Saturday, 17 December 2016

Film Review - 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story'

While I am aware of, and even happen to agree with (to an extent), many of the criticisms that have bee levelled at The Force Awakens, since its release a year ago, it was still a film that I found myself genuinely enjoying. More than anything, I think that what I felt was a sense of relief that we finally had a Star Wars film which was able to recapture that sense of fun and excitement that we had with the original trilogy (I may not despise the prequel trilogy as much as some do – but, I definitely can't say that I enjoyed them, either).

But, despite the fact that the release of the first film in a new trilogy seemed to show that Disney had the right idea, I do have to admit that I've been unsure what to make of these plans for stand-alone Star Wars films. For one thing, the ones that have been announced, so far, all seem set on exploring similar 'prequel' territory – which didn't exactly fill me with confidence. But, with regard to Rogue One, at least, there was also the fact that it was a film set to be based around a cast of entirely new characters, whose fates haven't necessarily already been revealed by previous films in the franchise. For me, that fact, alone, managed to raise Rogue One above the prequels we have already had (and, also, the upcoming 'Young Han Solo' film, which I just don't have any real interest in, at this point) – and, ultimately, it also proves to be one of the film's greatest strengths.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Film Review - 'Dororo'

This live-action adaptation of a 1960's Japanese manga series may present a world that has the look and feel of feudal Japan - but, oddly enough, it is actually something very different. A single line reference (which might be easily missed, if you're not paying attention) makes it clear that this is actually the distant future. So, despite appearances, what we are actually watching is a story set in a world where modern civilisation has, apparently, collapsed entirely - one that is slowly being rebuilt, as people recover from an unknown cataclysm.

This far future setting is actually barely relevant to the story being told, though. In fact, the setting of the original manga actually was feudal Japan - meaning that the current setting was a change made just for the film. Why, though? Well, perhaps to make the more outlandish elements of the film a little easier to accept? Or, to break the story away from the actual history of Japan? Honestly, it feels like an odd change to make - given how little relevance it seems to have. Of course, it's also really little more than an interesting bit of trivia, in the end - one that wont actually impact your ability to enjoy the film, in any meaningful way. So, it probably isn't worth getting hung up on this point (despite the fact that I obviously have).

Monday, 12 December 2016

Review - 'Ash vs Evil Dead', S02E10 - 'Second Coming'

With the previous episode of Ash vs Evil Dead, we had a situation where it seemed as though just about anything could happen as the second season came to an end. There was a very genuine, and very interesting, feeling of uncertainty surrounding Ash's exploits, back in 1982 – as the team's time-travel adventures threatened to significantly alter the events of the original films. We had Professor Knowby making his first proper appearance in the franchise, and the surprising return of the deadite, Henrietta – drawn straight out of Evil Dead 2. Beyond that, the episode even ended on a rather tense cliff-hanger – as Ash and Professor Knowby's student, Tanya (Sara West), found themselves locked in the cellar, while the Professor fled with the Necronomicon.

It was a great way to bring the second season's penultimate episode to a close – and, it definitely promised a very entertaining finale. It's really just a bit of a shame that it felt as though much of that potential was squandered, as we move into the finale, itself.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S02E08 - 'The Chicago Way'

Since the series began, one of the most consistently entertaining aspects of Legends of Tomorrow has been its willingness to fully embrace the absurdity of its own premise. With a team of 'Legends' drawn from the supporting cast of its two 'parent' series, and tossed into a time-travelling space-ship, the true joy of Legends of Tomorrow has often been in simply watching these eccentric characters interact with each other, and respond to the increasingly bizarre situations that they found themselves in.

This definitely counted as a significant positive in the first season, where the team's wild adventures served to balance out the somewhat underwhelming central plot-line – and, it definitely seems to be a trend that has continued into the second season. But, in this second season, though, it seems that we now have the best of both elements – as the continuing adventures of these wildly varied heroes is now combined with some much more compelling villains.

In this episode, in particular, we see the true benefit of that new status quo – as we reach the mid-season finale with a genuinely exciting confrontation between heroes and villains, in 1920s Chicago. With Damian Darhk and Eobard Thawne now seemingly set on allying themselves with the notorious gangster, Al Capone (Isaac Keoughan), the 'Legends' soon come to realise that this must mean that Eliot Ness (Cole Vigue), the man famously responsible for Capone's arrest, is in danger. So, in order to prevent an alteration to the time-line which will see Al Capone eventually use his influence to become mayor of Chicago, the team rush in to prevent this new aberration.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Review - 'Arrow', S05E09 - 'What We Leave Behind'

Just as the last episode of The Flash devoted itself to giving some much needed development to its villains, Doctor Alchemy and Savitar, it was fairly clear that this episode of Arrow was intended to do much the same for Prometheus. It's definitely something that is needed, too – since, at this point, Prometheus is still little more than a blank slate in a vaguely intimidating outfit (once again, much like Doctor Alchemy and Savitar).

