Category: Review (Page 1 of 7)

REVIEW: Dawn of Super-Heroes Exhibition at the O2, London

Well, the book is finished and the submission process underway, so I have time to blog – so thought instead of making apologetic noises without posts actual substance, I’d share a pseudo-review (with photos). Is that okay? Yes? I’ll take your silence as the sound of nodding.

As I may have mentioned, I live in London, and I read comics regularly, so I was intrigued when I saw this poster on the tube recently:

A bit of internet searching dug up that it’s an exhibition which has previously been shown in France (where comics are treated like any other medium), and stated that as well as original art pages from lots of comics, they’d be exhibiting costumes from most of the DC Comics-based films and TV shows, so yep, I was into that.

(Sudden realisation: ‘DC Comics’ is one of those redundant phrases like ‘PIN Number’ or ‘TSB Bank’, but I don’t see myself changing the way I say it in any kind of hurry. Anyway…)

So I booked and went along the other day, and (TL;DR summary) I thoroughly enjoyed it. Good array of items from DC’s history on page and screen, and as they don’t mind you taking photos (in fact, staff seemed keen to let me know about it), here are some pictures – not necessarily in order – and my sillysod comments…

Unsurprisingly, it starts with Superman (who’s 80 this year, though with all the reboots and reimagining, he looks pretty good on it, I think we can agree). Quite a few original art pages from Action Comics both old and recent, but then I spotted this:

Yep, that’s Christopher Reeve’s costume from the first Superman film. And yes, it’s tall, but he was tall, and he also gave one of the most enduring performances of the character (I mean, look at the videos of his transformations on this page – that’s acting). Terrific actor, and great to see his costume up close.

Speaking of up close, I certainly leaned in to look at these original art pages from Superman Annual 11:

The art’s by Dave Gibbons, from a script by Alan Moore, and … well, they’re two creators who have had an immense impact on the comics field (and beyond) – probably because they’re both immensely talented.

The middle of the exhibition is about Batman, one of my favourite comic characters, and spans pretty much all the filmed appearances – here’s one of Frank Gorshin’s Riddler outfits from the 1960s Batman TV show:

A selection of costumes from the Keaton/Burton films:

And then from the Kilmer/Clooney/Schumacher films:

And on to the Bale/Nolan films – both costumes…

…and prop vehicles:

There’s more comic art, including painted pages from Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s brilliantly brain-bending Arkham Asylum:

And pages from Frank Miller, Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (a series which certainly helped make the Batman films from the 1980s onwards possible).

There are also props and costumes from a lot of the more recent films – the Snyder-era films, Suicide Squad, and Wonder Woman.

Have to admit that I haven’t seen the Jenkins/Godot WW film yet, but I hear good things about it, and I’m favourably inclined towards it (just haven’t got round to it yet, it’s as simple as that), and it’s interesting to see the differences between the costume from the fondly-remembered Lynda Carter TV show –

and the more battle-oriented costume as worn by Gal Godot:

Granted, there are differences in the materials etc available, but even back in the 70s they were able to make chain mail and other armour stuff for films, so I tend to imagine it reflected 1970s thinking that the emphasis was on a ‘softer’ ambassador role for Diana, rather than the more warrior-based version I gather we see in the recent film. Both are equally valid readings of aspects of the character, to my mind, and show how (as with any long-running character, really) successive generations take what most resonates to the perceived audience at any given time, and focus on that.

But I digress (as my long-time readers will recognise as a statement of policy more than an occasional observation); there’s a lot of interesting and nostalgia-provoking stuff to be seen at the exhibition, as well as a pretty good gift shop, so if you’re interested in DC superheroes on the page and/or screen, I heartily recommend a visit – this link gives more info. It runs until September, I believe.

If you do go along, why not leave a comment about what you thought of the exhibition (or just remind me of key elements I forgot to mention – I’m sure there are some)? Keen to hear other people’s opinions on it!

REVIEW: ‘Calendar Girls’

I was slightly wary about going to see this play, as it could have looked as if I was sloping into the theatre in the hope of seeing a burlesque show starring women of my mother’s generation, so I wore my hat strategically dipped below one eye and my scarf covering my face, and nobody seemed to notice anything amiss.

Anyway, as you probably know, this is the stage version of the film adaptation of the true story of a Women’s Institute group in Yorkshire, who posed nude in 2000 for an ‘alternative WI calendar’ to raise money for a sofa in the visitor’s area of a nearby hospital. The women were prompted to do this following the death of one of their husbands. The calendar was an immediate – and ultimately international – success, raising millions of pounds for leukaemia research. In fact, a tenth anniversary calendar will be produced for 2010.

