Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension Book Two – Comic Review

Originally published on Set The Tape

‘The universe is collapsing, swallowed up into the void – and the people of Earth have turned against the Doctor, forcing him to team up with his past and future selves! The unprecedented crossover between all thirteen Doctors continues, as the secret of the void is revealed, the Fourth Doctor and River Song play crucial parts in the survival of all Time and Space, and the final, spectacular conflict is engaged!’

Doctor Who has always done good cross-over stories. Since ‘The Three Doctors’ back in 1972 fans have enjoyed seeing multiple Doctors working together against a major threat, and is something the series has done multiple times over the years; usually to celebrate a milestone in the franchise.

The biggest draw-back of these crossovers is that it’s sadly become impossible to have many of the older Doctors appear due to the actors having aged or passed away; this, however, isn’t a problem when it comes to comic books.

Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension is a very ambitious crossover, with every single Doctor appearing, including a younger version of John Hurt’s War Doctor, as well as several companions, side characters, and monsters from the 50 years of the franchise.

Picking up where the previous volume left off, the final part of the story features the Ninth, Tenth, and Twelfth Doctors facing off against an army of mind controlled humans as they struggle to find a solution to the universe wide destruction that faces all of time and space.

The multiple Doctors interact brilliantly, each with their own reactions to meeting their past and future selves, and they quickly develop a working shorthand that shows that despite the differences between them all, they’re very much the same hero we know and love.

Things are made further interesting with multiple companions getting to interact not just with each other, but other versions of the Doctor; and the return of Jenny gives the adventure an injection of excitement and energy.

The story works well, unfolding slowly to begin with as further details are added through two side stories focusing on the Fourth Doctor and River Song, that whilst their own separate tales do add a lot to the main events. It’s towards the end of the book that the writing really improves, however, with the reveal of what is actually happening, and every single Doctor coming together to save all of reality.

The art styles in each chapter differ too, from very traditional comic art, to beautiful hand painted artwork in the last issue, that manages to capture the likenesses of all of the characters perfectly. This art style also makes the scenes of space and the distortion of reality look truly stunning.

Doctor Who crossovers are always grand adventures, and Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension delivers this in spades, telling a story that could never be done on screens. With a story that manages to draw from stories from across the entire five decades of the franchise, and even goes on to add more information to the history of Gallifrey and the creation of the TARDIS it’s a story that all Doctor Who fans should make the time for.

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Monday, 9 April 2018

'Acts of Violence' Film Review

Originally published on Set The Tape

‘Three Midwestern brothers, a crime lord, and an incorruptible cop are on a deadly collision course when the youngest brother’s fiancĂ©e is kidnapped by human traffickers. To save her, the MacGregor boys call on their military training – and the strength of family – to fight the most important battle of their lives.’

With action movies relying more and more on big budget effects or choreographed fight scenes that make the heroes look near superhuman, sometimes a more realistic approach can feel new and refreshing. Acts of Violence goes against these modern action films, with little to no visual effects and short, economical action sequences.

Following a trio of brothers and their foster sister Mia (Melissa Bolona), who is now marrying the younger brother Roman (Ashton Holmes). The family is fairly close and portrayed as relatively normal, though there is some inner drama injected with the eldest brother Deklan (Cole Hauser) being a veteran suffering from PTSD.

When Mia is kidnapped by local sex traffickers the brothers turn to local cop James Avery (Bruce Willis) for help, but his hands are bound by the law, forcing the brothers to fall back on their military training to save their family.

It’s a very simple plot, with clear lines between the heroes and villains, and solid end goal. Whilst other action films would try to add sub-plots and plot twists to try to bulk out the film Acts of Violence works well without them, relying on simplicity and a face pace to move the story forward.

Whilst this doesn’t lead to a lot of room for character development the film doesn’t really need it. We get to know the characters pretty well during the short 80 minute run time, with each of the brothers having room to be clearly defined and nuanced enough to be interesting. Because the film is fairly short, and the action takes place over a relatively small period of time, it would feel more jarring if the film did stop the story to spend time delving into character.

Despite the short run time, the film manages to include several action sequences. Simple and grounded in how they’re choreographed and shot, the action scenes feel like something from the 70’s. There’s nothing over the top or spectacular about what happens, and it actually works a lot better for this. For a film that is taking a very real and grounded approach the action fits perfectly, adding to the sense of realism.

A lot of this is helped by Cole Hauser. Where the other brothers are becoming emotional and distraught over the loss of Mia, he’s calm and collected, falling back on his military training to lead the group. He’s not over the top or larger than life, he’s just a regular soldier, albeit one who’s fighting for his family rather than his country.

