America. Jason is very much the standard 'social outcast' type - with one of his few, genuine, friends being the eccentric owner of an antique store, he keeps Jason supplied with the obscure martial arts things that the young man loves. But, of course, not everything is as it seems - as this eccentric store owner also happens to be in possession of an antique staff which may, in fact, have once belonged to the legendary Monkey King.

Film Review - 'Dragon Tiger Gate'

For me, there has always been an odd sense that your average martial arts film often doesn't necessarily need to abide by the same rules as other genres. It has often seemed that, as long as the martial arts action is entertaining enough, any other flaws that the film might have could be easily forgiven. Whether it's a shaky script, poorly developed characters, or even poor performances from the film's cast, I have always had the impression that these can be overlooked as long as the action was entertaining (to be fair, I'm also aware that you could say the same about any type of action film).

A martial arts film is kind of like pornography, in that way - although, I'm aware that not everyone will be as amused by that analogy as I am. Regardless, though, that's just the impression that I've always had - whether it actually matches with anyone else's opinion is another matter, entirely. It does seem to be somewhat accurate with regard to this film, at least.

Dragon Tiger Gate tells the tale of two half-brothers, one named Dragon and other named Tiger (because, it's just that sort of film), who were separated at a young age. Tiger (Nicholas Tse), the younger of the two, was raised at the titular Dragon Tiger Gate - a school devoted to teaching its young students the virtues of martial arts. Dragon (Donnie Yen), whose mother died shortly after leaving the school, herself, was taken in by Ma Kun (Kuan Tai Chen), a surprisingly kind-hearted Triad boss who raised him to become the bodyguard for his own family.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Review - 'Containment', Episode 13 - 'Path to Paradise'

Over the course of the series, Containment has proved itself to be a frustratingly inconsistent series. For every high-point that the series has been able to reach, in those moments where it is able to make the most of those moments of tension and character drama that can be drawn out of its basic premise, there has been an almost immediate dip in quality, as the pace grinds to a halt. Even at its worst, though, Containment has never been a bad series, by any stretch of the imagination – it has simply shown a frustrating tendency toward mediocrity.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Film Review - 'Ghostbusters'

Since the moment that it was first announced, it seems as though the reboot of Ghostbusters has been the target of a truly impressive amount of anger from people who simply don't want it to exist. Whatever the reasons for this may have been (and, they really aren't worth going into, here), they all seemed to be variations of the same basic theme – that a reboot of a film like Ghostbusters was destined to be terrible.

So, let's just get this out of the way, up-front. The reboot of Ghostbusters doesn't measure up to the original – even as someone who didn't share any of the anger directed at this film, I have to admit that. If I'm being honest, I would probably put it on roughly the same level as the original's less impressive sequel (you know – the one that Bill Murray hated so much that he's been dragging his feet about doing another, ever since). In that sense, the people who were against this film, from the start, were right.

But, that doesn't mean that it's the complete failure that many seemed to expect, or want, it to be. There is, after all, still a fair bit of middle-ground between a film that truly matches the originals, and one that is utterly terrible – and, in the end, that is where Ghostbusters falls. As Bill Murray once said, though he was talking about Ghostbusters II at the time, "it's got some moves".

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Review - 'Containment', Episode 12 - 'Yes Is The Only Living Thing'

One of the more frustrating elements of Containment, over the course of the season, has been the wildly inconsistent pacing we have often had, from one episode to the next. Since the series began, it has often felt as though any point where we have an episode in which the pace seems to pick up, and things begin to become genuinely tense and dramatic, it is almost immediately followed up by an episode that comes to represent something of a low point for the series. Honestly, it has often felt as though the show's creators have struggled with the task of maintaining any sense of forward momentum, here – and, the result is a series that seems to constantly grind to a halt, just as things are beginning to get exciting.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Book Review - 'Tokyo Vice', by Jake Adelstein

Of all the ways that you could start what is, essentially, an autobiography, opening with the details of the time in which your life, and the lives of your young family, were threatened by a disturbingly polite yakuza thug would have to be up there among the most unexpected. There are, after all, any number of works of fiction that can't even manage to pull off such a genuinely dramatic opening.

Tokyo Vice is an autobiography, though - a true story, and a fascinating example of the 'True Crime' genre. It's author, Jake Adelstein, is also a man who actually has had his life threatened by the yakuza - on more than one occasion. In Tokyo Vice, he reveals how and why this came about.

At 19 years old, Jake Adelstein travelled to Japan with the vaguely defined intention of finding some form of enlightenment. Finding his way to a Buddhist monastery, he lived there for a couple of years before finally coming to accept that the lifestyle just wasn't for him. Instead of heading home, though, Adelstein enrolled to study at a Japanese university - and, eventually, found himself drawn toward a career in journalism. He was to earn himself a position at the Yomiuri Shimbun, considered to be one of the most prestigious newspapers in Japan, by performing well enough on an entrance exam to attract the paper's attention (which is, apparently, just how this sort of thing works, in Japan) - ultimately becoming the first Western journalist to do so.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Book Review - 'The Psychopath Test', by Jon Ronson

When scientists and academics, spread all over the world, find themselves as the recipients of identical copies of strange, hand-written, book titled Being or Nothingness, it gives every indication of being a puzzle to be solved. With its pages filled with cryptic hints that seem to point to some deeper meaning, it only makes sense that the recipients of this strange book would be enticed by the prospect of solving such a wonderfully strange riddle - with each recipient reaching out to others as they began to worth together, and pool their resources.