The stage version features an impressive cast (Patricia Hodge, Linda Bellingham, Julia Hills, Brigit Forsyth, and other familiar names) and they seem to have a lot of fun with a funny script, and everyone performs well, though arguably – and perhaps inevitably – the scene where they’re posing for the photos gets the biggest laughs, but it is very cleverly done. I’m not any kind of expert on these things, but the set and scene-changes were smoothly done too.

I might quibble slightly with the way a couple of obstacles in the second half seem to come up rather without warning, as if there’s a need to create some conflict, but to be honest that minor complaint is more than outweighed by the overall quality of the show, and I should add that I was particuarly impressed by the way that the husband’s death which is the catalyst for events isn’t milked for every last ounce of emotion, which would have been an easy route.

Definitely worth a look, I’d say, and a good example of a very ‘English’ kind of comedy, if you know what I mean – witty, and a little bit bawdy, but unlikely to offend (though two people in our row didn’t return after the interval; can they really have come to see the play without knowing what it was about and been that shocked?).

Ironically enough, this play about women taking off their clothes is running at the Noel Coward Theatre in London (until September, I think, though the run may have been extended). You can get tickets at good prices (we were right up in the balcony, and could still see all right) from the usual online places.

And just to reassure my male readers, no, it wasn’t like an oedipal burlesque show. You can safely attend without danger of feeling all strange in that way.

Tiananmen Ghost Square Dance

I don’t know if you’ve seen the film iThree Amigos! or not. It’s not particularly good – it has its moments, but overall it’s a bit obvious and feels somehow self-indulgent. Still, there are far worse things you could see on TV.

My own feelings about iThree Amigos!, though, are rather coloured by the first time I saw it. It was round at a friend’s house, where we watched it on video, and as the film ended and we all agreed we thought it was only so-so, one of us pressed STOP, bringing up the default TV channel, which turned out to be a BBC channel.

Onscreen, Kate Adie was speaking over live footage of people being shot in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. It was 4 June 1989, twenty years ago to this day, and under orders from the government, the army were shooting protesting students. Any lingering traces of feeling lighthearted or flippant after watching the video dropped away pretty sharply.

The exact number of people killed that night is unknown; some reports have it in the thousands, whereas others suggest that hundreds died. Whatever, it’s a matter of historical record that a large number of students died for protesting that night, as a result of an order from their government. Officially speaking, on the other hand… well, it’s pretty much as if the events didn’t occur.

Which is, to my mind, an intellectual insult to physical injury (and far worse); attempting to erase these events from history, as if the past were an Etch-A-Sketch is just plain daft. And given the evidence that it occurred, pretending it didn’t is akin to a government pressing its hands to its ears and singing ner-ner-ner can’t hear you. Though that’s pretty much the overall attitude to human rights from the ruling party in China, it seems (ask the Tibetan people).

I’ve written before about my dislike for the habit of ‘rewriting events’, and I still find it frustrating to this day (mainly because it means a choice of some sort to ignore things which happened in favour of things which didn’t happen), but when it manifests on a national scale, it’s even more alarming.

Granted, the UK isn’t immune to this either – from the way people carry on, you’d think that the nation did nothing but venerate the Princess of Wales constantly before her death, and that nobody at all was fooled at the time by the lies about weapons in Iraq – but it doesn’t tend to end up with tanks rolling into the middle of a protest zone and hundreds of teenagers dying of bullet wounds, only to have their blood and their memory wiped away as if it had never been.

This post, along with a lot of other online information, may not be available to Chinese readers, for which I apologise, though in a way I feel it backs up the point made.

Review: ‘High Crimes’ by Michael Kodas

My claim in the profile to the right about climbing mountains isn’t an idle one (honest), and so I found this book, detailing some of the not-so-ethical behaviour on Mount Everest, was very interesting. And, at times, unsettling.

Michael Kodas tells the story of his own ill-fated attempt to summit Everest from the Tibetan side, and contrasts it with the death of Nils Antezana, a 69-year-old doctor who died whilst descending on the Nepalese side of the mountain. Whilst Kodas’s attempt floundered due to conflicts within the assembled team, Antezana died alone on the mountain after summiting but being left to descend, alone, by his guide.

These two stories are well told and quite unnerving, but there are other snippets as well – one climber was forced to rappel down one of the routes, and it was only by chance that he looked over his shoulder and realised that the (fixed) rope he was descending had, for no apparent reason, been cut off; had he not turned to look, he would have fallen to his death. Other climbers find their tents or equipment have been stolen as they ascend to higher camps on Everest.