The film very much feels like a throwback to the 70’s grindhouse pictures, focusing on people going up against organised crime, drug lords, and human trafficking. Thankfully, the film doesn’t go as dark as the films of the 70’s, and doesn’t focus too hard on the horrors of the sex trade; it doesn’t play up the violence of women being kidnapped and forced to become sex workers. This is a good thing, as it stops the film going too dark. The characters and the audience both know how bad things will be for Mia if she’s not rescued, so it’s good that we’re not forced to see it.

Despite a short run time Acts of Violence manages to pack a lot in, keeping the story moving at a brisk pace. It has enough action, story, and character development to stay interesting and engaging without being boring. Yes, it’s a cheap action film made relatively quickly (the film was shot over two weeks), but is well made, competent, and entertaining. Which isn’t something every film can say.

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Monday, 2 April 2018

Pacific Rim: Uprising – A Look At The History Of Kaiju Movies

Originally published on Set The Tape

Pacific Rim: Uprising hit our screens this weekend with it brought back the giant fighting robot Jaegers and their monstrous Kaiju foes. The latest in a long line of films to feature giant monsters, the Pacific Rim sequel is far from the first to make use of giant monsters to entertain its audience.

The term Kaiju is distinctly Japanese, and instantly brings to mind film franchises such as Godzilla this is not actually where giant monsters in cinema started, though it would be where it found its home.

Arguably the first Kaiju film came back in 1933, with the release of RKO Pictures’ King Kong. Though when people say the term Kaiju, it brings to mind creatures such as the monster from Cloverfield, Kong very much is one too. He’s been reimagined many times over the decades since his creation, varying in size dramatically depending on the version of the film, but he’s always been a creature that could never exist in the real world; an ape of such huge proportions that he has fought dinosaurs, giant robots, and is even due to face Godzilla in 2020 in Godzilla vs. King Kong.

King Kong stunned audiences on its release, and changed the way that films could be made. Using unique camera tricks, an all original musical score, the first ever animated central character, and Magnascope screenings, King Kong was unlike anything at the time, and helped to elevate what could easily have been a schlocky monster film to a cinematic masterpiece; one still celebrated almost 100 years later.

The success of King Kong meant that others were quick to try to recapture the magic, leading to a number of films that featured giant monsters, such as Mighty Joe Young (which featured another giant gorilla), Them!, and The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. Whilst these films did celebrate some success, with Them! going on to attain cult status, it wasn’t until the release of Gojira in 1954 that Kaiju films became big business.

Tomoyuki Tanaka, a producer for the Toho film company, originally conceived of the idea of creating a monster movie when another project fell through, and said that he was in part inspired by The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. After creating an outline with a working title of ‘The Giant Monster from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’, the project was approved.

Thanks to the events of World War Two and having suffered two Atomic bombings, Japan was still dealing with the horrors that had been unleashed upon their country. These themes became intricately entwined within Gojira. Tanaka said: “The theme of the film, from the beginning, was the terror of the bomb. Mankind had created the bomb, and now nature was going to take revenge on mankind.”

These sentiments were also echoed by director Ishiro Honda, who added: “If Godzilla had been a dinosaur or some other animal, he would have been killed by just one cannon ball. But if he were equal to an atomic bomb, we wouldn’t know what to do. So, I took the characteristics of an atomic bomb and applied them to Godzilla.”

Because of these deeper themes, a well written script that was taken seriously at all times, and wonderfully crafted effects, Gojira became a success. Two years later the film went on to be released in America under the title Godzilla, King of the Monsters! Whilst the film was a huge success with US audiences, it was not the film that was originally made, with close to twenty minutes of footage having been removed, any political, social, or anti-nuclear themes gone, and new scenes inserted to make Canadian actor Raymond Burr the lead. Despite being very different from the original’s tone, it introduced Godzilla to western audiences, and helped to start a love affair that would last decades.

Kaiju became a genre that was not only a commercial success, but also garnered mainstream appeal. Dozens of films followed over the next decade, such as Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, The Deadly Mantis, The Beast of Hollow Mountain, and Rodan.

Monster movies began to lose their appeal in the US as the 50s moved into the 60s. Less films such as Tarantula were being produced, but those who still wanted to experience Kaiju films were drawn to Japanese productions, where the genre was still going strong.

Over the next few decades Japan would embrace Kaiju, creating a number of successful series’ such as Gamera and Mothra, though Godzilla would remain the most successful with 30 films having been produced so far (with more still on their way).

