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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The High Ground (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The High Ground is a rather earnest issue-driven episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, dealing with one of the big issues of the day: international terrorism. However, the moral ambiguity of terrorism was a decidedly more contentious and controversial issue in early 1990 than the plight of Vietnam veterans explored in The Hunted or the Cold War politics of The Defector.

The High Ground is an allegory for the Troubles in Northern Ireland at a point in time where the Troubles were on-going. 1990 saw a number of high-profile terrorist actions conducted by the IRA. They bombed the London Stock Exchange in July. Using an explosive device, they murdered Sergeant Charles Chapman in May. Nobody has ever been prosecuted for his death. In February 1991, the IRA launched a mortar attack on 10 Downing Street. So this was the context in which The High Ground aired.

And, to be fair, there’s something admirable about the show’s willingness to engage with a controversial issue, even if the end result leaves a lot to be desired.

Holding hands around the universe...

Holding hands around the universe…

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Absolute Superman: For Tomorrow (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

As a Superman story, For Tomorrow leaves a lot to be desired. It’s a disjointed narrative that rapidly shifts through a variety of scenarios, while characters drift in and out (and back in again) in a way that feels convenient at best. There’s hardly the most logical of progressions here, as we move from one story into another. For Tomorrow feels like it has the ingredients for at least three Superman stories that would be quite interesting on their own, instead of being forced to fit together as one plot.

On the other hand, as a meditation on some of the themes and implications and characteristics of Superman as a character, For Tomorrow becomes something far more fascinating. Writer Brian Azzarello would hardly be my first choice to write a Superman story (indeed, he’s almost too cynical to write Batman), but he very clearly has some fascinating ideas about the character and his world. Truth be told, For Tomorrow is often more intriguing than satisfying, which makes it hard to recommend, but is still worth a look for those willing to excuse a somewhat hazy plot to get to some meaty ideas about Superman.

The doves are a nice touch...

The doves are a nice touch…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Too Short a Season (Review)

To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and also next year’s release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, I’m taking a look at the recent blu ray release of the first season, episode-by-episode. Check back daily for the latest review.

Too Short a Season falls back on one of those classic Star Trek stand-bys, the story of a dangerously obsessed senior officer who proceeds to put the lives of the crew at risk in order to feed his own ego. I’ve always found it hilarious that Starfleet seems to have truly terrible psychological screening, or maybe they just kick the more unreliable officers upstairs. After all, while Admiral Jameson is clearly a sandwich short of a picnic, at least he’s out of the line of fire. Too Short a Season winds up seeming like quite a trite episode, despite the fact that some of the elements are arguably intriguing on their own. It feels a little too safe, a little too comfortable, and far too predictable for its own good.

A shady character...

A shady character…

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Non-Review Review: Half Moon Street

I do feel a little pang of sorrow that Half Moon Street opens with the “RKO” branding. RKO was the studio that gave us Citizen Kane and King Kong, so it’s just a bit disheartening to see the studio branding a half-hearted thriller that seems to exist only to show as much of Sigourney Weaver naked as humanly possible. Don’t get me wrong, of course, I’m not a prude. I have no problem with the notion of an “erotic thriller”, were it well handled. However, Half Moon Street is just a disjointed poorly-conceived mess featuring two leads who seem to give up on the movie about half-way through. It’s not as if there isn’t fertile ground for a gripping espionage thriller here, it’s more that the script by Edward Behr and Bob Swaim is so lifeless (and Bob Swaim’s direction so lethargic) that there’s absolutely no reason to care at all about anything that unfolds throughout the series of insanely massive coincidences that drive the plot.

“Okay… try to look inconspicuous…”

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Non-Review Review: Route Irish

Ken Loach’s Route Irish is a fascinating little thriller, even if it does ultimately feel quite shallow and end in a rather unsatisfactory manner. Indeed, it’s very hard to construct a mystery where the audience already knows the answer, based on experience within the genre. Framed as an investigation into the death of a contractor in Iraq, the culprits behind the assassination are obvious from the moment the film starts rolling, which means that none of the twists and turns pack any punch – because we already know the answer. However, Loach is a director skilled at offering atmosphere and mood, and he makes a valiant effort to overcome the script’s rather obvious deficiencies.

Paying the ferryman...