Of course, we have already received plenty of hints about the very personal connection between Prometheus and Oliver – as, it seems fairly clear, he is definitely more focused on acts of revenge than on any sort of grand villainous scheme. We also already know that, whatever this connection between the two might prove to be, it is definitely tied to Oliver's much more ruthless and blood-thirsty activities during the show's first season.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S03E09 - 'The Present'

Coming in to the first episode of The Flash after the big cross-over event, it seems that our heroes are in a surprisingly good place. Sure, Savitar and his servant, Doctor Alchemy, are still a significant danger that needs to be confronted – and, mystery of Savitar's true intent still clearly weighs on Barry Allen. But, in confronting the true cost of his past decisions so directly, it seems that Barry has managed to go some way toward redeeming himself – both in the eyes of his friends, and the audience.

The fact that Cisco and Barry are on good terms once more, while the secret of Caitlin's powers is now out in the open, seems to suggest are prepared to present a united front against any new challenge that may present itself. Combine this with Barry's willingness to travel to Earth-3, and reach out to Jay Garrick for advice, and it seems as though our heroes are in as good a position as they could possibly be.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Review - 'Ash vs Evil Dead', S02E09 - 'Home Again'

Much like with its first, the second season of Ash vs Evil Dead has always display an impressive commitment to the goal of keeping things constantly moving forward – going out of its way to set, and maintain, a rapid pace largely free from any sort of padding or 'filler'. Already, this season, we have had two fairly significant threats, each of whom had seemed intended to be the main driving force behind the season's conflict, put in an appearance, only to be quickly dealt with.

I suppose, in the end, that much of this is owed to that initially somewhat baffling decision to limit the series to half-hour episodes. Sure, you could probably make the argument that this rapid pace often comes at the expense certain members of the supporting cast (who, often, aren't given the screen-time they need to make much of an impression) – but, at the same time, it's practically impossible to accuse Ash vs Evil Dead of ever being dull.

With Baal's defeat, at the end of the previous episode, it seems that our heroes have found themselves at something of a loose end, going in to the second season's penultimate episode. By all accounts, they have just one a significant victory of the forces of evil by sending Baal back to hell. But, of course, with Pablo's life being the price of that victory, it seems that no one is really in the mood to celebrate.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S02E07 - 'Invasion!'

As the final part of the, so far, very entertaining Invasion! cross-over event, this episode of Legends of Tomorrow has quite a bit resting on its shoulders. For one thing, there is the small matter that, as great as those previous episodes were, neither of them really did much to push forward the overarching narrative of the cross-over.

Looking back, neither episode really revealed much about the nature of the threat that the Dominators posed – and, they certainly didn't go into any detail about what the Dominators' actual purpose might be. Coming in the final episode of the cross-over, it actually feels a little odd to have to admit that we still know next to nothing about the Dominators. Also, looking back, it feels a little odd to have to admit that we still haven't actually seen very much of the Dominators, themselves, in action (although, Team Arrow's desperate escape from the Dominators' mother-ship felt like a significant turning-point, in that regard).

Now, though, its clearly time for the cross-over event to begin to address those lingering issues – as Legends of Tomorrow seeks to bring everything to a satisfying conclusion.

Review - 'Arrow', S05E08 - 'Invasion!'

The eighth episode of the fifth season of Arrow finds itself in the unenviable position of having to fulfil two very different roles. Not only is it the second part of the epic Invasion! cross-over event, which sets all of the CW's DC characters up against an alien invasion, but it is also the 100th episode of Arrow – a significant milestone which practically demands some sort of retrospective celebration.

So, not only does the episode need to find ways to push forward that overarching plot-line, but it needs to do so while, also, finding way to honour the show's five year history. It would have to have felt like a tricky prospect for the writers, at the very least. Also, going in knowing about these dual roles, it would have to raise some concerns about how good a job this episode could actually do at balancing everything.