Kaiju proved popular in film and also became successful on television in Japan during the late 1970s, largely due to the release of Spider-Man. The Toei produced Spider-Man series shared the look of the Marvel Comics character, but differed drastically; his powers, origin, and story were completely different. One of the main differences was that Spider-Man would make use of a giant robot called Leopardon to fight giant Kaiju-like versions of the show’s monsters. An approach that was be adopted for the Super Sentai franchise.

Thanks to the adaptation of Super Sentai into Power Rangers in the early 1990s, Kaiju were introduced to a whole new audience who eagerly tuned in each week to watch their heroes battle giant creatures using their huge robots. It’s surely no coincidence that within a few decades of American children being exposed to Japanese monster shows, there has been an influx of films such as Cloverfield, Megashark, and Lake Placid vs. Anaconda.

The Kaiju genre began a long time ago, and has gone through many changes over the decades, thanks to different cultural, political, and social influences. They have played a part in translating the fears of the film-makers, whether it’s been atomic war, pollution, or nature turning on humanity, and have sometimes just been for the sheer enjoyment of watching giant things beating each other up.

Whether it’s high production pieces such as Pacific Rim, Ramapage, and Godzilla, or cheap b-movies like Sharktopus and Piranhaconda, Kaiju films have become a genre unto itself; one that wall continue to evolve with its audience, becoming as enduring and unkillable as the creatures it presents.

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Friday, 30 March 2018

'Dracula: Rise of the Beast' Book Review

Originally published on Set The Tape

Dracula is an icon, a name that instantly brings to mind vampires; and often a very specific idea of vampires. Thanks to the black and white movies of the 1930’s with Bela Lugosi, and then Christopher Lee’s appearances in the Hammer films, Dracula makes people think of a regal count, resplendent in his finery, his hair slicked back, his cape draped around him as he stalks beautiful young women.

Whilst vampires have evolved over the years and gone in new directions, many times things always come back to Dracula, the vampire that inspired all the others. And in Dracula: Rise of the Beast we learn more about this figure through five short stories.

These tales tell the reader the story of the rise of Count Vlad to the vampiric monster Dracula as seen in the original Bram Stoker novel. The stories are spread across multiple time periods, and are told not from the point of view of Dracula, but of those who intersect with his life, often discovering the mystery of the Count and investigating his true nature.

Whilst each of these stories does add to the overall telling of Dracula’s past, they don’t always feel interconnected, taking on the form of separate moments from his life rather than forming one cohesive whole. Whether this was intentional on the part of the book, I don’t know? But it does lead to a sometimes disjointed read. Being able to jump through the life of a character like Dracula to focus on certain events may at first glance appear to be a good way of telling his story, but it does on occasion let itself down.

Sadly, this also extends to the format in which the story is told. As with the original Dracula novel, Dracula: Rise of the Beast tells its story in the form of letters, reports, and even blog posts.

As with jumping to different time periods to allow a focus on certain events, telling the stories through these framing devices allows the writer to focus solely on those aspects of the story that is important. They can skip over long descriptions and back and forth dialogue, instead giving a quick and concise narrative of events.

This means that the book does move with some degree of pace a majority of the time (though the first segment of the book did at times feel very slow), it ends up feeling like it lacks any real depth. It feels less like I myself am experiencing a story, and more like someone else has had that experience and is simply telling me about it. Which is never as satisfying as experiencing it first hand.

Whilst the premise for the book itself is very interesting and works great in concept, the execution is unfortunately somewhat lacking. Perhaps it is a personal preference, but the format of the book made it very difficult to enjoy it as fully as I wanted to, and often drew me out of it. A good read for fans of vampire fiction and Dracula, but perhaps not to everyone’s tastes.

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Thursday, 29 March 2018

Lego Incredibles Game Officially Announced

The latest addition in the ever popular Lego video game franchise has been officially revealed as 'The Incredibles'. Whilst there were leaks online that this would be the next game in the series several days ago, it has now been 100% confirmed.

The official press release says;

'Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, TT Games, The LEGO Group, Disney and Pixar, today announced LEGO® The Incredibles, a new video game where players take control of their favorite Incredibles characters in unforgettable scenes and action sequences from both Disney•Pixar films, The Incredibles and the upcoming Incredibles 2. The game encourages players to work together by combining the Parr family’s abilities and unique powers to conquer crime and family life in a LEGO world full of fun and humor. LEGO The Incredibles will be available for Nintendo Switch™, PlayStation®4 computer entertainment system, Xbox One, and PC on June 15, 2018, the same day Incredibles 2 opens in theaters nationwide.'

The game, which will be released on 15th June 2018, will cover the events of both the original film, and the new sequel.

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