There’s some good analysis of why 2006 saw so many deaths on Everest, and the chilling fact that almost anyone can claim to be a ‘guide’ and charge tens of thousands of pounds to lead you up Everest, even if they’ve had limited – or next to no – experience of guiding.

The book sometimes strays from the central narratives a bit, though it only tends to do this when recounting something else of interest or which adds to the background, so I felt this could be forgiven. The writing style is good and straightforward, and thankfully it generally avoids giving lines of dialogue when no witnesses were to hand, or speculating wildly about events. There’s a lot of referencing and quoting from eyewitnesses, and a bibliography and index to back all this up.

So, if you’re interested in Everest, or climbing generally, this is a solid account of an aspect of the mountain which doesn’t tend to get much coverage. I was lucky enough to be given a copy of the hardback (thanks, Mrs Wife!), but the paperback’s out in November, so you could save your recession-hit pennies until then. Either way, I recommend it.

Review: ‘Unwritten’ by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

I don’t often review single issues of comics here on’t blog – or collected comics, for that matter – but this is a good ‘un, and I thought it was worth drawing to your attention.

Unwritten is a new series published by Vertigo Comics (the ‘mature’ wing of DC Comics). It’s written by Mike Carey and drawn by Peter Gross, and tells the story of Tommy Taylor. Taylor’s father was a writer, and like A.A. Milne, wrote books featuring a character with the same name as his son. Taylor Senior has disappeared, leaving a legacy of books which bear a resemblance to – but, we are told, are more popular than – the Harry Potter series.

As the series opens, Tommy’s making a fairly unsuccessful living attending conventions and making personal appearances. It’s at one of these conventions that he’s asked some questions by an audience member which start to suggest that Tommy may, in a way, not be as real as he might believe. Things unravel pretty quickly from there, and the first issue sets things up very promisingly. The art’s good and clear, and flashy and impressive when needed, and the dialogue is – gasp – close to how people actually speak, which has to be a good thing.

So, a good comic, and the final selling point is that this first issue, which contains 32 pages of story, is on sale at the lure-you-in price of $1 (or, here in Blighty, about 75p). You can spend that on a fizzy drink, which your system will just turn into wee, so why not give this comic a read instead ? You may have to go to an actual comic shop to get it, but it’s a very decent read. If nothing else, you can smile, as I did, at the opening pages and their similarity to events in the Potter books/films.

(Mini) Review : Star Trek

As you probably know, this film is the big-screen ‘reboot’ of the long-running series (though it’s possible to interpret it as an altered history thing, given the time-travel elements). It’s been getting very positive reviews, and there are all manner of background stories etc to be found elsewhere, so I won’t get into that sort of stuff here, I’ll just try to stick to giving you a mini-review.

Put simply, it’s a lot of fun, and I recommend it highly. I have mixed feelings about the Trek franchise, liking some bits, being left cold by others, and often being frightened by the passion of its fans, but this film has a decent story, solid acting, impressive special effects, and a good balance of action scenes and character interaction. I reckon you could see it with someone who’d never seen an episode or film or even heard the names of the characters before, and they’d still have fun.

For my money, the most impressive thing the film does – and I wouldn’t like to guess whether this was a conscious move away from the recent, less-successful films, but it would make sense if it was – is to invest enough time and effort into making the viewer give a damn about what’s happening, as opposed to leaning on the fact that these are well-known characters and therefore you’re supposed to have some pre-existing affection for them. As a result, when characters are in peril, it’s dramatic within the context of the film, and not because you’re expected to care because, hey, these are iconiccharacters.

So, a definite thumbs-up from me, and I’ve often been lukewarm about Trek.

You’ll no doubt have noticed that the picture accompanying this review isn’t of the film poster or the cast or whatever, but I wanted to draw a smidgin of attention to the fact that the current US Edition of Wired magazine is guest-edited by JJ Abrams, the director of the film. As well as having a number of interesting articles about mysteries and magic and the like, there’s a comic strip that leads into the film, drawn by well-respected comic artist Paul Pope, and written by the film’s screenwriters, which is worth a look as it provides a nice little bit of background. As I say, this is the USA edition (though the UK edition’s worth checking out as well), is labelled as such with a shiny gold sticker, and can be found on the shelves of slightly-larger newsagents.

I Arrive Late For The Party Once Again, But Here’s Your Ticket To The Screening Room

I recently watched the entire run of Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, the short-lived comedy-drama from Aaron ‘West Wing‘ Sorkin.