With the previous episode coming to an end with the sight of the core cast of Arrow (along with those members of the Legends of Tomorrow cast who we first met on Arrow) being abducted by the Dominators, we did, at least, have a genuinely exciting set-up. Isolated from their super-powered companions, Team Arrow were clearly going to be out of their depth – regardless of whatever it was they would ultimately face on the Dominators' ship.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S03E08 - 'Invasion!'

Despite being advertised as such, the most recent episode of Supergirl really wasn't the beginning of the major cross-over event that we had been promised – and, it wasn't really intended to be. For clear proof of that, you probably don't need to look much further than the fact that that episode's only real point of connection to the cross-over (the scene in which Barry and Cisco travel between dimensions, to recruit Supergirl), ended up being replayed, in its entirety, in this episode of The Flash.

I suppose you could make an argument for false advertising if you really wanted to – but, in the end, I don't think it's all that big an issue. It's a three-part cross-over, featuring the characters from all four shows, rather than a four-part one – and, it begins here.

It doesn't waste any time, either. Opening with a very entertaining sequence which sets the Flash and Green Arrow against all of their allies, for reasons yet to be revealed, the episode then promptly pulls the fairly standard trick of jumping backward in time to reveal how we reached this point. Here, we learn that Wally West's training in the use of his new abilities seems to be progressing well – although, Iris is fairly adamant that this particular piece of information should be kept from Wally. Also, Cisco is still angry with Barry, after learning of Barry's indirect role in his brother's death – and, he is taking any opportunity that presents itself to make his displeasure known. H. R. Wells, meanwhile, is determined to go ahead with his plan to turn Star Labs into a museum – though, naturally, he is having a tough time selling the idea to the rest of the team.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E08 - 'Medusa'

We may as well get this out of the way right at the start – this episode of Supergirl isn't the true beginning of the big cross-over event that we have been promised. More than likely, it was never truly intended to be. What it actually is, more than anything, is a concerted effort to bring the conflict that has carried us through the season, so far, to a satisfying close – perhaps, in preparation for Supergirl's impending trip to another universe.

It probably shouldn't have been necessary to open with that – but, then, it seems as though all of the advertising for the big cross-over is presenting it as something set to take place over four nights, so that's bound to have led to some disappointment.

So, instead of any direct links to the Dominator's impending invasion, this episode concerns itself, primarily, with Cadmus's latest efforts to wipe out aliens on Earth – efforts which, in this case, centre around the use of a Kryptonian bio-weapon recovered from Superman's Fortress of Solitude. This was, after all, the entire purpose behind Lillian Luthor's efforts to steal Supergirl's blood, in the previous episode.

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S02E06 - 'Outlaw Country'

Last season's trip back to the Old West had been one of the early high-lights of Legends of Tomorrow. Not only was it a fun adventure in its own right, but it also allowed for the introduction of yet another of DC's varied cast of characters – the bounty hunter, Jonah Hex.

Given how much fun that previous episode had been, the idea of any sort of follow-up is one that definitely appealed to me – if only because it give us another opportunity to see Johnathon Schaech in the role of Jonah Hex. Unfortunately, though, the end result of this return trip proved to be somewhat disappointing.

It's not that the basic premise of the episode didn't have potential, of course. Here, we had the Confederate Genaral turned Criminal Robber Baron, Quentin Turnbull (Jeff Fahey), set on carving out his own little empire, once he is able to get his hands on a piece of future technology that allows him to detect dwarf star alloy (ie., the same substance that Ray Palmer used to power his suit). Also, we have Jonah Hex drawn back into the picture when it is revealed that, naturally, he has a very personal reason for wanted to go after Turnbull. We even have a fun scene involving the 'Legends' stumbling upon, and rescuing, Jonah Hex, just as he is about to be lynched by Turnbull's man, to properly set the scene and establish the stakes.

Review - 'Arrow', S05E07 - 'Vigilante'

At some point, I suppose I just have to accept the fact that, out of all of the CW's DC related content, Arrow is the one that I enjoy the least.

While the others all seem more than happy to embrace varying degrees of 'comic-book'-inspired fun, Arrow is a series which has always wanted to take itself very seriously. It is a series that has gone out of its way to add layers of complexity on top of the standard 'super-hero' action – giving us a conflicted anti-hero for a central character, and often seeming intent on exploring the moral ambiguity of his actions.

But, as interesting as that might sound, I have never quite been able to shake the impression that the series, as a whole, just hasn't done a very good job with any of that. Instead of feeling invested in Oliver Queen's struggles to become a true 'hero', I have often found myself just feeling frustrated with him, as a character. It also doesn't help that the series, itself, often seems to go back and forth on what it wishes to portray as 'right'.