Journalist Jon Ronson found himself similarly drawn in to this strange mystery when he was contacted by one of the books recipients. His investigation into the nature of this book, and his meeting with its suspected author, is really only the beginning, though - leading him on a much longer investigation into the nature of madness, and the industry that has been built up around it. It is the results of this investigation that are covered in The Psychopath Test.

From there, Ronson finds himself drawn into the equally strange story of a young man who he refers to as 'Tony' - a man who claims to have faked madness in order to avoid a prison sentence, but who now finds himself stuck in an institution. Despite scoring high on the titular 'Psychopath Test', and giving every impression of being an entirely healthy young man, 'Tony' has found that he is unable to convince any of the institution's staff that he is actually sane.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Film Review - 'Heart of an Empire'

Even as a life-long fan of science fiction and fantasy, I have to admit that we can be an oddly obsessive bunch, at times. We can be prone to all sorts of absurd, and essentially meaningless, arguments. We can be insular, and extremely unwelcoming to the average 'outsider'. We can even be critical of the extent to which our fellows qualify as 'true fans'.

Those are examples of the worst elements of your average fandom, at least - and, to be fair, they don't relate only to science fiction and fantasy fans.

Among the general population of fans, though, there always seems to be some small sub-set who seem more than willing to take their love a little further - that most devout breed of fan who take their devotion so seriously that the rest of us may feel inclined to raise an eyebrow in question - and, it is just such a group that we meet in the documentary film, Heart of an Empire.

The Fighting 501st Legion are a seemingly ever growing community of extremely enthusiastic Star Wars fans - a group who makes my own life-long love of that particular franchise look like a disposable hobby, by comparison. What is it that this group does that makes them so unique, though? Well, its cosplay, essentially - but, cosplay of an especially impressive variety, with each member of the 501st Legion taking the time to create some truly impressive, and highly detailed, outfits for themselves.

Five Great Norwegian Films

Great films can be found just about anywhere. It doesn't really matter what your preferred style, or genre, is either - as long as a country actually has the industry, and support, necessary to actually make film-making possible, then it's almost a guarantee that you will be able to find some film's there that are worth your time.

Like the films listed below, for example - five great Norwegian films that are each well worth your time if you consider yourself to be a lover of film.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Five Great South Korean Films

It doesn't really matter what your preferred genre, or style, of film is - if you're actually willing to take the time to look, you're bound to be able to find great films made in countries all over the world.

Like the five films listed below, for example - five great films from South Korea that are each well worth your time if you consider yourself to be a lover of film.

Five Great Australian Films

Great films can be found just about anywhere. It doesn't really matter what your preferred style, or genre, is either - as long as a country actually has the industry, and support, necessary to actually make film-making possible, then it's almost a guarantee that you will be able to find some film's there that are worth your time.

That also includes my own country - Australia. Even though many Australians (including myself, on occasion) seem to have developed an unfortunate tendency of ignoring our own films, in favour of those from overseas, there have still been plenty of genuinely entertaining films made, down here.

Like the five listed below, for example.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Review - 'Containment', Episode 11 - 'Nothing Gold Can Stay'

While the previous episode of Containment had been a rather uneventful one, overall, it did still manage to bring things to a close with two equally important plot-threads – both of which are carried forward as we move into the show's eleventh episode.

Review - 'Containment', Episode 10 - 'A Time To Be Born...'

After the tension and drama of the previous episode, there is a definite sense of relief as we move into the tenth episode of Containment. However momentary it may prove to be, there is a strong sense, throughout much of this episode, of a lightening of the show's typically grim tone that manifests itself in a variety of ways.

Film Review - 'Justice League: Doom'

In a world filled with super-powered individuals, it would be fair to think that a character like Batman would struggle for relevance. He is, after all, the token 'ordinary human' member of a team of heroes which includes an almost indestructible alien, an Amazonian demi-goddess, and the 'Fastest Man Alive'. Despite this, though, Batman is also a character with a long, and proud, history of proving that he is more than capable of holding his own.

Sure, you could argue that Batman's effectiveness is largely the result of contrived plotting from writers well aware of the fact that he is DC's most popular, and therefore most marketable, character - but, that's really beside the point. Within the context of the DC Universe, Batman has always been treated very much as an equal - and, the reason for that is fairly clear. Even beyond the impressive array of gadgets that he has at his disposal, and the extreme training that he has put himself through, the traits that make Batman so effective are his intelligence, and an obsession with planning and preparation that borders on paranoia.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Film Review - 'Harlock: Space Pirate'

In the distant future, the human race has developed the technology to spread throughout the universe, in an effort to establish new colonies and reduce the strain that an ever increasing population has placed on Earth. Their efforts have, however, met with very limited success.

Finding very few planets truly capable of supporting human life, and with limited ability to terraform those not quite suitable, the human race has been forced to discover that the universe is not a kind place. Useful natural resources are rare, and food proves to be difficult to grow - creating a situation in which the human race finds itself stuck in a constant struggle just to survive, even as its influence spreads farther and farther away from Earth.

Eventually, more and more people are force to come to the realisation that there simply is no truly suitable new home for the human race - and so, more and more make the decision to return to the one that they had tried to leave behind, in an effort to re-settle. Of course, by this point, there are far more humans than any single planet could ever hope to support - and, all of them naturally believe they have a right to settle on Earth, once more. This leads to the Homecoming War - a massive battle fought in Earth's orbit, were various factions each tried to claim humanity's birth-place as its own.