It got very mixed reviews and limited ratings, and kind of limped to the end of its first and only season, and wasn’t renewed. In comparison with the not-entirely-dissimilar 30 Rock, it’s a lot more worthy and less funny, but I enjoyed it; there are signs of changes of direction and tone as the end drew nigh, presumably as they tried to find new ways to draw viewers in.

In my (frankly pretty worthless) opinion, there were two fundamental problems with the show:

1. It kind of assumes that the audience has an enormous familiarity with, and affection for, Saturday Night Live. As a limey, my exposure to it has been very limited, but I’m aware of it and some of its history. So it didn’t trouble me, but I can imagine that audiences of pretty much any nation who are unaware, or actively unfond of, SNL might well be put off.

2. Whilst The West Wing deals with heavy-duty stuff like kidnappings and war and terrorism, Studio 60 is rather hobbled from the start by the fact that, for all the on-screen depiction of concern and hard work, it is ultimately ‘only about a TV show’. I’m not denigrating TV as a medium, but I think the show has an uphill struggle to make some of the plotlines seem as important to the viewer as they appear to be to the characters. This is slightly echoed by the way a lot of the in-show comedy bits aren’t gutbustingly funny, despite the way the in-studio audience may be reacting. There’s a slight mismatch between the way you’re told to react to an item, and the way you may actually react.

For all this, though, I think there was a lot to like about Studio 60, and Matthew Perry did a pretty good job of making me forget he’d been in that other TV programme.

Anyway, I mentioned a Screening Room up above, and by that I mean a new-ish feature on Amazon (UK version) whereby you can watch entire TV shows – including, yes, the pilot episode of Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip – for free.

The Screening Room is located here. Keep your feet off the chairs, if you don’t mind. Night vision technology may be utilised to ensure compliance.

REVIEW : Knowing

This is the new film from director Alex Proyas, and starring Nicolas Cage. It concerns a chap who realises that a list of numbers found in a time capsule from 1959 are a code which gives details of disasters (both man-made and natural) which occurred after the time capsule was buried – and, he realises, there are numbers covering future dates as well. An intriguing premise, which is why I went to see it.

I’m not entirely sure that the film quite makes good on the promise in the premise, mind, and given the way it’s been advertised, other audience members may be left feeling slightly duped; it’s been trailed more like a thriller with supernatural undertones, which isn’t really very accurate at all, as it’s much more of a science fiction film. And I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea – one woman outside the cinema complained rather loudly about the sudden veer into SF towards the end (if you’ve ever seen The Watcher In The Woods, it’s in that sort of vein).

Anyway, it’s not a bad film, for all that; Cage isn’t an actor who draws me to the cinema just by his name being on the poster, but he turns in a decent enough performance here – though the grieving widower father isn’t a million miles away from Mel Gibson’s role in Signs, though that’s more to do with the script than his playing of it, I think. The rest of the cast are perfectly fine, too.

The pacing of the film is a bit uneven; it’s a bit slow at the start when the story’s being laid out, then it kicks into a much faster pace when the disasters start happening (the first major one is very effective indeed, and is all in one take; the second is more grisly but none the less well done), and then it keeps going with a gradual unravelling of what’s going on until the aforementioned ending. The direction of the film kind of matches this, only really livening up when there’s mayhem on the screen, but it’s perfectly watchable, and you’re never in any doubt what’s going on.

While I was watching the film, I enjoyed it, but afterwards, a few stray plot threads kind of niggled at me (skip to the next paragraph to avoid the semi-spoilers); why, if the various fates were inevitable, were people given the power to predict them? Since the film bothers to bring up pre-destination versus free will, why were the results of the former all so gloomy? Given the ‘EE’ situation, what could Koestler or any of the other characters have done to show they were learning from the events ? What were the tall strangers there for – help, or just watching the end times? And what were the black stones for?

These questions aside – and only one of them (the first, but don’t look back if you don’t want spoilage) is a really huge plot problem to my mind – Knowing is an enjoyable enough film, as long as you don’t mind a side order of science fiction with your on-screen destruction. Worth seeing at the cinema for the well-filmed disaster sequences (which are suitably unnerving), but if you have a big screen and good speakers, you can quite cheerfully wait for it to come out on rental.

One Of My Intermittent Posts About Twin Peaks, This Time With Pictures

I’ve written before about my fondness for the TV show Twin Peaks, and I’ll no doubt do so again (perhaps, one day, even explaining why I like it so), and in case you haven’t guessed it by the start of this sentence… well, this is one of those posts. If you’re not interested in this subject, normal service (if that’s what it can be called) will be resumed as of the next post.