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Non-Review Review: The Sum of All Fears

The Sum of All Fears is a strange little beast. By changing the nature of the movie’s threat from Middle Eastern terrorists to a secret cult of Nazis, the film seems to want to avoid seeming “heavy” or “relevent.”However, any form of entertainment that depicts a nuclear attack on a US city on the same scale as that depicted here, seems to carry a lot of weight with it anyway. I think that’s really the core problem with an otherwise reasonable solid film, the fact that it has difficulty balancing what should be an uncomfortable viewing experience with an attempt not to upset anyone.

Ryan, Jack Ryan...

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For Freedom! The Politics of Transformers 3…

This is part of the “Morality Bites” blogathon being hosted by the always awesome Ronan over at filmplicity and Julian at dirtywithclass. It is, as ever, a joy to be asked to take part.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to tackle politics (or any thorny issue) in cinema. Documentaries are the obvious exception, but very few people go into a major motion picture (or even an indie one) expecting a personal diatribe of the creator’s controversial political opinions construed as absolute fact. It’s often more interesting to hear a rant in spoken form rather than structured into three acts at well over an hour with awkward plotting and characterisation designed to outline a particular world view. Don’t get me wrong, many great film makers have used their films as clever points of interest on a particular topic, but those that succeed often do so through clever construction, honest analyse and a decent amount of subtlety. However, such an approach is far too rare in Hollywood, as I thought to myself emerging from Michael Bay’s Transformers 3. I’d made my piece with the fact I was attending a two-and-a-half hour toy commercial, but I didn’t expect it to be a two-and-a-half-hour toy commercial delivered as a declaration on American foreign policy.

Transformers: Politics in Disguise...

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Y: The Last Man – The Deluxe Edition, Book I (Review/Retrospective)

In an effort to prove that comic books aren’t just about men in spandex hitting each other really hard, this month I’m reviewing all of Brian K. Vaughan’s superb Y: The Last Man. In April, I took a look at all the writer’s Ex Machina.

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath bore me on his back a thousand times, and now how abhorr’d in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it.

Hamlet, Act V, Scene I

Y: The Last Man is perhaps a triumph of comic book story telling. Told over the course of sixty issues, it’s the story of (as the title implies) the last human male on the planet following the death of every other male mammal (save his monkey) in a mysterious plague. It’s not necessarily the most original idea – in fact, it brings to mind Frank Herbert’s The White Plague (although in that case it was a plague which killed all the women) – but it’s a well told story by author Brian K. Vaughan. Indeed, his work here would see him hired as a writer on Lost, perhaps the strongest affirmation that a multi-layere pop culture author can aspire to. All told, Y: The Last Man is a smart, fascinating a bold comic book narrative which perhaps demonstrated to the mainstream what geeks like us have known for years: superheroes aren’t the only thing in comic books.

Trying to figure out "Y"...

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Non-Review Review: Battle – Los Angeles

Battle: Los Angeles is a movie we’ve all seen countless times, only with a different name. It’s perhaps the most generic and cliché-filled alien invasion movie that I have ever seen, and I think I’ve seen a lot of them. Part of the problem with the film is that it does a lot functionally, but does nothing especially well – but it’s also that it’s so mundanely bogged down in formula that it’s hard to ever engage with what’s going on.

Facing a completely alien foe...

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War of Kings (Review/Retrospective)

This is the twelfth in a series of comic book reviews that will look at the direction of Marvel’s shared universe (particularly their “Avengers” franchise) over the past five or so years, as they’ve been attempting to position the property at the heart of their fictional universe. With The Avengers planned for a cinematic release in 2012, I thought I’d bring myself up to speed by taking a look at Marvel’s tangled web of continuity.

War of Kings is perhaps the best thing to come out of Secret Invasion. In fact, the miniseries went out of its way to highlight its links to the Marvel comics mega-event, with the story even kicking off in a Secret Invasion: War of Kings special (note the order there, it isn’t War of Kings: Secret Invasion). However, not withstanding the attempts to tie the series back to the high-selling mainstream events that Marvel was consistently churning out, War of Kings is essentially an epic space opera, the story of an interstellar war and alien politics, told with the wit and charm that writer Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have made the cosmic line famous for. Tying it into Secret Invasion only serves to highlight the deficiencies with that event, as the writers here attempt the same sort of story with the same sort of themes, but with more skill and grace than the bigger event could off.

Now is the time...

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