Anyway – for those of you who are still here – I was rather amused to hear that a Twin Peaks variant of a range of skateboarding trainers was being released; partly because it’s almost two decades since the show was last on TV, and also because I’m 37 years old, for goodness’ sake, and the idea of trainers featuring motifs from a TV show really shouldn’t elicit the question ‘Where can I get them?’ and have me reaching for the internet so quickly. Still, I think we’ve established I’m an overgrown infant, and so the pictures surrounding these words are pictures I’ve actually taken of my shoes, which I received yesterday.

The first picture gives you a general idea of the trainer – as you can see immediately, there’s an owl pictured on it, in line with one of TP’s signature phrases (or should that be warnings?) “The owls are not what they seem”. As well as the green stitching along the shoe, and the spare green laces supplied, there’s a hint of patterning on the ‘grey’ area which might be faintly fern-like or leafy, but that might be me looking for more of a bucolic motif than is actually present.

The second picture is perhaps not a usual angle to take a photo from, but people with perhaps even a passing familiarity with TP will probably understand why I did it; the red sides of the inside of the shoe, combined with the zig-zag pattern on the insole, combine to create an in-shoe replica of the ‘Red Room’, one of the series’ most memorable locations (if indeed it has a physical existence). Only certain people can enter the room, and in certain circumstances, but with these shoes any old clown (by which I mean me) can at least send their feet in. And, for what it’s worth it, they’re really rather comfy.

I’m no kind of trainer expert – though my father often maintains that I “should be trained by now, surely?” – but these seem well made, and comfy, with enough extras and doodads to keep Twin Peaks fans amused. How they work for skateboarding or other physical activities I couldn’t say, but there will probably be proper reviews elsewhere on the internet of that sort of thing. Oh, and one final touch I forgot to mention – the paper surrounding the shoes (in the box they arrived in) has a wood-style print on them, which seems to continue the generally ‘nature-based’ look of the whole package.

Overall, then, a nice job on a slightly odd choice of TP-tie in, and they’ve brought a smile to my face and a slightly increased bounce to my step. I got mine from Flatspot, and the service was very good, though of course other firms should be able to supply them.

REVIEW: ‘Dreams on Spec’

Dreams on Spec is a 2007 documentary which follows three writers as they work on spec film scripts.

The three writers – David, Joe and Deborah – are at different stages; David works at a talent agency and has sold one of his scripts, Joe’s been working on a script for a number of years whilst day-trading and looking after his autistic daughter, and Deborah used to work for a creative agency and is now trying to find funding to film her first script. As well as being at different stages in their careers, their screenplays are on wildly diverse themes – David’s is a modern take on the slasher film, Joe’s written a coming of age piece, and Deborah’s film is described as a ‘gory commitment comedy’.

We don’t get to learn too much about the content of their scripts, but the focus of the film is more on their attitudes and perseverence; David’s concerned about losing control of the script as it goes into production, Joe’s meetings with a script advisor suggest it’s almost ready to be sent out, and Deborah is trying to pay the bills whilst hoping that money’s forthcoming to make her film. Intercut with their three tales are short ‘talking head’ spots with established screenwriters like Nora Ephron, Carrie Fisher and Ed Solomon, all of whom talk in a realistic way about the nature of working in the film industry, and the ways they’ve been treated by studios in the past.

The film’s about 90 minutes long (plus an extra 30 minutes of material featuring the established writers), but I found it seemed much shorter than that, as it was very engaging; it’s an interesting insight into the often mundane reality of writing (that is: re-writing, and re-writing, and so on), interspersed with some very amusing insights. The three writers were well presented – for example, it’s hard not to feel for Joe when he asks his wife to read his latest draft, and she sharply replies that she’s already read several drafts for him.

The direction, editing, and general film-making on this documentary are pretty much perfect – by which I mean that it’s as good as invisible; whilst it’s very professionally made, there are no flashy or obtrusive directorial tricks, and so it just gets on with telling the story – and it’s a story which, if you’re interested in writing, is an interesting one. In a way, the film could be seen as a bit of a litmus test to establish whether writing’s for you – given the stated unlikelihood of succeeding (it’s likened to the chances of winning the lottery), the film makes one either feel that there’s little point in applying pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), or rather stirs the feeling that trying harder is the way to go (you can probably guess which camp I fell into).

I don’t know if this film has been shown on UK TV (More4 or BBC4 seem the most likely channels for a broadcast of it), but it’s available to buy on R1 DVD, and I certainly recommend it – if nothing else, it’s nice to see that there are people in the same boat as you are. You can buy the DVD from the official website, or from Amazon, and I think it’s well worth watching.

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